Saturday, October 29, 2011

Oakland, occupy my skepticism

That's not a sarcastic title

I have not attended the protests. I haven't gone with my friends to participate and stand or march in solidarity. Despite any logical arguments I throw at myself, I still feel like shit about not being involved somehow. I'm internally contentious about the image of myself --as someone who cares about social issues, against friends who are actively doing something about them. There is no comparison, and there's unavoidable hypocrisy in my opinions vs the actions of people I more or less agree with. But I'm no more comfortable with populism, then I am dancing in public. I can't get myself to march down Broadway st thinking these following things:

Occupy Oakland is a smashing success. There is mass participation, continuing controversy, a notable victory under their belt, and even a martyr. Those successes were facilitated by incompetence in City Hall, and characteristic personality of local law enforcement. They're all separate matters from the larger issues that sprouted the occupy movement, and I find that disconcerting. I can't see, at least for now, a reasonable explanation for why Frank Ogawa plaza serves as the ideological arena for this, as opposed to Wells Fargo Headquarters or The Stock Exchange in Downtown San Francisco, or even Piedmont? Oakland is an expression of socioeconomic inequality, but the affect of this protest --desired or not--has been to spend city resources on contending the movement, when they could be attending to the problems that sprout the movement. Not to simplify the mechanics of accomplishing that anyway.

There is this amalgamation of different movements all collected into one --all with potentially contradictory ideas--  and to add to that shit circus the mayor throws everyone a curve ball and orders the police raid. So that only reinforces a sense of identification with this sub-sect of the occupy movement. This shifts the entire debate in a different direction, and that's not a local discussion. This event was all over the national news, there are protesters in Zucotti Park, Tahrir square, and who knows where else marching in solidarity. I'm not criticizing that happening, but what about:

the messages being sent because of events on the ground involving the protest 
the fundamental cause for the protest itself

Supporters of  occupy wall st probably span a large incongruous variety of political persuasions and opinions. Just think how easy it is for that consensus to be picked away by shifting the debate away from the fundamental question. Real change at a political level requires that fragile consensus. Here is a cause that could garner that, but we are so easy to fragment. I recognize that my complaining serves as an example of that, but I'm not the only person thinking this.

As for the police in Oakland, they have always been brutal. They're under a court order to reform or be taken under federal control. Oakland has a reputation, and the people that join the force know they're going to see some action, that fact alone attracts unwanted intentions. Not that any major city is any different, but mayor Quan should have been aware of that dynamic more then anyone else, after all she is the one pushing for community action to fill gaps in law enforcement. I'm not in city hall drudging over gritty details and th politics of decision making, but perhaps that's a good thing, because better choices seem to be obvious with all that out of the way. But in the end the Mayor is not an adversary to  the occupy movement, even if she makes herself into an obstacle.

It only diminishes hope to see a self styled progressive mayor make an enemy out of herself to a community that, for now, seems uninterested in giving her another chance to get it right anyway. I read in the Bay Citizen that a million dollars have been spent on both the raid and the cleanup. This city can't afford a million dollars worth of anything. So the whole picture becomes obscured. The movement has a great victory in being attacked and then persevering. That image, that idea is so strong and it's probably extremely unpopular to think this, but does it not galvanize support behind the wrong message? There is no Goldman Sachs presence in Oakland, and the fight feels like it's between good and evil, but are we not actually fighting ourselves? The forces of socioeconomic inequality are global, complex, and would still be here even if Oakland imploded, even if congress passed anything at all, even if we thought we won.

So what? I don't have any suggestions, and the movement has no demands. Maybe that's exactly how those two things should continue. I can only feel more conflicted knowing how pretentious it sounds to argue with a movement i agree with, but then having this instinctual skepticism about what is really making these events so powerful. Someone tell me where I'm wrong in this, because I'd rather believe in what's happening here.

1 comment:

  1. I can't say you're wrong. I recently read a comment and within that comment someone asked, why are we camping in the middle of Oakland and not Sacramento? Perhaps, it's because the "whole world" wouldn't watch Sacramento, because Sacramento doesn't make good television. A city with a nationally recognized bad reputation coded in racial euphemisms makes excellent television. People in the capitol aren't gonna shit (no pun intended) in their own back yards and make a spectacle of themselves and they certainly aren't going to allow people from other states to come set up camp and do it. So while all this solidarity is nice, I wonder how long before it all blows up. I believe that a significant chunk of the 99% is interested in becoming a part of the 1%. So that maybe it can become the 5%. So dispense with occupy O-town. Occupy the city of Piedmont, instead! But then again, I'm old and jaded. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and believe like Cher or the Monkees if you need to.