The “Occupy” movement that is sweeping the nation hit Oakland, California, on Monday. Well over 1000 people turned out in downtown Oakland on a rainy afternoon to kick things off. At the start, different people stood up and spoke about why they were here – the loss of jobs, the rich getting richer while everybody else gets poorer, etc.
Remember George Stinney!
I was there for something that happened in 1944. That was when the State of South Carolina executed little 14 year-old George Stinney. As they strapped him down to the electric chair, the death mask fell off his little face to reveal the tears streaming down his cheeks as he prepared to die all alone in this world. The state wouldn’t even let his parents be with him in his last few minutes on this earth. Can you imagine the terror and inconsolable loneliness he felt in his last minutes on Earth?
And what has changed since then?
A few years back, the transit police here in Oakland carried out a gangland-style murder of young Oscar Grant. While one cop held him down, another pulled out his pistol and shot him in the back as he lay face down on the concrete. And then, just a few weeks ago, the State of Georgia carried out the legal lynching of Troy Davis. This was done with the complicity of the corporate media, which did its best to cover up the story. And it was the entire court system, going all the way up to the US Supreme court, that conspired in this legal lynching. In fact, the entire federal government stood back and allowed it, including President Obama, who refused to even comment on this crime against humanity.
Those Who Came Before Us
So I was there for George Stinney and Oscar Grant and Troy Davis. I was there for the striking miners in Ludlow, Colorado, who along with their families were machine gunned down by US troops back in the early 20th century. I was there in memory of them and all the other heroes and heroines who made the ultimate sacrifice so that I could live a half-way decent life.
I was at Occupy Oakland for the 15 million children who die from hunger all around the world every year. The number is so great that it’s difficult for the mind to really register it. Sometimes I think what it must be like for the mother of one of those babies, watching it waste away, listening to it cry from simple hunger, and knowing there is nothing she can do because she, too, is hungry and her breasts have dried up. Or the father, knowing there is no food to be had. Well, that’s not true; the food is there, but it’s being sold on the world market so that Monsanto or some food merchant can make a profit.
I was at Occupy Oakland because of global warming and the destruction of the environment. It’s not true that global warming is human-caused; it’s caused by capitalism, and if it continues unchecked, my grandchildren will be growing up in a world of floods and droughts, massive storms and a parched earth. When they are forced to face this devastation, they will turn to me and my generation and want to know how we allowed this to come to pass. I want to be able to look them in the eye and tell them I tried to do everything I knew to fight the system that brought this about.
A Voice from my Past
On the second day of Occupy Oakland I met a carpenter from my old union. I was expelled from the Carpenters Union for having led a wildcat strike in 1999. That carpenter said that they’d been talking about me down at the hiring hall, wanting to know where I was and what I was doing and that they needed me now because there is so much unemployment and they are trying to figure out what to do. I was at Occupy Oakland in the hopes that some of what I’ve learned over the years can be put to use.
“The People Have Awoken…”
It seems that something new is in the air. As summer comes to an end, a political spring time seems to be dawning. As the home-made protest sign of one participant said, “The people have awoken and we are not going back to sleep.” But just as with anybody who wakes from a deep slumber, it takes awhile to stretch out one’s limbs and to get oriented.
All manner of charlatans and liars are moving in to try to confuse that process. The supporters of Ron Paul – the far right congressman – are there, pretending that they have something in common with the struggle of workers and youth. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that they are dissatisfied with the status quo also; for them, the power of Corporate America has to be increased even further! Then there are the supporters of the Democrats what want to lead this new movement back down that same tired old dead-end.
Prominent amongst those supporters will be a layer of union leaders. They may come out and make fine-sounding speeches and provide some resources. In Oakland, the Oakland teachers’ union leadership arranged for the provision of portable toilets for the occupiers. When one’s bladder is full, those are very welcome, but it would be far better if these leaders would mobilize their membership too.
Crime in Oakland
There is a lot of talk in Oakland about crime and violence, and for good reason. In my years in Oakland, I’ve had guns pointed at my head and have just missed by a matter of a minute or two being caught in a deadly hail of bullets as some drug dealer was gunned down right around the corner from where I live. The crime and violence is very real to me. But I also know that back in 1946, when the workers in Oakland shut the city down in this country’s last general strike, the chief of police reported that crime came to a halt during the days of the strike. People were too busy fighting capitalism to bother robbing each other!
After the Oakland general strike, the labor leadership organized to get workers’ leaders elected to the Oakland City Council. That came to naught in that instance, largely because the consciousness retreated rapidly following World War II, as the economy boomed and as the Red Scare took over in politics. However, it showed a general tendency: Whenever there has been a mass uprising of workers in the US, that has tended to lead to the formation of an independent working class political party.
In Europe those parties have brought about a vast network of social programs, including socialized medical care. In addition, for decades they served as the collective memory of the class struggle, maintaining the traditions of that struggle – both good and bad. As the 2012 presidential election approaches, tens of millions of workers will be thinking about voting. I, for one, cannot see any realistic alternative to the dead end of the lesser evil Democrats other than arguing for workers’ candidates and a mass workers’ political party.
Is that The Revolution?
No, of course not. No more than the formation of unions is. However, it would be a first step in the direction of workers taking complete independence from Corporate America.
I Worked for Him Too
When I approached the occupation on its second day, I passed by four workers who were standing on the corner (outside the occupation) complaining about Otto, their boss. “If a box falls on your foot and you get hurt, Otto’s going to blame you for it, “ one said. Being who I am, I stuck my big nose into the conversation. “Man, listening to you talk makes me so glad I’m retired,” I said. “Do you know Otto?” one asked me. “Hell yes I know him,” I said. “I worked for thousands of Otto’s for 35 years!”
I was at Occupy Oakland because I want to end the rule of all the Otto’s in the world. I want socialism.