Black Friday

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. Even though its truth is steeped in a violent history, its current tradition is among the least caustic and least shallow of American holidays. It does not combine an unnecessary mania of consumerism with religious fervor. It does not blow up Chinese fire crackers for the sake of American patriotism. It does not offer chocolate and flowers in the place of real intimate communication. Thanksgiving is strangely and appropriately congruent with nature. The traditional meal served is one of in-season vegetables and heritage fowl, which even the vegetarians at our table appreciated. Thanksgiving proceeds the winter season, encouraging a gorging suitable for the extra layer of fat needed by a traditional body to insulate the coming colder weather. In its purest form, Thanksgiving, for me, makes the most sense of all the man-made holidays and marks of time. While the native populations responsible for the holiday are sure not to thank their oppressors for its tradition, a tradition that marks the murderous history of colonialism, I am grateful for the annual reminder of gratitude and for a holiday that only asks us to share a meal together. For me, it makes very clear the joys of simplicity and outlines the possibility for a greater life within that simplicity. It gives us the chance to learn from the mistakes of imperialism and come together to recreate those traditions in a place of peace and appreciation for what is before us.

Of course, in its modern manifestation, Thanksgiving also holds incredible binaries that cast a shadow over the holiday’s idealized tradition. Barring the extensive commentary about its egregious founding, because it is an event that brings together family for one big meal, (or in our case of blessings, several days of big meals,) the holiday inevitably becomes a table full of paradoxes, passing gravy over differing values and political views, and, in our current time, outlines a celebration of abundance in a time of scarcity and decline. Thanksgiving gives us a chance to take pause and give thanks. When we ignore that chance, we are disservicing ourselves and our loved ones.

My partner and I hosted Thanksgiving this year, which was both a treat and a feat. We had eleven of us for dinner and a barrage of house guests, lasting for eight days. We spent three days prepping before the big day, hours upon hours of cleaning and ultimately several bottles of wine and boxes of chocolate to get us through it all. It was wonderful and exhausting. It was beautiful to serve a locally-grown, sustainably-raised, organic, pastured turkey and hysterical to find the carcass (which I had planned to boil for canned broth) on the floor in tatters the next morning, a sacrifice to a few mischievous farm dogs. I can honestly say that all in attendance left feeling full.

My Christian mother managed not to offend our Buddhist neighbor with offering the meal’s blessing. I was able to make the entire meal gluten-free and, notwithstanding the turkey, vegan as well. We all came together, shared together and enjoyed ourselves. Still, as with all moments of dream, there comes a time of waking. Our families got by, not clouding our love for each other with opposing politics and differing approaches to how we move forward as a people, but still an underlying thread found a way to surface. While no one balked at my runny mashes potatoes, there were talks of black-Friday sales, mention of civil unrest and instances of uncomfortable realizations. But for three hours, over stuffing and Amish pie, we managed to overtly agree: the food and our family is something worth smiling for.

Why is the broad accord and gratitude we find together on a special Thursday in November totally decimated by midnight that evening? Why are so many of us still ruining a perfectly good holiday by leaving our families to stand in line in the cold for a new television? According to a Reuters report, “Up to 20 people were injured after a woman used pepper-spray at a Wal-Mart in Los Angeles to get an edge on her competitors.” She was no doubt inspired by Lt. Pike and the incident at UC Davis. This immediate shift in consciousness concerns me, to say the least.

My family is interesting in that, while we span all places of the political spectrum, we can all agree on one thing: something is not right in this world and it is coming to a head. For some of us, it’s the economy. For others, it’s spiritual. And for others still, it is something one can’t quite put their finger on. For eleven people sharing a meal and breaking bread together, we hold all different truths. One truth we clearly held in common, however, is that we are at a time of history that has climaxed and we are entering the other side of that climax. Even the most well-off (and I’ll say it, rich!) of my family members are concerned about saving money and placing value on our shared existence together, rather than on things.

Yet, every time I think humanity is getting somewhere, I am proven wrong almost immediately. One only needs to read the news, a twitter feed or a myriad of facebook updates to realize that there are still people in this world perpetuating the infinite growth paradigm, grabbling at the last strings of economic prosperity and using the last resources of a collapsing world to fortify a lack of humanity with trinkets that reduce us to the stuff we have in our lives, rather than putting energy into any real, intangible and truthful values.

This is not to say that gift-giving can’t be sacred. On the contrary, our propensity towards the desire to exchange and sacrifice is one of the most beautiful aspects of humanity on record. But gifts that reassert our humanity and reunify our humanness cannot be bought in a store, cannot be something of mass production and cannot go “on sale.” As Charles Eisenstein points out in his book Sacred Economics, “Today we live in a world that has been shorn of its sacredness, so that very few things indeed give us the feeling of living in a sacred world. Mass-produced, standardized commodities, cookie-cutter houses, identical packages of food, and anonymous relationships with institutional functionaries all deny the uniqueness of the world. The distant origins of our things, the anonymity of our relationships and the lack of visible consequences in the production and disposal of our commodities all deny relatedness.” When we buy something for someone we love, ignorant of the hands that produced it, separated from the resources needed to manufacture it, we further alienate ourselves in the process of gift-giving, a sacred exchange that is supposed to bring us closer.

We hold an incredible amount of contradictions in our lives. For many families, Black Friday is as much a part of the Thanksgiving holiday as the meal itself. It serves as a bizarre metaphoric reality. While many families were stuffing themselves at the Thanksgiving table, 25,000 people die of hunger in the world each day. While Thanksgiving is proof that we can find family solace without store-bought gifts, Christmas follows Thanksgiving with almost the exact same meal and includes the additional element of product consumption which makes for a violent, month-long shopping season leading up to a hoped-for peaceful holiday. Meanwhile, people all over the world, in America and otherwise, are trying to find ways to make ends meet, trying to scrounge together enough money to feed themselves and their family and are trying to sort out the devastations of a broken-promised future. Why do we ruin our peaceful unity at the end of a grateful meal like ravaged dogs destroying a turkey carcass? How would the world be different if we stopped such a barbaric tradition?

Roots of destruction

“Indeed, as I learned, there were on the planet where the little prince lived– as on all planets– good plants and bad plants. In consequence, there were good seeds from good plants, and bad seeds from bad plants. But seeds are invisible. They sleep deep in the heart of the earth’s darkness, until some one among them is seized with the desire to awaken. Then this little seed will stretch itself and begin– timidly at first– to push a charming little sprig inoffensively upward toward the sun. If it is only a sprout of radish or the sprig of a rose-bush, one would let it grow wherever it might wish. But when it is a bad plant, one must destroy it as soon as possible, the very first instant that one recognizes it.” -Antoine de st Exupery.

That is the lesson of the Baobabs from the novel “The Little Prince.”

In June of 1999, two brothers conspired together to fire-bomb three synagogues and a building housing an abortion clinic in Sacramento, California. James Williams and Benjamin Williams went on to murder a prominent gay couple in Redding, California. They were each sentenced to over 20 years in prison for their crimes of hate.  The way that their terrible actions touched several populations at once was astounding.

On Friday, November 18 2011, on the UC Davis campus, a campus police officer brutally pepper sprayed peaceful protesters, making national news, so much so that Martha Stewart parodied the event in her Thanksgiving spot on national morning television today, “pepper-spraying” her turkey for the holiday.  I have been very vocal about my dismay. I did not appreciate Martha’s jab.

But even more than my not finding violence funny, there has been something about the incident that has eaten at me, something I couldn’t put my finger on.  It has been clear to me that the event has hit a very personal note for me, even deeper than most people’s rightful outrage.  And not just because I’m a graduate of UC Davis.  I didn’t understand why I felt so passionately about the issue until I read a Daily Mail article out of the UK this morning.

I attended the protest at UC Davis on Monday.  What I now understand is that it was not my first protest against Lt. Pike’s inappropriate actions.  I didn’t realize as much until today’s Daily Mail article.

I was a student on the UC Davis campus in 2003. I was a staunch advocate for Women’s Rights and LGBT Rights, the president of the campus chapter of the National Organization for Women.  During my tenure as a student there, I had a working relationship with the police community, trying to combat the sexual assault and rape that was an unfortunate regular occurrence on campus- both in the dorms and at the surrounding fraternal houses.  During this time, one of the officers, Officer Chang, whom I had a working relationship with, was a victim of harassment and hate in his police division. Another officer called him a faggot.  As the Daily Mail describes, “Officer Calvin Chang’s 2003 discrimination complaint against the university’s police chief and the UC Board of Regents alleged he was systematically marginalized as the result of anti-gay and racist attitudes on the force, and he specifically claimed Pike described him using a profane anti-gay epithet.” In 2003, when I was a student on campus, I helped organize a rally in support of Officer Chang, condemning the hate speech and discrimination proliferated by officers, specifically Pike, in the UC Davis police force.  That was eight years ago.

Violence has its roots in hate.  And Lt. Pike has been spouting hate speech since at least 2003 and his sordid behavior is on record.  Lt. Pike and the UC police department were the subject of a lawsuit that settled at $240,000 in 2008. I can hardly believe that this officer and his inappropriate dealings in the UC Davis police force have flown under university radar. On the contrary, I ascertain that Lt. Pike’s aggression has been well known to university officials for years. And as such, the university’s officials, as well as the offending officers, need to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

But the incident brings about issues of a much larger problem.  When hate, aggression and trespass go without check, those ills become a plague.  When people are allowed to perpetuate ideas of hate and those seeds are allowed to take root, they eventually grow into much larger issues.  And that is what we are facing today.

Many people understand that the events that took place on the UC Davis campus on Friday speak to a much larger problem.  But still many do not see the connections.  The event was a symptom. It is not the disease.

The disease is that we, as a community, a nation, a people, have allowed for too long the roots of hate to grow.  We have let discrimination and destruction, disenfranchisment and disparity to become the norm. So much so that, when terrible violence occurs, it becomes the subject of Martha Stewart’s Thanksgiving joke.  Where has our humanity gone?

The Status Quo

“The status quo will be will be preserved at all costs.  Politicians will hide the truth, economic statistics will become even fuzzier, and central banks will continue to throw more and more money at a system that, at its core, is out of tune with reality.” –Chris Martenson

 

Is anyone else feeling a little crazy these days?  Like you are walking through a haze of contradictions that would only be funny if life were a Woody Allen film?  Has the whole world gone insane?  Are the wheels falling off?  Are we a part of some fictional, dream-like story that will one day manifest the presence of hobbits and orcs into reality?  Okay.  Maybe not the latter.  But I’ll be honest: there have been several moments in the past year, and ever more frequently in the past weeks, that I have honestly wondered if I were losing my mind.  Because surely the events taking place across the world can’t be reality?  And more so, surely some people’s reactions to the events taking place around the world can’t be what folks are actually thinking?

 

I never thought I’d see a video clip of Whoopie Goldberg and Barbara Walters arguing on a morning talk show about the events that took place on my University’s quad.  I never thought I’d read an account from an American Poet Laureate, explaining how he was beaten by police at his place of work, where he teaches on the UC Berkeley Campus.  The Occupy Wall Street protesters have been using a projected message on the side of a building in Gotham City to send a message of hope to the people on the streets, like the “Bat Signal.”   Has literature, fiction, make-believe and pop culture intersected reality?

 

Well, no.  Not entirely.  But events of the more recent past have sure taken a strange turn.  And the new and constant access to eye-witnesses-on-the-ground serves to bring to light a strange and disconcerting realism.  I recently saw a twitter-feed icon that read, “I can’t sleep.  There is crazy shit happening on the internet right now.”  I completely identify with that statement.

 

All I can say is that, if you are witnessing a world of stark contradictions, if you are feeling overwhelmed and confused by recent world events, you are not alone.

 

I’ve been trying to make sense of recent world events.  It is important to me to witness, fist hand, what is happening in the world.  I have been visiting various” Occupy” camps in the Northern California area.  The two closest to my home, and closest to my heart, are the movements on the UC Davis campus and in down town Sacramento. 

 

I had lived in Sacramento for 10 years before moving to the Sierra foothills in April of this year to become an organic farmer.  Sacramento’s homeless population was made famous in an Oprah episode as she documented the tent cities along the American River and the families affected by homelessness.  Shortly after the episode aired, the city used a number of on-book “code-violations” to remove the “campers.”  City officials did not solve the issue of homelessness in Sacramento, they did not provide more beds or shelters, they just simply made it illegal to act-as-a-homeless-person, and therefore created a cloak of invisibility, for the community’s most downtrodden.  Out of site.  Out of mind.

 

The policies and codes used by the city to evict homeless individuals were the policies and codes enforced when Occupy Sacramento protestors have tried to erect tents in a public community park, a park named after Civil Rights trail-blazer Cesar Chavez, to bring the ironic attention to wealth disparity, civil rights violations, political cronyism and the ills of corporate personhood.

 

Now that folks are camping out, in tents, at the local Best Buy and Wal-Mart, to scoop up the corporate deals of Black Friday, (a nomenclature that we should all see the unfortunate irony of,) the city has turned a blind eye.  And it is not because the “private property” laws preside over city policies.  If that were true, the city would not have ousted a homeless camp in 2010, citing health-code violations, and using those codes to evict a homeless camp, a camp that has the permission of a private entity to be on their private property, a camp who was self-policing, drug-free and protecting the families of homeless women and children. No.  What is becoming more and more clear is that, when it comes to the discretion of city services, city policies and city protection, the corporations are served before human dignity.  UC Davis has now become a poster-child for that concept.

 

The connecting web of issues that outline the upper-hand of the 1%, and the struggles of the rest of us, is mind-boggling.  I am fraught to wrap my head around all of it and I consider myself an educated person.  I am glued to the internet and news-clips, drooling to see what happens next, like a tween waiting for the next Harry Potter or Twilight saga to emerge.

 

But this is reality.  This is not a story of vampires and werewolves, of muggles and a magical community.  What is happening today in the world is happening to us.  Maybe because of the internet, and the narrative vignettes of truth, truth that each person now has access to, more people are seeing more clearly how our greater community is connected and how the policies of those in power are affecting our ability to be responsible for our community.  And yet, as the Orwellian novel suggests, “Four legs good, two legs bad.”  And it is making us hold ever more to the pop culture we’ve been fed.  But the truth is: the more legs we have on hand to prop up the corporate community and therefore subsidize those in power, the better it is for those in power.

 

And yet, we are all waking up.

 

I have been to rally after rally, and protest after protest, on the UC Davis campus, and I have never seen more solidarity than what I saw on the campus quad at their General Assembly on Monday, November 21st, 2011.  The Black Student Union spoke.  The La Raza campus community spoke and offered music.  Fraternities and Sororities spoke.  We talked about how those in power have taken away the rights of the disenfranchised.  We talked about how corporate ties have affected the ability of students to have access to an affordable, non-biased education.  We talked about how we must make void the perpetual hand of corporate-bias and political-control in education and in society as a whole.  We spoke as a community.  We spoke against violence.  We spoke against oppression.

 

The corporations have only profit in mind.  They do not care for our better selves.  They do not care for our community.  They care only for their bottom line.  As people in our community begin to line up to the altar of “stuff,” at Best Buy and Wal-Mart, with tents in tow, and no thought given to how that altar has served to dismember humanity, charity and any hope for peace, love and decency, I find that I am dumbfounded.  We cannot subsidize our disconnect with humanity with flashy trinkets.  We cannot console our loss of community with a haberdashery of seeming plentitude.  When we attempt to fortify our social disconnect with a longing for things, we only perpetuate our own solitude.

 

For some, this movement against corporate favoritism may still seem far-fetched, steeped in American “hippie” culture and over-reaching.  Newt Gingrich’s comment at a republican nominee rally makes that apparent: “Get a job.  Right after you take a bath.”  But what Gingrich, and many like him, are failing to understand is that this is not a hippie movement.  People who smell like flowers and have jobs are taking part because even those who are employed are noticing the terrible realities facing their community.  This is not a resurgence of the counter culture of the generation before us.  This is popular culture.  This is a very real intersection of what we feared wouldn’t come true and the absolute truth in its reality.

 

When we see our fellow man trading away their earnings for another artifact of social inequity, it is our duty to reach out to them.  When we see someone trying to replace the loss of human contact with another gaming system, we should take the time to make a connection.  We can pity the fool that has to look towards Best Buy and Wal-Mart to make sense of this incredible disconnect or we can continue to advocate on their behalves for a better, brighter future.

 

“The status quo will be preserved at all costs.”  I agree with Chris Martensen’s observation.  But I have to add that it can only be preserved with our consent.  The general population is the driving force behind the status quo.  We have the ability and the chance to create a new status quo.   We have the ability and chance to change the course of history.  Even if people think we are crazy.

 

Happy holidays.

I am a UC Davis alum. I am an Aggie. I am the 99%.

With regard to what happened on the UC Davis campus on Friday: I am a UC Davis alum. I stood on the very site that students were pepper sprayed. I stood there, in 2003, and fought for women’s rights. I stood on that spot and spoke out for social justice. I stood there and rattled against the Iraq war. To watch what happen there and see students sitting peacefully on the same spot, a place where I was allowed to experience free speech, and bare witness to my fellow Aggies battled against, pepper sprayed, by the UC Police, an agency paid for with student money, is not just an insult to my education and college experience, it is an unequivocal trespass on civil rights.

There are beautiful students that attend school at UC Davis. The university has an incredible history. But instead of any of that making international news, what my alma mater is now known for is the war that the administration and UC Police waged on student protesters. All those responsible for the school’s new reputation need to resign or be removed. It is only fair to all of us who have worked so hard to make UC Davis a place of truthful and beautiful education.

I have supported the Occupy Wall Street Movement without a moment of hesitation. I have done so with my principles, my words and my actions. I understand the need for protest at this juncture in history. Regardless of the fact that we have, for too long, relied on infinite growth to prop up our lives, now that the last crumbs of civilization are being scooped up, the have-nots are seeing even more clearly the need for community, equality and sharing. When the poor and disenfranchised advocate for such things, and are met with violent opposition to maintain the status quo, all people, even those not sure about the future, need to be vigilant about the present.

People in this country who don’t feel like an involvement in the current protests could be helpful, I offer you this poem by Martin Neimoller, holocaust survivor:

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Do not, for a moment, stand by. Do not acquiesce. Do not hesitate. We are the 99%.

40 minutes until the UC Davis General Assembly

The incident at UC Davis hit close to home.  Watching the pepper-spaying incident on campus was like watching someone set fire to a beloved work of art.  I am a graduate of the University of California at Davis.  I haven’t been sleeping well.  For me, the incident and the subsequent reactions to the incident have taken a very real emotional toll on me.

 

I learned about the brutal assault on student protesters moments after it had happened because my nephew, Taylor, who is a current student there, text messaged me one of the videos posted to YouTube documenting the incident with raw footage.  After seeing the first 30 seconds of the video, I burst into tears and called my nephew.  He was rightfully scared and confused, baffled at how such a thing could happen to his piers on the campus he lives on, in a place where he and his friends should be safe to explore an education.  He called his mother and went home for the weekend.

 

I experienced the appropriate emotions: fear, anger, outrage, disbelief, fright, sadness and despair.  I contacted Taylor’s parents and every single alum whose number or contact information I had had on file.  I asked people to write letters, to file complaints, to make calls and express their outage at the inhumane actions taken by the UC Davis police and the administration.  I updated my facebook status with Martin Neimoller’s poem.  (Martin Neimoller was a survivor of the holocaust.) I implored people to get involved.  I had expected my friends and acquaintances to see the situation as I had seen it: as a complete assault on student and human rights, a very real message about how far away from human decency we had come.  I expected people to share my emotions.

 

I was sadly mistaken.

 

Shortly after I posted my facebook status, my high school drama teacher “unfriended” me on facebook and sent me the following message:

 

“Over the last couple of years on FB I have enjoyed following the events of your life and, even though we are almost polar opposites politically, I have been proud to see your willingness to stand up for what you believe in. However, one of your posts of today is more than I find myself able to tolerate. Your implication that those…doing nothing is hurtful and insulting. My personal vision for America is one that recognizes that those who disagree with me can be intelligent, thoughtful people. It seems that your vision of America is one that only has room for those who support the same point of view as you. By the way, those who are truly compassionate would know and understand that all of those who didn’t speak up as the Nazi’s came through their towns were not necessarily supporters of the Nazi’s. Many were men and women who were justifiably terrified of an oppressive regime that had no room for people who thought differently than they. I am genuinely sorry to lose even this small contact with you but I will not suffer being compared to one who lined up like “a good little German” because my politics are different than yours. I wish you the best in your life and I hope that you will continue to stand proud for all you believe in.”

 

I replied with the following:

 

“Wow. I am actually surprised to hear that you think we have such different political ties. I frequently cite you as an influence in my life, someone who stood up for what she believes in, and would never produce Grease because of the terrible message it sends to young women. I know we definitely agree there.

I knew my post tonight would offend some, though, if I had been surveyed to predict who, you would not have been in my top ten. I am surprised that yours is my first email.

I don’t really feel compelled to explain myself but since you have always remained one of my primary educators, I do feel compelled to explain myself to you.

What prompted my status update tonight was a brutal assault on peaceful protesters at UC Davis, my alma mater. Tonight, peaceful students (they were literally sitting down) were met with unnecessary police aggression, brutally pepper sprayed, in a place that I have given speeches, on my own college campus. I am saddened and distraught by the assault on free speech.

I am even further saddened and frankly outraged by the 5,000+ books that were destroyed in New York by the NYPD. Surely as an educator you must understand my complete dismay?

Guys and Dolls was banned in Holland. The Music Man was banned by the Mormon Church. All of Shakespeare’s plays have been banned at some point by one municipality or another. Literally. All of them.

My point was one of free speech. And I won’t apologize for my approach to defending it. I meant it. We are facing a truly destructive moment in time. It is a place in time that can be traced to recent history. Destroying literature is not to be taken lightly in any society. On the contrary, it is the mark of true oppression, no matter which side of the political spectrum one falls.

My allusion to Nazi Germany may have been offensive to you but it is the most obvious of recent oppressions. I could have alluded to modern Egypt or ancient Egypt but the sources I would have had to have used are not as tangible to the general public. I could have used Franco’s Spain but the same historical intangibility lies. I admit I went for the most publicly well-known blow.

You don’t have to support the message of current protests (though I am truly surprised that you do not given their context and advocacy for the education system) but surely you can see how the police brutality and assault on free speech has been a detriment to the American process.

I am overwhelmed. I am in despair.

I am sorry I offended you.

Still, I cannot back down from my position. I cannot stand by and let democracy and all this beautiful country stands for, wane. My position is one of active participation and I am incredibly proud of that. I am sorry that you cannot concur. Nonetheless, I will always identify as one of your students. Thank you.”

 

She has not replied.

 

Many of my fellow Aggies declined to be involved, writing me back to say that they don’t see this as something they want to entertain.  I have even had people tell me that the student protesters “deserved what they got.”

 

I have spent the past nights without sleep and in between bouts of tears.  I am still working out how to feel.  Even as I sit here now, just blocks away from my old campus, writing this, I am shaking.

 

I am shaken.

 

For me, it’s not just that student protesters, sitting peacefully on their college campus, were brutally assaulted.  It’s not that I went to the school at which the incident took place.  It’s that the event has made perfectly clear to me how far from humanity we have gotten.  It has shaken my faith in common human decency.  No one, regardless of their politics or message, should face what students on the UC Davis campus had to endure.  At no point, should ANY ONE, endure such punishment.

 

We tip toe around the first amendment in this country, letting people like Fred Phelps and the West Borough Baptist Church protest funerals of our military vets in the name of free speech.  Terry Jones, who used his “rights to free speech” in this country, to burn a sacred text of Islam and is now running for president of the United States.  By contrast, people like Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chavez, who advocated peacefully for human rights, have been hauled off to jail.  This isn’t irony.  It is injustice.

 

The Chancellor at UC Davis released a statement citing safety as the reason for the police’s use of force.  She said that there were “non-student agitators” infiltrating the campus and used this to justify the horrendous actions on the part of the University to quash free speech and freedom of assembly on the public school’s grounds.

 

I met that “non-student agitator” this morning at a coffee shop.  His name is Enosh Baker and like me, he is an alum.   He studied physiological ecology at UC Davis and lives less than a block away from where he was arrested.   He was taken to jail and held on campus.  UC Davis does have a jail.  There are three holding cells.  It’s next to that campus fire station.  He and his fellow Aggies were detained for 3-4 hours.  He was charged with “failure to disperse” and “lodging without a permit.”  I only got the opportunity to speak with him for a few minutes.  From that encounter, my perception was that he is an intelligent, polite individual.

 

But that is beside the point.  For me, the point is that people in this country, who are taking a contrary stance to the status quo, who are fighting against wealth disparity, unequal educational opportunities, corporate and political corruption and who are trying to employ the tactics of this country’s forefathers to right the injustices taking place in this nation are being met with violence.  That to me is wrong.  That to me is enough to join in the fray.

 

I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it” -Voltaire

I am a UC Davis alum. I am an Aggie. I am the 99%.

With regard to what happened on the UC Davis campus on Friday: I am a UC Davis alum. I stood on the very site that students were pepper sprayed. I stood there, in 2003, and fought for women’s rights. I stood on that spot and spoke out for social justice. I stood there and rattled against the Iraq war. To watch what happened there and see students sitting peacefully on the same spot, a place where I was allowed to experience free speech, and bare witness to my fellow Aggies battled against, pepper sprayed, by the UC Police, an agency paid for with student money, is not just an insult to my education and college experience, it is an unequivocal trespass on civil rights.

 

There are beautiful, intelligent students that attend school at UC Davis. The university has an incredible history. But instead that very wonderful fact making international news, what my alma mater is now known for is the war that the administration and UC Police waged on student protesters. All those responsible for the school’s new reputation need to resign or be removed. It is only fair to all of us who have worked so hard to make UC Davis a place of truthful and beautiful education.

 

I have supported the Occupy Wall Street Movement without a moment of hesitation. I have done so with my principles, my words and my actions. I understand the need for protest at this juncture in history. Regardless of the fact that we have, for too long, relied on infinite growth to prop up our lives, now that the last crumbs of civilization are being scooped up, the have-nots are seeing even more clearly the need for community, equality and sharing. When the poor and disenfranchised advocate for such things, and are met with violent opposition to maintain the status quo, all people, even those not sure about the future, need to be vigilant about the present.

 

People in this country who don’t feel like an involvement in the current protests could be helpful, I offer you this poem by Martin Neimoller, holocaust survivor:

 

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

 

Do not, for a moment, stand by. Do not acquiesce. Do not hesitate. We are the 99%.

Report From Occupy Oakland 11/11/11

Occupy Oakland- 11/11/11

After last night’s shooting near the camp, I was expecting a more chaotic or morose atmosphere to meet us upon our arrival to Occupy Oakland. The local and national news ran the story as though the shooting was related to Occupy Oakland, that the victim or the shooter was involved with the Occupy Movement. Though the Occupy participants witnessed the terrible incident and medic volunteers with the camp were the first on the scene to provide medical attention, though crime and violence is a related to marginalization and wealth-disparity and though the volunteers erected a memorial to mourn the loss of a human life, the shooting was unrelated to Occupy Oakland.

We arrived to a scene similar, though quieter, to the one we had witnessed on November 2nd, the day of the Oakland General Strike. People were still drinking their morning coffee. Volunteers were serving up bagels. Tents and tarps were being shaken out after the night’s rain. There were a handful of volunteers distributing mulch out of the back of a pick-up to keep the camp clean and as free from mud as possible.

We spoke with a volunteer at the information tent. I asked how the camp was holding up after the night-before’s events. He began to explain that there had been the usual media circus. Almost on cue, a reporter interrupted us to fire questions at the volunteer about Occupy’s relationship to the shooting. The volunteer calmly explained to the reporter that, “The shooting took place in downtown Oakland, not at Occupy Oakland” as the media had reported. The shooting did take place in the same plaza as the encampment but the volunteer’s point was that it was not a result of the peaceful assembly at Frank Ogawa Plaza, known to the occupiers as Oscar Grant Plaza. He went on to note that “Everything that happens in Oakland that’s bad is blamed on the encampment.” A CBS news station reported on October 16th that Oakland homicides stood at 94. There have been more homicides in the few weeks since that report. The Occupy Oakland encampment has been victim of police brutality and has seen a level of vandalism at some of the organized events but advocates for peaceful and thoughtful protest.

Occupy Oakland received an open letter from the Oakland Police Department this week telling the assembly to leave by choice, with their heads held high, or face their forcible eviction. The assembly has no plans to leave. They will not dismantle the camp and participants will hold ground at Oscar Grant Plaza in front of City Hall until, in a direct assault against democracy, they are carried out against their will. Even amongst rumors of the National Guard stepping in, the encampment is determined to exercise their first amendment rights. They will hold strong. They will not budge. And if they are forcibly removed, the congregation plans to return. The camp has 100 reserve tents that were sent from Occupy Wall Street in New York, safely stored for the very likely confiscation of camp supplies in the event of a very likely police raid.

The camp has had problems with vandals and opposition. People have come into the camp and have attempted to set tents on fire. Some of the outer tents have been spray-painted with expletives. Supplies have been stolen. Still, the camp has a fair amount of willing volunteers and generous donations from the community and visitors keep coming in. The vegetable gardens, planted after the first police raid trampled the flowers, are thriving. The old oak tree in the plaza center remains fenced-off and healthy. Musicians contribute their talents. Yoga is taught for free in the mornings. The library is fully stocked and functioning on the honor system. Hot meals are being served. Oakland’s Social Service departments have encouraged the needy to visit or stay with Occupy Oakland because the camp has been providing many services that the city and charities cannot sustain on a daily basis.

The morning at Occupy Oakland was another wonderful morning spent. Two of my fellow travelers helped the woman who had donated the mulch to pick up pallets, a donation from Kelly’s Paper Store, and deliver them to Occupy Oakland, to help raise tents off of the soggy ground. (On a note of how small the world is and who is participating in this movement, the woman who donated the mulch to help keep the camp clean is Sarah Shourd’s mother. Sarah Shroud is one of the hikers, along with Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal who was imprisoned in Iran.) My wonderful and rhythmic friend Julie participated in a drum circle, getting her hands on a steel drum for the first time and keeping the beat with a variety of strangers. We met a 26-year-old woman named Iris who works at the Better Business Bureau, around the corner from Occupy Oakland, and spends mornings and evenings with the encampment. We met an Ethics Major from the University of Nevada at Reno who drove down with five friends from the next state over. We met a high-school science teacher from Seattle who came to visit on his one free morning from a Peace and Justice Conference he was here to attend. We met a man from Small World Radio who has been coming from north of Redding with his 14-year old and 9-year old to spend weekends with the movement. The three had gas-masked in case to police use tear gas again. The camp has a few empty tents reserved for transient participants.

The conversations taking place at Occupy Oakland are similar to the conversations taking place at occupy encampments everywhere. The message is one of inclusion and consideration. It’s about bringing all people to the table to talk about how to make the world a better place. People are talking about “we” and “us” instead of “me” and “I”. Actions and consequences are well thought-out and the messages still adhere to peace and equality. The Occupy movement isn’t getting weaker, becoming divided or being co-opted. On the contrary, the movement is becoming ever stronger, more resilient and more determined.

Occupy Main Street: The problems of shopping locally

Occupy Main Street

I have seen multiple calls for shopping local this holiday season, most recently in an internet post that read, “This holiday season, support local and independent artists, designers and crafters.” As an encouraging tip-of-the-hat to the Occupy Wall Street folks, many people are imploring support towards local businesses. I champion this mantra but I am also very cautious about this message. My first hesitation is with the adherence to the holiday season being equated with shopping. My second concern is with the multi-faceted legacies of globalization.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” premiered in 1965. We all remember the cartoon’s adoption of the sad, needleless tree, and our hearts are warmed by that charity, but Charlie Brown’s replaying complaint in the story was that Christmas is “too commercial”. That was 46 years ago. I can only imagine poor Charlie’s cries today. The largest newsprint selling day of the year is Thanksgiving and it is because of the bulk ads, the prospective “deals” for the following day.

My family went to “drawing names” over a decade ago because we just couldn’t continue absorbing the costs of buying a gift for all of us. In recent years, we have more or less forgone gift exchanges because we just can’t afford it. The luster of watching ourselves sacrifice a substantial chunk of the year’s income on things we really didn’t need wore off. My parents, sisters and brother know that we all still love each other, in spite of our so-called gift-less exchange on Christmas.

The holiday gift-buying extravaganza is a fallacy of generosity. The principal of the swap looks towards the needs of our loved ones and reduces it to a single moment, a concentrated day of the year. In actuality, many of us are facing on-going needs, needs that can’t be met by one moment of munificence. The perverted holiday tradition of gift-giving gives those who are unwillingly to make an on-going commitment to the greater good an excuse to forgo the fortification needed by those around them. It silences our greater human needs in a moment of abject frivolity. Of course, there are those that have a commitment to our families and community and continue compassion and offerings into the spring and summer months. But we all know that person who shows up once a year with a bag full of goodies wrapped in silver paper as though that’s enough to maintain a culture of generosity, as though that’s enough to maintain a family and those in need.

For a country that has a sordid history trampling citizens on black Friday in a mission to obtain the last cheap television from a Wal-Mart super sale, any step away from that tradition is a step in the right direction. But stepping across the street to O’Malley’s Celtic Treasures is not necessarily a step towards localism. Many of the little trinkets and knick-knacks found in such shops are (and I hate to say it) made with sweat shop labor by the hands of women and children across the sea. Most independently-owned boutique clothing stores sell clothing made in developing nations. For a person committed to no longer supporting the exploitation of impoverished communities for clothing, someone that looks towards the independent seamstress down the street, will have a hard time finding fabric made with fair-trade cotton and without slave-labor practices. Even if the knitters guild downtown is having a scarf and hat sale, unless those scarves and hats were made with locally sheared and spun wool, the materials used to make the knitwear is likely from China or India and made under unsavory factory conditions.

As an answer to the exorbitant costs of gift-giving during the holidays, many people have turned to baking or to locally-made baked goods as a more-affordable and localized alternative to the traditional extravagances of holiday exchange. Unfortunately, the tactic is a misnomer. Even if a person can find small-scale, local graineries, traditionally used items like chocolate and sugar, are a part of the globalized, industrial economy that serves to perpetuate iniquitous trade and treatment of people in developing communities. The sugar cane industry uses marginalized populations in some of the poorest countries of the world so that the richer countries can enjoy the cheap exportation of their sweet addiction. Beet sugar grown in the United States causes a different set of moral dilemmas. Without taking into account our nation’s own abominable treatment of farm workers, the industrialized practices to produce sugar in this country are equally abhorrent. Add in the social inequities of our country’s farming practices and home-grown sugar is just as socially unjustifiable as imported sugar cane. But if a person is less interested in the human toll of sugar consumption, the farming practices involved in sugar should be enough to start any one on a sugar fast. In an article from February 4th, 2011, the New York Times reported that “genetically engineered beets accounted for more than 90% of the sugar beets grown last year.” The industrialized practices used to grow those beets only serve the future of sterile land and extensive pollution. So unless your muffins and cookies are fortified with fair-trade chocolate and sweetened with local honey or sustainably-produced regional syrups, the baked-goods route is not necessarily the moral high ground.

Maybe enough of those shopping this year will understand that our perpetual need for shiny new toys is part of the problem, an activity that fortifies the 1% and perpetuates the wealth disparity in this country and around the world. Still, trying to do the right thing, buying used and going to a local thrift store, unfortunately, poses its own set of moral dilemmas. In an article from www.prosebeforehos.com, the website notes, “Every holiday season, people open their hearts and wallets for family, friends and charities alike. Unfortunately, some large organizations who regularly solicit for money are often using funds for political motives or ‘overhead’ costs.” The website goes on to note that, “the Salvation Army’s virulent opposition to gay rights, both in public and through persistent legislative lobbying raises the question about how donations intended for the needy are being spent.” If those we love need a tangible item, the best way to obtain the item is used and through an independent seller. Try garage sales. Try craigslist. Try flea markets. Try bartering. Do not feed the hand that bites us. Revolutionize gift-giving. Revolutionize the economy. Revolutionize the world.

I’m not bringing light to these issues to be the proverbial Scrooge. For anyone who knows me personally, knows that I am an avid gift-giver. It occurs to me that to seriously have stock in any sort of revolution, we must also have stock in the crucial reality we are facing. We cannot, on the one hand, exhibit out contempt for the 1% and their immoral practices and, on the other hand, continue to give those practices a foundation. We must come to terms with the fact that the smart phones, the mobile networks, the internet providers, the name-brand tents, the sound systems, the bull horns and many other products that are helping to prop up the anti-Wall Street movement are, at the same time, helping to fund the opposition. Until we revolutionize the way that money works, the way the communication works, the way that community works and the systems in place that lets those systems take hold of us, we cannot congruently balk the monied systems.

We are living with the legacy of colonialism. We are living with the legacy of industrialization. We are living with the legacy of the infinite growth paradigm. And all of those legacies are incongruent with localism and the anti-Wall Street exclamation. There is an unjustifiable irony in buying a gift for a woman or a person of color at a Wal-Mart, or another inequitable corporation, from a corporation that is infamous for their gender and racial inequities in this country and abroad and criminal for their exploitation of women, children and minority populations worldwide. It is an irony goes beyond any reasonable boundaries for appropriate gift-giving. If we are serious about occupying Wall Street, if we are serious about revolution, if we are serious about change, we cannot simultaneously show our love for someone in our life by taking advantage of someone we haven’t met yet.

Maybe this holiday season, we will give each other songs and tell each other stories. Maybe this holiday season we will take our abundance, if we have it, and meet the challenge of our age. And maybe, in the coming months, we will see the generosity needed to keep our loved ones and communities afloat without having to sacrifice someone else in the process. All we can do is try.

Occupy Oakland General Strike, Part 1

Occupy Oakland General Strike Part 1.

“Are you okay???” I got a text message from my friend just after 6pm. Then immediately three more from three other people. I doubted highly that it had anything to do with my earlier facebook post about frost at the farm predicted for the next day.

“Um…yes…y?”

“All the violence in Oakland.”

My friends will have to excuse the long pause that followed.

“What violence?”

“The news is reporting…” And I got varying reports about the violence at Occupy Oakland, the vandalism, the anarchy, the destruction. I began to wonder if I had been at the same Occupy Oakland.

We arrived to Oscar Grant Plaza at around 8am with a substantial donation of baked goods and sandwiches from Summer Thyme’s bakery in Grass Valley. (They have a gluten-free coffee cake that is amazing. http://www.summerthymes.com/) We saw peaceful protest. We saw prayer circles. We saw the hungry being fed. We saw recycling. We saw composting. We saw people picking up after themselves. We saw people helping the disabled. We saw gardens. The crowd spanned all ages, genders, orientations, races, faiths, backgrounds, abilities and creeds. There was a synergy of participation that I have not witnessed at any other action before. Everyone was invited to the table. And everyone felt included.

I cannot speak to the reported violence and vandalism that the corporate media has latched onto because I didn’t witness any of that. My experience at Occupy Oakland on November 2nd included messages of hope, directives for peaceful protest and memorandums for a better future. The thousands of people I stood with were polite, intelligent and cheerful. The people who took the microphones did not spout resolutions for violence, vandalism or anarchy. Many spoke of various inequities but all proclaimed that, through collective and peaceful action, change would come. And it was all interpreted for the deaf.

But really. I should not have been surprised that the media chose to focus on a handful of people coming from a place of such discouragement that vandalism seemed like a good idea. I should have expected the sensationalism.

Early in the morning, we witnessed KCRA 3 News out of Sacramento going on and on about a bus driver not being able to get through the intersection. The hysterical reporter was telling this story with such fervor that I was sure the bus was on fire. “This poor bus driver is just trying to do her job!! And these Occupy Protesters refuse to let the bus through!” I turned around, and half way down the block was a bus, slowly approaching the 14th and Broadway cross streets where Occupy Oakland had gathered to hear the morning’s speakers talk into a small microphone attached to a sound system. When those in the way realized that the bus was there and unable to turn around, they moved. That was it. End of story. And that event got a rise from the participating newscaster, spun into an inflammatory news story, cut with crowd shots and delivered to the homes of people making their coffee and getting their kids ready for school. The whole thing was so bizarre that I just stood there and laughed.

If you look at the video footage, you can see a protester self-policing, directing others to move. But the story was that people wouldn’t get out of the way:

http://www.kcra.com/video/29662597/detail.html

The news media on this movement has been wrong wrong wrong.

It’s not very “sensational” to hear: “Mom holds protest sign for four-year-old while child eats sandwich with the crusts cut off.” Or “Thanks to Occupy Oakland, homeless man gets to eat three meals per day for 8 days in a row.” Or, “Occupy Oakland plants winter vegetables in planters trampled by police in raid.” I guess that’s just not news. But whether or not it’s news, it’s truth. I was there. I witnessed it. Those things happened.

But how do you even spin those things? You can’t. And maybe that’s the point. We are a part of a movement that can’t be co-opted, doesn’t translate to corporate media and can’t be put in a box. When you take a moment of peaceful interaction and watch it bastardized by corporate media, maybe that’s when you know you’ve made it. Maybe that’s when you know you are relevant.

For anyone wanting to know what the occupy movement is about, you have to see it to believe it. The feeling of community cannot be found on the internet. Its personality can’t be conveyed by the news media. The message is better received in person. If you have not visited one of the many Occupy locations, do so right away. You will be glad that you did.

The five stages of grief

My first protest took place in pre-school. One of the teachers, obviously, having a bad day, directed me on my coloring book entry. She told me that my colorful addition to my Care Bears Coloring Book was lacking, and that I was to color in the care bear’s tummy. It was an odd and unnecessary directive. I knew that the part surrounding the Care Bear’s emblem was white before meeting the pink fur color of the bear’s coat. She handed me a green crayon and told me to finish my activity. I was finished with my art work and I was adamantly opposed to any green additions to my master piece. My defiance was not accepted and I was told that I would need to do as I was told or sit alone while the other kids got apple juice. I sat, without apple juice, until my mom’s arrival.

In one of the last scenes in Michael Moore’s “Capitalism, a love story,” Michael Moore takes a solo stand again Wall Street by attempting to put caution tape around the New York Stock Exchange, portioning off the building as a crime scene, before being removed by the NYPD because he didn’t have a permit. At an event in Grass Valley where Moore spoke on October 29th, 2011, he told the audience that he just couldn’t believe he was there at Wall Street all alone, that he couldn’t understand why, at the time, people weren’t more enraged and engaged.

For years, Americans have been accused of apathy, of acquiescing to our government’s wrong-doings and too busy watching reality TV to give a shit about the reality going on somewhere outside our couches to take a stand. Brad Mitchell asks on www.activistpost.com, “How is it that the generation before this one had so much willpower they could actually stand up to authority and be proud of it? What changed to make the current one so pathetic in comparison?” As someone who has been an active protester since I was still an active thumb sucker, I had been asking myself the same questions.

I don’t really want to make excuses but it wasn’t that nobody cared in these last ten years. People cared. I cared. I had been a leader in a handful of progressive organizations for over a decade. I had participated in get-out-the-vote drives, women’s right’s conferences, ecology summits and civil rights conferences. I had helped organize protests against the Iraq war, against voter fraud, against the war in Afghanistan, against Proposition 8 and against police brutality. Sometimes thousands of people came. Sometimes just a handful of folks would show. Almost always, our cries would fell on deaf ears, supporters would get tired of gathering and even opposition demonstrators would stop showing up.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the model “The five stage of grief” in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. She outlines those stages as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The five stages of grief, originally a model for those facing the loss of a loved-one, a terminal illness or a dying relative, have been applied to a myriad of catastrophes from job loss and divorce to infertility and natural disaster.

While politicians and pundits take too many liberties evoking the events of 9-11 for political gain, (causing my doing so in my own writing to leave an incredibly bad taste in my mouth), I will say this: What happened to America on September 11th, 2001 changed everything in this country, and because America is an imperial, economic super-power with a far-reaching and authoritative grip on foreign affairs, the subsequent actions of American policy-makers changed many things around the world as well.

I have lived my whole life in California and only had a few friends in New York on 9-11. I remember calling my friend Adrienne over and over that day, having no real idea about the geography of New York and where her apartment was, checking to see if she was still alive. I got static and busy signals for hours. When I finally reached her around dinner time, she told me to call her mother, whom she hadn’t reached or heard from all day. I called her mom to let her know that her daughter was alive. She gave a sigh of relief and thanked me. I asked her if she was okay and how she was absorbing the day’s events. She said, “I am reminded of my younger years. I grew up in Belfast.”

By the time I had picked up my crayons and had my future as an artist quashed by an uppity pre-school teacher, my country was no longer forcing public messages about the Red Scare on its children. There were no nuclear fall-out drills. There were no pamphlets handed out about the eminent possibility of foreign attacks. My generation wasn’t born into a world of war the way that our parents and grandparents had been. Wars were something in our history books, not something we were living through. Though Regan was trading arms with Iran for hostages and had many military dealings in South America, my brother wasn’t drafted and most of the public was either unaware, or not entirely understanding the gravity of our foreign policy. We were not like those that grew up in Belfast. For better or for worse, my generation was, in effect, shrouded from the horrors of war.

So when we watched the airplanes hit the twin towers over and over and over and over and over and over thanks to 24-7 news media coverage, we had quite a lot to process.

It was hard for the initial denial stage of grief to last very long. I was in college at the time. My philosophy teacher was a first-year teacher and had us take a midterm that morning, in spite of the confusion and tears in the classroom and in the halls. Shortly after the test was over, all classes were cancelled. Every television station, radio station and newspaper in the country talked about one thing for weeks. Life as we knew it was over. There was no denying that.

The collective consciousness of America quickly moved into an emotion we have a reputation for being good at: anger. By the time I was on my way home from philosophy class, a man had already fastened an over-sized American flag to the back of his Bronco and proceeded to drive up and down the streets of town, vivaciously honking his horn. Songs were quickly released about the statue of liberty shaking her fist and our new president, the son of a recent president, was swearing “justice.” We had barely finished our “feed-the-children” style telethon for the victims of the 9-11 attacks, before we were chasing Saddam Hussein out of Iraq.

Some of the country was still working through anger, cheering our military on as they invaded a sovereign nation under false pretenses. Some went back to denial, holding candlelight vigils protesting the war as though beeswax aflame could heal the wounds of people lost and those about to be. Many went to bargaining. The mainstream media made collective excuses for our foreign policy. Our supposedly non-biased institutions championed the decision to overthrow Iraq’s government, even though the evidence of any connection to the 9-11 terrorist plots were foggy at best.

The patriot act was passed with general ambivalence. Citizens started to be felt up in airports in the name of homeland security. We were told that it was all for our own good, that we were being protected from another horrendous event and many of us justified that to a reasonable place in our minds.

By the time we were getting around to understanding what a travesty our country’s foreign policy was, for those at home and abroad, we were starting to have hope in a new presidential candidate. For those of us still bargaining, Barrack Obama was a godsend. This unlikely presidential nominee came along, a man who could break all chains of unabashed calamity and historical consequence in this country. He was the antithesis of American history. If anyone could get us out of Iraq and back on the track of the American dream, he could.

I will never forget election night. My mother cried. I cried. As a west-coaster, we knew the fate of our country at 8pm. The polls closed and the news stations called it. Barrack Obama had won.

We believed in his message. He campaigned on hope. And when all our hopes were dashed, most of us entered a national depression. Sure, the tea party reverted back to the anger stage. But most of us were dumbfounded by our sense of hopelessness.

People continued to lose their jobs at an alarming rate. The war in Iraq continued. People continued to lose their houses. The war in Afghanistan continued. Pensions started disappearing at an even faster rate. Healthcare was a thing for the privileged. Retirement was out of reach. Child care became more and more unaffordable. And suddenly the average person was choosing between a bag of rice and a box of apples. And the poor were choosing between the last apple and the last bite of rice.

And while all that was happening, people were subsequently graduating from college with thousands of dollars in debt and no job in site. And the biggest difference between them and everyone else was that they thought something would be there for them and it wasn’t…and they were genuinely surprised.

Not all of the American people have come to terms with the fact that they will never realize what they had believed was the American dream. But enough people have realized this truth to have taken to the streets.

People are waking up. People have come to the point of acceptance that they are standing outside in the snow demanding justice. The level of acquiescence that America has always been accused of is fading. People are finally taking a stand.

Will it be enough?