Sunday, November 20, 2011

Things My Mother Told Me That May or May Not Apply to the Occupation Movement

1) "Look like you're having fun and they'll join you."
This statement feels very applicable. Remember the student protests in Chile in which it looks like thousands of students gathered (on June 24, 2011 in Santiago, Chile. Outside the presidential institution "La Moneda" to protest for improvements to education) and all simultaneously busted out in a coordinated dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller". WHAT?! So fun, so striking, I so wished I was there just watching it on my laptop screen. How could you be anywhere near that demonstration and not want to join in, let alone smile?

So, Oakland, I was up late watching MC Hammer videos last night, and had a thought: what if we could get MC Hammer to come to Oscar Grant Plaza and lead the Oakland Commune in a choreagraphed dance? To which song? We'd have to consense on that or leave it up to Hammer, I think. To what purpose? Remind folks how very organized we rabble rousers can be and how dang much fun it is to usher in the fall of Capitalism!

2) "Kill 'em with kindness."
This can be a tough one. Depends on who the "em" is right? I'm trying to think how I put this into use as a kid. This was not one of my favorite methods because it felt disingenuous at core, or at least required me to swallow my ample pride and idealism to work the system a bit. I still have trouble employing this method in my life, but do find myself "shining it on" a bit for my bosses. Although, there's something truly unique about my mother's approach. Usually when she demonstrated this method, I don't think she was "shining it on", I think she was genuinely trying to connect with the person who was making her life difficult. She would introduce herself, use the person's name, ask how her day was going, and say things like, "This must be very frustrating for you." or "So, Dereck, help me understand this..." I'm thinking of a video I recently watched in which the videographer approaches a group of OPD right before a raid of Occupy Oakland. The speaker notices that one of them has covered his name badge with black electrical tape and very calmly and inquires why his name is covered. "Simple question, just a simple question." says the speaker. The cop ignores him, so the speaker moves on, "Excuse me, Sargeant, Mr. Wong." Note the use of the officer's name. Then asks, "May I speak with you, sir?" then, "Is it against policy to hide their name badges? Shouldn't it be in plain view?". Mr. Wong, walks over to the first cop, sort of plays eye tag with him, while the videographer continues to ask, "Isn't that against policy?" and peels the tape off of the cop's uniform revealing his name. Much has been said about how fucked up it is that this cop covered his name before the raid, but I haven't heard anyone remark on how skillfully the videographer worked that situation.

I'm not personally interested in attempting one on one conversations with cops, trying to persuade them that what they're doing is wrong. That feels like a waste of energy, honestly, but addressing a cop directly, using his or her name, and pointing out that what they're doing is illegal, that might be affective. I don't think I'll be kissing any cops anytime soon, but also, kuddos to Russian performance artists 'Voina' (or War) who focused their efforts on reforming Russian women police officers via guerrilla smooching. I don't know how affective the "killing with kindness" tactic can be in terms of really winning over the person who you are trying to "kill with kindness" but it might win over some people watching by making an already dialectical relationship even more obvious.

Also, important to note that this tactic probably works best in relatively low-risk, low-stress situations, not for example, during a direct confrontation with police, while doing potentially "illegal" things or when cops are violently raiding your encampment.

3) "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." this one is especially tough. At first, I want to dismiss it out of hand, BUT, I think there is a useful tidbit buried here. Clearly, this phrase sets itself up as almost diametrically opposed to the entire concept of protest, but, BUT, here's how I choose to apply it to our current situation: what messages do we tend to hear or read most in protest movements? "Stop___", "End ____", "No more ____". Why? Because there's SO MANY things that need to STOP & END. But, BUT, I would advocate for some messaging that explains what we're doing well, what's working, what we can do MORE of. Why? Because people want to be part of something that's working, that's making real change. Questions I would like to ask each committee at "Occupy/Liberate/Decolonize Oakland" is: What are you doing well? What are you most proud of? What are you doing that's most effective and how are you doing it?

Getting angry, getting fucking OUTRAGED is so important. Expressing that anger collectively can be incredibly liberating and galvanizing too. My point is just that we need to remember to recognize what we're doing well and what other movements, organizations, etc. have done or are doing well. Build up. I feel like a cheerleader here, I feel like my mom, so I'm just going to try to rock it.

4) "Ignore."
Everyone hates to be ignored and they may fuss and fight at first, but my mom's theory was that they will eventually either leave you alone or decide to play nice just to avoid being alone. I would like to add to that the possibility that "they" may become so frustrated that they will make a mistake and then, BAM! you have instant recourse and sympathy.

This strategy seemed to work well with my older brother, Chris. We'd be in the back seat of our car and my brother would get bored and decide to harass me for entertainment. He'd be poking me or telling me I was adopted or something and I'd yell into the front seat, "Mom, Chris is bugging me!" and she'd tell him not to touch me, so he'd just hold his hand about 1/4 inch away and wave it in front of my face or around my head or near my arm or leg, and I would just try not to implode. I would close my eyes and ignore him. He would wave his hand faster, get closer, start saying things like, "Lindseeeey, Lindseeey, I'm not touching you, Lindsey." and I would stay cool, burrow deeper into the darkness of my brain until I couldn't hear him anymore and one of two things would either happen a) he would get bored and stop or b) he would get frustrated, screw up and touch me, then, "MOM, Chris touched me!"

So, how does this relate to the occupation movement? Autonomy. Ignore the city, ignore their "eviction notices", ignore, ignore, until they get so frustrated that they screw up and brutalize their citizens with tear gas, flashbang grenades and rubber bullets. Now, clearly, this is not the result we hope for, the brutalization of citizens, but, BUT, the city had a choice and their choice won us some serious public sympathy. Just sayin'.

That's all for now. Thank you, Mom.