Today is Nov 2, 2011. It's the day of a General Strike here in Oakland, California. Hopefully it's a day that we'll look back on years from now and see as a watershed moment in history. Hopefully it'll be a day that we look back upon and see as a crucial turning point in our quest for social and economic justice.
As folks are gearing up to head on down to Oscar Grant Plaza on 14th and Broadway (City Hall) in downtown Oakland, I hope we don't lose sight of some of the key reasons why a General Strike and the Occupy Movement in general is happening. After all, in the age of Mass Distractions, it's easy to get caught up in personalities, criticizing pundits and the antics of others who are eager to serve as functionaries and lap dogs for the 1%.
It's easy to get caught up in debates fostered by corporate media and whatever vicious spin in their hawking. Three weeks ago they were saying Occupy Oakland was out-of-town Anarchists. Next they were saying Occupy Oakland was a health hazard. This week they are claiming small businesses are being hurt by Occupy Oakland. Tomorrow they'll have something else for us to jabber about.. It's not about corporate media spin. It's about the 1% and the policies that spin seeks to serve.
It's not about Oakland Police and their recent bizarre open letter from police union members where they claim to be confused and insist they are part of the 99%. Yes, we can not overlook the years of violence the police department has unleashed on Black and Brown communities pushing for change. That needs to stop and folks held accountable. With that in mind, let's not forget that Occupy like any other movement doesn't start and stop with the police. Like their corporate media brethren, their heinous actions are rooted in policy reflective of an agenda and desires of the 1%. Police at the end of the day are pawns -- modern-day overseers who have no extended their reign of terror outside the hood and into other communities where economic hardship is present.
It's not about Mayor Jean Quan or the Oakland city council and their off kilter decisions. It's about the people behind them who bankrolled them.
It's not even about the space that Occupy Oakland reclaimed. It's symbolic, like putting flag in the sand. It's a space where we can start to discuss what needs to be done and how. It's a place where we might debate but at the end of the day we can't forget that this is about the nation's most powerful banks, financial institutions and corporations, and their greed, viciousness and dehumanizing behavior.
There'd be no tents on Wall Street or in the plaza had it not been for banks getting bailed out after tanking the economy and causing undue hardship for millions of people all over the world.
There'd be no tents in front of City Hall if we hadn't bailed out banks turning around in the middle of a deep recession and handing out obscene bonuses to a handful of gleeful, uncaring employees while many of us were harshly penalized for the smallest of infractions like being a day late in paying our car notes, mortgage or credit card bills...
How many of us got hit with outrageous $30-40 late fees for being a couple of days late on a credit card bill? How many saw interest rates skyrocket on car notes or mortgages when being a month behind late on payments?
Many of us through no fault of our own saw our work hours shrink, 401ks disappear, our jobs shipped overseas and our pay checks cut-some by as much as 20 percent. At the same time we saw prices rise dramatically from food to rent to bridge tolls.. While all this was going down and people struggled, we were assaulted by arrogant media pundits and politicos in the pockets of big banks, telling us we 'should blame ourselves' for whatever economic hardships we were experiencing. It was this type of callousness that eventually enraged people enough to finally take it to the streets to demand change.
Lastly, there'd be no tents in the plaza if more of us paid attention and took seriously the plight of the millions of poor people already trying to survive in this country as opposed to marginalizing, ignoring and demonizing them when the so-called 'good times' were rolling. We have to own up to a few things. We can't forget that once upon a time not too long ago, many of us responded with indifference and cheered along when cutbacks to the social safety nets were downsized under the guise of Welfare Reform and other policies that left folks out in the cold. We believed the stereotype and hype of the 'Welfare Queen' living off the dole' while ignoring the very real scenario of corporate welfare kings.
Many of us cheered along when we saw the labor movement get pummeled. We thought that their insistence on getting paid was standing in the way of us getting at cheap goods and services. Many of us didn't seem to mind when companies started shipping factory jobs overseas to take advantage of child labor and draconian sweat shops where folks got a dollar a day. For us, the bottom line was as long as we got new basketball shoes and flat screen TVs at a cheap price. The least of our concerns was the economic exploitation in Third World countries being done in our name.
Many of us ignored the plight of students who saw college and university fees skyrocket as they were strongly directed to take out bank loans that in many cases exceeded what they would pay for houses. Today students owe more than a trillion dollars in loan debt with no real relief in sight. This amounts for many to a bill of $400-500 a month for the next 15-20 years.. Too many of us who escaped huge student loan debt, looked at the college degrees on our walls and kept it moving, not once looking back or being concerned even when tens of thousands of students started doing nation wide walkouts to bring attention to the loan scam and demand change. If anything many of us got haughty, laughed out loud and called college students lazy. We told them to get over it.
As we embark upon today's General Strike let's not forget the shoulders we're standing on. Economic hardship may be new for many of us, but it's generations deep for millions more, meaning we can't easily explain it away as this simply being a few folks unwilling to get off their asses and put in work.
What we're dealing with is systemic, and we should never lose sight of that. We should always remember, the that change we seek comes only when those at the bottom of the economic totem pole obtain economic parity. Anything less is a band-aid that'll will eventually unravel and put us back on square one. It's important as we seek change that we not become as heartless and unforgiving in our outlook and approach as the people and institutions we are protesting. Let our actions at today's General Strike reflect a desire for long-lasting systemic change rooted in the love we have for our community and people. Also lets not forget this Saturday November 5th is Bank Transfer Day. We are taking our money out of these big banks and reinvesting it elsewhere..