First, let me state that no one from Occupy Berkeley “represents” us, part of a worldwide, leaderless protest which seems to befuddle many. We are united in refusing to issue demands from the movement.
However, I would like to clarify some things for readers. First, I am not homeless, nor was my home foreclosed upon. My children and I have been encamped here all along for many reasons, not the least of which is that we wish to see no one who wants housing to be denied this basic human right.
To be sure, our encampment is a vibrant mix of people from all walks of life, and all ages, with regular visits from a 3 year-old, and other families coming by, young people in college, longtime activists, and we have people traveling from other occupations around the country (this weekend visits from people from Occupy Wall Street in NYC, and one from New Orleans, one from Portland, and many from all over California). Yes, our encampment includes many street people. No, such a mix of people is not likely to be an easy mix, but we’ve done it before, during our squatting movement in the 80’s when we squatted vacant houses and buildings, many owned by the city, and took over Civic Center Park and called it Loniville. It’s a shame we still need to be doing this to draw attention to ills in the world, but here we are.
Our focus is on banks and corporations, and their consolidation of resources and power. But we are challenging everyone to look at our own lives and see our contributions to the terrible place the world is for billions of people. Lack of resources is not the issue; we have abundant resources but they are being hoarded and traded by an endlessly greedy few. Still, what in my life and what in your life is excess? Almost every one of us can make personal changes as we protest against the greed of the few. We see people coming out with their children to thank us, and people who lived the mainstream life society promotes, who have been dumped from their jobs and now compete with 20-somethings, not being hired. The emperor has dropped his shorts right off. We all see what’s going on around us.
But if our kids have not been raised to know the importance of solidarity, all they’ll do is take those jobs at pay that does not meet many needs, and without what we think of as expected benefits, and society further pays to sweep up after greedy corporations which figure out how not to share their wealth, even with the employees who make that wealth possible.
I challenge every parent out there to look your kids squarely in the eye, talk about the wealth you’ve amassed (your house being one of the forms of wealth, if you own it) if you are one of the working class, middle class, or wealthy class, and figure out how to live more equitably in the world. Are you going to move into a shared house or studio apartment once they are off living their adult lives, or are you going to invite them to continue living with you but sharing the burden of maintenance and other costs, all better using the resource of a house than having one elder having so much excess? Perhaps you’ll rent a room at a reasonable rent to people who need housing. Are your kids learning that they do NOT need separate bedrooms, an almost uniquely American tragedy of epic proportions, leading to vast resource inequalities on every level imaginable, and alienated kids shooting up their classmates and teachers? The whole world is shifting right now, before our eyes, and you either get on the ship or you will be leaving your kids to drown.
While we have 2 bedrooms, by choice my three kids and I have always slept in one room. It’s like camping year round! But truly, we live more like people have always lived, and do live, worldwide, and ironically have a guest bedroom available at all times for traveling family, and friends, and others from our extended community. Why even liberal Americans have bought into the my-kid-needs-his-own-bedroom mantra pushed by developers and corporations selling things to fill up houses to keep people on the track of working long hours, avoiding family, someone will have to explain to me because, clearly, I don’t get it. I hear all these people around me bemoaning the long hours they are working to support a big house or apartment they rarely see. If you haven’t figured it out yet, your kids need you, not a big house. They need time with you, and nothing can replace that, or speed up the process of attachment between people. That old “quality time” line from the 80’s was corporations working to get you to accept separation from your kids. However you got pulled into it, you have to climb back out and maybe you can make it up to your kids by helping them, or others, with their kids. Yes, it is your responsibility.
It’s not about trying to figure out how to keep going at this rat race, but how to remove yourself from it. That is some of the reason people have been slowing down and camping out. This is a Slow Movement, as I referred to it in a piece I wrote on consensus decision-making which you can read somewhere on the Occupy Oakland blog. Direct democracy is an uncommon concept in this country, but is powerful.
We’ve picked up high schoolers’ trash and cleaned the decorative trash containers, and we are picking up the city’s slack in helping mentally imbalanced people.
To support us, call the city to unlock bathrooms on the west side of City Hall, and get us water hook ups to improve sanitation, bring prepared healthy food, bowls, spoons, tents, tarps, blankets.
Take back this world for all.
Maxina Ventura, who lives in San Leandro, CA, is a former longtime Berkeley resident trying to find a way to live in Berkeley again.