Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rampant Consumerism Isn't the Answer

Black Friday is now officially over. The expanded celebration of materialist consumption has passed. The new expanded version included not just the 5 am routine but all night sales up to and including Thanksgiving Day.

Frenzied and often near riot conditions are now as commonplace at these sales as they are at team sporting events but do police step in to quell the unbridled fervor of the retail obsessed? No they do not. So while dissent and protest are met with both excessive force by police and condemnation by the media. Fanaticism in sports and shopping is not only welcomed but both cultivated and encouraged. Sports and shopping are "acceptable" ways to channel both energy and frustration providing another true "opiate of the masses."

And what about the big box store workers in this traditional melee? They are expected to work all night instead of having a relaxing holiday with friends and family. In this economy it is not prudent to go against the wishes of management to enjoy a personal celebration. Essentially this puts employees in a coercive situation where they either learn to tolerated working extended hour through the night or wind up with an endless amount of time with no work at all.

But in this dwindling economy retail therapy and wins for the home team just aren't able to fill the same void they used to. Stuff is no longer the powerful tranquilizer that it used to be. There have always been movements that call upon people to live more simply, to consume less and schmooze more. Those of us who have had the privilege to travel in the third world know that poorer people, those without purchasing power are by necessity forced to rearrange their priorities. That altered frame of mind happened here after  9/11. It was an awakening to the fact that many of the things we value most, yet take for granted, are not things at all. They are our friends and families, our communities, our creative and artistic expression, our taking on an active role in building a more equal and just society.

The most intense annual celebration of unrestrained consumerism is coming up in December. But purchasing everything in sight has nothing to do with commemorating the birth of a nice, Jewish boy who was born into poverty. Not only can our society no longer afford our culture of rampant materialism, it hasn't provided us anything more substantial than a transitory desire for objects and a big pile of ecologically devastating trash when they break or become obsolete.

When people who don't have shelter, we must provide it for them. The same applies to food and tending to the medical needs of all. Spending money on a lot of superfluous items can be a temporary high but isn't genuinely fulfilling. Like any other drug, it should be done sparingly and with discretion.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This is What Authoritarianism Looks Like

The repression is coordinated, systematic. The rulers are small and centralized, often comprising an elite body of the privileged. There is massive and widespread corruption and free speech is actively discouraged, often with inappropriate and disproportionate displays of force. Subjection and submission to authority is its key premise designed to silence all vocal opposition to the status quo.  

Whether or not this repression emanates from the Homeland Security Department or more locally at the city, county and state level, this is authoritarianism we are witnessing in both the highly orchestrated destruction of Occupy encampments throughout the country and the brutal force martialed against unarmed, non-violent demonstrators.Oakland mayor, Jean Quan admitted to being part of a conference call with the mayors of 18 cities. This systematic effort to quash a nacent political movement doesn't have to be federally mandated to qualify as the machinery of organized suppression. Authoritarianism isn't quite fullblown facism but it is a major way station along that slippery slope.

Police brutality is steadily increasing in response to the growing Occupy Movement. The pepper spraying of UC Davis students followed closely on the heels of the baton beatings on the UC Berkeley campus. Countrywide the police response is intensifying in its brutality. The viral video of police pepper spraying young students sitting in a peaceful row on the quad at UC Davis is just another appalling example of this trend. Watching the students with linked arms huddled in the onslaught of this totally unprovoked chemical attack is a radicalizing experience in and of itself. Learning later that those who refused to separated their  were sprayed in their faces and down their throats, causing people to cough up blood and be hospitalized, is simply a horrifying scenario in which Guantanamo Bay comes home to roost.

The footage of this travesty is strangely moving as well. It harkens back to sit ins in the American South during the Freedom Rides when simply by sitting at a lunch counter, protesters were subjected to coffee and food being poured over their heads. They sat still. They endured. And ultimately they triumphed.

In the recent uprisings in Cairo, CS gas, a potent form of teargas that induces vomiting and possible coma with prolonged exposure,  and rubber bullets are the main weapons of choice by the police and military. A number of protesters have lost eyes to rubber bullets, including one man who lost an eye in a battle but returned only to lose the other one in a subsequent street incident.

In the USA, we haven't arrived at that level of repression in this round of protests. I was a student at Ohio State University in 1970 the year the National Guard fired live ammunition at anti-Vietnam war demonstrators killing four. That same year two students were murdered by police in a women's dormitory at Jackson State College in Mississippi. So, not only can it happen here. It has.

After the pepper-spray incident when UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi walked out to her car, the path was lined with hundreds of silent onlookers bearing witness to one of the many knowing and naive accomplices who are institutionalizing oppression by claiming ignorance or just following orders. Either way, it is our constitutional right to democratic expression of dissent that gets sprayed, beaten and trampled upon.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Unstoppable Power of the Small

The Banquet of Life
The power of the small and numerous over the few and mighty has been the stuff of legend since the Liliputians first organized to overpower Gulliver in 1726. Today this saga is playing at towns and cities everywhere thanks to the Occupy Movement.

This past Wednesday, November 16th a few hundred protesters stormed a Bank of America in the San Francisco Financial District and began their occupation. They even put up a tent. When the police came they arrested 95 people and had to lead them out individually to the cheers of the crowd outside. After all, if you're willing to face arrest why not go out with a bang instead of a whimper.

Yes, tent cities can be dismantled and people can be hurt and arrested. But those facts don't tend to deter folks from exercising their right to free speech. In almost all cases what they accomplish is the polar opposite: a larger more determined army willing to put their own personal safety on the line for a greater cause.

Think of the 1% and their lackeys as a stately group of picnickers settling in on a manicured lawn. A bountiful spread of elegant food is spread out a lovely blanket before them. Then imagine an ant colony beneath that blanket. Once the trail is laid to that food those pesky little creatures keep on coming. You can brush them away, spray them, even crush a few but there are more colonies and nests all over the property. And their communication is sure and fast.

It's true, the 1% retain the option of moving their picnic indoors. But the power of the small can cause significant and perpetual inconvenience and disruption. Because there are always more where we came from. All we have to do is simply keep on coming.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Increased Repression Just Means We're Winning

Meditating in Oakland
The Occupy Oakland camp in Oscar Grant Plaza camp was dismantled by police at 1am Monday morning prompting the immediate resignation of two Jean Quan staffers who disagreed with the decision to dismantle and destroy. They are Dan Seigel, legal adviser and Deputy Mayor Sharon Cornu. Occupiers have fled to Snow Park and re-established a camp there.

Zuccotti Park, also known as Liberty Park, the Wall Street encampment, where the Occupy Movement was born, was attacked Tuesday morning, November15th in much the same way. Today, in the Bay Area Occupy focus is on a strike and teach-in at UC Berkeley. This evening a speech by Robert Reich, professor and people's economist extraordinaire, has been relocated from Wheeler Hall to Sproul Plaza. The topic is class warfare and it is part of the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture series of talks. Supposedly, the Occupy Cal camp will try to reinstate itself there.

The fact that repressive tactics are increasing nationwide signals that we are gaining ground. With or without tarps and tents, this movement has reached a point of no return.Chris Hedges' article, "This is What Revolution Looks Like," is a must read for everyone in this struggle.

One truly amazing part of this heavy-handed approach is not the fact that police defend the interests of the rich and powerful, it is the equanimity of protestors who are being treated to this violence. Bricks, bottles are not being thrown. I haven't even seen a lot of insults hurled. Many people are dragged off to arrest from yoga postures. I have seen people meditating on concrete in the midst of teargas and flashbang grenades. The non-violence is a stirring spectacle for those of us raised on street war.

When I heard Graham Nash and David Crosby singing in Zucotti Park (on video) singing"Teach Your Parents Well," I was genuinely moved. This is the beginning of a protracted struggle. We all are bracing for a sustained fight that must be run like a marathon, not a 50 yard dash. When Che Guevara said, "A true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love," he had it right. Some lessons are never too late for learning.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Police Brutality is Violence

Oakland Police Up to No Good
The Oakland Police Department continues their reign of terror upon demonstrators with the total of moderately to seriously injured folks now at three, two Iraq vets: Scott Olsen and Kayvan Sabehgi  and one videographer, Scott Campbell. The Berkeley Police have joined in the brutality by violently evicting a student group attempting to Occupy U.C. Berkeley. Their tents were trampled and they were forcibly removed from Sproul Plaza.

Meanwhile right-leaning propaganda rags like the San Francisco Chronicle are trying to paint actions like the General Strike Day with the broad brush of  "violence" because a small group of angry protesters broke some things sometime towards midnight on a day when 50,000 to 100,000 people closed big banks and the Port of Oakland without incident.

It is important to note a couple of things about this smear campaign. One, it is being used as an unsuccessful attempt to discredit the entire Occupy Movement. Two, people are justifiably angry at the economic crimes that have been perpetrated upon us. And three, vandalism and violence are not synonymous. While understanding that breaking windows or spray painting on them may not be the best way to win supporters and unite the movement, crimes against property are not equal to the harm the police are inflicting with clubs, teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades.

The city of Oakland is preparing for another raid on the Occupy Oakland camp. I commend the occupiers for open discussion with various proponents of aggressive action in a serious attempt to resolve differences and stay united. All power to the people!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Occupy Foreclosures!

Winter is coming. The mainstream media is predicting the end of the occupy movement. The tents at Zucotti  Park are covered with snow. Even if folks took shelter inside, I wouldn't see that as the end of anything. It isn't necessary to live outside to build a movement. But it does constitute an opportunity.

The USA is now saturated with foreclosed, bank-owned properties that are just sitting vacant attracting vermin and crime. These residences were stolen by corrupt banksters, often with not even so much as possession of the mortgage note of origin. In cities all over the country the occupiers are trying to take back some of these properties for use by the growing homeless (houseless) population. In Oakland, the cops moved in around midnight on strike day, November 2nd, when a small group entered and attempted to take possession of a warehouse. In San Francisco, some distressed properties in the Tenderloin are being considered for the same thing.

In hard-hit cities like Detroit and Cleveland, homes are being razed en masse or sold for a dollar a piece to anyone willing to take them off the bank's hands. Urban centers are being literally overgrown by vines and weeds. As Robert Frost said, "Something, there is that doesn't  love a wall." Or a ceiling or a floor.

It is too late to give back these homes to the victims of this massive scam. But we are able to do the next best thing. We can provide shelter for those who have none. One of my favorite signs on marches is one that reads, "Robin Hood was Right." But, in this case, giving back doesn't require stealing from anyone, just the repossessing of ill-gotten  loot that was expropriated from its rightful owners.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Personal Take on a General Strike

Coming into Port:
Oakland Strike
The tents in Oscar Grant Plaza are back up and yesterday, at least during the daytime hours, the streets belonged to the people with hardly a cop in sight. I  had the opportunity to march with some peaceful and angry folks who made the big banks shudder and lock their doors and who brought all business at the 5th largest port in the USA, the Port of Oakland to a screeching halt.

The noon march was enthusiastic and militant. Outside of Chase Bank, protesters clogged the street as two people climbed poles and strung a huge banner that said, "Occupy the Banks." Back at the plaza a speakers were speaking from a stage, In the round arena area poets read, rappers rapped, activists acted, union members railed, it was a general free-for-all in the best, most sincere sense of the term. I saw amazing diversity in all the people passing by: old folks with walkers and canes, hip-hoppers from the hood, queers and feminists, teamsters, agricultural workers, teachers and other librarians. Most people were covered with signs or wearing T-shirts that served the same function. I was wearing a great one that I had purchased at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in Fruitvale a few days before. It reads: "We the People are 99%. People Before Profits."

I also noticed that many people, like myself, were there solo. My partner had joined me for the noon march, but ran out of steam early on. Alone, I automatically go into writers mode, which involves finding a central place to sit, taking out a pen and paper and doing some serious observation. The dude behind me had a guitar and was playing and singing, "The Gates of Eden," one of my favorites of the lesser known Bob Dylan songs. I'd grabbed a wonderful gala apple from the food table. Ahh, revolution was in the air and life was good!

For the march out to the port I was planning on the 5 pm shift. The group that left at 4 was huge, it looked like over 5,000 people. By the time 5pm rolled around workers were out of their jobs and our numbers were at least that big, possibly bigger. I waited in front of Walgreen's near the "Queer and Feminist Resistance," banner but none of my friends showed. Instead Vera, a thirty-something woman from Moscow began a conversation with me. She said that nothing comparable to this could happen in Russia where the government suppresses this kind of expression. In spite of all that, she would be returning to her home country next week, loaded with memories.

Her friends were also no shows. As we marched together toward the port, she asked me if I'd like some wine...turned out that the huge coffee cup with a cover and sip hole on top was full of red wine. "I drink about a bottle a day," she confessed. "I don't know if I have a problem or not."

"Blame it on the economy," I said. I have felt that the alcohol industry has been making a killing during the recession. She handed me the cup and we passed it back and forth like a joint as we marched through the West Oakland neighborhoods at sunset.

Vera is an artist who was passing out postcards of her work. The acrylic painting shows a woman in a skirt that looks like a lotus sending beams of light from the chakra points on her body. On the back of the card in stead of her name she had hand-written the figure 99% in red magic marker. "Don't you want to put your name on your art?" I'd asked her.

"No, I know that I painted it, and that's all that matters," she answered. Next to her painting is a quote, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." --Mother Teresa

Best wishes, Vera, on your return to Russia, your art and your life!