Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Militarization of the Police

Police Riot in Oakland 10/25/2011
I watched Michael Moore's rousing and informative speech at Occupy Oakland Wednesday afternoon. Not only is the encampment reforming and blossoming, according to Moore and the enthusiastic crowd we have reached the end of apathy and despair. But we are in the throes of something else, totally predictable but frightening and potentially devastating nonetheless: the militarization of the police.

Moore mentioned this specifically in his speech. This situation in the USA has developed and worsened in the years since anti Vietnam war protests . When I was a protester at Ohio State University in the early seventies, the National Guard served alongside the police in order to "keep the peace." Yes, the tanks, or "armored personnel carriers rolled down High Street and we carried signs like" Welcome to Prague," referring to 1968 when the Soviet tanks rolled into that city to crush the people's movement that included more freedom of speech, ability to travel and access to information from independent media sources.

In those days, the US Military functioned as the military and the police played a subservient, more localized role. Today, the police function like a mercenary army organized to keep the people in line. The fact that the rate of incarceration in the USA exceeds that of all other countries in the civilized world is no accident. And here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the fact that even the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police are murdering citizens (Oscar Grant at Fruitvale station, Charles Hill near Civic Center), is a new low in the annals of law enforcement.

The governors, mayors, police departments and transit agencies now possess the ability to band together in order to determine the freedom, or lack thereof, of a city's citizens. This was readily apparent on the night of Wednesday, October 25th at around 11pm when, on rumors of an impending police raid of the Occupy SF camp, the authorities closed the two downtown Oakland BART stations along with the Embarcadero station, where the encampment was located solely to prevent citizens from getting there to provide support for the occupiers. Fortunately, Mayor Ed Lee changed his mind and the raid of the SF camp was called off.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Then They Fight You...

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mahatma Gandhi
Here in Oakland the fighting stage is definitely underway. It began with the early morning police raid of the Occupy Oakland camp, with rampaging blue meanies demonstrating the use of excessive force by dismantling, steamrollering and making off with tents, food, equipment, personal effects and medical supplies leaving the occupiers homeless and Oscar Grant Plaza under military siege and in ruins.

At 4 pm Tuesday, around a thousand 99 per-centers who were enraged at the abridgment of free speech rights, gathered in front of the Oakland Main Library on 14th Street where the head librarian, Carmen Martinez, refused to close down for the protest as the police department requested. Librarians, like other public sector workers, remember all those threatened closings, reduction in hours and and cuts in pay, health benefits and pensions. Go librarians, my people of the book!

Now, Oscar Grant Plaza has been fenced off and drenched it with chemicals in order to "grow new grass." The police in their true colors have delivered excessive violence and brutality with their barrage of rubber bullets, flash bang grenades and massive clouds of tear gas. And the mainstream media is not far behind with a propaganda war of its own bringing the staples of fear and intimidation directed at the occupiers and all the 99 percent. Funny though, how the ridicule has diminished.

So we are officially in the fight portion of Gandhi's formula.Yesterday, a canister hit and injured an American veteran of the Iraq war, Scott Olsen of Daly City. He is now in Highland Hospital in critical but stable condition suffering swelling of the brain. Ironic, to survive combat only to come home to this.

This brutal response is echoing around the country in San Jose, Denver, Chicago and cities too numerous to mention, the class war is on. Now Occupy San Francisco is issuing ultimatums to the protesters in Justin Herman Plaza. SF Mayor, Ed Lee like Oakland Mayor Jean Quan before him has now issued an edict declaring food, rats and self-government are keeping these sacred "public" parks from being used by the people. Gosh, it's almost like this is a coordinated effort or something. So what are the protesters and the 99 percent, chopped liver? Who exactly are the people anyway?

We must find our footing under stress. With any new movement there will be growing pains. In an increasing repressive society we will make sacrifices and there will inevitably be casualties. We must run this like a marathon, not a fifty yard dash. As we used to say in the lesbian community of the old days, "we ain't got it easy but we got it."

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Peaceful Yet Militant Strategy

Occupy Oakland March, Saturday October 22, 2011
 Occupy Oakland held its first rally and march this past Saturday. The speakers ran the gamut from Union members (teachers and longshore workers) to anti-racism activists. The day was hot and beautiful the mood was both militant and festive, angry yet peaceful. The march was spirited and long, winding through downtown and under the freeway underpass where the acoustics for chanting and yelling were spectacular. The main chant was, "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!"

The mood of this emerging movement is inclusive and democratic with a definite pacifist bent. When the several hundred of us marched past Chase bank on Lakeshore Avenue the crowd crossed the lanes of oncoming traffic and poured into the bank's open door. The small space filled up with protesters wall to wall. Some protesters threw deposits slips up into the air and they rained down like confetti. Aside from that action and a table being accidentally overturned, the mood stayed controlled and overwhelmingly peaceful. This phenomenon is both amazing and unique to someone who protested in an earlier, more abrasively militant era. Clearly, this movement is unfolding in its own unique way.

In the seventies, we were furious. The Vietnam War had a mandatory draft and it was dragging on endlessly bringing with it death and destruction. Images of napalmed children filled the airwaves.We had witnessed the assassinations of our most beloved leaders, the ordeal of the freedom riders, the brutallity directed toward those who sat in at segregated lunch counters in the American South. We were more jaded than this new generation, even though we were young. So, it was a combination of factors. The end result being that we were mad as hell and we let our anger control us.

This group led by the Occupy Oakland folks have an air of both determination and  about them. It shows in their genuine effort to maintain cool heads and stay focused. Even in instances of extreme police provocation, they do not resort to what the angry demeanor that the media inaccurately labels "violence."

I know that this may not always be the case, but for now, it's a powerful position, a brand new face on an age-old tactic.When the Occupyers first began their protest I thought here we go reinventing the wheel. But that old wheel is flat-sided and hasn't served anyone for a long time. Perhaps this wheel can transport us to a different place...somewhere we've always wanted to go, but have never been.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Police are "Cleaning Up" at the Occupiers Expense

Police at Occupy San Francisco
Police departments throughout the US are getting a workout, enlarging their paychecks by putting in overtime and making their presence as the strong arm of the establishment felt. And this development is not due to a renewed war on crime, which has mysteriously fallen a bit in the ravages of this depression. No, the boys in blue are out in force, trying out new toys like pepper spray, zip-tie handcuffs and orange "kettling" nets as well as relying on reliable old traditions like beating and unwarranted mass arrests. All because the Occupy Together, Occupy Wall Street, movement that has taken a foothold in thousands of cities across the world.

After Wisconsin, I had hoped the blue meanies had changed their ways and would fight with other workers for their own interests like health benefits and pensions. But I was naive. The police are paid to defend the interests of the 1%, not the 99%. That is part of what keeps the engine of capitalism oiled and running. The Occupy Together crowd are now coming to this realization as well.

Occupy San Francisco's tents, food and supplies were taken by the SFPD last Sunday after "curfew." This confiscation was the second one since the encampment began. The rationale for this dismantling and expropriating equipment is that the "parks must remain safe for everyone." Except, of course, the people exercising their freedom of speech by camping there.

In Oakland, mayor Jean Quan is taking a more tolerant approach for the time being. She, and the government forces behind her, are allowing Occupy Oakland to remain. It's numbers are growing however, and when the occupiers tried to expand onto the adjoining concrete plaza, they were rebuffed by police. It was more of the same story when they tried to take over Snow Park as a second site due to overcrowding.

Some journalists are already setting the stage for a showdown between cops and city government officials and the occupiers by circulating stories about the protest bringing rats and dirt to downtown Oakland. Rats have always resided in Oakland and, yes, they do come out at night to scavenge the debris left by humans. Like all wildlife, they share our space. No-one was worried about rats when homeless people slept among them quietly.

The important thing to remember is that it is only a matter of time until the powers that be will try to sweep our public spaces clean of occupiers. That is when we must all converge to defend the right to speak out against economic injustice in the name of the 99 percent.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Marching, Rallying and Striking in Oakland

The weather was beautiful today, Saturday October 15th, conclusively proving that god is squarely on the right side of this new movement. A few thousand people gathered at Laney college for a 1pm rally where two facilitators introduced singers and speakers, one of whom was Oakland mayor Jean Quan. So for now, with the blessings of mayor and reluctant cooperation of the Oakland Police, the occupation and marching are sanctioned activities.

People were enthusiastic but subdued. I think this was partially due to the fact that the rally began on a low note. The first speaker started it off with an attempt to take a census of the crowd's mood. He asked questions like: "Who here is unemployed? Who is working less hours than they'd like? Who lost their homes to foreclosure? Whose mortgages are underwater? These just weren't the kind of questions that would make people cheer. Even I had trouble responding to this. He could have framed it more like this: Who here is angry? Who thinks the bankers threw us under the bus? Who wants the rich to pay their share? Something more outer directed and unifying.

The rally ran a bit too  long and the group was so antsy to march, the last couple of speakers were interrupted with the chant, "March!, March! and had to give in to their prepared material and lead the march out into the street.

The mood was oddly tranquil. In spite of a marching band that played "The Internationale" as we walked along, most people were fairly quiet. In Chinatown a chant of "We are the 99%," broke out and lasted a while but determined silence was more the order of the day.

The Occupy Oakland encampment in Frank Ogawa (Oscar Grant) Plaza is an amazing sight to behold. There are more than 100 tents spread over the entire park with wooden boards and pallets used as makeshift walkways. There is a large food preparation area where garden burgers, rice and beans and veggies were cooking and good smells wafting everywhere. The ambience was somewhere between a music festival and a refugee camp. The tent city included a library tent, a kids play tent, an arts and craft tent and some other impromptu structures for meetings and socializing. The stage arena area had a huge sign that said, "General Strike" and people were filling the concrete risers.

Although this arena area is used for the occupiers daily 7pm meetings, the rally was held from a truck in the adjoining mall-like space. There was no way that the more mainstream elements were about to allow a sign calling for a General Strike to be the backdrop of their rally.

I say their because the split was evident. There were the occupiers who are attempting to build an alternate society and then there was the cheering section for the Democratic Party that was
focused on making nicey, nicey with politicians attempting to get them to do right by the 99%, those of us reeling from the economic beating administered by the banksters and their friends

The idea of a General Strike is an interesting one. Although I think it's too soon to haul out big guns like that it should always be simmering on the back burner. A strike is the people's nuclear option. It is a bell that cannot be un-rung. This movement is a baby that has just been born. First, let's see whether or not she can thrive. Only time will tell what will happen next.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupying Berkeley

Occupy Berkeley Rally
I have so far attended two meetings of the newly emerging Occupy Berkeley group which has taken up residence in front of the Bank of America building on Shattuck Avenue in the city where the Free Speech Movement was born. Over one hundred people were present at the first meeting at noon this past Saturday and, appropriately, a pow wow for Indigenous Peoples' Day was taking place a few blocks away in Martin Luther King Park in front of Berkeley City Hall.

The group was a welcome mix of young folks and seasoned boomers, students, unemployed, union and non-union workers. Everything was structured democratically, so much so that it became a bit laborious. The people's mike, the crowd repeating line by line what is being said by the speaker, worked as far as getting the word out, and really drove home a feeling of commonality and understanding, but also made everything take much longer.

The goal of every decision is to achieve consensus. Any person can block a proposal by crossing their arms over their chest. Then the individual has the opportunity to speak out against the issue. I know from my political salad days that consensus is a laudable but extremely difficult goal to achieve. Yet, the fact that these gatherings don't feel at all like the protests of the seventies, is a positive development, like the old saying, "mental illness is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results."

At a six p.m. organizing meeting the next day, Sunday, the process worked better. Around 20 people were in attendance. An agenda was adopted that included committee reports and security shifts to protect occupiers from vigilantes as well as the police. Supporters who are not occupiers, like myself, can plug in by donating all kinds of supplies, doing outreach and just showing up to express solidarity.

Occupy Oakland is kicking off in Frank Ogawa Plaza at 4 p.m. today, Columbus Day. This Saturday, October 15th in Oakland there will be international marches entitled "Jobs Not Cuts."

I was reading today that a military commander in Iran is labeling the Occupy Together protests spreading throughout the United States as the beginning of an "American Spring." Considering it is already October, I would call them the beginning of an "American Fall," which considering the depths to which this country has sunk, sounds fine to me!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mass Arrests and Free Speech

Occupy Wall Street
Protesters on Bridge
The main feature that distinguishes a democracy from a totalitarian regime is freedom of speech. The first amendment guarantees our right to demonstrate and protest against what we perceive as wrongs against us. This includes the crazy dude with the sign warning about the fast-approaching world's end as well as the 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters who were systematically handcuffed with those plastic, twist-tie restraints and detained for hours.

Of course this action, along with the macing of peaceful, women demonstrators was blatantly illegal and designed for one purpose only: to frighten people and quell dissent. If the cops can make ordinary folks afraid to even stand on the sidewalk watching or holding a sign, they have succeeded in suppressing or at the very least, putting a damper on free speech.

Those affected by these actions have expressed no desire to cease and desist, but those who watch them on TV from home may feel otherwise. They may feel like the risk is not worth the reward. And when the media all but boycotts the protest it is hard to justify that something is being accomplished. But it is. A movement is being born and although birth can be a painful process, it is usually worth it.

In April of 1992 the Rodney King verdict came down and there were riots in the streets of  Los Angeles. In San Francisco some windows were broken and a police motorcycle was burned but, other than that, the protests were basically peaceful. The week after the primary demonstration there was a protest in the Mission District. Before any illegal action could even cross the minds of demonstrators, all of them were rounded up, manacled with twist-tie handcuffs, and hauled off in buses to Santa Rita jail. They were set free on their own recognizance the following day. My partner was among them.

The following weekend I was so angry at this flagrant violation of the law (as well as the King verdict) that I showed up with her in Dolores Park for another rally. It was a long day in early May. After the rally the group began marching down Market Street towards downtown SF. Just past the Castro District, in front of Safeway, the cops moved in and surrounded us. They didn't say a word and they didn't have that fancy orange mesh for in those days either. They just locked arms in a big circle and began cuffing our hands behind our backs and loading us into buses. There were over 350 of us so it took a while.

We were then bused to an empty warehouse that had been set up with makeshift pens constructed with police barricades. There was a port-a-potty and a water dispensers with paper cups and a very dirty concrete floor. They took identification information and fingerprinted us and kept us there for around eight hours. At approximately 3:30 am they began releasing us in small groups.

Needless to say, this police action was totally illegal. Both my partner and I joined a class action suit that netted us around one-hundred dollars per hour for our time served. Supposedly, as part of our settlement, they destroyed the records as well. It still stands as the best money I've ever earned, but that's beside the point. Free speech and dissent are the basic elements of a democracy. They are not bargaining chips to be traded away in the name of "law and order."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Heterosexism vs Good Medicine

Apples and Oranges?
We are not all the same. As members of various groups and identities, we are all different. As a child I was culturally confused by this frame of reference. Growing up equal worth was confused with sameness, especially in terms of color and ethnicity. Blacks are the same as whites, Jews are the same as Gentiles. But the existence of divergent cultural norms and styles should not imply better or less than or negate the existence of genuine differences.

I am a writer now so I can't continue believing in didactic shorthand for the sake of simplicity any longer. While I recognize that each individual is as different as one snowflake from the next, there are shared values that groups possess. Women tend to be more emotionally attuned than men. Jews are more often secular and left-leaning due to a history of persecution in Russia and Germany. And LGBT folks of my generation (boomers) created a culture that tended to be progressive and based on the notion of chosen, not biological, "family." Fear of lesbians is still palpable in the fifity, and sixty-something folks of my generation. And, in a very real sense, queer, although equal to is not the same as straight.

In my recent search for medical providers a weird dynamic has emerged. I find that the men who are not assholes seem more capable of caring behavior toward females than heterosexist staight women. I'm not using the word homophobic because these are not women who would deride a lesbian on the street. They are simply women who do not want to be confronted with any indication that they might also harbor to many feelings of tenderness toward women who are not their daughters and that all of our sexualities fall on a continuum rather than into a category.

This situation often leaves me looking for male medical providers rather than deal with a nervous and uncaring stance from a female doctor, nurse, chiropractor or acupuncturist. It's a strange position for a lifelong feminist. Between me and my most recent acupuncturist there was a cultural gap you could drive a truck through. And I liked her. She is a mom who immediately showed me photos of her grown children. A woman who took on her husband's name. It was uncomfortable because the fact that she was totally unfamiliar with lesbian culture meant that there were no easy bridges between us.

Medical providers, even alternative ones are in the position of being required to physically interact with clients. It is imperative that either they are comfortable with touching people of all genders and orientations or they only treat certain groups.

That decision, when it comes to equal rights, opens up an abyss-sized slippery slope.