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!