Saturday, October 29, 2011

Looking at the Occupation

My curiosity got the better of me today, and I rode the bus to downtown Oakland to take a personal look at the Occupy Oakland encampment.  It was a nice day and I wanted to see it for myself.  I just missed the parade, with shouting and signs, by (I think) the SEIU. 

The camp looks about the way the photos look.  Lots of tents all over the lawn, pitched elbow to elbow, on a base layer of straw.  People asleep in tents, and on the ground in front of them; people sitting and standing around talking.  Dogs, with and without leashes.  A plastic bucket full of cigarette butts.  A group down in the little arena, arguing.  A man with a sign, shouting.  A tent labeled Acupuncture.  Of course, it was two in the afternoon, so there wasn't a general assembly or anything in particular going on. 

Then two men walked up to me, and one said, "Can I talk to you?"  I looked at him and asked, "What about?" and he said, "You know why we're here?"  I said I had a pretty good idea.  He asked me to tell him, and I said there were probably as many reasons as people there; at which point he said, "Tell me one reason."

At no point had this guy introduced himself, explained what he was doing or said what he wanted; and he had this cocky little I-know-better-than-you-do grin.  I told him I'd changed my mind, and I didn't want to talk to him, because I didn't like being attacked.  He claimed he wasn't attacking me and I told him he was, and walked away.  I had the feeling he was trying to goad me into taking a position, or at least stating one, so he could jump at me (metaphorically) and prove how wrong I was.  I call that an attack, if not a physical one.  Nobody stopped me leaving. I went back to wait for the bus home.

My problem with protests is that they're all based on confrontation (like my confrontational acquaintance) and they all involve crowds, both of which make me very uncomfortable.  I avoid confrontation when I can; I much prefer to negotiate and try to build consensus.  And crowds just make me nervous; it's way too easy for a crowd to turn into a mob.

The crazy thing is, I agree with them:  income inequality is bad, we need more jobs, the banks and the "top 1%" are totally out of line.  But am I going to go down there and carry a sign around?  No, I'm not.  And the newspapers have quoted some of the more extreme sorts (I'm sure) saying that violence is necessary and nothing will get done unless they break things.  It's clear this is a minority viewpoint, but I haven't heard that wording from any of the other Occupy movements, which is why this whole Oakland phenomenon just feels different to me.

This post isn't meant to be any kind of definitive analysis; it's just my take on the situation.  I don't know what the answer to our situation is.  But I'm not convinced the protestors do, either.

1 comment:

  1. Hedera: I remember years ago when the office I worked in looked out over the UN Plaza in San Francisco--where that Halprin Fountain is and nearby there's a lawn with some trees planted.

    During the AIDS vigil, they set up tents the same way they are doing now. The tents got more settled, then more crowded, and even more settled. It went on for months. Ostensibly they were "passing out information" and providing a public service, but in reality it was a bunch of homeless people who were camping on public property. They pissed all over the place, and threw their trash about. They didn't bathe. They stank. The place became an eyesore. The city refused to do anything about it. "We can't act; they're AIDS victims. We can't be seen to be persecuting them." Then one afternoon, someone in the adjacent building to ours called the police: "There're some people camping out in front of my building, and they've become a nuisance. Could you please remove them?" And, lo and behold, the police came and removed them (it took about 6 hourse). Apparently, this was all the legality it took to effect the action--a private citizen making a direct complaint.

    I'm all for changing the banking regs, and restoring our progressive tax rates, and getting out of the Middle East, and bringing American jobs back from overseas (and spanking China hard on the backside for all their selfish dealings)--but this "Occupy" movement has no platform, no integrated agenda. It's ultimately just a bunch of pissed-off people each of whom seems to have a different gripe. It's nutty.

    In the 1930's, when people did stuff like this, they hired Pinkerton guards to billy-club them and spread disinformation etc. It's good that we don't do that any more. But if you're going to demonstrate, at least make it look like a demonstration, instead of a free campground.