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 smiled.
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.