On Monday night, you might have thought that the fabled Millenium had finally arrived, only 11 years or so too late. At our front door, easy walking distance from the lavish displays on Russell near College, a generous sample of all branches of the human race appeared, all beautifully dressed and with perfect manners. Really Even the shambling teenage boys who knew in their hearts that they were too old for trick or treating, the ones who had no costumes, just funny hats or masks, even those boys said thank you and smiled beatifically.
Even more amazing, and this is how you knew you were not in Kansas but in Berkeley, close to half of the young guests took the apples from the proffered platter instead of the M&Ms. Really. Some even opened their eyes wide and asked if those were real apples, and smiled gleefully when told that they were indeed apples. I am not lying here. Clearly, the Millenium is upon us.
The family groups on the doorstep were thoroughly multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-age and multicultural, as well as numerous. Most of the little kids brought their moms and dads with them, and most were in groups of 8 or 10. Many of the younger moms were in great costumes too.
Many visitors seemed particularly to favor dressing as people different from their own ancestry—one young African-descended mother was in perfect kimono, complete with wig. An Anglo boy was a convincing Fidel Castro, with beard and cigar (not lit).
In the whole evening, from about 6 to about 9, I saw not a single rude person. All in all, a Model U.N., or what the U.N. aspired to be but never quite achieved. Languages overheard included at least two dialects of Chinese, Spanish both Mexican and Central American, Russian (from a babushka) and even the now-rare French.
A couple of quick visits yesterday to the Occupy Oakland general strike sites seemed to to find an extension of the good humor of a Berkeley Halloween. Gemütlichkeit abounded.
At the renamed Oscar Grant Plaza we chatted in the afternoon with the newly re-sited Occupyers and the protestors who’d showed up for the General Strike call. They seemed like a pleasant lot—we took some pictures to illustrate their cultural diversity. Some wore the predictable black-on-black with black kerchiefs, but there were also plenty of middle-aged women in glittery tee shirts and sensible walking shoes, as well as some fresh-faced girls in Mills College sweatshirts.
African-Americans of all ages and genders were well represented, in at least their proportions in the Oakland population.. I spotted a contingent of Berkeleyans in wheelchairs that I knew from Arnieville, the wildly successful precursor of the recent Occupy actions which occupied a median strip on Adeline for a month last spring.
Last night on our way south we stopped off for a half hour on Third Street near the Port of Oakland. A chain link fence closed off the street, and a steady stream of people carried signs was walking toward us. Again I was struck by their variety and by the almost festive atmosphere of the event.
I asked a big Black guy who seemed to be telling walkers which way to turn what was going on.
“We’ve shut down the Port for this shift,” he said, “and now everyone’s marching back to City Hall for an assembly.”
“What do you do when you’re not doing this?” I asked.
“Mostly I change Pampers,” he said.
I suggested that it was nice for his kid to be able spend time with his dad.
“Yeah,” he said, “but I’m tired of it. I’m a computer technician, but I got laid off—and I spent a lot of time when I was younger changing my grandma’s Pampers. ”
He said his old boss was hopeful that some real work would turn up soon. Meanwhile, he was enjoying the strike.
“There’s probably 30,000 people here,” he said enthusiastically . “The Raiders could come down and put on a whole football game with enough people to fill a stadium.”
Most of the marchers appeared to be regular people like him, people who had jobs, or at least hopes of getting their old jobs back. They were on average younger than those who had assembled at City Hall in the afternoon—it was going to be about an hour walk back to the assembly.
Off to one side I saw a small group of a different kind that had withdrawn from the stream, intense young white people, mostly male, with elaborate tattoos, piercings, dramatic haircuts and all-black outfits. They were sitting on the ground in a tight circle, and looked like they were having a meeting with some hot disputes going on. Some carried matching signs that featured Oscar Grant’s name. They were just about the only participants who weren’t mellow to the max, and they were a very small percentage of the total.
So we got on 880 and went south. This morning I woke up to radio reports of vandalism and violence, which I would not have predicted based on most of what I saw yesterday,
The National Lawyers’ Guild, of which I was once a member and may yet be, thinks the police over-reacted and didn’t use the correct crowd control techniques, and they’re probably right. Five of their non-participating observers, clearly identified as such, were arrested. On the other hand, plenty of—well, at least some—activists deliberately provoked retaliation.
The Oakland (is it still Oakland?) Tribune/Mercury/CoCoTimes had a pretty fair report of what happened. It seems from this story that there were two distinct groups, one nonviolent and the other emphatically not, and the latter crowd played right into the hands of the police. Or maybe it was the other way round: they baited a trap, and the hapless cops fell into it.
On Day One of Occupy Oakland a more or less reliable source told me that a subset of self-identified anarchists were hoping to “make trouble.” Later an Old Leftist hinted darkly that amidst Occupy’s disorganization “The Trots” might be taking over—presumably to create revolution in Oakland instead of waiting for the proletariat to act world-wide. The circle of surly young men in black that I’d seen at the Port gate were ideal candidates for provocateurs—they looked like they’d seen too many of their own trailers and wanted a leading role in the film.
A friend suggests that they were just doing Halloween all over again: Let the sissies trick or treat early in the evening, and then smash a few pumpkins and turn over some outhouses when it’s well and truly dark. It’s too bad a few adolescents with over-active testosterone production were able to spoil what should have been a triumphant day for Occupy Oakland. They should spend less time admiring their own images in mirrors and more time talking to the people marching alongside them—they might learn something.