Everybody needs to get down to their OccupyWhatever location. I've been watching the dire news from the get, but it wasn't until I spent time at Oakland and San Francisco's occupations that I understood the gravity of what we're fighting for: permission to be here, in our country. Straight up, police are creating war zones in our downtowns.
Now, I didn't see any actual brutality last night. That all went down on Tuesday, when Oakland police rained tear gas canisters and rubber bullets -- which everyone by this point knows struck a veteran in the face and captured a person in a wheelchair in noxious clouds of gas.
But it still felt like a war. As Oakland occupiers broke down the fence that police had erected around the green space of Frank Ogawa Plaza, speakers taking turns in an open mic format in front of thousands as the operation was performed, the atmosphere was tense. Even once there was access to the grass, only a few people were brave enough to take back the park.
A woman on a bullhorn urged on her fellow protesters. "You've got to step on the grass. I'm absolutely terrified to be on this grass right now, but I'm out on this grass."
Every few moments a new friend told me "the third or fourth time you get tear-gassed it doesn't hurt anymore." My buddy for the night and I were by turns invigorated and enervated by the way you couldn't see a single police officer around Frank Ogawa -- what the hell were they plotting?
Hours later, I was trying to ignore the corporate implications of the Subway sandwich I was housing at OccupySF (war zones can be tough to find wholesome snacks in, although I do have to give a shout-out to the heavenly creature walking around with a dog on a leash and trashbag full of popcorn last night). Hysterical laughter pealed out from a tent in front of me.
"Sorry, I'm getting a little hysterical," said the young guy who emerged from the tent. He had on a necklace with long stones on it, not-so-raggedy hippie clothes. He looked blissed out, and felt like chatting.
"I'm just stoked, you know, that we even figure out the real estate issue! These people want to leave for a second to go do stuff and asked me to watch their tent in case the police got here. We even figured out real estate!" He started laughing again.
"That's just the thing, y'know -- we said we were going to be self-sustaining and we are. Which is great, because where am I going to go? I'm a young homeless man of color, I mean I get arrested just for being me." He pauses, considering.
"People ask me to just go home -- my mom will catch these little snippets of me on TV and be like," he flaps his arms around his face, "My boy! My boy! Oh lawd, my boy! I'm like Mom I'm having a great time!"
Throughout the evening, people would spontaneously catch me in conversation. Stuff like "are you ready? Can you believe this?" Rebecca Solnit wrote a book on this thing, the way people come together in the face of adversity. The SFPD and OPD probably weren't considering that this kind of bonding would take place in the hours that they delayed action on the camps, hours in which ominously few officers were visible at the scene of the camps save the helicopters that whirred over heads (oh hai, psychological warfare).
This is all to say, like I already said at the beginning of this piece, that if you are supporter of the Occupy movements, or even (especially) if you aren't, you need to get your ass down to a public square and hang with the occupiers. It's a great way to internalize what has become tragically salient throughout all of this: that if you're fighting for the 99 percent in this country, you're considered an enemy combatant. Let's take this shit back, wanna?
Today a friend shared the OccupyOakland photo that is attached to this piece. After all the fear of the night before (the "fence drama" you can read about on my coworker Rebecca's Twitter feed from last night), the fences had been stacked upon each other by protesters in a graceful approximation of a house of cards. It looks a lot prettier than explosions and gun-noises of the night before.
So I guess good things can happen in times of war -- but this is our war and you need to forgo a night at home or at the bars to be a part of it.