The notion of occupation isn’t new. In addition to a shameful history of our government occupying other countries (e.g. the Philippines, Iraq), ordinary Americans also have a rich tradition of taking to the streets or whatever land they find themselves in order to protest oppression: The Civil Rights struggle saw actions taking place on buses, at lunch counters, and mass marches and demonstrations. The feminist and antinuclear movements followed suit with civil resistance actions across the country.
On November 2, as part of a growing movement protesting rampant American injustice and income inequality, the group known as Occupy Oakland shut down the US’s fifth-largest port. This follows a long history of organized actions in our Bay Area: Native Americans occupied Alcatraz in 1969, protesting a lengthy series of betrayals by the federal government – finding the very idea of land ownership strange. AIDS activists held vigil in SF’s UN Plaza in 1985 for nearly 10 years to protest government inaction on the disease. The 4-day West Coast Waterfront Strike of 1934 helped unionize all the ports along the coast. The Oakland General Strike of 1946 followed a wave of general strikes spreading across the country.
The Occupy Wall Street movement sprang from anger among working- and middle-class who found themselves without jobs, without homes, without futures. The Oakland action succeeded as a peaceful strike, with ongoing activities culminating in a march to the port. While there were splinter groups bent on violence, these factions are the minority and we in the crowd shouted them down, as well as some being arrested by police later that night. The mood was overwhelmingly ebullient and open – where else can you be surrounded by a crowd of total strangers, but feel safe knowing that if something did happen, they’d have your back? It’s extraordinary, matchless exhilaration.
It’s also been wonderful watching B.: it’s important to me to be with someone who’s politically aware and active, certainly when urgent need arises. We’d demonstrated together over the years, against wars and discrimination, but this has really captured his imagination. He goes to the camps regularly, talks to people to see how he can help, addressed the city’s Board of Supervisors in support of the protesters, and wrote to newspapers seeking aid for homeless in the camp. Marching beside him, in passionate discussion with our neighbors, fills me with pride.
Dismissing Occupy as a disorganized fringe group is a mistake. The campers are the ballast grounding Occupy, and the group has coordinated donations, sanitation, security, food and shelter. We’ve met folks from all backgrounds: teachers, students, kids, seniors, nurses, doctors, veterans, blue- and white-collar workers, engineers, artists, musicians – many also unemployed and/or homeless. Everyone is welcome, the mood incredibly positive and inspirational. Everyone’s needed in our own unique ways; all one needs to do to join is visit in person or online: participate in & publicize demonstrations, join assemblies, teach or contribute skills, donate $ or warm clothes or food or supplies. Visit OccupySF, Occupy Oakland. This land belongs to all of us!