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What Matters About Occupy Berkeley (News Analysis)

By Ted Friedman
Friday December 16, 2011 - 07:40:00 PM
Keeping the faith. At an Occupy Berkeley general assembly last month. They still show up at 6, all but Mondays, for G.A.
Ted Friedman
Keeping the faith. At an Occupy Berkeley general assembly last month. They still show up at 6, all but Mondays, for G.A.

In October, we reported that Occupy Berkeley was on a collision course with city officials ("Is Occupy Berkeley on a Collision Course With Berkeley?" Planet, Oct. 28). 

It was then an open question, but more than a month later, as enterprising reporters for mainstream media have reported overall high camp crime statistics (but compared to what?) and quoted "the usual suspects," the question is tightening. When will Occupy Berkeley end? 

The nascent history of the international Occupy movement is rife with encampment crackdowns—followed by mass evictions. More than a few stories in the Planet (not always mine) have hinted at possible city reversal of its open-arms response to OB. 

As some city officials, reportedly, distance themselves from OB, daily assistance in MLK Park, by outreach workers, and volunteers representing free clinics, and churches continues—an outpouring of Berkeley-citizen support. 

Official explanations for the evictions of Occupy protests around the nation cite crime, sanitation, and negative neighborhood impact—the same problems facing OB. 

Occupy Berkeley has absorbed evictees from both San Francisco and Oakland, driving away all-but-a-few Berkeley protesters who once camped in Civic Center Park, across the street from old Berkeley City Hall, the Berkeley Police Department, and Berkeley High School. 

In on-line discussions and in "working groups," some of which are closed to the public—unlike the general assembly, which is "come-on-down"—Occupy Berkeleyans are expressing dissatisfaction with the swelling tent city, which has stolen its kitchen and its good name. 

What to do? 

In twelve Planet articles since the inception of OB, the picture of a movement in conflict has emerged. There remains among OB, a steadfast contingent of camp supporters clinging to what is seen as the right of assembly and free speech in Civic Center, and another contingent favoring removing the OB brand from the park, essentially taking its marbles out of the troubled encampment's game. 

Which of OB's contingent groups will forge its future—if it has a future—remains to be worked out. But by whom? The general assembly, constipated from an open-mike discussion of pins and needles? Or working groups which form, then disappear? 

The Occupy movement began as a popular ideal—wage equity for all Americans, and a government independent of Wall Street's influence. Occupy's ideal swept the world, like history-changing political movements, and revolutions of the past. 

Geoffrey Nunnberg, a linguistics professor in U.C. Berkeley's School of Information, and a regular commentator on National Public Radio selected Occupy as "this years most significant word." (Dec. 7). 

Nunnberg's selection of Occupy as a word of significance may have its own significance—that Occupy has become embedded in public consciousness like "No taxation without representation" or"whatever." 

In fact, spin-offs, if not spoofs, of the Occupy movement are building fast. Occupy this. It is possible that, because of the multitude of word games made possible by the open accessibility of the word occupy that Occupy will become a laughing-stock, like "a chicken in every pot." 

Occupy Yourself, a commentary by yours truly (Planet: Nov 9), an intended humorous satire of consumerism and lust for wealth, was interpreted by a complaining reader as a put-down of Occupy. Was my "Occupy Yourself" piece humor-too-soon? 

According to the more than 500 Occupy yourself entries on-line (and a million and a half hits), my piece was too soon. In fact, my piece was archived fourteenth. By page forty-two of Google search page results—humor, ads, tee-shirts, and mugs join the pile-on. 

An Occupy Yourself Movement is announced on Google (search result page, 38), and Deepak Chopra weighs in (page 37) with spiritual advice for self-occupiers. Occupy-mania is only now beginning to ebb on-line, but it sure did go viral at first, like its sponsor organization, Occupy Wall Street. 

Cokie Roberts, a senior news analyst for NPR, recently reported Occupy's influence on legislative initiatives from Democrats in Congress. She is not alone. Time magazine which, Dec. 7, picked the Occupy Movement as the news story of the year, observed that President Obama was "echoing its [the movement's] message." 

Perhaps the Occupy Movement has made its mark—even if it never defined its mark. 

Occupys everywhere are in transition. A transition away from tents, kitchens, and toilets. A transition to international icon and realizable ideals. 

The challenge facing the Occupy Movement now is to keep its ideals alive, and to support leaders, who truly believe in these ideals, and who can be seen trying to achieve Occupy's ideals. 

Politically incorrect: "Remember the Alamo, Remember the Maine; Remember Pearl Harbor." 

Politically correct: Remember Occupy! 

Ted Friedman, known by some Berkeley occupiers as "uncle Ted," vows to "Remember Occupy," and might even be moved to actually do some more reporting on it.