Sunday, January 29, 2012

What I saw at J28

This is going to be a long one.

My son and I arrived at Ogawa-Grant Plaza at 11:45 AM Saturday morning. I was hoping to be greeted by a massive crowd, but was disappointed to find no more than two hundred folk spread throughout the area. Oh sure, the 'usual suspects' were there...but I'm not one of them, and I'd been hoping that others of a less active persuasion would be joining in on this special day.

The excitement began within half an hour, as OPD snatched up Khali on an outstanding warrant that he didn't have. A crowd converged and the inevitable 'let him go' chant erupted. Some brainless wag behind us suggested that the police van be flipped over...with Khali inside. There's an idea.

Around 12:30 PM, the crowd moved to 14th and Broadway. There was a boring speech about hating the rich by a woman whose name I've forgotten, and then some uplifting words from Gerald Sanders (who seems to be an awesome gentleman) and Khali, who had already been released from police custody. Oops, OPD's bad (using the word as a noun, not an adjective, though that applies, too)!

Fashionably late but now numbering well into the hundreds, the march finally began around 1:15 PM. My son and I decided to stick close to the sound truck because a)it needed protection and b)there's nothing better than over-amplified dance music to get the blood flowing and the tinnitus acting up. (The hearing in my left ear is still recovering from standing right next to the bass amp at a Jam concert in 1980. Yeah, I was young and foolish.)

As the march set off down 14th St, the trepidation and fear I'd been feeling melted away. The crowd was still growing, the sound truck was pumping, the brass band was playing, the neighbours were waving at us from the apartment buildings above. Where was the ticker-tape? It was a party atmosphere and I was getting some exercise, too.

The mood began to shift ever so slightly when we discovered that the Occupy Oakland bus had already been cut off from the march by OPD. The folks on the sound truck had urged the crowd to stay together to prevent this from happening, but it was too late: instead of the bus, there were van loads of OPD bringing up the rear. We rejoined the crowd (which I am comfortable in estimating had reached close to 2,000 at this point) and proceeded to march towards Laney College.

At first I thought we were going to occupy Laney, but the sound truck urged everyone to walk through campus. It was at this point that I began to worry again, as the passageways through Laney are narrow and would have made perfect kettling points for the police. The march lost its cohesion and unity at these choke points: not only were people spread out too thinly, we had also lost the symbolic and communicative power of the sound truck. From here on we were on our own.

Police had formed a line to the north, so we all climbed up a small hill and reached an intersection near what appeared to be an abandoned OUSD building (if it's not abandoned I really feel sorry for the folks who have to work there). Aha. Here was the destination!

Except, of course, it wasn't, at which point Occupy's leaderless organizational model really began to work against it. Everyone had an opinion: let's keep marching, let's wait until more people join us; let's run, let's walk; slow down, speed up! I'm not sure how the indecision eventually was resolved, but the crowd meandered their way to...

...another narrow space! Fenced in on both sides, we continued to march towards our final destination. By now my paranoia was striking pretty deep...even with two thousand people in the street. And wouldn't you know it, there were the Officer Friendlies of OPD, waiting to greet us outside the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, a building that hasn't been used for anything for six years. SIX YEARS.

Well, that's definitely ambitious, I thought. I'd been assuming all along that we would end up at something a little smaller, something that might be a little easier to hold, or something where the building's ownership status was unclear enough to give OO some breathing space. The Kaiser Center, on the other hand, is huge, impossible to hold, and is owned by the City (who apparently have no need for it, but that's another story).

What to do? Despite my intentions of being nowhere near the front lines, here we were...right on the front line. As Melvin waggled his bright red Occupy Oakland sign (I do love that sign), the crowd began raining motherfuckers on the plods. We moved away when folks decided they didn't like the fence between them and OPD. Hey, if it was up to me, OPD would always be on the other side of a fence. To each his own, I guess.

Boom, and a cloud of something began enveloping the fence-phobes. We walked slowly away from the crowd, now obscured by either tear gas or smoke...I'm still not sure which. The group reconvened for an impromptu 15-minute discussion while the rest of us leaned against some concrete barriers, where a nice woman gave out oranges to people. One of the Michoacan ice cream men from the Fruitvale came by, and I offered to buy my son a cone.

Me: "It might be your last chance to have an ice cream."
Son: "Why? Do you think the police are going to kill us?"
Me: "No, silly, because the ice cream man will be moving on soon!"

We then gently chided a gentleman for using the word 'bitch' to describe the police. I guess he hasn't been participating in Occupy Patriarchy.

Finally the Long March recommenced. Where we were going? Back to the plaza, I think--but the catnip scent of OPD beckoned, tempting and taunting the now riled up anarchists amongst us. The marching stopped as soon as the police line on Oak Street was sighted (I'd love to know why there was a line there, as the march did not initially seem to be heading in that direction). Someone started chanting 'fuck the police' and a few dozen others joined in, at which point I decided our day of direct action was over. I was not about to get myself and my son tear-gassed and/or arrested, so we calmly peeled off from the crowd just as the first flash bangs went off. (For what happened next, see my previous post.)

We went to Broadway and waited for the bus to take us back to our nice, quiet, safe home. Three senior citizens joined us. An African-American woman was complaining about owing $900 tax on her meagre 2011 income of $19,000. A white woman was in great physical pain and mental distress; she was almost in tears about her lot in life: "I'm so tired of being poor", she said. It was the perfect reminder of why Occupy exists. The day may have ended in failure, but the movement goes on, because it has to.

I'll be back in a day or two with a deeper critique of J28.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My special moment with Jean Quan

I have a lot more to say about the incredible and horrifying things that happened in Oakland today, but while I digest the experience, I'll just share a brief anecdote.

Around 3:30 PM, my son and I left the Move-In march as the first tear-gas canisters erupted. We decided to walk up 12th Street to catch the bus at Broadway. As we were walking towards Franklin Street, my son said 'look, there's Mayor Quan.'

Mayor Jean Quan was leaving some sort of event in Chinatown. She was completely unaware of the violence unfolding only two blocks away. Accompanied by a small entourage, all smiling and laughing as if it were just another day, she climbed into the Mayor Mobile wearing that red outfit she seems to wear to every City Council meeting.

As we walked past, I shouted 'stop attacking Occupy Oakland! Peace, peace...stop attacking us!'

Her entourage looked surprised. The Mayor didn't look at me.

Another day in Oakland, indeed.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Good thoughts for J28

It goes without saying that tomorrow will be a big day. Move-In Day promises to be the most significant Occupy Oakland action since the 12/12 port shutdown.

If I were a believer, I'd be praying that OPD take the day off, let the 1:00 PM march go forward, and let the building occupation proceed peacefully.

As I'm not, however, I'm instead going to hope that someone in a position of authority realizes that the building occupation presents the City of Oakland with a golden opportunity to finally get OO away from Ogawa-Grant Plaza. However, as the decision-maker is likely to be Deanna Santana--or as I prefer to call her, Li'l Ms. Quarter Million Bucks Per Annum--I'm not really expecting that to happen, either.

So what will transpire? A lot depends, of course, on the building that is being occupied. Hopefully the organizing committee has done its homework and found a building with a legal status unclear enough to render immediate police action impossible or unlikely, or they've found a building owner willing to host OO.

You may call me a dreamer (though I'm probably not the only one), but I'm imagining how wonderful it would be for Occupy Oakland to finally have somewhere to call home: somewhere people could point to and say, 'look...there really is a there, there! No really, there, on the corner!' Somewhere where city residents and Occupiers could gather to organize and help each other--and somewhere where those of us averse to 'outdoor life' could get more deeply involved in the betterment of our city (which, surprisingly, most of us don't want to destroy. Shocking, I know!).

I haven't attended many OO events, but I'm coming to this one. See you there.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A good day in Oakland

Thank you, good sir!

As for these losers...

Get a real job! (Your other option is to start complying with Judge Henderson's orders. Your choice.)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Some random but serious questions and comments about black bloc and FTP

I'll begin by stating clearly: this column should not be construed as anti-Occupy or even anti-anarchist. I'm not sure if I'm in favour of diversity of tactics, but I'm definitely in favour of diversity of thought. Please consider these serious if somewhat barbed questions from an enthusiastic Occupy supporter who considers himself a tentative but cautious ally of those of a more Bakuninan persuasion.

1. We are repeatedly told that black bloc is not a group, that it's a tactic. I accepted the company line about this for several months, but now I'm wondering...who, precisely, decided to make this rather fine distinction?

The word 'bloc' is defined by the Free Dictionary as:

1. A group of nations, parties, or persons united for common action
2. An often bipartisan coalition of legislators acting together for a common purpose or interest

Did a convention of anarchists pass a resolution changing the definition of the word 'bloc', or is this merely obfuscation or misdirection on the part of those who like to fuck shit up? The implication is that 'anyone' can participate in black bloc tactics, but that there's no group of hardcore black bloc practitioners...which is obviously not the case. It seems to me that this really gets to the heart of the 'diversity of tactics' versus 'non-violence' argument: those who subscribe to 'diversity of tactics' want to reap the benefit of being able to blend back into an otherwise non-violent gathering after chucking a bottle or setting off a firecracker. You know, having their peaceful protest cake and throwing it at OPD, too.

Of course, I'm still not entirely convinced that 'black bloc' wasn't cooked up by the CIA or FBI as an excuse to crack down on dissent. I'm paranoid that way.

2. As a hardcore pacifist who will not respond with violence or defend myself if attacked, I don't understand the following January 20 tweet from someone named 'Comrade Kalamity':

"Pacifists are the enemy of revolution. Too cowardly to step out of the cage, afraid to move or breathe."

May I be indelicate for a moment and call bullshit? Which is more cowardly: to get pepper-sprayed by UC Davis police (to cite one obvious recent example) and take it; or to throw a bottle at the police but almost hit your fellow protesters (as happened at FTP two weeks ago) and then hide in the safety of the crowd? Would it not be more logical and courageous to throw your bottles and stay 'out of the cage'?

I guess it also depends on your definition of 'revolution'. If it means fucking shit up, yes, I'm a coward. If it means changing the system, I'll take my lumps.

3. Finally: I know there are different flavours of anarchism, but I find much of the language of the anarchist/black bloc movement hyper-masculine and very rigid. For example, the Anonymous-inspired aphorism 'we do not forgive, we do not forget' is heard repeatedly at Oakland's FTP marches, but what does it really mean in the context of Occupy Oakland and FTP? In regards to what is forgiveness off the table?

Yes, yes, I know...some things can't be forgiven or forgotten. The slave trade, the annihilation of Native Americans, the (to quote Raul Hilberg) Destruction of the European Jews, the dropping of the atomic bomb. I agree. We should not forget, and we should not forgive, those crimes against humanity. But never forgiving is a slippery slope that can lead to untold pain and suffering, both for individuals and for societies.

I am lucky. I have not been beaten by the police. I have not been arrested on trumped up charges. I have not been subjected to the daily harassment dealt out to many of you. But does police brutality rise to the same level as a crime against humanity; does it rise to the same level as the war crimes our governments commit every day? Though a memorable and powerful phrase, 'we do not forgive, we do not forget' leaves me deeply uncomfortable. Perhaps all I need is a good tear-gassing to make me change my mind...but I hope not.

4. Finally: ditch the balaclavas and ski masks, guys. You know who else wears those nasty things? The fascist thugs of the English Defence League, that's who. If you're genuinely as fearless as you claim to be you should be willing to show your face. After all, once the revolution is won, you'll want everyone to know that you were amongst the vanguards on the front line.

Comments and dialogue are welcome...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rule Number One & UC Riverside

It's still 'follow the money'.

In the wake of the SOPA blackout (you'll notice there was no Pickled Bologna post yesterday!), a substantial number of Congress critters abandoned the SOPA/PIPA ship. Most of them were Republicans, though House sponsor Lamar 'Red Rug' Smith is hanging tough.

As for the Dems...they're still on board, for the most part. Gee, I wonder why? Could it have anything to do with all the contributions they get from Hollywood entertainment companies...companies that generally don't donate to Republicans?


Meanwhile, down in sunny Southern California, the riot cops were out in full force today, doing what they do best...shooting students with 'non-lethal' rounds. It went down at UC Riverside during a meeting of the UC Regents, a group of wealthy people who occasionally get together to enjoy a nice lunch whilst massively increasing the cost of a public education. The best info on the Riverside outrage is here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"No more silly rules and no more law and order"

I finally figured out exactly what it is about the Occupy movement that's proven so inspirational to me. It's filling a space in my soul that has been empty since, oh, 1981 or '82--the space formally occupied (appropriately enough) by punk rock.

(By happy coincidence, calaverasgrande just published this on the Occupy Oakland website.)

I'm not an anarchist (never was, never will be), but the language of anarchism was an important and inspirational part of punk, especially when grafted to the raucous, distorted sounds of groups like Sweden's The Leather Nun, whose song 'No Rule' supplied this blog post's title. That song's chorus-- 'no more silly rules, and no more law and order'--strikes me as bearing more than a passing resemblance to the OWS chant, 'we are unstoppable, another world is possible.'

With punk, you never knew what was coming next, but you knew that it would be interesting, challenging, and exciting. As a teenager and a young adult, it offered a path to a place that existed outside the confines of 'regular' society: a place where all things were indeed possible and where anything could be imagined and put into practice.

It's been thirty years, but that path has once again been revealed to me.


Occupy Oakland Running Festival!

According to a news story in today's Oakland Tribune, "the popular Oakland Running Festival is moving from Frank H. Ogawa Plaza to Lake Merritt after recent problems with Occupy Oakland at the downtown plaza." The story quotes Lee Corrigan, the corporate hack whose company sponsors the event: "runner safety is a high, high, high priority of our event, and also showcasing the city in a positive light."

The story is by Kristin J. Bender, who writes:

Oakland's Occupy movement was thrust into the national spotlight after a series of police raids resulted in riots and violence. Occupiers first set up camp in the plaza Oct. 10, were cleared by police Oct. 25, then resettled the next day. Police cleared the second camp Nov. 14, during public outcry that it had become a public nuisance and was harming downtown businesses. The last straw was Nov. 10, when a man who had been in the camp was fatally shot in the head by another man at 14th Street and Broadway.

Wow. That's quite a piece of work, packing almost every untruth and distortion about Occupy Oakland into a single paragraph. Kudos to Ms. Bender. Perhaps she cut and pasted that from a Chamber of Commerce press release.

Anyway, you can read the entire fantastical article here.

Seems to me it might be a great idea to have some of our healthier, younger Occupiers register for this event, which is scheduled for March 24th and 25th (I guess it takes some folks a couple of days to complete the course).

Anyone out there enjoy exercise?

Thursday, January 12, 2012


The next big day on the Occupy calendar is almost here! Nationally known as Occupy Congress Day, January 17th promises to be an interesting day in both Washington, DC and Oakland. It's a race against time for Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, who's cooking up a phony health emergency in order to get Occupy DC cleared out before Tuesday whilst shedding crocodile tears for those holding down the encampment. Look out for the rats, a species never before seen in the District of Columbia! And it's much too cold to sleep in McPherson Square, so go home, or if you're homeless, go and sleep in a doorway where we won't notice you! Whatta guy. Here he is displaying his professional politician's look of concern.

Here in Oakland, we'll be celebrating Occupy Oakland City Council Day with three of our favourite people!

Rally outside City Hall starts at 4:30 PM, Council meeting follows at 5:30 PM. A splendid time is guaranteed for all!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Win some, lose some...wait, we WON one?

Apparently, the workers of American Licorice Company voted today by a narrow margin to accept the company's last, best (yeah, right) offer. The strike is over and the workers will be losing some of their health benefits--specifically, dependent coverage. (I lost mine this year, too.) Win-win for American Licorice, but knowing what I know now I'll never eat their lousy candy again (not that I ever enjoyed Sip 'n' Chew before the strike, either).


Thanks to a letter sent to the New York City Department of Buildings from OWS (signed by, amongst others, the NYCLU) , Brookfield Properties have been reminded that they are required to keep the Park open and accessible to the public 24 hours a day. Which means the fences and selective searches at Liberty Plaza/Zuccotti Park are over, at least for now!

We'll see what shenanigans Bloombo's Army cooks up next in their ongoing and tireless efforts to stamp out free speech and dissent in the Big Apple. Meanwhile here at home, I'm dreaming about finding a secret codicil to Oakland Municipal Code granting the public 24/7 access to OGP...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Boycott American Licorice!

No Red Vines for you, bub...the bad guys at American Licorice Company in Union City are determined to gut their workers' health insurance. Read all about it here.

Occupy Oakland joined the picket line today, prompting the Union City Police Department to fuel up their armoured personnel carrier, which they drove around the block. Thanks for the grant money, Homeland Security!

Other products produced by American Licorice include Sour Punch, Super Ropes, Snaps, Sip-n-Chew (no doubt a bizarre taste treat blending the subtle pleasures of Mickey's Big Mouth and Copenhagen Smokeless Tobacco), Natural Vines (which suggests Red Vines are...what exactly?), and the delightfully named Extinguisher, which sounds more like a WWF wrestler than a candy. Should any of these be amongst your favourite sweetmeats, make alternative arrangements until the company backs down.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday morning quarterback

Saturday night's Fuck the Police march went according to script.

The Tactical Action Committee proved they could organize a significant action.

OPD proved they still have superior firepower and are willing to beat the living crud out of random march participants.

TAC is now upping the ante and calling for 1,000 people to march next Saturday. Hyperbole it may be, but OPD is surely making mutual aid plans accordingly.

TAC has declared that every Saturday night will be Fuck the Police night in Oakland. I'm not sure how this decision was made, though I suspect it stemmed from a random tweet suggesting what a grand idea a weekly march would be.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The TAC are well within their rights to hold these marches, both autonomously and with the imprimatur of Occupy Oakland. The creation of TAC was, of course, endorsed by the OO GA. Occupy Oakland cannot pretend not to have a relationship with TAC. TAC is the child of Occupy Oakland.

There are ample reasons to continue to remind OPD of their many and varied crimes over the decades and TAC are clearly capable of delivering those reminders. However...

1. What is the end game? What result is TAC hoping to achieve? There has to be one...otherwise the weekly march is going to rapidly dwindle from last night's 200-300 to less than 100.

2. Time spent on organizing a weekly march is time taken from more effective TAC activities, such as foreclosure occupations and the Burger King protest (which, to my surprise, turned out rather well).

3.Like it or not, marching with a banner that says Fuck the Police is going to alienate you from 99% of the 99%. Even those of us generally sympathetic with FTP would probably prefer something a little less inflammatory. May I suggest Stop Police Brutality, Free All Political Prisoners, or (if you must insist on something a bit rude) Up Yours OPD as the motto for next week's banner?

4. If TAC continues the Saturday night marches, it will need to develop some discipline. If someone throws a bottle from the back of the crowd, that person needs to be identified and removed from the march--otherwise TAC is complicit in the endangerment of non-violent marchers. If you are unwilling to do that, you need to make it clear that only those willing to throw bottles should attend. We know OPD are always looking for the slightest excuse to bash heads. Either don't give them one, or be honest and upfront about endorsing confrontational tactics.

5. I know that TAC are revolutionaries and probably uninterested in compromise. But you are never, ever going to achieve your goals by remaining ideologically rigid. The United States is not ripe for the kind of revolution you are hoping for.

I was hopeful that last night's march would pass without incident; that it would take place and that OPD would simply stay away. That would have been a great success for all involved: it would have allowed the city to display its purported dedication to free speech, and it would have allowed TAC to magnanimously declare victory. This did not happen, and it is clear it is not going to happen on future Saturday nights.

In my opinion, TAC needs to re-think its priorities. 10th and Adeline was a great thing; Zion Cypress was a great thing. You may think otherwise, but I don't believe these were defeats--both occupations were more help than hindrance to the movement. Whether casting light on the sins of banks and the foreclosure industry, opening eyes to the inadequacies of the City Assessor's Office, or simply revealing that a plot of empty land in West Oakland is owned by a rich man in Lafayette, these were admirable and positive actions.

Fuck the Police, however, is not a goal. It's a pit of despair and angst, a trap OPD and the city want us to fall into. If they change the discussion from economic and social injustice to the police battling scary anarchists, they will win.

Keep the faith! Occupy everything!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Birmingham Sound: The Soul of Neal Hemphill Vol. 2

We take a brief break from Occupy Oakland activities to recommend this CD in the strongest possible terms. Anyone who enjoys the music of Stax/Volt, Otis Redding, Al Green, or southern soul in general will absolutely adore this disc, which includes exemplary (and in many cases, previously unreleased) tracks by Frederick Knight, Ralph 'Soul' Jackson (his version of Carl Perkins' Matchbox is a standout), and Wes Lewis, amongst others.

Released in late 2008, The Birmingham Sound is still available from The Rabbit Factory. Incidentally, this label was until recently the home of one of the best retro-soul outfits currently treading the boards,
J.C. Brooks & the Uptown Sound. Check 'em out, keep the faith, and Occupy Everything!

And remember, order directly from the creator, not from scum sucker Steve Bezos.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Camp Care-a-Lot

In one of the most significant developments in the ongoing struggle between the City of Oakland and the Occupy movement, a group of celebrities showed up at Ogawa-Grant Plaza this morning to endorse the Interfaith Vigil and the Tactical Action Committee.

Yes, Cheer Bear, Funshine Bear, and--most critically--Love A Lot Bear are now camping out at Ogawa-Grant Plaza.

Reports that Mayor Quan and Darth Santana have been in contact with Professor Coldheart and Frostbite would not be confirmed this afternoon by City Hall, which closed early due to the elevated threat of pastoral action.


Dateline, Oakland CA: OPD (seen above) swing into action to break up and arrest the subversive garbage can creators of Occupy Oakland--and whoever else just happened to be standing around 14th and Broadway having a chat on the evening of January 4th 2012.

Deanna Santana, She-Wolf of the Oakland SS, could not be reached for comment.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Garbage cans of doom

Our illustrious chief of police, Howard Jordan, today complained that Occupy Oakland is causing a trash problem in Ogawa-Grant Plaza.

According to the City's press release revoking the vigil permit (and it's disgusting in itself that the use of public space can be subject to 'permits'), "individuals associated with the permitted activities are sleeping and lodging around the teepee and table, food is being distributed without the necessary health permits, garbage cans have been erected, and the area is being used as long-term personal storage (tables, chairs, mats, tarps, bedrolls, sleeping bags, food, coolers, etc.)."

Now how does this jibe with the city's (and the mainstream media's) depiction of occupiers as naught but smelly hippies? Why on Earth would a group of pot-smoking, patchouli-drenched, upper-middle class trustafarians ERECT GARBAGE CANS?

Hmm. No trash receptacles in THIS picture. Perhaps Jordan mistook Occupy Oakland's giant bongs for garbage cans?

Once again, the mind reels.

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