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Making it Through Winter with Occupy Santa Rosa
One occupiers perspective on the last couple months of Occupy Santa Rosa
*Disclaimer- this represents my own perspective and opinion, and not that of Occupy Santa Rosa. I may have left some stuff out, or accidentally mis-reported or mis-represented some events. I hope not, but anyway...enjoy!
I felt like sharing some thoughts with y'all about how Occupy Santa Rosa is surviving the winter months, the repression, and all the challenges that come with maintaining a powerful, mass social movement. Sorry if it's a bit long, but you know how it goes...
Making it Through Winter with Occupy Santa Rosa- January 6th to March 8th
I. Occupy Wells Fargo
We kicked off 2012 with a bang: nearly 500 people took to the streets on a Friday afternoon to protest Wells Fargo. A beautiful coalition formed between the Occupy movement and local immigrants' rights groups to take Wells Fargo to task for their greed, corruption, and their investments in immigrant detention centers. Seven people occupied two separate Wells Fargo branches and were arrested, shutting them down for the entire day. This action garnered widespread media attention, and drew the ire of Wells Fargo executives (their regional president attempted to hold a meeting with us, but we declined). As of this writing, the seven arrestees have not been charged. We have held several successful and well-publicized court solidarity actions, with Occupiers filling up the courtroom, forcing the courts to bring in up to 10 armed guards at a time.
In the aftermath of this hugely successful action, an alliance of groups- the Graton Day Labor Center, Occupy Santa Rosa, the DREAM Alliance, and the Committee for Immigrants' RIghts, has continued to meet and organize a campaign of divestment to hit Wells Fargo where it counts: their wallets. We have met with City Council members about withdrawing the cities funds from Wells Fargo and investing locally. This conversation has also led us to taking the first steps toward establishing a County-owned public bank. We are building ties with local churches and organizations to encourage the public, especially the immigrant community, to divest from Wells Fargo. One of our members from the Day Labor center recently attended the national NDLON conference (National Day Labor Organizing Network) and built ties with organizers from the Bay Area which we hope will manifest in a regional effort against Wells Fargo, and possibly a national campaign. We are also planning a neighborhood event in Roseland, a mostly working-class, latino neighborhood, to inform people about their banking options and bring people into the struggle against WF.
Here's an article about the rally: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20120106/ARTICLES/120109706
Being a suburban Occupy, oftentimes we find ourselves making the hour-plus trek to the big cities, Oakland and SF, to support the Occupy actions there. This has greatly strengthened our local group and provided inspiration for similar bold actions up here. On January 20th we sent a large contingent of folks to the "Shut Down Wall St. West" action in the financial district of SF. More recently, we sent about 20 folks to the Day of Action for Prisoners at San Quentin. These have both been powerful moments where our local activists have gotten a chance to connect with Occupy groups from other cities, share info, swap contacts, and build relationships.
In the aftermath of the January 28th "Move-In Day" action in Oakland, and the subsequent police riot, our local papers played an all-too-predictable "divide-and-conquer" role. They published an editorial claiming that the entire Occupy movement is dead, and that all Occupy groups must come out publicly and denounce Occupy Oakland, or risk losing all legitimacy. Although to my knowledge no Occupy Santa Rosa members were present on the 28th, the events of that day sparked intense and deep discussions about nonviolence, state repression, and tactics. The newspaper editorial forced our hand, and we spent days coming up with a position on the matter. I am proud to say that we were able to consent on a position of total solidarity with Oakland, and against the violence of the state. Despite our many critiques of the actions of some who claim to be part of Occupy Oakland, and our firm commitment to nonviolent direct action as a revolutionary tactic, we were able to publish a statement that put the blame where it rightfully belongs: the state, the police, and the 1%. You can read the statement on our website archives.
III. Two weeks of hella action
The last two weeks have been jam packed with amazing and successful actions which have kept the momentum going through the Spring. On February 25th, we mobilized 300 teachers and supporters in a day of action to defend public education. Several of our members had built strong ties with the Santa Rosa Teachers Association to organize the action. The week before the action we held a teach-in about the attacks on public education, called "One Nation Under Shock." The room was packed, as three local teachers gave presentations about the history of public education and the neoliberal attempts to privatize the system. Here's an article about the rally: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20120225/ARTICLES/120229661
On February 29th we responded to the call for a national day of action to "Shut Down the Corporations." In one week, we put together a creative and targeted action against Wal-Mart. 30 Occupiers entered the store, discreetly, and engaged in outreach with workers and customers about the abuses of Wal-Mart toward its workers, and its role in ALEC (American Legislative Executive Council). We had productive conversations with many customers and workers, and we framed the whole action as a pro-worker, pro-99% effort, instead of an "anti-shopping" action, which would have alienated us from the people we were trying to reach. At one point we did a loud "Mic-Check" and read a statement expressing support for the workers and explaining Wal-Marts role in keeping the 99% down. The action received some press coverage (though the article, linked below, is pretty awful), and mostly positive reactions from the public. http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20120229/ARTICLES/120229449.
The next day, March 1st, Occupy Santa Rosa Junior College (which formed in February) organized a rally and march to coincide with a National Day of Action for Education. About 100 students rallied on campus, then marched to the State building downtown. Several of us were able to sneak inside and drop a banner. About 15 local cops and Highway Patrol guarded the door with their motorcycles and threatened us with arrest for "blocking the entrance" (by getting within 15 feet of the door). We performed a skit and had speakers talk about their struggles to pay for education. Despite our good turnout and over-blown police presence, we received absolutely zero media coverage for this event.
Occupy SRJC has been holding General Assemblies twice a week and has established a regular "Welcome Booth" in the middle of campus. Primarily we have been focused on organizing to reclaim the "Doyle Scholarship," which up until the economic crisis, was the largest scholarship in the California community college system, providing up to $1,500 a year for students (which, not factoring in the most recent fee hikes, was more than enough to pay tuition and books). In a 3-day period, we gathered over 1,000 signatures from students demanding that the courts review the status of the Trust which administers the scholarship. Here's our most recent editorial about our efforts. http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20120306/OPINION/120309665
On Monday, March 5th, SRJC sent close to 150 students to the massive march in Sacramento, which drew approximately 10,000 people. After the main rally, about 600 folks, including some from Occupy SRJC, occupied the State Capitol building and held a General Assembly which lasted for several hours. Despite logistical difficulties, and police harassment, the General Assembly was able to pass a list of five demands to address the education cuts. http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20120305/WIRE/120309772
Upcoming actions include: Monday, March 12th we will be mobilizing at the County Recorders office to demand a halt to foreclosures and an auditing of all current foreclosures to check for fraud (which we know is widespread). Next week we are also organizing to support an elementary school slated for closure. The school, which is mostly for low-income students of color, is slated for closure to make way for a French Charter School. Parents and teachers are mobilizing to prevent this elitist, racist takeover, and Occupy is standing with them 100%. Also next week, the Dorothy Day Working Group, which organizes with poor, homeless and disabled folks, is organizing an event called "The System is Broken" to work toward solutions to systemic poverty in Santa Rosa.
IV. The Future!
Despite the challenges we face, all signs indicate that Occupy Santa Rosa is still a force to be reckoned with, and will indeed continue to grow into the Spring. Our General Assembly has just approved the call-out for a massive day of action on April 7th, a "Spring Awakening," to gather all of our local Occupy activists, Working Groups, and allies, for a huge protest, culminating in a massive GA to decide whether or not to Re-Occupy a public space. We are also supporting the massive Cesar Chavez Day March on April 1st, organized by the United Farm Workers.
But by far the most interesting development will undoubtedly be the organizing for May 1st. Occupy Santa Rosa has endorsed the call for a General Strike and is working with the May 1st Coalition (a group of immigrants' rights, labor and faith groups that plans the May Day march every year) to organize a day of massive nonviolent direct action, a "Day Without the 99%." We have set up a Strike Preparedness Committee and are in the initial stages of planning massive walkouts, civil disobedience, and marches. Time will tell whether or not Occupy has the strength to pull off one of the biggest and most important actions our community has ever seen, or whether we have bitten off slightly more than we could chew. Either way, my hopes are up, the sun is out, and the time is right for revolution.
See y'all in the streets!
Occupy to Liberate!