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.
- ▼ March (4)