Thursday, November 3, 2011

Some notes on the General Strike

I spent yesterday at Occupy Oakland participating in the General Strike.  I know a lot of people who are dismissive of this protest and I want to write about why I went and what I got out of this experience. 
I spend most of my life feeling like a dirty little street kid who should shut up and disappear.  I feel invalidated and disenfranchised and invisible.  I feel like I am nothing in the grand scheme of things.  I’m not alone.  I have much more concrete reasons for feeling this way than most people.  I can point to a long history of inconsistent housing, poverty, hunger, sexual assault, bullying, etc.  I can say, “See!  I feel this way because of all of these real things.  Most of the people who were at the protest with me felt the same way.  They don’t have the same history though.  I find that curious.

How has our society morphed into this bizarre consortium of unrelated people brushing past one another without dependence? How did we come to a place where people feel like they don’t matter?  People matter. 

I arrived in Oakland around 12:30 and got off at the Lake Merritt Bart station.  I wanted to walk in and see how much of the city was taken over.  It wasn’t much.  Mostly there were people leaving because the first march was ending and people had other things they had to do.  The first thing I was struck by was the fact that everyone looked elated.  Everyone looked like they felt good about themselves and what they were doing.  I don’t see large crowds of people who look happy to be alive very often.  As I approached the main camp area I felt nervous.  I felt like I am such a small person, what do I have to give?

I arrived with a grocery bag full of supplies to help deal with police brutality because I live with a Greenpeace person.  I was elated to discover I only saw a handful of cops in the first several hours.  Most of them looked pensive or they were smiling.  They didn’t look like the enemy.

I wandered around the plaza by myself for about an hour and a half.  I sat down and talked to this really wonderful man.  He is out here from Atlanta because he works with an organization that is promoting alternative discipline models in schools.  They want to work towards restorative justice.  The conversation with him was inspiring.  He has done so much to help so many people.  He is truly an activist.  He is compelling and charming and very well educated.  I felt ashamed to tell him that I stopped teaching because I couldn’t handle being a parent and teaching.  Both jobs take too much of me.  There isn’t enough of me to go around.  He smiled and told me, “You are just working on a different part of education now.  You’ll figure out later what you’re supposed to do next.”  I felt seen.  And valuable.  This person I will never see again told me that if I feel strongly about helping children I am valuable and I should not give up on myself.

I went to the protest at least in part because I object to the police trying to evict the Occupy movement.  As a taxpayer I think that I have some say in how public lands are used.  If people who are very upset want to camp in fairly miserable conditions in order to raise public awareness of serious issues I think they should be allowed to.

I posted continually yesterday about what I was seeing.  One friend was dismissive and catty about how there wasn’t a unified message so he wouldn’t take it seriously.  I feel like that summarizes the problems in our country perfectly.  If you can’t summarize your discontent in a thirty second sound bite it isn’t really important.  Really?  Since when?  This is a complicated issue because there are a lot of people involved and influenced. 

If you go back and read Revolutionary War era public discourse there wasn’t much of a unified message then either.  But we still fought the British off and declared ourselves a separate country.  Even though we didn’t know how that should look.  Even though we didn’t know at the beginning what the unintended consequences were.  I think as a country we made the right choice.

The Occupy movement is fractured because right now there aren’t enough people upset.  In my opinion.  As long as the Occupy movement can be dismissed and ignored then it will be.  I think that the Occupy movement needs to grow until so many people are inconvenienced that even Joe Schmo who “doesn’t understand the movement” wants to give them their reasonable concessions already so we can all move on.  I think this needs to grow. 

Yesterday I was in the first 200 people to arrive at the port.  I wanted to be there.  I stayed at the first gate and held hands with my muse.  We watched the crowds pour in.  We listened to the music.  We watched people be excited about the fact that they were courageous enough to say, “I am allowed to express my anger”.  Because that is what I saw most.  People were angry and upset.  They had a lot of anxiety about being there.  They didn’t know what to expect.  Everyone seemed to be delighted to find that being angry and upset just means you are like all these other thousands of people.  None of us are alone.

I climbed up on a scaffolding and watched thousands of people pour into the Port of Oakland.  I cried.  I was overwhelmed by the strength of my fellow humans.  I was simultaneously part of this movement and separate from it.  I am still the dirty street kid in my heart.  I watched all these people and I gloried in their beauty and I felt like I sullied them because so many of them have strong beliefs that I completely oppose.  And yet, I want them to be allowed to have those opinions.  Whatever they are.  No one has to agree with me.

My opinions are the result of the unique set of circumstances involved in my life.  That is true of every one.  In this way it is nearly impossible to ever understand someone else’s perspective.  But as I watched all of those people I was so glad that they had the courage of their convictions to march to the port and shut it down.  I was so proud of my fellow humans.  We are here.  You cannot ignore us.  Whose streets are these?  Our streets?  Whose port is this?  Our port.  If we want to shut it down to prevent those rich people from processing more commerce, we can.  We can make it so fucking uncomfortable that you can no longer pretend we don’t exist.  None of us are invisible any more.

When I left I was exhausted and drained.  I was emotionally spent.  My body ached.  I felt this simultaneous let down and building up.  I’m not sure where to go from here.  My first step is that when I finish this essay I am going to go work on NaNoWriMo more.  Telling my story is part of my life work.  That is the work I am doing right now in this stage.  I think I am going to be going back to the encampment.  I will be bringing my children over the protests of my co-parents.  I believe it is safe enough. 

I was standing there watching when the anarchist group attacked banks.  There were a few people who had their own agenda.  I do not identify with them or their methods, even though I understand them.  I’m not even angry with them.  I think they are misguided, but not evil.  Not bad.  They are willing to be the far end of the bell curve giving me the illusion of being moderate.  I’m kind of thrilled by that, actually.  That doesn’t happen much in my life.  They were arrested last night after scaring people and giving the news a reason to rant about how of course the protests ended badly because activists are bad people.
100 something people.  Out of at least 7,000 but probably more people.  Really?  That is what people are going to remember?  That says a lot more about the people remembering than the protest.  This was a beautiful peaceful protest.  There were fringe assholes acting on their own agenda at a similar time.  Please do not confuse the two.  And yet, it’s the same thing.  Those anarchists are so fucking angry that they are willing to take the courage of their conviction and say, “You are bad and you should go away.”  I can’t disagree with that sentiment.  I think the huge banks are pretty evil as well.

In my opinion one of the rallying cries of the Occupy movement should be to remove person-status from corporations.  Corporations should become third class citizens.  I’m sure people will say that will drive business away from our country.  To that I laugh.  Have you seen our country?  We are beautiful and wonderful and strong.  Even if our corporations made far less money, we’d be fine.  We have all these wonderful people.  We can do anything.

For the record, I release this into the creative commons.  Please give me attribution: Krissy Gibbs


  1. If I could force one concrete change out of the Occupy movement, it would be this: only registered voters are allowed to contribute to campaign finance.

  2. I was so proud of my fellow humans. We are here. You cannot ignore us. Whose streets are these? Our streets? Whose port is this? Our port. If we want to shut it down to prevent those rich people from processing more commerce, we can. We can make it so fucking uncomfortable that you can no longer pretend we don’t exist. None of us are invisible any more.

    A very powerful moment to witness firsthand. Power to the people.

  3. I'm curious about your specific thoughts about the property destruction, mostly because a week or so ago it seemed like you re posting more sympathetic stuff about political extremists, etc. Not that I'm doing any myself, mind you...I actually feel like I'm mostly sitting this whole movement out due to kids. Just wondering why you think it's misguided, from your perspective.

  4. Yes, this does seem rather different from Is it because you experienced the demonstration first-hand?

  5. My heart was Occupied. I have never before seen what it means that 8,000 congregated in one space with the one common goal of "I get to exist". That's pretty much my religious conversion.

  6. I get that, I think. But isn't it a fine line between "I get to exist" and, "I get to exist, dammit, and I'm willing to make people very uncomfortable until that is clearly understood"? Because I'm pretty sure that's where the property destruction is coming from...some anger, sure, but also a sense that nothing less is really going to make the powers that be actually give a fuck. And, of course, the sentiment that we shouldn't have to be "polite" against a system that is, in effect, being violent itself (depriving people of homes, etc).

    Glad you're having fun, though. I'm kind of jealous :)

  7. I'm really ok with them doing it, actually. I think they were doing what they needed to do to be themselves. They don't need to give a shit about my opinion. Who the fuck am I? However, I think people should do this non-violently. I'm willing to put what I can towards restitution for a movement I am a part of. That is what I can do right now in my life. And now I have to close the computer and walk away. :)

  8. OK. I'm gonna stop, too, I promise, after I mention one thing I meant to put in above, which is the distinction between property destruction and violence against people. I read anarchist discussions about this stuff, and I haven't seen anybody anywhere advocating interpersonal violence, except maybe in direct self-defense...where exactly people draw the lines can be pretty varied, though, for example, around here the folks who are the most vocal about total nonviolence also find any civil disobedience unacceptable. However, for some values of the word non-violence, at least, I think there is pretty broad agreement.

  9. I hope you get this mailed to you.

    If there was no one in the building when the brick was thrown... I would have been less upset. The employees of Well's Fargo felt terrorized. To me, that is crossing a line. The people who work there do so because they need a fucking job. I think that's crossing the line from destruction of property to terrorizing your fellow citizens. Do it after hours. Do it away from the General Strike because the other (it now looks like 100,000) people did not agree to be represented by you any more than you want to be represented by them. It's not fair to co-opt something that large. They are no better than the people they are protesting. Maybe worse.

    However, if they did it at midnight on their own time? I'd write a check and smile and nod. They did what they had to do. I'll do what I have to do. I'm ok with playing that part in the story.

    Does that make sense?