Reformation vs. Revolution

A good way for me to measure how much I care about something is by how much time I spend talking to my kids about it. You can tell I could give not one fuck about sports because I’ve probably spent a total of 8 hours out of their entire lifetimes talking about it to my kids. Politics, social justice, economics, ethics, the weather, (yes the weather) and sexuality… I’d estimate I’ve spent a good 4 years out of E’s life speaking to him non stop on those subjects.

So guess what we’ve been talking about a lot? The Occupy Movement. And I’m pretty sure he gets it better than a lot of adults do. When the idea to start Occupy Oakland started to float around a month ago, I had a muddled, half squishy expression when I told him about it.

“What’s wrong with Oakland having it’s own Occupy, Mom?”

Me, hating for the umpteenth time that I have no poker face whatsoever. “Wellllllll, it’s just that Oakland is no joke when it comes to confronting oppressive systems, and then getting punished for it by those systems in return. There is always an uneasy power balance in Oakland.”

E knows about the Oscar Grant murder, the protests, the response in the streets and by the police. He also knows about the Black Panther Party thanks to my having taken a course from Ericka Huggins, (who has an awesome interview with The Root up right now, you should so totes check that out.) So he not only knows of the Black Panthers, he knows a Black Panther.

It’s one thing for folks on the East Coast to call for reformation, it’s another thing for folks in Oakland to have a new outlet for revolution.

People at Occupy Wall Street are calling attention to the fact that rich people don’t pay taxes and that corporations need to stop being prioritized over people. They still believe in the system and the structure of the US. They believe in capitalism and they believe in wealth redistribution. They believe that the process used to dismantle economic security can be used to restore it. I wish I could go to NYC and be a part of their occupation. I wish I could listen to their conversations. I wish I could be in the presence of all the exchange of information, witness the process of enlightening the masses as it occurrs in real time.

People in Oakland are demanding decolonization. I don’t think the folks at Ad Busters quite had that in mind. There is no revelations going on in Oakland. Predatory lending? Check. Gentrification? Check. Industrial pollution? Check. Defunct public school system? Check. Blatant racial profiling? Check. Extreme income disparity? Check. Underfunded social services? Police brutality? Commercially sexually exploited youth on the streets? Check, check, check. For years and years and years.  I’m not saying that OWS isn’t complex, not saying that Oakland is the special snowflake in a country suffering deeply in terms of both economic and ethical despair. I am saying that Oakland, like Atlanta and Detroit and Richmond and Tacoma, has been in this position a lot longer than what is now happening on a national level. 

People here are on the anti-capitalism, anti-oppression grind all the time. Many have been for generations now. It’s a way of life. There are as many different organizations dedicated to radical change via community building as their are individuals with the passion to lead them. Community health clinics, Youth empowerment programs, Food justice sites, Immigrant rights, Prison abolishment, Green energy, Not for profit media outlets… all day, every day, in the town. Activism is a coping mechanism for all the hardship and violence the communities here endure.  And you can’t just dabble, either. Being a facebook activist will get you openly laughed at.

People here don’t victim blame. BART is at fault for the death of Oscar Grant. Wells Fargo is at fault for profiting off of immigrant detention centers. The Port of Oakland is at fault for polluting West Oakland. Bank of America is at fault for kicking people out of their homes. The state of CA is at fault for underfunding education. The Federal government is at fault for extreme wealth consolidation. That frame of mind is revolutionary in itself. Which is part of the reason why the power structure hates us so much. That’s why the police roll so hard. That’s why the rich reward the followers and punish the resisters. That’s why we scare the Hell out of the Tea Party. Their schtick is nothing but contemptuous here. And both political parties can kiss our collective ass.

So when Occupy Oakland began, the “this is gonna be complicated” expression stayed on my face as I came down to the plaza. It stayed with me throughout the eviction, police brutality, public response and re-occupation, the General Strike and Bank Transfer day. And it is complicated. The divisions are apparent. We’ve got people invested in reformation and people dedicated to revolution. We’ve got property destruction tactics and oaths of non-violence. We’ve got unionists and anarchists. We’ve got civil negotiators and ‘fuck you I don’t trust a God Damned word coming out your mouth if you represent the existing power structur’-ers (?)

And here we are today with the Mayor and OPD asking Occupy Oakland to please leave the plaza. Please. Ethan and I spent the whole morning talking about what that means, what the possibilities are, what has the plaza encampment accomplished, and what more can it do?

I don’t have any answers for him. All I can do is provide as much context and information as possible. I try to be a guide as the events unfold. Some of this is predictable and some of it is very much not. I am not a dogmatic person in any way. Everything social deserves nothing less than a critical analysis. After that it’s all about heart. Where does the feeling of intrinsic good come from?

Reformation vs. Revolution