Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unfinished business, an alternative political movement

Unfinished business, an alternative political movement 

No one has been where we are before, but forty years ago we were somewhere very similar. For some of us the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and all that culturally stuff that came out of the bottle in the 1960’s is learned from the history books.  For others it is our personal past.  For me it was my childhood. 

It was time for a change, and in some ways things did change a lot. 

People felt that things were going to move forwards in our county.  We were going to have a new society.  One that put race and sex discrimination into the past.  One that would be dedicated to personal freedoms, civil rights, democracy, peace, modernism and the environment.

And then American society took a great leap backwards under Ronald Regan. We have been moving backwards ever since.  For me the symbol of the Regan era was taking the solar cells off the roof of the White House.  Their dedication to vengeance on all social progress was so deep that we were led from there to failing implement the metric system.  The symbol of Barak Obama is that he can barely even get those outdated solar cells back on the roof and keeps the torture center open in Guantanamo.  

So what happened to the big movements of the 60’s?  Why did the considerable American Left and trade unions not put the breaks on this kind of foolishness?  Why was the press free to play cheerleader to the corporate free-for-all and the triumph of the military industrial complex over all forms of decency and common sense? 

Well for all our fanciful thinking and big ideas back in the 1960’s and 1970’s we somehow felt that things had to change so much that we were above doing boring things like build an alternative political party.  When the moment came, progressive, left leaning America had built nothing independent of big money politics so we had to settle for what the market offered us from the Democrats.  

The Democrats never offered much more than being not as bad (theoretically) as the shock jocks.  Not only did they not stand up for principals when participating in vote marketing and infotainment, the Democrats had their hands in the dirt.  From Clinton with his National Guard helping the Contras in Honduras and doing a job on the poorest with a welfare “reform” to the Obama continuation of the Bush tax cuts and financial bailout and running a coup in Honduras, disappointing is too generous of a word.  The Democrats are part of Big Money running America as much as their dance partners, The Republicans.  

All through this time we have been told by “leaders of the left” that we need to be practical and do what we can by voting for Democrats and not “spoiling” elections in our rotten pseudo democracy.  Year after year things have just continued to slide to the logic of the “free market” and globalization, the logic of collective punishment of the poor, and the logic of endless imperial wars.  

And here we are in the 21st century without an American political party of the left.  The Occupy Movement has shown that we are starting nearly from scratch.   I know that most Democrats are still whining and blaming all their problems on Ralph Nader who at one point said that there was not a dime’s worth of difference between the two official parties.  W tried to prove him wrong and Obama has proved him right.  Our next election will be between a RINO and a DINO (Democrat or Republican in name only, as if their names had any value) 

And us Greens?  Our proposal is to participate in democracy with a party that is FREE OF CORPORATE MONEY, in favor of national health and social welfare and opposed to the prison-industrial complex and the endless war doctrine.  I could go on, we have 10 core values and that gives us ten more than the democrats. 

Just saying …. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Adios Oakland Chamber of Commerce

To Joseph Haraburda, 

I am very sorry to have to do this, but I cannot justify renewing my membership in the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce (OMCC) this year. It has been a few years now that I have really not seen Chamber Membership as a benefit to my business, but the final decision not to renew is because of Chamber advocacy for police intervention against the Occupy Oakland tents.  

For a small business like mine, the main reason we take part in Chamber events is to either sell our own services, or to find people who offer services we need.  There is also value in advocating for our needs as local business owners and in the discussions and forums held with chamber guest speakers.  

Unfortunately the Chamber has been falling short on all three of these things. 

After the first fiasco of a police crackdown against the Occupy Oakland encampment, the OMCC called for the tents to be urgently removed by police force again.  Calling for a second raid without showing any concern for the excessive force used by the police in the first one is not non-violence.  I am one of the people who speaks from inside the progressive movement and directly to Occupy Oakland General Assembly for non-violence.  I am now speaking as a business owner and Oakland Citizen for non-violence.  The claim was made that Oakland business was suffering and that crime and violence at the encampment urgently needed to be stopped.  The facts do not bear this out.  Most of the problems were caused by those reacting to the protest and not by the protestors themselves or were already there.  Meaningful dialog and peaceful resolution was not credibly attempted by the City Government.  

How was my business represented and served by this second raid? Who will have to pay for it? All the peaceful alternatives would have been better for our city’s image and cost much less.  Something better than a riot squad could have helped the businesses downtown who had legitimate problems.  

The area around City Hall, has been very dangerous for years.  There have been two killings at the newsstand, attacks on people using the ATM, attacks on people patronizing the local nightlife, and homeless people in the plaza, on the streets and throughout the area.

Nothing about clearing out the Occupy camp has decreased these problems and I can expect to find people intoxicated in public, being violent, defecating around our businesses and sleeping in public places, using and selling drugs, as they have been doing for years. Truth is, the place was safer to walk around at night with the Occupy Oakland campsite in it, despite what all the alarmist letters to the business community said.  

One of our biggest problems in Oakland is the feelings of distrust between the police, government, the local businesses and many of our local communities.   These actions have only sharpened the distrust. 

I will continue to work for peace and dialog, including with you and my former Chamber of Commerce members and do whatever I can to help build civic unity. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oakland needs a peace conference.

Oakland needs a peace conference. 

And a peace treaty.  

Yesterday was a great example of people talking past each other and not listening. 
To start with, our chamber of commerce and five members of council tried to give a press conference advocating that the police remove the Occupy Oakland encampment, apparently they want that immediately.  Thanks to the written statement and the short period that Larry Reid got to speak at the microphone we got a rehash of the prior statements on fire safety, the needs of business in the area and city costs and some doubtful verbiage about protecting people’s rights to protest and use their freedom of speech … 

What we did not get was any addressing of the very basic fact that this proposal is seen by the people living in the plaza as another threat to use police violence against them again.  

So far I have not heard much to hold the police accountable for what they did during the first eviction. 
Nor did I hear anything from out local business community of concern for how the protestors would be treated if their proposed second eviction took place.  Would we not use stun grenades again the same way we did not use the stun grenade that the whole world watched our police throw at people trying to help an injured protestor?  We need to get real about what really happened at that eviction.  

It does not help that some are motivated by their opposition to the message of Occupy Oakland and some much unsubstantiated, exaggerated and doubtful claims were made about the impact of the protest on downtown business. 

The call to remove the encampment came from a very mixed group, one had been in a tent at first.
I came to listen to what they had to say all the same, as did many others.  A couple of people stood quietly where the TV cameras could see them with signs to denounce the police violence. 

Occupy Oakland is also a very mixed group.  

So someone shouted “mic check” and the press conference descended into a shouting match and was over.  The media circus continued.  Three of Jean Quan’s staff were there, the media did not ask them for any comments.  Nor me.  But they did ask a few business people for comments, but mostly focused on council members in the middle of the shouting; there was a core of elected officials, a ring of cameras and another ring of protestors speaking together with a public mic.  The print reporters spoke to a few more people, as usual.  The thing was a circus.  

I never got to ask my question. 

Then some media, some council people, some Chamber people and no small number of protestors stopped about half way to the parking lot to chat in small groups.  The shouting was over.  I dropped in to speak with a couple members of council who I know, and a member of the press, and a couple of the protestors who recognized me, but by and large most people were calmly chatting in groups of their own opinion within a few feet of one another. 

We all just talked past each other again.  

If I had been able to listen, and then ask my question, the question was going to be:
How were we going to avoid having a second eviction riot, and do they think having a second eviction riot would be worth it?  

In my one-on-one conversations, I heard a lot of “the protestors have had their chance” and talk about how the protest is “totally taken over by Black Block” and a lot of other stuff to the effect that “we have had enough and SOMETHING has got to be done”.  

I was there to listen, but doing NOTHING would be a lot better that doing the SOMETHING we did last time.  I just can not imagine anything worse for the city, including the city’s businesses, than to have a second violent police action with tear gas in our streets and stun grenades on world TV.  

And it would cost less to resolve every one of those health and safety issues than to pay for another full day of riot squad and mutual assistance.  Not to mention paying for the lawsuits that are coming.  

Back at Occupy Oakland General Assembly that evening the discussion continued on non-violence.  Nothing was voted on and nothing was voted against.  The only decision made was to hold a march in solidarity with the People of Cairo Egypt next Saturday.  

And it became clear to me that most of the people of Occupy have no feeling that the encampment problems are urgent to them or anyone else.  Many people spoke as if a police raid could, would and will come sooner or later.  The belief was that the police raids would come because people like the police, the rich and the chamber of commerce types just wanted to shut the protest down.  The health and safety stuff seems like a thin excuse for more police violence to a lot of the protestors.  

I would not doubt that there are some police and business people for whom the health and safety issues are just a thin veil to justify a crackdown on views that they oppose.  But the health and safety complaints are more valid than that.  They do not justify another raid, but do justify action.  

Finally, Jean Quan did ask my question for me.  She asked her majority of Council and the Chamber folk to show her a plan to remove the encampment without hurting more people and damaging more property.  Let us hope and pray that she is not waiting for them to come up with a sharp idea.  

This morning listening to the KPFA Morning Mix (that a lot of Quan supporters oppose in their fight to “Save KPFA”) and learned that Los Angeles has found a way to have peace with its Occupy protest.  The council member interviewed said that there was some trouble because such things attract a lot of homeless (duh) but that they were moving on and focusing on the bigger issues, such as LA setting up a review system of the social responsibility of the banks and financial institutions that they put their money through. He also wanted to focus on  corporate personhood and oppose big money in our elections.  Maybe Jean should give the mayor of LA a call?  

And tonight some of us local business owners have been invited to a meeting to talk about it all.  Since I am both a business owner and an Occupy supporter, I will go to listen and go to speak if allowed.  

I think I will propose a peace negotiation.  The city has put out a list of complaints against the encampment.  If we fix those can we stay?  The people of Occupy would be a lot friendlier with the police if there was a commitment not to raid them again.  Is Occupy hurting local business?  HOW?  Name names, tell us what you need.  Many other Occupy camps have made a point of helping local business.  This one could too if asked.  

Each group needs to put their cards on the table and say what they need to live with each other.  That means being willing to do some things and willing to give some things up.  My understanding was always that peace treaties are some kind of compromise because fighting it out would be much worse.  

And then we could go back to holding those press conferences, uninterrupted.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Leave the tents where they are

Leave the tents where they are.

Whatever Occupy Oakland and the City have in their future it should not include the removal of the tents from the plaza at City Hall. 

My view is that as important as we in Oakland see ourselves, we are only a small part of a nation wide, world wide event.  Oakland should now just get used to it happening; it is not going to go away because we shoo it off our front lawn.  We can now become the place where the local government was able to get along with the protest and get ourselves off the list of cities where the local police acts like big business Pinkertons. 

Let's start with the City side of the equation.

Our city Administrator has put a one million dollar cost estimate on the table for what Occupy has cost the city. A good 3/4 of that money is really the cost of mishandling the whole thing.  Most of it was the cost to attack an illegal camp site with a riot squad and the aftermath.  

Now that we have spent a million dollars to run in a circle and damage public relations inside of Oakland while damaging our reputation outside of Oakland, do we want to do it again?   All other options cost less and have a better public relations value for this city. 

There are some practical things that need to happen and all the points on the Administrator's list do have to be dealt with, this time with some leadership.  The food kitchen needs to keep meeting fire and health regulations.  We already have had some unions paying for toilets.  With some commitment from the city we could get the Teamsters to bring their food truck back or something like that by someone like that.  We had over 35,000 people out in the street supporting Occupy on Wednesday.  A city that promised to stop tear gassing campers could hit up a lot of those people for support.  Kaiser could be asked to act like the local town company that they are.  So could some of the paramedics and so on.  Other arraignments’ need to be made for fire safety among the tents.  That includes a curb on the electric chords and some place to safely use electricity.  Occupy Oakland has already done a lot to deal with every one of the public safety and sanitation issues and the city can and should continue to help.

In the end, if we deal with Occupy Oakland better than the other cities by showing our civilization, we will make our entire city look good.  That goes for the Mayor and council, the police and includes those who do not agree with the 99% view.  This is what we showed on the day of the General Strike and we can show it on any day.

This is the nature of Oakland.  We are used to a lot of different people here. 

On the Occupy side of the equation.

After the turnout for the general strike it is very clear that Occupy Oakland reflects deep seated views of a major section of our people, especially here in Oakland.  The reason we had over 35,000 people turn out on Wednesday is because they already agreed with the Occupy Wall Street message.  We have to be respectful of this public support.  If we can stay in front of City Hall, if we have toilets, if the supply tents are brimming with sleeping bags and food for the people, it is because this movement has wide popular support.  Occupy stands for many thousands of people who do not make it to the plaza and needs to own up to presenting an honorable face for all of us. 

We are all public relations ambassadors now. 

We are very lucky that the bad reputation for sending the riot squad against our first campsite fell mostly on the backs of the city government and the police.   We then held a peaceful protest of thousands in civil strike action with no police present.  The trick right now is to preserve the good reputation that we have started.

With the duty to act responsibly because we represent so many, also comes to duty to keep acting because we now have the job of keeping the heat of this message alive.  Six weeks ago we were listening to Tea Party and other Republicans stumble over each other to show how pro big business, anti-tax and anti-Mexican they can be.  The side show was running a pool on how much Obama would give them, and how fast. 

Now the public political discourse is talking about the real problems our country has.  The problems of income inequality, tax inequality and bailout inequality are front and center thanks to Occupy movements across the USA. 

We need that tent city to message the people that we are not going away. Those who support us and those who should support us will only be helped by a strong, imaginative and active Occupy movement over this winter.  We need to reach out more, we need to push harder on the things that all people can do to help out, such as move your money away from the banks, and we need to show that we are going to stay put in out tents. 

And the local business community needs to see the light. 

Oakland local businesses did not wreck the world’s economy and we did not have anything to do with a bailout for the banks that did nothing to help the common folk get through the recession.  

I say this as both an Occupy supporter and a local small business owner.  I am not the only small business owner in support of Occupy either.  I am also a member of the local Chamber of Commerce and I am sorry Joe, but I just do not believe your claim that the local businesses are down 40%.  Most of the local businesses are not even in the kind of business that would be affected one way or another by this protest.  

So why not just make money?  There are more people downtown and every store, coffee shop and restaurant should be making some money off of this.  I do not know why Tully’s and some of the others in the plaza do not stay open later and just sell what they always sell.  

Dialog is also key.  If some businesses are disturbed by this protest, go down to the General Assembly and tell people about it.  Maybe we could set up some green tape zone to keep business entryways clear.  Maybe we could make sure people know that you are open and that everyone is welcome. 

But does any business owner thinks life for local Oakland business will get better from a second police crackdown, this time with three times the average size of the protest? 

Oakland business can thrive with Occupy Oakland just like it does with Art and Soul or anything else that brings a crowd downtown.  They will especially be able to thrive if they feel that there is not going to be another battle with the police. 

And this would be best for the police.  

The Oakland Police Department will find that their public relations with people in the plaza will be vastly improved by a promise from the Mayor not to gas and arrest everyone and destroy their tents.  The police can calmly return to providing protection and assistance to everyone in the area, protestors, local businesses and neighboring residents and office workers.  There is no small amount of healing necessary in the relationship between the police and our various local communities.  The best thing to do is start now by providing security for everyone.  

Once we have decided that Occupy Oakland and the local Oakland community and government are going to accommodate one another, our community can be in peace.