Occupy camps don't create social ills, they showcase them

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Occupy Oakland, before police destroyed it, put the messiness of modern cities on display in one place.
Photo by Tim Daw

By Anna Lacey

OPINION When I entered the public square off Broadway and 14th on Oct. 17 -- the site of the Occupy Oakland camp that police violently broke up this week -- I immediately felt dazed by the atmosphere. But rather than seeing the squalor that has been highlighted by city officials and the media, I saw it as a place of real possibilities, particularly from my perspective as a social worker

Surrounded by tall buildings, the square is in the heart of downtown Oakland. It felt like I was in a commune of sorts. Walking through the rows of tents, I found myself amidst a sea of commotion; there were children of different ethnicities playing, a crowd was listening to some guy on a microphone talking about political freedom, a marching band was performing, and lines of people were dishing out and receiving free food. The energy in the air was almost tangible.

The police raided the square Monday night, October 24th, arguing that the occupiers were dangerous or directionless substance abusers. They had also been complaining about a rat infestation and other problems and about the camp being a magnet for homeless people. But when I visited the camp several times before it was raided, there were two important points that struck me about what has really been happening in Oakland’s occupation.

First: The occupation did not create new social problems. Instead, the movement has been making existing problems visible. Oakland is a city with an overwhelming crime problem and serious financial woes, a city known by many as “Oaksterdam” because of its many marijuana dispensaries as well as the presence of weed smokers on the streets. It’s a city with rats, gangs, unemployment, and school closures. Existing social problems have become more visible because people have congregated together, largely because they were sick of suffering from social ills in silence and isolation.

It should also be pointed out that the homeless population was in the square before the occupation. Yet only now are they able to receive free healthcare, learn about available social services, and enjoy respite from police harassment. The police were not allowed in the square for two weeks, and participants in the movement voiced extreme pride of the “liberated space.” As one organizer put it, “Here in Oakland we have a history that makes us unable to dialogue with the police. Occupy Oakland is unique due to the legacy of the Oscar Grant movement; we know the police are not on our side.”

It does seem quite clear that, instead of trying to resolve the problems being brought to light in the square, the police would prefer the protesters remain isolated from each other, so as not to bring attention to existing social problems. I suppose a gang of police in riot gear followed by the terrorizing and arrests of almost 100 peaceful organizers is easier, thanks to our flawed governmental system, than responding to the social issues put forth by the public.

Second: The occupation was never a party zone. Quite the opposite, for two weeks the participants functioned as an organized political and social union. By day, various presenters lectured the crowds on such things as the rights and responsibilities of political beings. One evening, several youth spoke of their hopes and dreams, saying things like, “I want to be the future of America, but I can’t if there’s no money to fund my school.”

Dusk would mark the start of the nightly General Assembly, a sort of lengthy debate giving all the opportunity to make propositions to influence the movement. The assembly would last until after midnight, and a 90 percent majority of votes was needed to pass any given proposition. One evening, the General Assembly closed with everyone chanting, “This isn’t Burning Man,” implying the seriousness of the movement and the need to leave the party in the desert.

At the same time, the square was far from utopian. There were a couple of fights, which were deescalated quickly. Another key issue remains how to manage the movement’s ethos of equality while still moving in a unified direction. However, as one organizer put it, “Our power is in the lack of a leader, and our diversity is a blessing. The media doesn’t know how to control the masses.” There are discussions of new occupations to bring attention not only to the recent jailing of many protestors but also to school closures, police brutality, prison hunger strikes, foreclosures, and other social and political injustices.

Obviously, the Occupy Oakland that I experienced was very different than what the media and police accounts would have you believe. I wish I could tell you to come and judge for your self, but unfortunately there is no longer any one identified place to congregate. Instead, following Monday night’s raid and Tuesday’s squirmishes, many involved in the movement have been scattered out on the streets, forced to defend themselves from the police without the sanctuary of a peaceful and supportive liberated space.

Snow Park, along Lake Merritt, originally an extension of the original camp, is currently one meeting place for those involved in the movement. While I think the police’s senseless and heartless behavior has, at least for the time being, destroyed much of the beauty taking place in Occupy Oakland, I still urge you to lend your support. As one occupier told me, “Be a part of the process. It’s not perfect. Then again, if it was so easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.”

Anna Lacey is MSW trainee and therapist with La Clínica de la Raza who lives in Oakland and is working on her master’s in social work at UC Berkeley

Comments

Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen is now in critical condition after being shot in the face with a canister by Oakland police. When the crowd tried to help the unconscious veteran, the police lobbed a flash-bang grenade at Olsen.

War Veteran Wounded By Police At Occupy Oakland, Stun Grenade Thrown At Folks Helping Him
http://front.moveon.org/war-veteran-wounded-by-police-at-occupy-oakland-...

Iraq War Vet Severely Injured After Protesters Clash With Police
http://www.neontommy.com/news/2011/10/occupy-oakland-iraq-war-veteran-se...

Posted by 99 Percenter on Oct. 26, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

Utopia in Oakland. Yeah, that'll be the the day.

While the ideals that the movement claims to be based on are sound, the methods are outdated and participants are about as convincing as the guys soliciting my vote in front of the MUNI station every morning getting paid pennies to harass me for a cause they know nothing about and likely wouldn't believe in if they did. The underlying reason that the occupy movement will be inconsequential in the long run is that society as a whole has moved past sit-ins and picket lines as they do little more than impede the hard working individuals that the movement is supposedly trying to help, who have to navigate them on their way to gainful employment while the Occupants attempt to make them feel bad about whatever they're off to do, unless of course they're on their way to Occupy something other than a desk. These huddled masses don't 'send a message' and they aren't a 'step in the right direction'. What they are is a group of self righteous, sanctimonious, selfish individuals who have chosen the easiest way to appear to be making a difference, rather than putting in the effort to actually make a difference.

To be fair, I probably misrepresented the Occupants. The description above probably only describes the 50% who are really naive enough to believe that they're 'part of the solution'. I'm sure the other 50% are split between homeless who see free food as reason enough to join any movement, and college kids who I imagine got there after conversations like

"Yo man - I'm gonna go join the Occupy movement today. You down?"
"Sure, why not? I don't have class tomorrow. Let's blaze this and make a difference."
"Dude, we're totally making a difference! Gotta be back for the party at the frat tonight though. Jen with the big ol' butt's gonna be there and you know she's down."
"Yeah, lets just get there, occupy the shit out that bitch, and bounce."
"Tru."

And now we have Oakland occupiers vowing to fight back against police? As someone who grew up in Oakland, the single-minded dedication with which the city
goes about destroying itself at every given opportunity continues to shock me. Guys, if the police try to pull you over, do you gun it? If the police take the time to talk to the guy who you see on your corner every day, just hanging out, talking primarily to malnourished passers by and slapping fives that last a little too long while looking the other direction, do you throw up your arms and say "You have no right! He was minding his own 'business'!"? Why then when the police say "Look, you need to go home, I'm a hard working guy who deals with this shit every day who just wants to feed his family and I'm just as scared as you are to be honest" do you choose to fight, giving the city yet another black ey, costing it money that could be going to schools, and generally moving towards another catastrophic incident where morons loot, more hard working families have their stores destroyed, and more money gets funneled into the black hole of civic sorrow?

All for the worlds 93,005,000th 'noble cause' that was poorly implemented, embraced by uninformed, and distributed by the irresponsible.

If people really wanted to make a difference, there would be no need for chants of “This isn’t Burning Man,” and people wouldn't occupy, they'd organize and do.

Posted by The (working) People on Oct. 26, 2011 @ 7:10 pm
Posted by matlock on Oct. 26, 2011 @ 7:27 pm

Utopia in Oakland. Yeah, that'll be the the day.

While the ideals that the movement claims to be based on are sound, the methods are outdated and participants are about as convincing as the guys soliciting my vote in front of the MUNI station every morning getting paid pennies to harass me for a cause they know nothing about and likely wouldn't believe in if they did. The underlying reason that the occupy movement will be inconsequential in the long run is that society as a whole has moved past sit-ins and picket lines as they do little more than impede the hard working individuals that the movement is supposedly trying to help, who have to navigate them on their way to gainful employment while the Occupants attempt to make them feel bad about whatever they're off to do, unless of course they're on their way to Occupy something other than a desk. These huddled masses don't 'send a message' and they aren't a 'step in the right direction'. What they are is a group of self righteous, sanctimonious, selfish individuals who have chosen the easiest way to appear to be making a difference, rather than putting in the effort to actually make a difference.

To be fair, I probably misrepresented the Occupants. The description above probably only describes the 50% who are really naive enough to believe that they're 'part of the solution'. I'm sure the other 50% are split between homeless who see free food as reason enough to join any movement, and college kids who I imagine got there after conversations like

"Yo man - I'm gonna go join the Occupy movement today. You down?"
"Sure, why not? I don't have class tomorrow. Let's blaze this and make a difference."
"Dude, we're totally making a difference! Gotta be back for the party at the frat tonight though. Jen with the big ol' butt's gonna be there and you know she's down."
"Yeah, lets just get there, occupy the shit out that bitch, and bounce."
"Tru."

And now we have Oakland occupiers vowing to fight back against police? As someone who grew up in Oakland, the single-minded dedication with which the city
goes about destroying itself at every given opportunity continues to shock me. Guys, if the police try to pull you over, do you gun it? If the police take the time to talk to the guy who you see on your corner every day, just hanging out, talking primarily to malnourished passers by and slapping fives that last a little too long while looking the other direction, do you throw up your arms and say "You have no right! He was minding his own 'business'!"? Why then when the police say "Look, you need to go home, I'm a hard working guy who deals with this shit every day who just wants to feed his family and I'm just as scared as you are to be honest" do you choose to fight, giving the city yet another black ey, costing it money that could be going to schools, and generally moving towards another catastrophic incident where morons loot, more hard working families have their stores destroyed, and more money gets funneled into the black hole of civic sorrow?

All for the worlds 93,005,000th 'noble cause' that was poorly implemented, embraced by uninformed, and distributed by the irresponsible.

If people really wanted to make a difference, there would be no need for chants of “This isn’t Burning Man,” and people wouldn't occupy, they'd organize and do.

Posted by The (working) People on Oct. 26, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

Utopia in Oakland. Yeah, that'll be the the day.

While the ideals that the movement claims to be based on are sound, the methods are outdated and participants are about as convincing as the guys soliciting my vote in front of the MUNI station every morning getting paid pennies to harass me for a cause they know nothing about and likely wouldn't believe in if they did. The underlying reason that the occupy movement will be inconsequential in the long run is that society as a whole has moved past sit-ins and picket lines as they do little more than impede the hard working individuals that the movement is supposedly trying to help, who have to navigate them on their way to gainful employment while the Occupants attempt to make them feel bad about whatever they're off to do, unless of course they're on their way to Occupy something other than a desk. These huddled masses don't 'send a message' and they aren't a 'step in the right direction'. What they are is a group of self righteous, sanctimonious, selfish individuals who have chosen the easiest way to appear to be making a difference, rather than putting in the effort to actually make a difference.

Posted by The (working) People on Oct. 26, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

I always love hearing some blowhard on a mission to tell everyone else what to do because only he is enlightened and they absolutely should drop everything and do what he says.

The best part is when this long winded bag of gas and bias throws out a perfect description of himself, in an effort to demean those who so desperately need his wisdom but don't know it yet.

Here's yours, "The (working) People" :
"self righteous, sanctimonious, selfish individual"

See?
That's you, asshole.
YOU just described YOURSELF perfectly!

Posted by matlock on Oct. 26, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

but what am I?

My poor imitation Matlock must not live in San Francisco, as telling people how to live is what our unhome grown carpet bagger progressives live to do.

Posted by matlock on Oct. 26, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

You really cracked the case Matlock! Let me be the first to commend you on putting down the glitter encrusted posterboard and contributing to society. I read somewhere that if you really want to change the world, you should start by sitting at home in a tie dyed shirt and headband calling people names if they disagree with your views.

You're off to a great start Che! Viva farmers markets hipsters and Macbooks!!!

Posted by The (working) People on Oct. 26, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

for someone who likes to work himself into a self righteous lather and call other people names because they won't stop doing things that frighten you and force you to question the unfathomable level of bullshit you feed yourself to get through the day.

These are obviously scary times for faint hearted people like yourself, but that doesn't excuse your ridiculous and ignorant rants.

Posted by matlock on Oct. 26, 2011 @ 10:10 pm
...

It's unfortunate that you'll never realize that it's people like you who strip all credibility from what might otherwise be nobel causes. Your involvement and endorsement has exactly the opposite effect that you intend and believe it to have. Feel free to sling more names, make unsubstantiated, grandiose accusations (though I'd urge you to think up some new names - we get it - you think I'm a blow hard), however I also urge you to turn down the Phish, loosen your grip on the vegan bacon wrapped soy dog, and reread my comments. Consider them. Exercise the objectivity rather than knee-jerk objection. I think that if you take a deep breath and are truly honest with yourself, you'll realize that you're a complete waste of human life mindlessly following other wastes of human life who are slightly smarter than you and have tricked you into believing that you matter. They're the one's you should be calling names as they're the one's who have deceived you.

Or you can just keep poking at your MacBook with joint in hand believing that you're doing something other than the adult equivalent of whining "but it's not FAIR", hoping that someone will listen.

Posted by The (Working) People on Oct. 27, 2011 @ 9:17 am

The best part is when this long winded bag of gas and bias throws out a perfect description of himself, in an effort to demean those who so desperately need his wisdom but don't know it yet.

Here's yours, "The (working) People" :
"self righteous, sanctimonious, selfish individual"

Posted by Guest on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

Oakland cops and city hall are blowing it.

Ed Lee and SFPD better figure this out before they fuck up too.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2011/10/25/national/a05...

Posted by Guest on Oct. 26, 2011 @ 10:50 pm

Received 1021 email requesting presence last night at Occupy Sf due to reports from Team Yee and others that after discussions with the Mayor, SF police were to move in last night. Thank You Yee and Avalos for showing up and for Yee, leaving your team to stay there. Gab Haaland there too. More public officials need to be there, otherwise a similar situation could result. I remember when police did a similar manuever on a SF march after Rodney King was beaten when Agnos was Mayor. The police in riot gear attempted to pin down the large and growing crowd on Market street to prevent it from getting to our announced objective. But, nothing on what happened in Oakland. Ed Lee who as far as I am concerned has tainted this election with organized election fraud and smear tactics including now Herrera and after vetoing the Campos HSF bill is capable of anything . I have been down to the Plaza and there are porta poties there and no public health crisis. That was the pretext for evicting encampments in Oakland that set off marches.

A young man is in the ICU after the police made some tactical decisions for crowd control that exacerbated what was a non violent march. Mr Olsen was an Iraqi War veteren with Veterens fof Peace who where there to keep the march non violent. He has brain swelling and I can only hope he fully recovers.
The public official who will probably get the most blame though will be progressive Mayor Quan. That is very sad.

Posted by Guest lucretiamott on Oct. 27, 2011 @ 4:45 am

hello, my office is across the street and above the Occupy Amsterdam camp. I have just printed out a few copies of your piece and I am now going to place them in the Info Tent there. Thank you for bearing witness.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 27, 2011 @ 3:09 pm