The nation’s first General Strike in sixty-five years successfully shut down the fifth-busiest port in the country last night in Oakland. Downtown branches of Chase Bank, Wells Fargo, Union Bank, and Bank of America were sites for protest and work stoppage. Around the downtown plaza, the Men’s Warehouse shut down for the day in support. Rite Aid, Footlocker, and Tully’s Coffee were closed. Some businesses in other neighborhoods also shut down in support. Riding my bike past the Grand Lake Theatre marquee I read: “We proudly support the Occupy Wall Street movement! Closed Wed to support the strike.” Down the street, the privately owned Walden Books had its closed sign out. Uhuru Furniture: closed in support.
More than 300 public school teachers, according to the SF Chronicle, walk out of their classrooms. Some bring their students with them, while many others stay to conduct teach-ins. Laney College hosts a rally and march, with students, instructors carrying tombstones documenting the decimation of public education: RIP Art History, RIP Algebra, RIP Geology, RIP Vietnamese Language. Nurses, carpenters, out-of-work techies, community workers who daily address the repercussions from homelessness and joblessness. The City of Oakland announces that employees in strike sympathy can use a furlough day, a required unpaid day to help balance the city budget, or a vacation day.
A very few in the thousands and thousands and thousands of marchers break windows, tag, and use paint to destroy property. Occupy Oakland says they will address this at their General Assembly tonight. During the strike, someone has taped a “We are better than this” handwritten 8 x 11 inch sheet of paper on a shattered window. Others stand between the property and those intending damage, others defuse violent damage by convincing the perpetrators to leave. Destruction of property is totally unacceptable. But, so, too, is the violence experienced by foreclosures. Social service workers say it is the municipalities that are picking up the pieces and paying for this cost in human need - a direct result of violently irresponsible investment practices. Lost your job? Working the job of two or even three because your company has cut back? Has your family’s school closed? Your neighborhood doesn’t have a grocery store? This is totally unacceptable violence, perpetrated by corporate policies that prioritize the bottom line and executive salary and bonuses over the human cost to workers and the community.
More than 40% of residents in the area of downtown Oakland’s plaza live below the $11,000/ year poverty line, according to Oakland Tribune’s coverage of a Brookings Institution report released today. Is this why, several days before the strike, Occupy Oakland served 3000 people at the food tent directly in front of city hall? I bring more oranges. I see Marguerite, who four days ago was concerned about the sanitary conditions of the kitchen, and stayed to help out. She has been here ever since. “The Lord told me to come down and check this place out,” she tells me today. “How many days have I come here?” I wash dishes: mostly high-sided aluminum serving trays, utensils, pots, some plates and glasses as I face out to the plaza. A woman walks by with a Visitor sticker. Nodding to her badge, I ask if she is from out of town. “No, no, I just came from paying a ticket at city hall. Say, how much are you selling the sandwiches over there for?” I tell her they are free. “Are you from some agency?” she queries. No, I tell her. Just part of the 99%. Everything you see here has been donated by the community and everyone working here is donating their time. We serve whatever comes in.
A main tenet of Occupy Oakland is sharing. Occupy Oakland takes donations, but no money changes hands in purchases. Occupy Oakland runs to address human need. Even before the first clearing of the camp on October 25th, there was a kitchen, a first aid station, a children’s tent, a supply tent, and teach-ins. Now it has grown. The kitchen is three times as big and organized to shelve donations as they flow in. There is a freezer now, run by a large solar panel. Sprouts grow out of a flat-bed garden that will in time feed the community. The first aid tent is now a Medic Tent. I see someone getting their blood pressure taken. The Children’s pup tent is now a full height children’s area, where guardians and their children can relax in the company of another adult experienced in child support. A library offers books organized and identified by topic, including a section of children’s books. On the books are written; “Occupy Oakland Library.” A sign informs that there is no check-out process. Just take a book and return it when you are done. If you want to keep the book, do so and write its title on the Wish List. Back at the kitchen, someone has put aside Holes, by Louis Sachar. There is a Quiet Healing Tent. Nearby tow people are offering massage and acupuncture, for free of course. A gazebo tent is open for art and poster-making.
A silk-screen station is in full swing. My friend Doyle and I line up for a free poster. A few days from now t-shirts saying “Occupy Oakland” with a clenched fist will be made for the strike. The line for a poster is long. We are the last to get one before the paper runs out. Doyle wants to replenish. The local art store has been bought out, so it will take some time to get more. As we leave the camp, Doyle tells people deep into the line, “There is no paper right now.” A young man nods. He knows and is staying to patiently wait. Doyle says, “I’ll be back in an hour,” which proves to be true. We find a parking space just across from the main entrance to the plaza and cross the street weighted down with heavy books of poster-sized sheets of paper. It is night now. There is much activity at the entrance. We hear “There they are!” and think nothing of it until two young men approach. They are talking to us? They ask if they can help and we hand off our load. The young men get to work separating each sheet by its perforated edge. I notice how energized and focused they are. They clearly have a purpose. They seem proud to me in their deliberate and productive task. Occupy Oakland is providing a way for people to feel that they are making a difference, that they have agency. This point hits home to me again and again.
The next night I get a call from Doyle that the kitchen needs shelves. I find an unused shelf in our basement and drive it down to the plaza along with some water, utensils, and serving trays. I pull up alongside a curb, take out the water and place it on the curb. No sooner than thirty seconds later a woman who introduces herself as Jordon, runs out to me. “Are you doing a drop off? I don’t want you to get a $650 ticket for this no parking zone.” Jordon directs me to the other end of the plaza. When I arrive, she has three teenage women with her. Jordon starts unloading the car, passing off the supplies to one, then another of the teens. The third teen gets nervous. “What about me. I want to help.” They’ve never been here. Jordon gives them directions to the food tent, hauls out the shelf, says I am an angel, and strides off tapping a beat on the wood frame. The teenager’s urgent voice echoes in my head: What about me. I want to help. In this leaderless, consensus-driven occupy movement; momentum comes from each individual person feeling initiative. Feeling that there is a place for their contribution and that their agency has effect. When people asked me what I will change as a result of the strike yesterday, I say change is already happening. Human need trumps corporate greed. Compassion is in our genes. http://redroom.com/member/jane-p-perry/media/audio/occupy-oakland-11311