This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the impact of violence and trauma on the community. Go to www.oaklandeffect.com for updates on his reporting.
The professional protesters at Occupy Oakland would do well to listen to some of the quieter, humbler voices in their midst. Over the past week, the two single most interesting views I heard about the protest and its larger implications came from two 15-year-olds, a boy and a girl, who attend Oakland's School for the Arts.
The girl, Arianna Felice, said that she was reminded most vividly of the inequities in American society while playing a video game on her smartphone recently. The game required the player to have health points in order to continue -- a common feature of many video and role-playing games. What really struck her was that the more health points you had -- the healthier you were, in other words -- the easier it was to acquire more health points. The closer you were to death, the more beset with disease and illness, the harder it was to get better.
The boy, meanwhile, asked a question that few reporters and even fewer protesters seemed to be asking. Standing up to a protester who was in the midst of bashing what he said were the excesses and crimes of the "mainstream media," the boy, Julian Diamond, said, "Have you given any thought to what you would do if you were in their shoes, if you had the
This is precisely the kind of critical thinking, analysis and thoughtful probing that is so conspicuously absent from the Occupy Oakland movement. Instead, large numbers of well-meaning people who are justifiably concerned about the excesses on Wall Street, the inequities on the streets of East and West Oakland, or the problem of homeless people in the center of downtown, are silenced by angry people who seem to want little more than a violent confrontation with the police.
Take the case of Dana Frasz, a 27-year-old from Maine who is passionate about social change and is trying to start a food recovery organization in Oakland to help feed people. When she showed up at the protest and asked a woman how she could help, the woman shouted, "Get out of my face right now!" Frasz's friends, meantime, were put off by marches and meetings in which the constant refrain was, "(Expletive) this, (expletive) that, (expletive) the police."
"I understand that people are angry; I get it, everyone's angry," said Frasz. "I'm completely supportive of the movement, but I don't think my experience or the way that Occupy Oakland is being run is a reflection of the movement overall."
Many others seem to agree. Russ Tilleman, a 52-year-old retired engineer and self-described activist, worked briefly to assist the movement with its media relations until a couple of the more radical people inside the camp threatened his life repeatedly. He now only shows up with friends who can help him out if he's threatened again. It was Tilleman who helped defend a young photography student who was at the movement to document the faces of some of the protesters. The student was also threatened and had to leave. These are not isolated incidents.
Distasteful as these altercations are, they also speak to a larger, more pernicious sense of rage in Oakland that has been bubbling beneath the surface for years, perhaps generations, and is now surfacing in a way that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Emotions run high. John Reimann, a 65-year-old retired union organizer, blamed the media in no uncertain terms and called on the students from Oakland's art school to rise up in revolution. "This is a base camp for a lot of different struggles," he said, "We're trying to network with them, trying to cement a lot of struggles that people see as separate."
The problem, so far at least, is that there has been a lot of shouting and not enough listening. "I like this," said Diamond, pointing at the demonstrators and the possibility of what they represent. "I like this, but I wouldn't be surprised if it reverts to something else. I wouldn't be surprised if they use the illusion of equality to their own advantage. I'd like people to ask more questions."
These are fine words from a fine mind. Julian Diamond is 15 years old. With more voices like his, what looks to me like an atrophying nest of anger and resentment could morph into a truly transformative experience.