By Eva Paterson, cross-posted from Equal Justice Society
All is well here in Oakland after the police went wild. I went down
to Occupy Oakland Friday night. There were hundreds of people there. The
faint scent of marijuana was in one of the areas where a long line of
people were assembled. I kept walking and saw a field of tents.
I then came to the plaza in front of Oakland City Hall. The last time
I had been there was to hear Senator Obama in May of 2008 ask for our
support for his candidacy. Last night, the plaza was filled with
hundreds of people talking in small circles. I heard earnest
conversations about how the Occupy Oakland folks were interacting with
each other. As I continued walking around, I was struck by how serious
these folks were.
Two young women then told those assembled that they had to wrap up
their conversations. They asked one representative from each group to
come up and talk about the topic they had all been given to discuss:
“How is privilege a part of the Occupy Oakland movement?” Folks were
instructed to line up behind a man named Sweet Potato. I loved that and
wondered if he often said “Who yam I?”
The crowd was filled with young people, but the first speaker was a
70-year-old woman who did not start off talking about race or class. She
said that she envied the energy and physical dexterity of the young.
She also said that the activists should make sure that those with
physical impairments or with hearing difficulties were treated with
respect and had their needs taken into account during the occupation. I
I then left feeling conspicuous in a dress and stockings. I had
started the evening at a wake for the daughter of a friend whose
22-year-old daughter had suffocated after having an epileptic seizure.
It was a very sad, sad moment. All the parents had a common refrain.
“This is a parent’s worst nightmare.”
We hugged each other and cried and let old grievances and hurts wash
away with our tears. A colleague and a friend had a similar reaction to
seeing young people look at one of their friends in a coffin. They both
said that young people in Oakland frequently are in funeral homes and
mortuaries viewing the bodies of fallen friends. That realization
deepened our collective grief.
Yet later that evening at Occupy Oakland, I brushed by young Black
men walking through the encampment. I thought that perhaps the Occupy
Wall Street movement might provide a way out of the misery and despair
that sometimes leads to violence. One can only hope.
Life is good and goes on in Oakland.