Letters for the Week of February 15, 2012

Readers sound off on Occupy Oakland, hunger, and Jin Lia.

“It’s Time for the Black Bloc to Go Away,” Seven Days, 2/1

Counterproductive Tyranny

Thank you for speaking out against the Black Bloc and the Occupy groups which tolerate its tactics.

The phrase “diversity of tactics” might have a nice ring, but those who endorse it don’t seem capable of appreciating that nonviolence and violence can’t coexist at the same march or event. Nor can violence and large numbers, violence and children, violence and goodwill with the community, violence and tear gas-free air, etc.

If the Black Bloc is idiotic to want to face off with a poorly trained police force, they should arrange to do so somewhere where it doesn’t impact those of us whose quest for economic justice manages not to include a lot of broken glass.

As for Occupy, I hope they can imagine how big their marches might be without the Black Bloc’s predictable, counterproductive tyranny.

Carol Denney, Berkeley

Blame the OPD, Not the Black Bloc

This article is the 21st-century equivalent of red-baiting. As soon as one group is sacrificed to the police, other groups will become vulnerable. Solidarity does not require approval — only a willingness to work together for the long haul.

Blaming protesters for being provocative is like blaming rape victims for wearing provocative clothing. Those who use force to get their way are the ones to be held accountable, not people who defend themselves.

Robert Gammon’s reckless assertion that the Occupiers have been using “deeply undemocratic rules” needs to be set alongside the fact that the Quakers have been using a stricter version of the same rules for more than three and a half centuries and yet have taken the lead on many issues.

Finally, it’s absolutely insane that the decision by authorities to ignore neighborhoods to protect property can be blamed on Occupy Oakland. This does prove that some folks definitelyhave to go. And, it ain’t the Black Bloc.

Richard Fitzer, Oakland

Has Occupy Oakland Lost Its Way?

Over the weekend of January 28, the lead major media story for at least the third time in three months was the war-like altercations between Occupy Oakland and Oakland police. One local announcer loudly reported that, following the weekend altercations, “Oakland has become the flashpoint of the nationwide Occupy movement.” This accolade raises the question: Since Occupy Wall Street is proclaimed a “peaceful, non-violent movement” of the 99 Percent exposing the excesses of the ever-enriching One Percent, how did it come to this? Particularly in my beloved hometown of Oakland?

Three weeks after the landmark eruption of Occupy Wall Street in September 2010, Occupy Oakland sprang to life almost unilaterally with enthusiastic, unbound support and heady optimism as hordes of Oaklanders instantly identified with the escalating economic divide between the uber-rich One Percent and the remaining 99 Percent of the US populace. Either directly or indirectly, the pain caused by the uninhibited greed and corruption of Wall Street institutions and mega-corporations, widespread devastation of neighborhoods by home and apartment bankruptcies, industrial failures and off-shoring millions of jobs, calamitous unemployment, and the burdening of students with debts to which they will be shackled to the rest of their lives, is experienced by practically all of Oakland.

Oakland was fertile ground for the Occupy movement, and a tent encampment quickly sprang up on the lawn of Frank Ogawa Plaza. Two weeks after that, however, the city made history by calling in riot-equipped police from nineteen surrounding jurisdictions, who brutally attacked and demolished the initial encampment. This first-of-its-kind military attack on the nascent peaceful Occupy movement — instantly flashed around the world — was later admitted by policymakers to be a mistake. On November 2, one week following its violent displacement, Occupy Oakland was back in the plaza stronger than ever. The movement triumphantly announced its re-birth as 30,000 people exploded onto city streets in jubilation and an historic day of general-schools-workplace strikes, including shutdown of Oakland’s busy port.

But after that, inherent flaws within Occupy Oakland began to take over the promising and critical movement. Given Oakland’s violent police history and years of wanton police killings, particularly of Oakland’s Black and Latino populations, Occupy Oakland became a prime destination for dissident, aberrant, anarchistic thrill-seeking youth whose sole purposes were “anonymous” property destruction, confrontations with police, and general mayhem.

After bemoaning the failure of Occupy Oakland to establish a firm foundation of “peace, nonviolence and non-property destruction,” it was recently revealed (and confirmed by other long-term participants) that early in the movement’s formation, the general assembly was presented with, and passed, a resolution endorsing “diversity of tactics” in its operations, and went further in authorizing “sub-groups” within Occupy to plan and carry out actions of their choosing in the name of Occupy Oakland without needing to return to the assembly for deliberation and approval. Under this blanket authority, the dissident group has performed several unilateral demonstrations, and over the recent three Saturday evenings, has carried out marches — otherwise known as “Fuck the Police” rallies — from City Hall plaza to Oakland Police Headquarters, intentionally meant to provoke violent altercations with the police. 

The early authorization by the general assembly of “anything goes” is generally unknown — even today — to the vast majority of Occupy activists and supporters.

I contend that the entirety of Oakland, including city officials, Port of Oakland employees, and even the OPD are all constituents of the 99 Percent.

This is not the way it’s supposed to be. How are police provocations related to economic dis-empowerment? What does smashing of even-friendly shop windows have to do with wealth re-distribution? How does setting fire to rubbish bins restore displaced families to their foreclosed homes? Will defacing public buildings, private property, and plaza walls help the unemployed to get a job? I am tired of seeing my city trashed for no reason other than visceral satisfaction of thrill-seeking marauders who have no interest in the betterment of Oakland. I am upset that my town’s city hall is viciously violated by unthinking vandals in the name of Occupy Oakland. It is disturbing to witness my city’s mayor attempting to respect Occupy’s free speech liberties, while at the same time being consistently derided for trying to deal with a situation that Occupy Oakland itself negligently allowed to escalate out of control.

Without question, the brutal police attacks of October 25 — carried out by an interim chief and new city administrator just three weeks into their jobs — were excessive and wrong, and Mayor Jean Quan has accepted responsibility. I, too, have criticized the mayor; however, in view of her expressions of regret, I am willing to look forward. Moreover, I recognize that the mayor — facing a difficult situation for which there is no precedent and being under constant unrelenting pressures from many angry forces she must also represent — is doing the best she can in the face of ongoing destructive antics by an uncontrolled group bent on anarchy with no respect for negotiation or process.

During this, the formative period of the movement, I presume that the supreme mission of Occupy Wall Street is to raise public consciousness of and revulsion to the multitude of evils wrought by the runaway capitalism of the One Percent, and to solidify a national peoples’ movement to force radical revisions in how economic, social, and political decisions are made; programs are devised and implemented; and policymakers, corporations, and Wall Street-related institutions are controlled.

In support of the OWS mission, Occupy Oakland has the duty to appeal to, attract, and build the broadest possible contingent of the local 99 Percent. Occupy Oakland must answer the question: Does a program that deliberately destroys property and seeks confrontations with police attract Oakland’s populace to join the ranks of the 99 Percent? Or does such divisiveness drive people away? The answer, of course, is obvious.

In the beginning weeks of Occupy Oakland, enthusiasm was palpable. Both local unions and elected officials participated in general assemblies, and some actually spent nights at the encampment. In those optimistic days, it might have been possible to negotiate pacts with the city that would entrust Occupy Oakland to self-monitor its demonstrations, and maybe even an agreement that, should police action be necessary, no riot gear or military weaponry would be in evidence. Unfortunately, those hopeful dreams are now perhaps forever shattered.

The huge mistake made by Occupy Oakland in giving the blank check of “diversity of tactics” with no oversight or accountability to a group long ago proven to have only nefarious intentions must be undone. To fulfill its mission, Occupy Oakland must reach out to, educate, and involve a now-skeptical populace. To even approach its mission, Occupy Oakland must assure the public that involvement with Occupy is peaceful, safe, nonviolent, non-destructive, and has no intent to evoke altercations with law enforcement.

Unless and until it moves immediately and decisively to correct its monumental error, and to become realigned on its noble and intended path, there are serious doubts that Occupy Oakland deserves to exist. 

James E. Vann, Oakland

Occupy Is for Occupying

I am opposed to Occupy Oakland’s Fuck the Police marches because I think they’re counterproductive and a waste of energy, but I marched on Saturday, January 28, because I support the tactic of occupying vacant buildings. Even in failure, attempted occupations focus attention on the huge supply of empty property that exists in our city (and the country) in a time of ever-increasing homelessness. They provide a reminder that society could house the homeless if it wanted to: Studies show there is more than enough empty housing stock in the US to provide a home for everyone in need. Unfortunately, we allow property rights to trump human rights. And while I agree that the Kaiser Center was an ambitious target, the building has been unused for five or six years. The fact that the city owns it makes its disuse even less excusable.

Finally, I find it somewhat patronizing to suggest that Occupy Oakland needs the progressive “grown-ups” to take charge. The movement has been an inspiration for many (including myself) precisely because it is not aligned with either of the major political parties, both of which are unindicted co-conspirators in the economic pillaging of the United States. Until progressives end their abusive relationship with the Democratic Party, the Occupy movement needs to keep them at a safe distance.

John Seal, Oakland

A Collision Course

As usual, this is superb, in-depth reporting. I would, however, quibble with your chronology. In October, Angela Woodall, in writing about one of the first Occupy Oakland meetings in Mosswood Park, noted the presence of the very same folks she had previously seen rioting in the Oscar Grant protests. It was there that some one hundred participants initially adopted a “diversity of tactics” resolution.

The encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza was on a collision course from day one due to the core group’s distrust of the police and anyone associated with City Hall. Councilmember Desley Brooks slept in a tent for the first two nights until she saw the handwriting — or, more appropriately, graffiti — on the wall. Now, she’s one of Occupy Oakland’s harshest critics — along with the overwhelming majority of Oakland’s progressive/activist community.

The idiocy of Occupy Oakland’s “diversity of tactics” stance is that it ultimately excludes anyone unwilling to associate themselves with a movement that tacitly endorses vandalism and other forms of violence. And, in Oakland, that is the 99 Percent.

Ken Katz, Oakland

“State of Hunger,” Feature, 2/1

Praise from Portland

As a visitor from Portland and a one-time anti-hunger activist in New York City, I would like to say how much I appreciated this article. Food access and hunger are truly nation-wide problems, and it is balanced, concise reporting like this that helps the “food secure” understand that no one wants to be on food stamps. Thank you for making a great trip to the Bay Area even better.

Leo Fraser, Portland

Weighty Issue, Worthy Cause

How wonderful to see such an expansive article on the complicated network of nonprofit and government aid for our neighbors struggling with hunger. Thank you for bringing attention to this issue during times of unprecedented need.

Alameda County Community Food Bank provides food to one in six Alameda County residents. For 26 years we’ve strived to ensure our neighbors don’t need to worry about where their next meal will come from. But hunger is a symptom of poverty — a problem too vast for nonprofits to solve alone.

A recession deeper and longer than we’ve ever seen, and relentless cuts to safety-net programs, have forced us to expand our services. Thanks to our generous community, we have been able to keep up with a need for food that we’ve seen double since this recession began.

Often, we’re the safety net for people the government safety net has failed. We provide hot meals and nutritious bags of groceries through 275 partner agencies including soup kitchens and food pantries — from Oakland to Livermore, Berkeley to Fremont. We operate an emergency food helpline that in 2011 helped more than 40,000 families. And our CalFresh (food stamps) outreach team helps people navigate the complicated process of applying for, and retaining, their benefits.

Alameda County Community Food Bank is also one of only a handful of food banks nationwide with a robust advocacy team — doing everything from rallies on the steps of the capitol in Sacramento to meetings in the White House. Sasha Abramsky writes about the battle to pass AB 6 (which would end fingerprinting for food stamp applicants), a fight our advocates waged for a decade.

Our work is vital to supporting our mission to alleviate hunger. When families living paycheck-to-paycheck have to make cuts, they can’t just stop paying rent, or for gas or the electric bill. The only place to cut is food.

It’s pennywise and pound-foolish to sacrifice human beings to pay off deficits. As Mr. Abramsky writes, people who use our services defy all stereotypes. Two-thirds of our clients are children and seniors. A growing number of households have at least one working adult. Hungry children and adults reside in every corner of our county.

We have much to celebrate with the passage of AB 6, but that was just the beginning. We have all been asked to sacrifice, but the pain has not been shared. People who can least afford it are being asked to make do with not only less, but oftentimes with nothing.

Together, we can stop cuts, and expand access to vital nutrition programs. We can work to ensure that no one goes hungry.

Suzan Bateson
Executive Director, Alameda County Community Food Bank

“How I Got Arrested at Occupy Oakland,” News, 2/1

A Dissertation Topic Waiting
to Happen

Wow. There is so much about this to comment on that one easily could — and probably should — write a proposal for a federal grant to conduct a proper “retrospective and follow-up prospective study” on the issues, dependent and independent variables, blah, blah.

Instead of vandalizing public property, the 99 Percent should think about being responsible: Get smart, write a manifesto, conduct social media forums, understand what the real issues are and peacefully attempt to get the message out there. Their time would be better spent building community food gardens; petitioning for fruits and veggies; creating a community barter system if they don’t have monies and jobs; building a legitimate commune through pooled assets asking for a bus or two through social media and live in it together. It is when people fail to see alternatives they are defeated.

Zoe Robinette, Oakland

“Neutered Spice,” Food, 1/25

A Jin Lia Junkie

I eat here quite regularly and love everything on the menu. The reviewer is correct in that the food is not flashy … it is also not greasy or too heavy (never had a “beef and broccoli hangover” here). The service is great. Food served relatively quick. Nice without being pretentious. Good for families or casual night out, less so for date night.

Edward Cervantes, Oakland


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