Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Berkeley

Ten years ago, I was one of maybe 50 people who demonstrated on Shattuck Ave. right in front of the Berkeley downtown Bart. We were railing against the first attacks on Afghanistan; we were a small tentative group, a little fearful of others’ reactions. The bombings were Bush’s response to the 9-11 attacks in New York, so if anyone was firmly against it, then their patriotism was also in question.

Mostly people kept their mouths shut and refused to talk about it. Even my anti-war buddies bit their lips, and then changed the subject. The demonstrations eventually got bigger, and then stopped altogether when Obama was elected. We thought everything would be okay.

Driving down the hill from the tunnels, I drove into town, not positive what time the demonstration would start. I found 2 different times on websites. It began at either 12pm or 1 pm. so I figured other people had trouble with the times as well and were late. I circled MLK Park and saw nothing except the crowded weekly Farmer’s Market.

It was a gorgeous October Saturday afternoon in front of me. Trees the color of fire and copper spread out on Shattuck Avenue. Tons of students everywhere, couples strolling hand in hand, knots of kids circling outdoor tables drinking coffee at cafes, or just basking in the soft sun. And still, no demonstration to be seen or heard so far. Finally after my third go around of the park and Farmer’s Market, I heard something. I saw a few cops on motorcycles and a couple of them on bicycles wearing shorts. Looking up the street I saw them and heard them, “The citizens united Can NOT be divided.”

Being generous, I would say there were about 200 people of all ages, not too many student types, carrying sounds, and chanting. It's never a good sign when you find open parking places across from a demonstration. I drove around the block to find not one, but two parking places across the street from the large park in front of city hall. Apparently the crowd had marched on the banks in a few tight little blocks and circled back to MLK.
It was a small, but determined group. I am a big supporter of the occupy movement, but my back has me in fits lately, unable to stand very long. I parked, but decided not to cross the street. I watched for awhile, took photos, listened to the chant and wished that more people had shown up. Oakland had a great turnout so they pulled people from Berkeley.

People keep asking what they want, telling them to define themselves, and to make a list of demands. There is no shortage of advice from my generation to theirs. I made a comment to one webpage: They are not asking for our permission or advice. Quit telling them what they have to do. They’ve done more in a month than we’ve done in years. Good on them. They’ve scared Wall Street a little. Hurray!

I know what they want for all of us: true democracy and fairness, a sense of fairness and justice, good, meaningful jobs, affordable housing, competent medical care, and inexpensive excellent education, and a clean environment. No, it’s not too much to ask. It’s what we all deserve for a happy life. I’m so proud of them and all they are doing!

We don’t know how this will end, but we need not be so attached to the results for a first effort. I personally haven’t felt this hopeful in years. As noted author and essayist Chris Hedges said, this is the best antidote for despair we've seen. And that's saying a lot because I think we've been full of fear, worry, doubt, sadness, and anger for far too long.

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