Thursday, June 7, 2012

Where is Joe Simon?

Sorry I've been gone so long.

Since the fiasco of May Day, I've become too disillusioned with the Occupy movement--most specifically, with Occupy Oakland--to care much anymore. I'm still a supporter, and I'll still come out for the big events, but the movement anarchists played all of us for suckers, not least me. They've given absolutely no ground, whilst the rest of us--the pacifists, the dreaded NVers, the socialists, the communists, the horrible liberals, and the pathetic reformers have given them everything they wanted. And for what? Tiny FTP marches and GAs that no one attends (to the point where quorums are now, apparently, no longer required).

So until the movement moves back towards the far left and stops being a pathetic street gang, I'm done.

Which somehow brings me to Joe Simon and his 1975 LP, Get Down, and it's fabulously tacky cover.

This album has absolutely no business being anywhere near as good as it is. With its title hinting of all things disco, it should have been a career misstep for Mr. Simon. Better men than he--hello, Wilson Pickett and Tyrone Davis--adopted the disco sound wholeheartedly, to unhappy effect.

Whilst Get Down does occasionally nod in disco's direction, however, it remains at heart a southern soul album--despite track one, side one being a little ditty entitled Get Down, Get Down (Get on the Floor). Strangely enough, it was recorded in New York City (cue Pace Salsa commercial cowboys), but it's one of those rare albums where the liner notes truly tell the story: as Joe relates, "Months before the actual recording of this album, when (co-producer Raeford Gerald) and I first got together, I felt something special."

This is one of the best soul albums of the '70s, and it ends with its two most memorable tracks: the heart-rending ballads Still At the Mercy of Your Love and the monumental It's Crying Time in Memphis.

Joe Simon is still with us, but he no longer seems to be performing secular material. He's only 68 years old, and I'd pay a substantial sum to see him tread the boards again. C'mon, Joe...Get Down again for my sake, just one more time!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Putting Things Into Perspective

Here's something I read recently. You can find it on page 31 of Irving Bernstein's The Lean Years, a history of the American labour movement in the 1920s and early '30s. First published in 1960, the book is still in print and now features an introduction by the right's bete noire of a few months ago, Frances Fox Piven. Despite it's stridently anti-communist tone, The Lean Years remains a valuable resource.

This excerpt speaks for itself, but I'll state the obvious: we are re-fighting battles previously fought and won by those who came before us. I find this both depressing and hugely encouraging. It is, of course, deeply disheartening to be living in the era of the new robber barons (which reminds me of another great book, Martin Josephson's The Robber Barons-also still in print), but if the battle was winnable then, it is winnable now.

Enough of my blather. Here's what Bernstein (and novelist Sinclair Lewis) had to say about a 1929 strike at a cotton mill in South Carolina:

"As tension built up in the Baldwin mill, the night shift walked out in the early morning hours of October 2, congregating on the road before the front gate. The superintendent called in Sheriff Oscar F. Adkins, who brought along eleven deputies, six of them paid by the mill. When the strikers tried to persuade the day shift not to enter, Adkins released tear gas into their ranks. What follows has been described by Sinclair Lewis:

'This is the story of Old Man Jonas.
When Sheriff Adkins threw tear gas at the strikers, Old Man Jonas, the striker nearest to Adkins, attacked him with a stick. Adkins was broad, fat, strong, about forty years old, armed, and supported by the majesty of the Carolina law, which he represented. Beside Jonas was the distinguished constable Broad Robbins, aged perhaps fifty, but as powerful and menacing as a wolf. And Old Man Jonas was sixty-eight, and so lame with rheumatism that he had to walk with a cane-the can with which he struck the sheriff.
One would have thought that these two proud and powerful guardians of law and order would have been able to control Old Man Jonas without killing him. Indeed they made a good start. Adkins wrestled with him, and Broad clouted him in the back of the head. Jonas fell to his hands and knees. He was in that position when he was shot...
After the riot, Jonas, wounded fatally, was taken to the hospital with handcuffs on, was placed on the operating table, with handcuffs still on, and straightway he died on that table...with his handcuffs on.' *

While Jonas was being handcuffed , the deputies opened fire. Three strikers were killed, three mortally wounded, and twenty-five seriously wounded. All those who died were shot in the back. One deputy suffered a scratched cheek. A reporter for the Asheville Citizen, the only disinterested party present, saw no shots fired by strikers. When the wounded were taken to the Marion Hospital (many workers had contributed towards its construction), they were required to pay in advance. The head nurse explained that the Duke Power Company usually took care of charity patients but would not in this case. Two companies of the National Guard arrived the following day."

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

From Cheap and Contented Labor: The Picture of a Southern Mill Town in 1929.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Transparency is a four-letter word

"For the record, I don't hate livestreamers. I just don't trust transparency."
--Comrade Kalamity on Twitter, March 27th 2012.

This could just as easily have been an off the record statement attributed to an anonymous Obama administration flunky, but this is where we are: some Occupy supporters are now eagerly mimicking the high-security, everything-is-classified government they supposedly hold in such contempt. Remember when the future President promised his would be "the most transparent administration ever"? Well, welcome to Occupy Oakland 2012: the populist movement so terrified of its own shadow that everything must be negotiated in a windowless room with the lights off.

How did we get to the point where someone filming a picnic can be threatened with bodily harm? It's been a slow, but inexorable process set in motion, I believe, when the Occupy Oakland GA failed to endorse non-violence back in November, thus setting the stage for the entire movement to serve as a shield for the tiny sub-set of black bloc practitioners and fuck-shit-uppers now in control. I've written before about how this presented a massive challenge for OO, but I was naive and optimistic at the time and thought that cooler heads would prevail. As the disastrous March 31st FTP walkabout proved, however, the seeds planted on that November night have now come into full bloom.

Quite simply and obviously, it is transparency and livestreaming that gave birth to Occupy in 2011, and it is opacity and embedded journalism that will be its death in 2012. Many livestreamers have already accepted the narrative and will no longer film revolutionary actions that could be misconstrued as vandalism. Others have been neutered to the point of ineffectiveness by filming only those who give consent--an impossible standard that results in endless shots of marching feet and little else. (A blessed few have been anointed as the chosen ones by the OO hierarchy, but quite how such decisions are made is another deep mystery. I’m sure smoke-filled rooms must be involved.)

Before Occupy, I had never supported any political movement or party in my life; it was the livestreaming of October 25th that convinced me, and many others, that this was a movement worthy of support. To discover that this movement has now forsaken two of the attributes that made it so attractive in the first place--transparency and non-violence--has been deeply disappointing.

Let me conclude with a personal statement for the sake of both clarity and transparency. I plead guilty to the following charges: I am a 49-year old white middle-class male with a full-time job, three writing gigs, three cats, a blog, a spouse highly skeptical of Occupy, and a son in high school. I am a pacifist. I am also a socialist who believes that one of government's greatest responsibilities and duties is the redistribution of wealth. I am not opposed to direct actions; I supported the General Strike, the Port shutdowns, and Move-In Day (I marched to the Kaiser Center and beyond). I am not opposed to flag burning, as long as you're burning a flag you bought or made yourself. I still consider myself a community ally of Occupy Oakland and I will be out on the street on May 1st. Keep the faith, baby, and Occupy Everything—but keep the cameras turned on!

(Cross-posted at Occupy Symposium)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Peace Police

Just typing those words makes me cringe.

I suppose there are worse things to be called at Occupy Oakland, but 'peace police' is an especially nasty pejorative in these parts. When used by those of an insurrectionary persuasion, it suggests not only collaboration with the powers that be, but a whole litany of other unpleasant stereotypes: the typical peace police officer is a muesli-eating, middle-class, censorious, wet white liberal in Birkenstocks. For bonus points, you might also be an aging hippie who's trying to relive the glory days of the '60s.

If you're a pacifist, or are simply convinced that non-violent civil disobedience should be the Occupy movement's preferred tactic, you might even consider the phrase 'peace police' fightin' words--only, being the people we are, we're not actually going to start a fight about them. So what are the options?

One could, of course, sit at home (preferably in the dark) and steam about the unfairness of it all--I admit that's generally my first reaction in such situations. Steam about something long enough, however, and sometimes the proverbial light bulb goes on--and not just when your spouse enters the room and flips the switch to the on position.

In such fashion did my own light bulb illuminate. To wit: I'm no longer going to be embarrassed by the label 'peace police', I'm going to embrace it.

Picture this: it's Move-In Day 2.0. After gathering at OGP, three thousand plus Occupiers embark on a march to the long vacant C. Europa furniture store near Broadway and 51st. A cadre of faith leaders, civil rights activists, elders, veterans, and other clearly identified Peace Police lead the way north on Broadway, shielding the crowd from the Violence Police. Masked anarchists are still out in force with their trash can shields, of course--remember, this is a radically inclusive movement--but they're now the second line of defense, and are, in fact, being protected by the Peace Police whilst sampling the schadenfreude entree with a side order of poetic justice.

What would the Violence Police do when confronted by the Peace Police? Would they repeat their mistakes of October 25th and eagerly beat the crap out of them, or teargas them, or shoot them with 'less lethal' rounds? Or would they have second thoughts about once again attacking protesters in clerical garb, or in military uniform, or in wheelchairs? I honestly don't know, of course, but I do know this: the tactics of J28 didn't work, and arguably exacerbated the situation. The Peace Police would, at the very least, force the Violence Police to adjust their tactics, and would make it that much harder for them to win the PR war. And who knows--they might even win the grudging admiration of the masked and anonymous crowd.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Paranoia strikes deep

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

I've been thinking for some time that Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth should be the official Occupy Oakland anthem. Despite being written by the appalling Stephen 'Love the One You're With' Stills, it remains the most evocative song of its era, its timely lyrics presciently describing exactly what's been happening here in Oakland over forty years later. It's a song that still sends a shiver down my spine--even though I've probably heard it a thousand times.

As the media committee drama played out over the last few weeks, the already high levels of paranoia at Occupy Oakland seemed to scale new heights. Whether or not someone had actually infiltrated OO on behalf of the Feds was almost beside the point: Occupational Awareness unleashed a wave of suspicion, anger, back-biting, fear, distrust and division--much of it in the form of inelegant and snarky 140-character Tweets--that surely delighted our local and national law enforcement agencies. It's yet another unfortunate and energy-sapping turn of events, once again putting the movement on the back foot.

As an Occupy Oakland community ally, I've experienced hints of this paranoia first hand. My efforts to reach out to the movement have generally failed. OOers don't seem to reply to e-mails from people they don't know, a precaution I can understand: after all, I choose not to communicate via phone, Facebook, or Twitter. At the same time, however, I think it's unfortunate that the atmosphere has become so poisonous that many Occupiers don't even bother to tell me to go away and stop bothering them. It also stands in sharp contrast to my outreach efforts to other Occupys, which have proven considerably more fruitful.

Things are a bit better when I show up in person. While I've had some genuinely enlightening conversations with Occupiers, however, many seem to look askance at me and hold back. Is it my mild-mannered, middle-aged appearance that suggests I might be a cop or an informer? Or is it simply the normal suspicion tightly connected insiders hold towards outsiders encroaching on their territory? There's more than a whiff of Dick Hebdige's subculture theory in the OO air, and I am definitely on the outside looking in: for those of us who weren't in OGP camps 1 and 2 or didn't get tear-gassed on October 25th, we'll never have the necessary street cred. I'm--quelle horreur!--a poseur.

At the same time, there's so much good stuff currently going on at OO that it's hard to get too downhearted about things. The Occupy4Prisoners event at the Grand Lake (which even included a Hayward teacher's rendition of For What It's Worth)--though not strictly an Occupy Oakland event--was an amazing, moving, and powerful evening. With foreclosure actions, community barbecues and the efforts of the Occupy Brooms Collective all ongoing, there's a lot for those of us in the movement's nefarious non-violence wing to be happy about. Perhaps I just need to grow a thicker skin about the other stuff--or perhaps I'd better put the Buffalo Springfield records away for a while.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Piedmont Avenue Three

Well, this seems to be a new low--even for the Oakland Police Department.

Three supporters of Occupy Oakland--Michael Davis, Nneka Crawford, and Randolph Wilkins (aka Teardrop)--have been charged with robbery and hate crimes. You can read OPD's press release here:

As I noted in my previous post, I was outside the Wells Fargo Bank on February 22nd, between approximately 5:15 PM and 6:00 PM.

I simply cannot imagine how these three people could have committed these crimes in broad daylight, on a major thoroughfare, without me (or apparently anyone else) noticing.

First of all, nobody was calling for a riot. That statement is ridiculous on its face.

I never saw anyone from Occupy Oakland cross to the other side of Piedmont Avenue.

OPD were present to escort bank employees to their cars after closing. I didn't see them arresting anyone.

I can testify that I was standing next to Michael immediately outside the Wells Fargo Bank between 5:45 and 5:55 PM. In addition, I saw Teardrop on the Wells Fargo side of the street shortly before then.

I am not going to state categorically that these crimes did not occur, but for those 45 minutes, there was certainly no visible evidence of anything being amiss on Piedmont Avenue--other than the upset customer I wrote about in my previous post.

There is something very, very wrong with this story.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Outside Agitators

Every time there's a protest in Oakland, there's a whole lot of blather in the corporate press about those evil and mysterious 'outside agitators' who come to cause trouble and use our city as their 'playground'.

The storyline was alive and well during the Oscar Grant demonstrations of 2009 (otherwise known as The Defenestration of Foot Locker) and is once again lurking openly within mainstream reporting about Occupy Oakland actions. After J28, we were solemnly informed that 'only' 35% of those arrested were Oakland residents. Setting aside the fact that 35% of 409 is still a pretty impressive 143, the implication is that if those wicked people had stayed in Berkeley/Fremont/San Francisco/Alpha Centauri where they belong, none of this trouble would have happened!

It's an attractive argument, and I must admit I once gave it some credence. It's easy to fall into a parochial mindset, especially when you've set down roots and lived in one place for a while. It's nice to believe that the folks who live in 'your' city wouldn't get up to any naughty business without the incitement of craftily manipulative foreigners from the badlands on the other side of Alcatraz Avenue. But it also defies logic.

For example: I've lived in Oakland for thirty years. I consider myself an 'Oaklander'. By the logic of the outside agitator argument, I should, therefore, limit my protest participation to actions within the city limits. But wouldn't it be just as logical for me to restrict my direct actions to the three cities in which I've actually worked during those thirty years: Emeryville, San Francisco, and Berkeley? After all, I've never worked a single day in Oakland, unless you count the occasional afternoon spent at the Northern California Independent Bookseller's Association annual meeting at the downtown Hyatt. Based on all those eight-hour work shifts (plus commute time), I've probably spent at least ten of the last thirty years 'outside' the city in which I 'live'.

And what of my national origins? I wasn't born in this country. Perhaps I don't have the right to protest anywhere in the United States, never mind Oakland. Do I need to 'go back to where you came from', as has been suggested to me on numerous occasions, to protest about Deanna Santana's ridiculously generous salary to whomever will listen to me in the Greater Merseyside area?

This issue came home to me last week, when I spent time supporting the Ice Cream Bloc's autonomous action outside the Wells Fargo Bank on Piedmont Avenue. As I was engaging in a very pleasant chat with a nice young Occupier named Matt, an angry, red-faced man with bulging neck veins confronted us and asked us if we were responsible for the bank closure, and if we were, how dare we attract such riff-raff to our events? As he steamed away, he turned and shouted "I live in this neighborhood!", to which I replied, "so do I!" This clearly struck the gentleman as preposterous: he'd assumed that a bunch of alcoholic criminals had been bussed in from Berkeley/Fremont/San Francisco/Alpha Centauri to disrupt his day.

I'm going to have more to say about this interesting encounter in a future column, but for now I want to keep the focus on the question of 'outsider' protest. I felt very comfortable on my home turf--this action took place within blocks of my house--but did this man have a point? Does one's right to protest decrease the farther one gets from their home address? And if you're homeless,
does this mean you have absolutely no right to protest at all? Considering the zeal with which OPD broke up Occupy Oakland's encampments, and with which other encampments were broken up after they started attracting 'undesirable elements', this may be one of the unwritten rules of the 'legitimate protest' game. Those who have the most 'skin in the game' aren't even allowed to participate in the game.

The argument leads to the inescapable conclusion that property invests people with rights, and the more property you own the more rights you have. After all, in addition to living in the neighborhood, Angry Bulgy Vein Man also owns a business (something he felt was important enough to mention to us). This is my neighborhood, and I own a business, and the fact that a group of 'alcoholic criminals' prevented me from visiting my bank is an outrage!

More on ABV Man next time.

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I am a semi-aquatic marine mammal who enjoys eating fish and krill, as well as taking long underwater swims