Creative forms of protest

Posted: December 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

Far from being over, Occupy chapters worldwide have begun to move underground. Rather than attempting to organize and maintain bulky camps that pose easy targets for law enforcement, these previously crowded sites have become something like a meeting spot for agents of change to touch base at before running back to fight in the urban jungles of capitalism. Foreclosure defense is one cause that has found roots in Occupy branches nationwide. Education, the justice system and local politics have also recently found themselves Occupied.

No longer simply a physical presence identified by the tents, tarps, kitchens and punny slogans pasted around, Occupy has become something of an idea. An idea of autonomy- individual empowerment and deep networks of support from the common ground found in the friendships that one forges at camp. The People have taken back their power. We have all begun to Occupy our minds, acting to our strengths and rallying others when we need a little help.

A clear example of this came yesterday in Oakland, at Oscar Grant (formerly Frank Ogawa) Plaza. Despite claims of irreparable damage to city property, the only visible remains of Occupy Oakland’s infamous settlement are a nasty mud-pit of a lawn (sprinklers left on by the City in order to discourage a takeback of the site), the kitchen (providing food, water and clothing to those who still come through the plaza) and the Interfaith shrine, which provides peace of mind to those who need it most in these troubled times.

And why a shrine? Because when Interfaith had an EZ-Up canopy in the Plaza, they were repeatedly harassed and ticketed by the Oakland Police Department, until the cops simply took the structure. Next on the list was a sports umbrella, which provided just a little bit of shade to those who have dedicated their time and energy to helping others in the Plaza. That was also taken. Furthermore, it was declared by OPD that umbrellas (and bicycles) are illegal structures and thus forbidden within OGP. Tickets were dispersed to all who were found breaking this new Umbrella Law.

Back to the action: yesterday, Interfaith called on the Oakland community to come to the plaza at 2:30pm and to bring their finest umbrellas. There’s a power in numbers, and that’s just what we had. With a solid group of 30 or so umbrellas around the Interfaith ‘shrine’ (a slightly larger umbrella) and the support of even more Occupiers who had come to OGP without planning for a rainy day, it didn’t take long for the police officers who are still being paid to roam the Plaza around the clock to come over and start a scene. Little did anyone realize, but one woman and two of her friends had planned for this moment. They broke out into a song and dance for the officers, who had little choice but to walk away, speechless. The ‘shrine’ was safe for at least a few more hours.

This was just a silly little autonomous action from three bored friends, but it accomplished the goal of protecting Interfaith. Taken into City Hall, it made the act of telling us ‘no’ much more difficult for city officials. More than anything, it’s indicative of a much bigger power that Occupy possesses. One of the few legitimate ‘criticisms’ of the movement is our sense of humor. Picket signs and marches are great and all, but they’re a bit tedious. Certainly not interesting enough to get attention in this day and age. But like the Pepper Spraying Cop meme (http://peppersprayingcop.tumblr.com/) or Melbourne’s viral ‘tent-monsters’ (http://youtu.be/zKMwigI3mdM), which actually ended quite tragically when police publicly stripped a young woman down to her underwear (http://youtu.be/JAkUB7jRb2c), Oakland’s action yesterday was something cute and catchy. It’s easy to spread. Entertainment, after all, is one of the quickest means of sympathizing others to your cause. And Occupy has that- we have a sense of humor in our actions, which keeps us ahead of the powers that are trying to rub us out and crush our message of democracy. We have a lot of fun, but it’s more than that. We’ve got our hand on the pulse of the future.

We’ve Occupied the spaces that are still free: social media. YouTube. The imaginations of millions worldwide. As winter sets in, our physical presence WILL be reduced. It’s difficult to keep a miniature society running when law enforcement keeps taking everything you’ve got. In the cold, it gets even tougher. But as we settle down to wait for spring, we’re not hibernating. We’re acting on smaller scales. We’re thinking on larger ones. Yesterday’s umbrella action was just one of many activities to come, mostly playful but overwhelmingly serious. Just because you’re trying to fix the world doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun, after all. And if you’ve been on the fence, thinking ‘This is great, but it’s not something for ME. I have a job. I have school. I don’t have time. I don’t share everyone else’s beliefs…” here’s your chance to stop making excuses. Now’s the time to join in and shine. Occupy your mind, create your own future. Do it however you can. Do it in a way that makes YOU happy. If your ideas are good enough, we’ll be here for you- ready to grab them and run. We just need you to take that first step.

And now that my word-vomit/preaching is over, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. Occupy Oakland’s Umbrella Song.

Liz

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