Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “tent city”

Occupying an Agenda

I have posted frequently about my excitement over the Occupy movement. The ‘uprising,’ if I may use such a term, is both a shift of consciousness and a call for grassroots action. I am proud of those who are creating micro communities on these sites and seeking an inclusive culture that allows for everyone present to feel involved and listened to. I am sorry that the mass media do not seem willing to give this aspect the attention it deserves.

Occupy SF

This is the crux of the movement. What mobilized people is the rising frustration that the vast majority of us are simple pawns in a game played with impunity by corrupt big business principles and a failed political system where those sent to Washington do not represent those who voted to send them (and those who didn’t), but rather represent those who paid for them to get voted in.

People need to feel listened to. They have a right to know that if they work hard, save for retirement, buy a house, and then they will receive a minimal social network. Their children will have a good education, their medical needs will be taken care of, law enforcement are there to protect them, and that they can retire with dignity. If you play by the rules and participate in the system, surely you have entitlement to basic human rights.

The rains are coming and it is unclear how the Occupy movement will cope with the coming winter. What most worries me is that, as far as I know, there is no strategic plan. It is unclear who is the leadership and we will revisit next week on this blog whether there should be an agenda.

Will people come out in the rain?

This past summer, ‘Tent Cities” were created in most major towns in Israel. There was a huge outpouring from a disenfranchised and disillusioned public (many of them under 40) with a myriad of social issues represented. Some were similar to here in the US, others more unique to Israel.

There are many similarities to Occupy. There was no recognized leadership because there was a desire not to exclude anyone and creating a power structure, however open and inclusive, runs the risk of marginalizing people. Furthermore, there was no central agenda, again because of a desire to promote different social injustices and issues, according to those who stepped up to join the Tent City. There were also clashes with police.

Israelis of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and religions came together for a summer.

When the summer ended, the groups slowly lost momentum. I am afraid that without a framework and platform, then it might not be able to sustain itself. I believe the Occupy system needs to decide one of two things:

i) To create an agenda – and they might do well to read Roger Ingall’s suggestions.

ii) Decide to create a leadership structure and strategic plan, or take the momentum into the Democratic Party.

More on this second aspect next Wednesday.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Loser Hippies with Nothing to Say

I’ve been a part of several protests over the years, some with thousands of other people and some with only twenty or so. But I have to admit I don’t like it very much. I get tired of standing around the same real-estate, shouting the same slogans while holding a sign. So while I have been cheering the “occupy” protests on from my couch, I haven’t played much of a part and, like most, I have formed my own image of what these camps of protesters are probably like.

So, just a couple of days ago, I finally paid a visit to, “Occupy Oakland,” (basically an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street) taking place in Frank Ogawa Plaza which has been unofficially renamed, “Oscar Grant Plaza.” I knew, before my visit, that the media had played to the semi-conservative crowd in criticizing the occupy protests as being basically a bunch of disorganized hippies with nothing significant to say. I knew what the media were trying to accomplish and so I knew not to believe it. But I was still somewhat stunned by what I did see.

When I took a walk through the ad-hoc campground at Oscar Grant Plaza, I saw organization everywhere. There was an information center near the entrance with printed information and people to answer questions. Leaning up against the information center was a huge whiteboard with the day’s events listed. Then, as I moved into the camp, I saw the cooking operation – almost military in it’s efficiency if not its appearance. A saw people lined up in a civilized manner, waiting for their food, which had been donated by camp members and other well-wishers and some of it purchased with donations.

Then I spotted – not too far past the garbage and recycling center, the library. As you might imagine, the library did not contain the collected works of Shakespeare, but mostly political books and information. Outside the library, was the energy center. A guy was riding a stationary bicycle, rigged to a small generator that powered laptop computers and several other devices. There was a schedule of riders such that someone would always be pedalling and keeping the camp alive and connected. Next to the library was the supply tent. In front was a big chalkboard listing the items needed by the camp. Inside were the things that had been donated but not given out yet. There is no money exchanged in an of this. Have – give. Need – get.

Then I took a walk through the middle of the “residential” tent area. The path had been “paved” with wooden pallets so as not to turn to mud and leave the grass destroyed. Signs were posted along the way saying that quiet time began at midnight. Near the end of the pallet path was a first-aid booth. There was an EMT on hand and the booth was, at the moment, manned by a guy that had been trained as a back-country medic of some sort. The booth looked like a little drug store, with lots of bandages and the like. While I was standing there one of the supply guys came up with some pain-killers, Advil, Tylenol, etc., that had been donated.

As I was walking around I talked to a few people. They were not homeless. They could go home to their apartments or houses if they wanted to, but the chose to be here at Oscar Grant Plaza. This and the other qualities of the camp that I had observed led me to beleive that this was a movement – not just a protest, and certainly not a cool new fad. These people are in it for the long haul and that’s exactly what is needed. If they give in to the various pressures, the movement will accomplish nothing. The “establishment,” as it is known, has shown in no uncertain terms its anxiousness to ignore, dismiss, and even accuse this group. “They are the losers of society,” I have actually heard on the news.

Take a walk into an established “Occupy” camp. These people are anything but losers. They’re just not filled with the desire to win at any cost – even at the expense of their neighbors. Cooperation. Comeradery. Consensus. Companionship. I’d call these the goals of winners. I’d say that those are the foundations of a great community and a great way of life. Many have asked, “Will they be successful?” They already have. I’ll ask this: Will we all be successful?

 -Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


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