Autumn is in full swing in the East Bay, and it does swing. Roses are giving their all; flowers that do not bloom in the high sun of summer are now blooming madly. Purple sage, cosmos, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and blood red amaranth.
Early mornings stay dark and mid-morning is a time of block long shadows that swell the size of my world. The palm tree that has spent all summer stuffed behind chain a link fence, reaching expectantly and decorously for blue sky, has now escaped to the street beyond, its trunk gone shadow grey, snaking down the sidewalk, steely fronds fanning into the intersection.
I walk, forgetting that I have slept only fitfully recently because of surveillance helicopters, hovering over the downtown Occupy encampment, making a racket. Our tax dollars wasted. Thursday night, I peered from my window, saw the three north stars of helicopter heaven, blinking and trembling, rattling the sea of the sky, and had to wonder what was birthing beneath.
A new tent city, that's what.
Today when I visited OCCUPY : OAKLAND, the lawn was once again covered by tents, not quite as closely packed as previously but as neatly organized. The paths between the various neighborhoods of tents had been marked out with silver tape and wooden sidewalks were beginning to be laid down. An efficient kitchen was up and running, and the food being served looked as tasty and more plentiful than before. The First-Aid booth had reappeared and seemed to be well stocked. A hand-washing station, complete with bottles of hand sanitizer, had been set up under the bust of Frank Ogawa, steps from lines of portable toilets, more numerous and some fancier than before.
People were crowded on the amphitheatre steps, enjoying the sun, eating lunch, and listening to a young man speaking about Bank of America's recent shifting of trillions of dollars worth of spongy derivatives from Merrill Lynch into its retail bank coffers.
No one wants violence on our streets
On the periphery of the still forming tent city, candles were burning around pictures of Scott Olsen, the young marine, still recovering from a serious head injury inflicted by a 'non-lethal' police projectile.
A silk screen artist was printing up dynamic posters -- Hella Occupy Oakland, Power to the People -- and other folks were roaming about passing out bumper stickers (99%) and flyers announcing the General Strike, called for Wednesday, November 2.
After leaving the encampment, I walked on to the community garden near the lake. A friend and I had planned to speak with Saturday visitors about growing herbs and making medicinal herbal teas. I found the lake park as crowded as the Plaza at City Hall, but it was crowded with bicyclists, race walkers, joggers, and children dressed as fairies and clowns, pirates and princesses, superheroes and one bug with very very long antennae. Ordinary folk out to enjoy the weekend of Halloween . . . the very people, the life, that the determined folks of Occupy : Oakland are struggling so hard to protect.
Thank you. You have my admiration.
You can't stop love
Mid-afternoon, October 27, I visited OCCUPY: OAKLAND, not too long after Mayor Jean Quan announced that tents would be once again allowed on the lawn in front of City Hall. Of course, most of the tents have been trashed, and, of course, most of the unemployed and underemployed who had settled those tents on the lawn may not be able to afford to rush right out and buy new tents.
Under the boughs of the peaceful tree
Nevertheless, by late afternoon, tents have begun to nestle into the spreading limbs of the great Oak tree in front of City Hall. As far as I could see, those tents were empty, but a few dedicated protesters lingered nearby, answering reporters' questions. One young man sat playing his guitar; another slept.
The lawn was once again fully exposed to sun, and other than a few barely yellow squares where tents had been, none the worse for wear. Indeed, in some areas, the grass looked somewhat lusher than usual. Children were running across the green, arms stretched out like wings, chasing after pigeons that when not leaping startled into the air, happily pecked the grass, enjoying the hayseeds left after the removal of the hay previously laid down to protect the lawn.
All was peaceful, but something was missing. I could feel it.
peaceful pigeons grazing
A single cardboard box sat some yards away from the tents, a hand-lettered sign affixed to its side: Lost and Found. The box was empty but a pair of shoes had been laid down on the grass near by, and a blue and white quilt folded to the other side. A lot had been lost to the night marauders, but apparently not much had been found. . . As I looked about, I began to get a feel for just what had been lost.
Loaves and . . .
A screen tent nearby held a single bookshelf stacked with loaves of bread. None of the loves had been sliced. A young woman with vacant eyes twirled about inside, her arms twisting great wide circles, above, below, and behind.
Bees, she said. This tent is filled with bees.
I could see no bees. I must have smiled or even laughed because soon she was outside the tent, her arms windmilling at even greater speed, inches from my face.
Beware, she hissed, beware of bees. They're everywhere. Go away, go away, go away.
Not wanting to be hit by her flailing arms, now twisting closer above, below, behind my face, I hold her quietly I like bees, I'm not afraid of bees, but either she didn't hear me or didn't care what I said. Her arms moved faster and ever closer to my face. When I stepped back, she stepped forward. Suddenly, a young man came and put his arms around her, stopped her circling arms, held her tight, and put his mouth against her ear. She's our friend, he whispered, looking straight at me. She's just taking pictures. She cares about what happens here. There are no bees, no bees, and if there were, they'd be honey bees.
He rocked her back and forth, smoothed her hair, and smiled.
I'm sorry, he said to me. She means no harm. She still hears the explosions, still sees lights flying by, thinks the invisible sparks she sees are bees. She still smells the smoke. He paused. She's lost her balance.
Balance gone . . . and trust. These are things that disappear when the night explodes to violence and the ones who should be helping -- the public servants, the men in blue -- are the ones with the weapons, the ones exploding the peace. Then, there's no where to turn except around and around and around.
Keeping his arms wrapped around his friend, the young man gently turned until they were both facing the tree and away from the great lawn, away from me. I must have said something, but I don't remember what. Whatever it was, it was inadequate. As I left the plaza, I found this sign lying on the pavement.
It, too, had been lost.
Keep the Peace
Thank you, Jon Stewart, for your wonderful Wednesday night commentary about the police raid of Occupy: Oakland.
(Video temporarily available at: http://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_19206202)
Your humor has made the brutality of this action evident to all Americans. For those who still have questions about the intensity of this action, where police out-numbered protesters maybe 3:1, watch this raw video of the raid prior to the explosive scene featured on the Jon Stewart show. That happened later in the evening after the hordes of police had trampled through the plaza, leveling everything in their path, leaving in their wake a mass of sleeping bags, destroyed tents, and emptied food bins.
Warning. On this video you will hear much swearing, see reporters being shoved aside and public servants trampling over those whom they are sworn to protect:
This evening, I am overwhelmed by the sound of helicopters buzzing incessantly overhead as Occupy Oakland continues to defy those authorities determined to grind it down to dust. The noise keeps me on edge, keeps me from sleep, keeps me in a state of heightened awareness that is not always comfortable, but over in San Francisco another message, equally powerful, is being broadcast loud and clear in a manner far more playful but as challenging to passers-by intellectually, emotionally, artistically, and , yes, politically. On Hemlock Street, right off of Polk Street, is a brand-new mural painted by Ezra Li Eismont,
occupying the entire face of a building and announcing to the greater world that the time has come to OCCUPY YOUR MIND
. . . .
. . . . and THINK RESPONSIBLY.
After all, that inner meditative world creates the greater active world. We think the future into being.
A bold portrait of Michael Jackson as a zombie occupies the wall between doors, both locked and open, overwhelming the barred windows above and transforming an unprepossessing industrial building into serious and provocative art that suggests that we might all consider that agreeing to Celebrity is agreeing to an existence as a Zombie.
We might -- instead -- Think Responsibly. . . . and then, perhaps??? Act accordingly.
Choose to walk the earth as humans.
The door is open.
Live in our skin, feel our bones. Laugh. Dream.
Give to others what we know, nestle into the unknown. Cherish new possibility.
Live. And Breathe, always breathe. Inhale deeply and when we exhale, know that NOW is the time to OCCUPY our MINDS.
Check out Ezra Li Eismont
's show, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,
opening on November 12, right around the corner form this remarkable street mural at the Space Gallery
, 1141 Polk Street, San Francisco, and while you're there, spend some time with Little Old One,
at Lopo Gallery
, opening the same day and featuring the collaborative works of Bunnie Reiss and Monica Canilao.
Don't be a Zombie, Think Responsibly.
Today, October 25, before dawn, just before 4 a.m., Oakland Police, helmeted and dressed in riot gear, surrounded the peaceful Occupy Oakland encampment. After alerting the protesters of their presence and their intent to dismantle the tent city, the police did indeed begin the destruction of the camp while also arresting those protesters who chose to remain as non-violent resisters.
10:30 a.m., at rest
During the ferocious and swift police action, the city center was cordoned off. BART fumed past its 12th St stop without stopping. Buses detoured and all traffic was redirected to streets north or south of the Plaza. Then under the cover of darkness, in less than 1/2 hour, tents were down, the community kitchen kicked down, the first-aid tent leveled. Unlike those who had carefully organized this tent city, the raiding police had little concern for the environmental concerns of Frank Ogawa Plaza or in preserving food, medical, or housing supplies that might have been donated to various community organizations working in support of the unemployed and homeless. In their ferocious invasion of the encampment, garbage cans were over-turned, food booths crashed, and tear gas released on the peaceable campers who were attempting to gather their belongings.
keeping the peace
By 5:15 a.m., this raging herd of police (200+ police were involved in the raid) were stomping about ripping up signs and tossing useful equipment into the street. By 5:30 a.m., the tent city was gone and what remained on the Plaza was a tangle of personal belongings, tents and supplies. By 6, they were blaming the protesters for the release of the tear gas and defending their own rampaging attitudes by insisting that someone had thrown a plate at them as if it were a Frisbee and they were dogs. Is such a thing possible? Do plates fly like Frisbees? Don't know.
Police are public servants. No where in their job description is a sentence reading: Prepare to be mean. Cruelty is not a desired character trait for policemen or soldiers.
Ideally, a policeman should be a compassionate individual who cares both about the community and the laws enacted by that community. Why tear up signs? Why break personal belongings? Such actions are not required or even desirable.
By late morning, the media was reporting that the city intends to hold all personal property for those protesters who wish to come and collect it, but if that is the case why, then, are four city garbage trucks parked behind this morning's barricades and why are there four other large trucks outside the barrier, ready to move in when called upon?
guarding the remains of the encampment, now designated as a crime scene
Years ago when I was living in Honolulu, I woke one morning and went as I did every morning to sit by the window and drink my morning tea. My window looked out at the harbor and down at steps coming up the hill from city streets below, threading past an empty lot where often flocks of the tiniest finches imaginable perched on the tall meadow grasses that had overtaken the raw land of the lot.
On that day, so long ago, the finches were rising like butterflies because a middle-aged woman with matted hair was sprawling on the steps, legs splayed out, moaning loudly. Within minutes, a patrol car arrived; apparently someone had called 911. The young policeman who approached the woman did not grab her fiercely by her arm. He did not yank her from the sidewalk and hustle her off to the squad car. Instead, he crouched down beside her and spoke in low tones. Soon, her keening slowed to gentle sobbing, and the policeman offered her water. As she drank, he quietly radioed for back-up.
When a second squad car arrived, two female officers approached the woman, not with handcuffs, but with a bucket of clean water, a washcloth, and a hairbrush. One gently sponged the woman's face, removing both dirt and the tracks of her tears, and the other brushed her hair. Then, they helped the woman from the street, settled her into the back seat of their squad car, and were off.
Although I describe this process as if it took hours, I do so only to emphasize the gentleness and the grace of these public servants. In reality, this drama in front of my window was swifter than the erasure of Occupy Oakland, just as real but far more graceful and humane.
UPDATE: In the evening, violence erupted in downtown Oakland with police firing 'non-lethal' beanbags into the crowd while releasing great clouds of teargas. The New York Times has posted videos of peaceful protesters being met by gun-toting police dressed in riot gear. Claims that protesters threw bottles at the the police do not seem to have much merit. Claims that the police fired something (beanbag?) at a protester who was down on the ground can be validated.
As the local news has been issuing dire warnings about the imminent demise of OCCUPY: OAKLAND, giving reasons of increased violence and a mounting garbage problem, Saturday morning, Day 13 of the 'occupation', I decided I would walk around the neatly organized and growing tent city and see how folks were getting along.
As I walked about, I found myself within a peaceful and productive community that had become better organized and visibly increased in size and scope since my last visit. A well-marked tent for first-aid sits at the north end of the camp; two cook tents at the south. Around the perimeter of the camp are tents stocked with all kinds of supplies for campers in need-- including a first-aid tent and one that offers free clothes -- 'fresh shirts socks pants shoes, different colors of fabric.' Neat wooden pathways, wide enough to accommodate walkers strolling side by side, are swept clean and arranged as friendly paths that wend their way through the tents, which are far more numerous now than earlier in the week. Some pathways even have names. Solution Avenue. Walk here and find the way.
While I was walking about, a young man -- not a city employee -- was sweeping the surrounding terraces and another was picking up the few bits of paper that had escaped the numerous garbage cans. I must say, the encampment was cleaner than many of the surrounding city streets.
Someone (the campers?) had erected a flexible fence around the beautiful spreading tree in the plaza and someone else had placed hand-written signs against the fence, asking all to respect the life of the tree: Protect this tree, Fragile Roots, read two signs placed side-by-side. Another propped near the first tworead:
Roots are Strong, Fragile Branches.
That second sign might be appropriated as a motto of the movement. These 'Occupy' campers do have strong roots, fixed to American soil, and the peace branches that they extend -- let's fix this -- are indeed fragile (and graceful). It's fabulous that these peace campers do believe in the truth and possibility of a hopeful joyful productive future, embracing the many not just the few. Take a walk down Solution Avenue, and see what you find sprouting there.
like mushrooms, the tents keep popping up
Since my last visit, even more cheerful gardens have sprouted -- in planters and in containers. All the baby plants seem to be thriving, and the growth is a welcome sight on the city street, reminding passers-by that vast acreage is not necessary to grow vegetables for the table. The mini-garden pictured below is positioned conveniently close to the cook-tent. Yes, there is a cook-tent where campers can get simple or not so simple smiles and meals from volunteer cooks. This experiment in open community enriches us all.
grow food, grow your mind
The other day I was in my back yard trimming the passion flower vine, and I discovered dozens and dozens of caterpillars, munching on leaves, getting ready to spin cocoons. Then, some days later, I found myself in San Francisco on Pine Street between Polk and Van Ness, face to face with the king of all caterpillars: the fifty-foot long Skullwerm.
Wall courtesy of Wallspace : painting by Ezra Li Eismont
Wearing a jester's hat and smoking a pipe, this caterpillar has shed its skin and is outside the mind, swallowing smoke and presumably other bits and pieces of city life. It's a worm of dream, of thought, of memory, attached to the warm body but burrowing into collective mind of the city. The skullwerm is that tiny wriggling worm of an idea that escapes the mind and attaches itself to the last leaves of summer. What it eats it will transform to flight.
This skull-king with its hollowed eyes is a-bumping and a-grinding through pink and green. Having chewed half the leaves of the forward tree, it's getting ready to spin a cocoon, compress its string of pearls body into the burlap sack of winter, but wait a month and a huge butterfly will unfold its gold-flecked wings wide enough, tall enough, frail enough to lift the Golden Gate above the fog.
I want to be there for the unfolding of that transparency.
Three tiny little earthquakes in Berkeley at midnight, felt only by seismographs.
We are transforming. We will evolve.
After the earthquake
This body folded in creases belongs
to mirrors. They protect him, kill her
bury her arms beneath
the Mary Todd Lincoln rose
empty for seasons of bloom.
Familiar with winter and the illustrated history
of men with substitute faces, she is removed.
In the dark, she writes: Picasso had his monkey
his masks to remind him he could no longer dance.
She has; the other body—in pieces, without blood,
attached to light and the hardship of bone.
When she breathes, she tastes words.
When she moves, she separates.
Ghosts in pursuit
I breathe the fog, drink my tea
dressed up with honey and milk.
My hands are locked to a minor key.
Who will play the piano
behind the window, adorned
with ice blue silk and an October rose,
floating free in a crystal vase?
Trap me in drifts of pretty,
run me up or run me down,
but play me a song
before dragging me out to gray.
Yesterday, I decided to stroll down to that small patch of lawn near Lake Merritt where bamboo grows to reach the sky, fences run wild, and horses, mules, ponies and one lone alpaca happily graze.
What I love about this odd little corner of the park is its pastoral passivity armed with electrical eccentricity. The pony chomps on grass growing between a stand of golden bamboo and a whimsical wall, angled out and up, floating well away from "true," its windowless side painted as stacked geometry, broken crockery. The pony could care less about anything outside the fence, including me and my anxious little dog.
Listening to the wind knocking in the forest bamboo, I stand for some long moments, staring at the oddly askew wall and thinking about cracks that appear when the earth moves suddenly and unexpectedly, splitting rock, shifting down to up and up to down, wondering if the Hayward fault will move again soon. When today, it does . . . a 4.0, with its epicenter near the Clark-Kerr campus of UC-Berkeley, shakes the Easy Bay. . . I am left thinking about grazing, grasping, and dining on air.
The eating habits of horses and alpacas, even those confined to an urban fairyland, are somewhat predictable, but the dietary needs of our beloved planet earth are perhaps less obvious. No matter how hard we try, we can't seem to grasp just what our beloved mother earth needs to keep from belching unexpectedly.
An alpaca is happy to eat dew-soaked grass; a horse overjoyed to find a bit of alfalfa mixed with her oats, but when the earth opens its jaws, grinds its teeth, and swallows a sidewalk or two, we can never be sure if it's had enough, which is why earthquakes -- even the smallest little ones (and a 4.0 is itsy-bitsy) -- can be unsettling. We have no way of knowing if the earth will be satisfied with this tiny bite, this salt-shaker shiver, or if she might demand a second far grander course, a main dish of bridge girders, elevated train tracks, or highway overpasses. We hope, of course, that our beloved mother will be content to munch for many months on this small bite, this micro-meal 4.0. No damage from this bit of earthquake grazing. Our lawns, our meadows, our pastures, our hearts will easily recover.
Update: 8:15 p.m. 3.9, a strong jolt. The jaws are still working. The teeth clacking. Not really a nibble.
When the earth shakes, the geese flutter up, then settle down. They'll be no one's appetizer.
Fog was rolling in from the sea this morning, flowing over Berkeley down to the lake, but West Oakland was bathed in warm morning sun. Nonetheless, when Earnest and I took off for our morning walk, we headed east anyway . . . towards the lake and the fog. I wanted to stop again at the zone of OCCUPY: Oakland, now in its ninth day. See what's shaking.
Not much was shaking. Pretty peaceful and quiet.
Frank H. Ogawa, 1917-1994
Many colorful tents, complete with rain flies, but all zipped and closed. Very few people up and about; a bit of trash here and there, but not much.
This tent city appeared to be unoccupied or at least temporarily deserted. Perhaps everybody had gone to work (We all have to survive . . . somehow.)
The most notable presence, smiling gently and holding court in the plaza, was a bust of Frank H. Ogawa, the man for whom the plaza was named. Ogawa was a lover of cities and gardens, a long-time city council member, active in the community and instrumental in the planning of Oakland's city center. He was also a man who had spent time in the West Coast detention camps during World War II. As a man of peace, a man who cherished the growing earth, it is entirely fitting that he welcome the protesters and listen, I suppose, as the mutterings of the surrounding community back into the quieter murmurs of the protesters.
This morning, community muttering has risen above the level of grumble. The word on the street is that soon this tent city will be dismantled. Too many rats, too many drugs, too much drink.
Sleep comes after a long night
It was only 9:30 a.m. when I stopped by. No sign of rats, but I did see several men emptying the last of a whiskey bottle down their throats and another sleeping sitting up, head down, arms folded, on a park bench. (No room in the tents for him, I guess.)
The rats, they say, are not really the fault of the encampment; they're always around, but ordinarily it's just a tad easier to keep them under control. I suppose the same might be said for those sitting around the periphery, busily drinking anything alcoholic that comes their way. They, too, are always there and perhaps also more easily controlled on other days, in other ways. So why remove the tents?
Okay, they say, so it's not the rats, not the drinking, but the fist fights. But who's fighting? Don't know. It's always peaceful when I stop by. Someone fell from a tree, they say, and there was a problem with a dog and spilled paint. Someone was carousing late at night. Don't these things happen . . . anyway?
Maybe the best that can be said is that this tent city is a microcosm of that great big wonderful city out there that we know and love. Maybe this tiny little City of Hope, temporarily set up in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, has just as much love and perhaps just as many problems. Maybe there are as many folks wandering helplessly and alone inside this plaza as wander outside. Maybe there are as many hungry, as many who have no home as there are those know they will eat and safely sleep. As many who sit in the shadow, struggle on the borders, as those who don't. And as many who care to dream and hope.
The garden of innocence?
What if we give up the idea of 'reclamation,' or of claiming anything for that matter, and instead push seeds into the soil beneath our feet, plant new gardens where gardens have never grown, in our hearts and in our dreams, harvest what grows and celebrate that harvest? What then?
We don't need the Garden of Eden. We have Earth.