You might think from my lack of posting that not much has been going on. On the contrary, so much has been going on, and there’s so much I want to write, but I have been utterly busy in this extraordinary historical moment. This is a revolutionary time. What seems possible changes almost day-to-day. Politics are quite literally unpredictable.
I recently read a great account of a timid liberal’s changes through participation in Occupy Oakland. A homeless man below tells how Occupy Atlanta has saved him from crack addiction.
The Occupy movement has changed me, too. At first, I took an observer’s stance. A couple of weeks in, I joined the October 5th march around the city – a march that was extremely positive and open, without any feelings of fear or aggression. The police behaved well, blocking traffic to help the march (which I believe was unpermitted).
That evening, I watched a motorcycle cop direct rush-hour traffic in downtown San Francisco for 45 minutes. He was clearly trained and experienced at that task, and I thought, “He’s acting as a true civil servant, there.”
Later that night I saw on Twitter that the Occupy SF camp was about to be raided. I went down to be a witness, but I became a bit involved. I heckled the police, I may have even helped move objects into the street to help block in the DPW and police vehicles.
I have been to many demonstrations, and seen quite a few actions that involved civil disobedience, but this was something else. I really saw the cops that night as the impersonal, malevolent, corporate (in two senses) force that they are. Why, I thought, should their will – which is really the will of our (unelected) mayor, or of capital behind him – automatically triumph over mine, over ours? My attitude became, and has remained, far more oppositional than previously. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the police, but now I feel it much more viscerally: they are not ours, they are not of us, they are not for us. We must oppose them, because they will be used to oppose us and crush us. As individuals, I welcome them, in the strongest tradition of nonviolence. As a group, as a force, as an institution, I am much more opposed to them than I was two months ago.
Tear Gas and Waiting
Last week I got tear-gassed for the first time running around in the streets of Oakland Tuesday night (October 25th). I, and hundreds of others, were not going to disperse just because the cops said so – we were going to assemble, and we were going to act, and some man with a bullhorn calling us an “illegal assembly” don’t mean shit.
The resilience of the crowds and the police violence led to a dramatic climbdown by the Oakland authorities, followed by a re-occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza the next evening. A victory! (Although a bittersweet one, given that Scott Olsen was badly injured.)
The next night (Wednesday, October 26th) I found myself deepening in resolve. We got word of a planned police raid of Occupy SF that night. I thought about it, checked in with my wife, and then headed over. I stayed up all night ready to nonviolently defend the medical tent at Occupy SF – willing to get my ass kicked and to be arrested. This planned civil disobedience was not about making a point or costing the authorities. It was about defending a positive thing that the cops intended to destroy (it would have been the third such raid – I was out of town for the second). Luckily, we had enough people (and politicians) present that the cops (or the mayor or whatever shadowy eminence behind him) decided not to raid. Another victory, this time without blood, bruises, or chemical agents!
Tonight I prepare for Oakland’s general strike tomorrow – the first general strike in the US in 65 years! Again, I have no idea what I’ll face – will there be crowds of thousands, or of tens of thousands? Will we succeed in shutting down the Oakland ports? Will we be tear-gassed again (or worse) by police interfering in our action? Might I be arrested even though I do not plan to engage in a conventional “arrestable” action? Who will I meet, what great conversations will I have?
Moments like this are what leftists live for, dream of, pray for, hope for, despair of ever seeing – and when this movement first started, I and other leftists were frozen, wondering what to do. No longer. When I was part of the group circling the Occupy SF medical tent, the lights, the colors, the darkness and the drumming, the masses of people, lent the scene a festival air. It felt magical. It felt right, in a spiritual or mystical way. I knew I was doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.
It was almost as if, at the limit of my perception, I felt the world shift a tiny, hair’s breadth – but that hair’s breadth is everything.