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May Day in Occupy Oakland: Let a million seeds sprout
As does much of what happens in the lives of human beings and their communities, the story of Occupy Oakland on May Day, 2012 has many complexities.
What was Oakland’s muddy “Lake Quan” as Occupy went into winter hibernation has resurged as a sea of green. Green grass, that is.
After Mayor Quan and OPD evicted the Occupy encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza late last year, stating the occupation encouraged rats and other creatures and destroyed the lawn, city officials ran water sprinklers for days to flood the park and discourage re-occupation.
On May Day 2012 the grass is back!
As does much of what happens in the lives of human beings and their communities, this story has complexities.
Frank Ogawa Plaza has been renamed (unofficially and by popular usage) Oscar Grant Plaza in memory of a young Oakland father shot to death on the BART platform in that city on the first day of 2009.
Judging by the uneven quality of the Grant Plaza’s new grass it is not the usual citified seeded lawn. Instead, it’s the au natural tough stuff that resurges anytime seeds take the opportunity to sprout, to thrive, and to prosper the way our natural world can prosper!
It’s a good metaphor for Oakland…and for Occupy!
Thousands rallied at the intersection of 14th and Broadway in the evening of May Day to celebrate the spring forward of Occupy across our nation and our planet. It had been a long, warm afternoon milling around and occasionally dodging scores of well-organized police in and around Oscar Grant Plaza (despite mainstream press accounts, there was just not as much violence as described: read my blog account and see pix).
A Maypole or two appeared. One of them, bedecked with dark green ribbon, attracted a group of the often-criticized Black Bloc-ers, some carrying make-shift shields, who danced around the pole and weaved the ribbons...then they turned around and danced in the opposite direction and un-weaved the ribbons.
A recyclable Maypole weaved by self-described anarchists!
Another metaphor for Oakland (“what ye anarchists weave, so shall ye have the opportunity to un-weave”)?
Oakland is a special city, a reflection of humanity that reprises many ordinary people’s lives: diverse, outspoken, hospitable although burdened with social and financial obligations, and longing for responsible freedom.
It also has far too many of a far too little heard segment of a growing population: mothers whose sons have been shot to death by Oakland police officers.
A handful of these mothers, and an uncle, addressed the rally.
As a former “military mom” who faced the potential death or injury of a beloved son in war I can only imagine the nightmarish rage one carries after a child is shot to death by those hired to serve and protect.
Yet, reflecting other human qualities, the City of Oakland also presents its fair share of NIMBY: “not in my backyard”.
As a media person and self-appointed “culture critique-r”, I tend to mingle in crowds and talk to a range of people. Yesterday, I encountered multiple episodes of NIMBY-ism.
One occurred as OPD closed in on the crowd and pressed it into the intersection of 14th and Broadway from three directions. An elderly man approached to warn we’d better go home. Then he asked where I was from. I told him I live about a mile away in another city. (In fact, before engineering an estuary, my city was a peninsula that jutted off the Oakland Hills and into SF Bay.) He launched into what seems to be a consensus among Oaklanders and reiterated by Mayor Quan: “they” (Occupiers) come from out of town to make trouble in “our” town and “we” must pay the financial burdens -- extra security, damage to local business, etc.
I heard the same complaint on the re-routed bus as I returned to the plaza for the 6pm rally. Three passengers near me kvetched about Occupy: “don’t see the point”: “messes things up for all of us”: and “they come from out of town, don’t even live in Oakland!”
We engaged an energetic debate for a couple of minutes: only one woman was willing, grudgingly, to concede “it takes a village” to create change.
For Occupy is not only about Oakland. It’s about ordinary people, here, there and everywhere, evaluating the quality of our lives and finding them out of whack; it’s about ordinary people agreeing to risk raising our voices in the fast disappearing public commons; it’s about all of us striving to improve things for all of us while we still can.
It’s about bringing us together, not about dividing us.
And it’s about not demonizing any groups, especially those on the frontlines, until they’ve unequivocally showed us that they’ll always be against us.
Just as segments of the anti-war community tend to demonize military recruiters, for example, Occupiers tend to demonize police.
Indeed, an Oakland man addressed the rally last night and urged the crowd of several thousand to “oink” and send a message to “the pigs” that make up OPD.
I don’t oink…not as a member of an already emotional crowd.
For history teaches very clearly what can happen when emotional crowds lose their bearings.
This man is angry – righteously so: his nephew was murdered by police in a public place.
We, the 99% have a long way to go. We must keep our bearings as we head into Occupy 2012.
Meanwhile, let a million blades of grass bloom: unseeded, uncitified, uncultivated…in Oakland, and around the world.
Susan Galleymore occupies when she can…and, among other things, she writes and “does” radio. Read her blog post with lots of photos from May Day, Oakland.