Avoiding the PR Trap at 19th & Telegraph [w/audio of 11-18-11 GA]

When I heard about the 19th/Telegraph location as a possible new camp site, I was skeptical. The issue of residential neighborhood was foremost on my mind, although I actually didn’t think the school—Oakland School for the Arts—would have a problem. Kids spend almost all of their time IN a school, not in the neighborhood around it. That’s why there are schools in crime-ridden neighborhoods with large homeless populations and drug traffic that still attract kids, and don’t make their parents faint every morning. Schools have security and police patrols, the children have supervision, most have closed campuses.

My worry was the idea that some number of residents, no matter how small, who didn’t like the idea of the encampment would have their voices amplified by local media—they’ve been mostly disinterested in the content of anything, and focused only on what they can make appear to be conflict or sensation. To wit, ABC 7 had a field day with the fact that a few people who claimed to be residents of the neighborhood heckled a press conference put on by some organizers yesterday. Not one word from the press conference actually appeared in the news segment; the OO activist who led the presser claims that the media turned their cameras off whenever people from the public expressed positive views.

As the day wore on, other people I know involved with Occupy Oakland became worried about the new encampment. Of course, there’s nothing about the encampment itself that merits more worry than the surrounding area. Oakland’s 101st murder occurred in the plaza adjacent to the encampment—every one of those other 100 murders occurred somewhere in Oakland, too. Beyond some petty theft, fights were usually broken up. Though drug and alcohol use exist, just as they do in the homes and communities of millions of non-campers, they are no less a problem for the neighborhood surrounding the school. Indeed, police reports in that area create the impression that public drunkenness, drug use, theft and physical violence exist at epidemic levels in the immediate vicinity of the school.

The worry for some in Occupy Oakland is two-fold. One, that the media and city will be able to use any level of resistance to the camp by community residents as a way of cleaving the movement–using the 99% meme as the blade–and reinforcing the idea that protesters are a group with separate interests, values and life profiles from “everyday” people.  And two, that should any calamity actually happen nearby the camp, campers and the movement will be forced to shoulder the blame, as they have with the murder I just mentioned and police violence that’s now left two peaceful demonstrators in intensive care [and this was nicely represented by many concerned parents who ironically blamed protesters for the actions of police against bystanders]. I took on this concern as well, especially since the school administrators were already sending out their first salvos.

But I was also on the fence. I trusted the people who had brought the proposal out to have thought of these things. I don’t think that an occupation should be asking area residents if its okay to camp, because there’s no process for doing that, and regardless, few would probably say its okay. People like the fact that occupations are happening, some even claim to be thrilled as the administrators of the school and [supposedly] students there did. Still, they also seem to want the camps to go somewhere else, and seem perfectly content with having them disappear if they can’t, despite their fervent support for them.

And I really disliked the two-pronged dishonest, but nevertheless effective, arguments that were coming from the school. As one person involved there put it when I mentioned that bars surround the school already, OO was different in that it happened during the day and students would be able to see it from the windows. See what? Good question. I suppose the debauchery that the person saying this imagined happened daily at the camp and wanted to shield the imagined young tender eyes from. Several seconds later, the same person argued that these kids were supportive of the camp but nevertheless, rejected the encampment for tactical and PR reasons. These school children had become mass movement tactical experts overnight; they were polled in a class and had no end of “smart” reasons why the move would be a PR disaster. One imagines the main reason would be because the school itself and neighborhood would be constantly demonizing the camp with elements from this person’s first argument.

What became clear to me as the day wore on was something much bigger and more important than whether Occupy Oakland chooses to camp in the space at 19th and Telegraph. I went from being ready to back a third a proposal calling off the new encampment to an angry opponent of a similar proposal—even angrier by the time of the GA.

There were various reasons. As I said, the arguments against the move were based on hysterical caricatures of the encampment; to vote against the move simply because these constructs are effectively used against Occupy Oakland, would be in a way to give them power, and accept them as true. Accepting ourselves as not worthy of co-existing along “real people” kids, parents, etcetera, is the death of this movement. Children have been an incredible force in all the organizational aspects of Occupy, and of course, the OO children’s tent was for Children! For decades, the political mainstream argued that gay people, women and people of color had to wait for equality, because “some” people wouldn’t tolerate their full participation in society, and that the PR war would be too hard to fight. Thankfully, quite a few people never listened to them and continued to offend the sensibilities of the general public with the reality that “different” people are humans also.

Moreover, the claim that Occupy Oakland will bring some new kind of nefarious element to the block is fallacious and unproductive. The difference between the social problems that develop inside the camp and the one’s that fester around the camp, is that those in the camp are dealt with. The one’s outside the camp are ignored, people turn their backs, or call police and forget all about them. Or they accept that as normal, or as alright when some people do it–[drinking in a bar, then wandering around streets drunk]–and criminal when others do–[drinking on a sidewalk, and wandering around streets drunk].

Indeed, if OO is to be painted as a haven for drug use and crime, then that will be nothing new to the area around 19th and Telegraph. Crime and alcohol use are endemic to this neighborhood and the one around Frank Ogawa plaza—some of this public drug and alcohol use comes from people with very little money and with no homes. But a lot of it also comes from middle and upper middle class people wandering around the neighborhood at night from one bar to another.

To pretend that children don’t know what happens at the Uptown at night, or have never seen staggering herds of partiers moving through the city streets on weekend evening is dishonest in the extreme. What is it that kid’s can’t handle? The image of people drinking? Or the reality that drugs and alcohol use can lead to addiction and other social problems? The bar is the more obvious target of that ire; of course, because the alcohol abuse there is from the affluent, no complaints are made.

What really sealed the deal for me, however, was the GA last night. Though some in the school contingent had been involved in OO for weeks and their concerns were as genuine as the others that I knew, there were quite clearly others who had never been at a GA and knew nothing of the process. Moreover, they had no respect for the facilitator or the rules, yelling, hooting, hollering, heckling. Yes, literally acting like an unmonitored class of high school children. Complaints were based on a hodge podge of constructed memes and ignorance; quite clearly they wanted the occupiers assembled there to admit that they weren’t fit to be present around the children of these people and to apologize for the affrontery of bringing this movement–which everyone claims to support–a few blocks closer to their view. And they really thought that this moral steamroller would work.

I talked to many people at the GA who actually backed their proposal but were furious at the obnoxious pearl clutching and moralizing; for me this was crystallized by the director’s remark that “childhood is a state of grace”. Its a kind of statement so vague and loaded that it is regularly used for a dozen heinous purposes quite easily, including excluding whatever marginalized group society hates most at any given time from having contact with [certain] children or even being in the line of sight of children. And, of course, that’s exactly how that argument was being used.

Though these strangers constituted a little more than half of the assembled GA, the consensus process guaranteed that they would lose their bid. And, of course, even though the facilitator made constant pleas of invitation for them to stay and become part of the process at this GA and others—and even, against all logic, sought to subvert the GA rules for their benefit—most of them quickly cleared out after their needs had been met with not even the slightest notion of how this made their claims to support and be involved in the movement appear. I’ve been involved with this GA process from day 3, and rarely encountered a more classless group in the amphitheatre. I’m not exaggerating. Even the “angry white male” contingent that regularly shoots down speakers and ideas obnoxiously, often stays till all the proposals are voted on, not just those they like.

I’m unsure of what will occur today. There’s a good chance the encampment will fail anyway. Its also likely that the encampment will only last through the week, and that the kids from the school, who will be on break for the next nine days, won’t even see it. Oscar Grant Plaza could live again. Any number of things. Whatever happens, nothing legitimates accepting the OSA’s narrative. There have been many children at the camp—on November 2nd, there were hundreds. They’re all still happy and sane, to my knowledge.

Rather than something people need to shield their children’s eyes away from, the camp is probably the most educational experience a child of any age could have, as more than one actual supporter and participant of the camp declared last night on the stage. Its also a radical process of education for adults, like me, as well. I’ve learned more in this month, than in all of my years of so-called activism. I’ve learned that short-sighted devotion to “tactical” and “PR” considerations and ideas of what’s possible, would have aborted this movement weeks ago.  Faith in our capacity to change people’s minds about political resistance BY DOING IT, is the very life’s blood of the Occupy movements. Asking for permission to resist is the mistake, and even when adults put a school full of children in the way of their arguments, it should be rejected.

Occupied Oakland Tribune has a take on last night’s GA, as well.

An audio recording of the first portion of this contentious GA can be found here. Download or play on the site. The proposal to rescind the encampment at 19th & Telegraph begins at 01:12:00


14 thoughts on “Avoiding the PR Trap at 19th & Telegraph [w/audio of 11-18-11 GA]

  1. “I don’t think that an occupation should be asking area residents if its okay to camp, because there’s no process for doing that, and regardless, few would probably say its okay. ” Oh, okay.

    So… you would ask, but you feel like they’d probably say no, and you’re also not sure how to ask. Therefore, full steam ahead! Great logic, there. Doesn’t even matter how I feel about the encampment- it’s the interaction with the Oakland community (or lack thereof) that seems worrisome.

    • Yes. As I wrote, resistance isn’t about asking if its okay to camp here. If those at Zuccoti had asked residents if it was okay the night they camped, they would have most likely asked them to go somewhere more appropriate. People made these remarks on that first day already “why don’t they go uptown? that’s where all the banks are now…” Etc. Had OWS waited for permission, none of would be talking about this today. Respect for the community around is crucial, and creating a space where they can be involved as equals in the shaping of the community is what I like most about the process.

  2. As you’re no doubt well aware, the rich and poor are equally entitled to sleeping in the streets; it’s what makes America America. We already know the media narrative, so all OWS groups should tread carefully when potentially reinforcing it, but it’s a real conundrum. I’m less surprised by the relentless negative coverage than I am by the fact that it’s barely sinking in. A mere ten point drop in approval while the movement is constantly denigrated on every TV set in the land? I don’t call that failure, and the corporate media further undermine their credibility going forward as they morph into Egyptian State TV before our eyes.
    PS… Leaving for Napa in a couple of hours; I might make a trip to Oakland in the next week or so. Email me if you’d like to show me around.

  3. I’ve had enough. A lot of people are too busy working their asses off and trying to build a life for themselves and their families to spend their time keeping track of Occupy Oakland’s General Assembly agendas! It is unreasonable to expect them to do so!

    So you guys pass a proposal to Occupy a primarily residential, mixed socio-economic area, right next to a school! The locals (or, as Jaime so eloquently calls them, “these strangers”) find out, they take time away from work and family to spend two and a half hours shivering at a muddy manure hole in the middle of their City to vote against Occupy’s move. Occupy uses procedural maneuvers to undermine the “strangers” MAJORITY VOTE in favor of postponing the Occupation of 19th & Telegraph so that a more suitable venue might be found. “Though these strangers constituted a little more than half of the assembled GA, the consensus process guaranteed that they would lose their bid.”

    I tried to stay at 19th & Telegraph with a bunch of other concerned local residents/workers. We had peaceful signs, and tried to express OUR right to free speech, against the Occupation of our neighborhood. I was literally threatened (Guy in Black Mask) “I will f***ing kill you.” (Me) “What? Are you serious?” (Guy) “I will f***ing kill you” (Other Guy in Black Mask) “Dude, I got his face, we’ll get him later” (other, decent Occupier) “Dude, what are you saying, Peace, Peace!!) (Guy)-” Fuck Peace, I am an International Terrorist, and I will f***ing kill you.)

    So you can see why I gave up, and left. You can see what your Movement is to me. Good for you, you got off your Boat. The above story shows why people are scared to speak out against you-the Bullied have become the Bullies, and I, as well as many of my neighbors, are legitimately scared. But a huge section of the Community has turned against the Occupation as it has continued to show itself more interested with its own radical goals than with the good of the Community around it.

    Occupy would do well to remember that it is a PART of the Community, rather than the totality, and that without the support of the Community, there is no Occupy. The way that the Occupation of 19th & Telegraph was achieved has been EXTREMELY upsetting to many locals who otherwise sided with the Occupy movement. The continued reluctance by Occupy to publicly disavow violence, while at the same time refusing to accept responsibility for the violent acts carried out by its members in its name, has also made it very difficult for many to stay attached to Occupy Oakland. The continued vandalism (did someone really just throw a rock through the window at the Uptown? That place is the antithesis of the 1%! Why would you do that????)= case in point. OO won’t even take a real stand on this, and the party line from the 10+ Occupiers that I talked to seemed to be, still, “it’s not us, we can’t be responsible for the actions of other members of the movement.” Does ANYBODY at OO have the balls to accept responsibility for the actions of the members of OO? If not, then I humbly suggest that this is a problem?

    OO, over the past 24 hours, has shown itself 100% more concerned with its own procedures and identity than with what’s best for the local community. By calling the local community “these strangers”, Jaime crystalizes what is wrong with the movement. OO has no coherent message any more, it is a movement confused between acts of beauty and acts of straight vandalism, and there is no central body to accept responsibility for OO’s identity, so it’s going to be very difficult to create cohesion-especially as long as a large and very vocal minority of the Movement is wanting violent Revolution.

    I am Heartbroken. I lost faith in the City a long time ago, and am totally disenfranchised from OO as well. Stuck in the crossfire between two cartels, with no hope in sight.

  4. ‘I tried to stay at 19th & Telegraph with a bunch of other concerned local residents/workers. We had peaceful signs, and tried to express OUR right to free speech, against the Occupation of our neighborhood. I was literally threatened (Guy in Black Mask) “I will f***ing kill you.” (Me) “What? Are you serious?” (Guy) “I will f***ing kill you” (Other Guy in Black Mask) “Dude, I got his face, we’ll get him later” (other, decent Occupier) “Dude, what are you saying, Peace, Peace!!) (Guy)-” Fuck Peace, I am an International Terrorist, and I will f***ing kill you.)’

    I was at the front of the march and met another person who has been involved in the movement at the corner where these concerned local residents/workers were standing. If someone did say something of the sort to you, no one else did, because between the two of us, we kept anyone at all from engaging you to avoid such issues. I find your story difficult to believe, but concede its possible that someone said this to you before I, and the rest of the three thousand or so people who helped direct traffic on the way, go to the corner of 19th and Telegraph. I frankly doubt it.

    By the way, I go by Omar. I introduced myself to one of these people and asked her to join us. She asked me politely not to engage her in conversation. I respected her wishes and shook her hand. And that was that.

  5. Thanks for the concession that it might be possible that I’m not a liar, Omar. That’s big of you. Nice to hear that the lack of responsibility in OO to the community around it, or for it’s actions in general, doesn’t seem to phase you. Seems like there are more terrorists in the Movement than just the one I encountered!

    Everything I’ve ever typed in any of my emails about this Occupation has been 100% true. If your only response is to duck you head in the sand and infer that I’m a liar-well, there’s nothing much I can say to that, I guess I just continue writing in the hopes that some of the reasonable members of what used to be a beautiful thing stop to think about what I write, and what’s happening on the ground, in their name.

  6. Omar, I was there and I witnessed what Ben experienced. It’s true. Regardless, answer me one thing: how does disrupting an elementary school, low income housing and small businesses alleviate economic inequality and hold banks accountable? Aren’t those the goals of Occupy? How can stunting the growth of an upcoming neighborhood in Oakland achieve the aims OWS initially set out? Separating yourself from the community will only serve to destroy the movement. Attempting to occupy 19th and Telegraph was merely pitting the 99% against the 99%. No more no less. It had nothing to do with Citibank or an uneven tax code. I support the Occupy movement. I no longer support Occupy Oakland.

    • I have very little patience left for the assumptions in this argument. If you can prove that the encampment would have disrupted anything in your community, or that it actually has any connection to the school other than the one in your own feverish imagination, then provide it, or stop wasting everyone’s time. Rudy’s Can’t Fail cafe was packed last night, people waiting for tables, most bars and restaurants in area, too. Thousands of people came to that march, then spent their money downtown. Evidence free arguments based on emotional pleas to stereotypes an innuendo don’t belong in a rational forum.

      • I ask again: How does occupying a lot next to low income housing, a school and neighborhood small businesses hold banks accountable and lessen income equality in this country?

        I have very little patience left for vapid, empty rhetoric. (“emotional pleas to stereotypes an innunedo?” Please.) Just answer the question – how does disrupting an up and coming district in Oakland hurt the 1%?

        Oh, and maybe Rudy’s had a bump, but because I live and work in the neighborhood I know most of the local owners, including all three at Rudy’s: without fail (save for a couple) most have had their monthly revenues effected dramatically – in a negative way – by Occupy. If you would like me to provide you the physical proof I can do that – I’m happy to meet. Anywho, not sure where to start – my friends gallery was vandalized and her artwork was stolen, Flora had the worst October in their history, and for fear of retribution against her (so I won’t mention her establishment) my friend was reduced to tears after being threatened after she initially decided not to close her place on November 2. BUT, since I sincerely doubt that YOU neither live nor work in this neighborhood and further, since OO “doesn’t do outreach,” I’d doubt you know this. Again, I’m, happy to meet – in person – to discuss these issues.

        And please have the guts to post this response.

  7. Sexual Harassment was an issue at the camp in the plaza….I have many sources that would back this up. Yes women get harassed all over the place, but the camp was definitely a magnet for that type of activity from what …I understand …….. My 13 year old daughter goes to OSA, and spends a lot of time in the small park..I don’t have faith in OO as it stands to be able to reign in this type of behavior…I could have stated this obvious fact publicly at the GA, but I didn’t. …. 2) The camp may not be to blame for police violence, but where the camp goes, the police follow,and at times the police engage in dangerous behavior..and being that we haven’t even passed a resolution to encourage our people to maintain peaceful resistance, we have given the public no reason to believe that a raid might not devolve into violent chaos, nor have we stated how we might attempt to monitor the overall camp situation in the wake of the murder that took place at the Plaza….3) Booing and threatening kids at the GA does not give anyone a reason to have any respect for our process or stay at the GA any longer than they possibly have to… nor is it the type of behavior that would make anybody say, “move the camp right here next me and the kids”…no mention of this asshat behavior in the article but we all know it happened… 4) So everyone knows it’s a strategic fuck up to move to 19th and telegraph , but since the people wearing fancy clothes upset some of us hardcore OO go to GA all the time types , we are going to give those yuppie scum a big FU by voting for something that will hurt our cause..brilliant!!

    • “2) The camp may not be to blame for police violence, but where the camp goes, the police follow,and at times the police engage in dangerous behavior..

      What I find depressing is your total lack of interest in how your community is ALREADY policed. How do you think homeless people are kept from sleeping in the area now? Seriously, how do you think that works out?

      3) Booing and threatening kids at the GA does not give anyone a reason to have any respect for our process or stay at the GA any longer than they possibly have to…

      Someone came to the GA yesterday and said that that happened, but there is no one there that witnessed it independently. Even if it happened, it certainly isn’t something endemic to a community that had dozens, and at one time, hundreds of children, running around. And its curious that no one mentioned it at the time. I have a recording of the event, no one booed children. Listen for yourself in the audio archive.

      The 19th and Telegraph action was a huge success. Some two or three thousand people refused to buy into your demonization of the camp or its dwellers. By contrast, none of the people from the school and only a handful of people from the community could be bothered to come out to counter protest. There should have been thousands of you; every parent in the school, every resident in the aream, if, indeed, you feared sexual assault and lethal police violence. The police would have been there to protect you. But 12 people came.

      You presented your proposal as being the product of great concern for the future of the movement. And yet, none of you came to the two subsequent GAs that were billed as emergency meetings to decide the next step. The committees for the port action in December need warm bodies, so you’re welcome to put your rhetoric into action by actually being part of this movement. Don’t fear for this movement, its going strong.

  8. Jamie, you are a joke. Your go to response is, “I think you’re lying.” I have consistently been a member at GA’s and was there the night the child got booed. Send me the audio and I will give you the exact time. But since your such a coward and refuse to respond to logical arguments or questions, one can only deduce that you’re an uninformed troll (not from Oakland in any way, and know nothing about the Uptown neighborhood whatsoever). Every point you’ve made regarding the attempted Occupation at 19th can be refuted by fact, not rhetoric. Again, I can prove my assertions on all fronts. Care to meet?

    And please, for the love of God, spend your energy rallying against the 1% in creative ways that do not harm the 99%. Anything less is the destruction of this movement.

  9. Forgot to mention that the vast majority of the community that was against the encampment did not come down out of fear – see Ben’s comments above. There’s a reason the last GA had under a 100 people. Your disregard for the community has been Occupy Oakland’s undoing. Attack the banks and the wealthy, not downtown Oakland. That simple you coward.

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