I went to check out the Occupy Oakland General Strike today with my two kids, who are ten and twelve. I'll admit that I had some trepidation, mostly because of the out of control behavior of the Oakland Police Department last week. However, reports were that all was calm and we were in the neighborhood so we decided to check it out. As it turned out I did not see a single uniformed police officer while we where there
The protest had shut down three or four blocks of Broadway and two or three blocks of 14th Street, which is essentially the center of downtown Oakland. There were all sorts of tables set up from various flavors of Revolutionary Communist Parties (I have to admit the various names made me think of Life of Brian) to several labor unions and the National Lawyers Guild. Tents filled the Plaza in front of City Hall and people filled the streets and sidewalks all around. There was a van where they were giving out free tea, some Buddhist monks, people walking around with signs that said medic, people giving out some great posters like the one above and this one and people pushing around a giant Gandhi on wheels.
I hope that gives some idea of the variety to be found in downtown Oakland today. There seemed to be at least three microphones going in different areas with people talking about their issues. Most of all there was a sense of hope and energy. It was as if there had been all this pent up energy with no outlet and now people felt like they were doing something. Maybe their is not a specific platform with a list of legislation to pass, but I don't think that bothered anyone there. And while this is not a post about the larger impact of the Occupy movement, I do think it is changing the national conversation and I do think it is making a difference.
The most interesting thing for me was the reaction of my kids. We had talked about the movement and what it was about before we came, and had been talking about it since Occupy Wall Street began. A lot of the signs were confusing to them, like "Destroy Capital" and my daughter was very upset by one that said "School is Prison" (she quite likes her school). Most interesting to me was that their big question is the same one the mainstream media keeps asking: "What do they want:" I told them that all these people agreed that there was something very wrong with what is going on in America today. The system is not fair and a few very rich people are keeping more and more of the money and not letting other people have their share. I told them that all of these people had gathered here because they want to change that. They don't agree on how to do it, or even necessarily on the exact nature of the problem, but just the fact that they were all getting together peacfully (and it was totally peaceful from what I saw) was a big deal and was changing the way people around the country look at things. This made perfect sense to them, though it seems to continue to baffle many in the media, which I guess just shows that those in the media have the questions of children, but not their ability to understand the answers.