Tuesday, November 1, 2011
The next evening, Wednesday, I attended my first General Assembly since day one of Occupy Oakland. I wrote the phone numbers of my lawyer friend, my parents, and the free legal hotline on my arm in Sharpie. I took a scarf this time. That was the night the police left us alone. That was the night that a group of folks brought the proposal for the General Strike to the GA. With every echo of the human mic, with every foible and grumble about the process, with every speaker, my heart sort of hummed. I sat, alert and present, in something imperfect, feeling more human and more hopeful than I had in a long, long time. The process was arduous and beautiful, and I was rapt. By the end of the night, 96.9% of us had voted in favor of a General Strike. Also. By the end of the night, the police were attacking our family in the Occupy SF camp. Some of us went out there, some of us marched in the streets in Oakland. Some of us took a moment to breathe, had a beer and some conversation with an old friend, before going to sleep.
Thursday evening, 5:30 pm. I joined the General Strike meeting. I had no idea what was going on. It was difficult to focus, and a girl sitting behind me was complaining every two minutes, about the process, about the speakers, about how stupid everything was, and how "they" should do it a different way. I fought the urge to be cruel, and instead turned around and suggested she get in the stack and share her ideas with the crowd. On a loop, my brain told me that everything about this process was imperfect, and also the best hope that we had. The best hope that we have. I stuck around for as long as I could. But then, I really had to pee. So I went into Walgreens, assuming that if I purchased something, they would have to let me use the restroom. Nope. I pleaded with the Walgreen's worker, but no dice. Finally: "I'm not trying to cause any trouble. I'm pregnant." Defeated, he led me through a door labeled "Employees Only."
When I returned, folks had broken up into groups like Labor and Education and other things I didn't fit into. I didn't know where to go, so I wound up on the outskirts, talking to friends. There were other people who didn't know where to go, and in particular, people of color coming together in little clumps to discuss feelings of exclusion and how to address them. Then, the General Assembly began. We had a candlelight vigil for Scott Olsen, and war veterans took the stage to speak about Scott and about other things. I couldn't tell you what. I was triggered as all get out. Put a victim of the wars they fought on stage, please. Have them explain why this moment is important. Again, I had to leave. Decompress. Eat. Drink beer. Speak somewhere where my voice was heard.
Friday, 3:30. I'm finishing up my shift at work, counting out change in the drawer. My boss mentions that Michael Moore is said to be downtown. Cool, I shrug. I'm more into everyone else that's down there, but I guess that's a big deal. Then something completely unexpected happens. My boss turns to me and asks what I think about the business staying open. I say that I don't think anyone would hold it against them. No one wants small businesses to suffer. This is about getting huge corporations to stop acting like pricks, not hurting people in the community. Then he asks me what I think of the business. My eyes get really wide.
"Do you really want to know?"
"Are you sure?"
I took a deep breath, opened my heart wide. I looked my boss in the face, someone I who I know is trying his hardest to make a living and do the right thing. And I told him that which I've been wanting to say for 10 months. That there are issues of race and class that I have not seen him and his co-owners address. That it is hard for communities of color and of low-income to see white people with capital (capital he has worked hard for, yes) come in and open successful businesses in their neighborhoods. He mentions that they have been trying to intentionally hire from the community, and have a diverse staff. I told him I saw that, yes. I told him that I see them doing the best that they can, considering the context. And that the context is that they are gentrifiers.
I think he heard me.
Is this how change happens? Is this the way I am participating in the movement now? I don't know. I do know that that conversation would not have happened had it not been for Occupy Wall Street, and Occupy Oakland, and the folks who called for a General Strike.
My bosses have been deliberating on what to do tomorrow for a few days now. They talked about staying open and only serving local beers, or selling everything "to go" as it would not be taxed. A couple of guys in the kitchen talked about coming in and working, but not clocking in. Then, today on Facebook, I saw a status update from my job's page: "CommonWealth Cafe & Pub . . . is the 99% . . . We will be shut tomorrow in support and honour of the November 2nd Oakland General Strike . . . CmonOccupy."
See you out on the streets tomorrow,