Photo Friday: Occupy Oakland Candlelight Vigil

Posted by Ted on Nov 18, 2011 in Causes, Photography, Politics

I’m not a full time occupier, but I do drop by the Camp a couple of times a week. After a leisurely ride around the lake last Thursday, I stopped by the corner I’d been scrubbing walls of the week before.

I could tell instantly that I had clearly just missed something big.

I hung back, secured my bike, and leaned against the railing of the 12th St BART stairs. The crowd was agitated. Someone was on the ground, surrounded by concerned people. Police broke out the yellow barrier tape and established an expanding perimeter – which my bike was now 10 feet inside of.

A few minutes later, ambulances and fire trucks arrived, a gurney was wheeled to the scene, and the injured person was taken away leaving a pile of evidence and blood behind. The cops maintained a peaceful blocking of the crime scene, and life at camp continued, albeit with many whispers. That someone was shot was the only thing people knew.

An hour or so later, the #OccupyOakland Twitter hashtag announced the sad news – Kayode Ola Foster was pronounced dead at Highland Hospital (the same hospital where Scott Olsen was taken).

Feeling once again moved to act, but not knowing how to help, I saw a couple of lit candles and had an idea. I looked up, saw a Walgreens across the street, and decided to buy some more candles. In the candle aisle, I met a young woman who had the same idea. Her name was Mimi, and she had brought her visiting-from-out-of-town mother to the Camp, and they too wanted to help. What they didn’t grab, I took the rest. Together we brought our armloads of candles bought from a 1% corporation, and gave to the 99%. We deposited boxes at several locations where candles were already being lit, and they were put to sombre use.

(Related articles of the Occupy Oakland shooting can be found
at SFGate, the LA Times, and CNN.)

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An Occupy Birthday in Oakland

Posted by Ted on Nov 5, 2011 in Causes, Events, Politics

Last week I woke up in anger at the Oakland Police Department (and their affiliates, and the mayor). This week I woke up in anger at some of the demonstrators. Wednesday’s “mostly peacefulGeneral Strike was overshadowed by the acts of a few extremists which vandalized buildings and broke windows. Dressing ala the ‘Black Bloc‘, they took the opportunity to wreck havoc under the cover of the crowd and confusion of the day. (More coverage here and here.)

Since Oakland is now in the international spotlight, I didn’t want the world to get the impression that Occupy Oakland had become destructive. Out of several thousand peaceful protestors who took part in the General Strike, it was only a few dozen who lashed out. When I saw an event posted on Facebook, “Occupy Oakland Clean up today“, I felt more personally moved to act than at any time since the occupation began three weeks ago.

It was my 39th birthday, and I wanted to spend it picking up trash and scrubbing down defaced buildings with noxious chemicals.

I rode my bike down to Frank Ogawa Plaza on a dreary Thursday and ordered a sandwich and a mocha for sustenance and warmth from a proud Asian cafe owner wearing an “I am the 99%” button. Surveying the camp through a thankfully unbroken window while I gathered my strength, the scene was active, but calm.

Once fortified, I made my way to the supply tent and inquired how I could help. “Grab a bag and pick up any trash you find. Simple as that,” said a frazzled young black man. With plastic garbage bag in hand, I slowly wandered around the plaza, picking up broken tent poles, cigarette butts, and used paper plates. While cleaning the front steps of City Hall, a text came in from my friend saying that he had just arrived. Unsurprisingly for a theatre playwright, Iggy showed up looking as dapper as Dick Van Dyke.

Together we found a street corner down the block where graffiti-removal efforts were already underway. We grabbed scrub brushes and went to work, using one of two available chemicals – one a milky-grey liquid worked well enough, the other an iridescent goo was like magic. After getting off the worst of the graffiti from one building, we moved onto the one across the street when the city power washers came by to finish the job, but the stone on this one was much more porous and was an uphill battle between 5 of us trying to make a difference.

Iggy and I split up, and I joined a couple of young women who had been with us on the first corner, and we tackled a small section of wall right next to the main plaza. A man with a nice looking Canon started chatting with me, and asked if I’d be willing to say a few words on camera about it being my birthday and how I felt about what had happened the night before. It turned out he was from Time magazine, trying to cover a different angle than the sensational account made by another reporter. I then rejoined Iggy at the street corner in front of Tully’s coffee to work on the BART elevator in the picture above. As you can see, even with scrubs and chemicals, removing graffiti is hard work, but it felt good to be making an effort, showing both the city and the world that the actions of a few don’t speak for the movement as a whole. My friend eventually took his leave, and as I stood pondering where to work next, a woman with a reporters’ notebook came up to me to ask me a few questions. I answered in much the same fashion as the first interview, and when we were done I asked who she worked for, and she told me the Associated Press.

That night, the San Francisco Chronicle picked up the article featuring my quote as a spokesman for responsible and peaceful demonstration. That article also showed up in LouisianaIndiana, and several other California local online news outlets. Little did I know when I left the house with my conviction that I would be able to share it so widely.

Done with scrubbing but not with helping out, I found myself wandering near the food tent staged right next to City Hall. Once again, I asked how I could help, and a frantic woman exclaimed, “Oh gods yes, I haven’t had a break in hours. Put on some gloves and serve people what they want.” So I spent the next several hours serving vegan minestrone soup, spiced sweet potatoes, and made dozens of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The line was never-ending, but I found it heart-warming to see all the different faces, some confused, some tired, most just happy to be given a warm bowl of soup on a rainy day.

In typical Hobbit fashion, I gave the gifts of my time and energy on my birthday, and what I received in return was worth far more than any commercial product could possibly provide.


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An American Police State – Occupy Oakland

Posted by Ted on Oct 27, 2011 in Causes, Events, Politics

Yesterday morning I felt as if I had woken up in a Middle Eastern police state. In a pre-dawn raid, several hundred police in riot gear tore through Oakland’s Frank Ogawa plaza to disperse the peaceful Occupy Oakland demonstrators. One first-hand report noted;

“It was brutal. Over 300 police in full riot gear fired tear gas, rubber bullets and flash bombs. [..] Then they started pushing us back with barricades and when we didn’t move as fast as they wished, they began grabbing people and trying to drag them over the fences. There was a struggle and then they came from behind the barricades swinging clubs and arresting everyone they could get their hands on… Slamming their faces into the concrete… many of them women. I barely got away. [..] They DESTROYED EVERYTHING in the camp… this was no eviction.”

Photo: Jane Tyska

This is the same camp that I’d seen just a week earlier where people had set up a food kitchen, information kiosk, media tent powered by bicycle, and a medical tent. (Short video here.) They held informal caucuses to discuss politics and corporate policy, speeches, and sing-alongs. After the raid it looked as if a cyclone had blown through.

Last night the violence continued as the Oakland PD used tear gas, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, and flashbangs to break up protesters who had marched through the streets, and yet denied doing so this morning. They made it seem like a minimal police action by saying;

At approximately 7:45pm, officers began to deploy gas after issuing the order to disperse. We have received no reports of injuries at the time of this release.

Following that understatement, the police report then goes into a scripted Q&A with such highlights as;

“Q. Did the Police deploy rubber bullets, flash-bag grenades? A. No, the loud noises that were heard originated from M-80 explosives thrown at Police by protesters.

Elizabeth Flock of The Washington Post has a detailed blog post compiling tweets of photos showing evidence of such use.

The bogus Q&A goes on;

“Q. Did the Police use tear gas? A. Yes, the Police used a limited amount of tear gas for a small area as a defense against protesters.

Does this look 'limited' to you?

(A video of multiple shots of tear gas being fired)
(SF Chronicle coverage)

Lastly, the Oakland PD’s grossly inaccurate Q&A states;

“Q. Where there any injures? A. At this time, there are no reported injuries.

The biggest counter to this innocent claim is the fact that Scott Olsen, a 24 year old US Marine Veteren who survived two tours in Iraq lies less than a mile away from me in Highland Hospital with a fractured skull and brain swelling after he was hit in the head by a bean bag round during the clashes yesterday. He’s currently in “a critical yet stable condition”.

(International Business Times video of Scott Olsen)
(Huffington Post coverage)

One brave young woman via the Occupy Oakland FB page, Chelsea Lohr, was also hurt last night;

I work in an East Oakland preschool. I occupy Oakland for those kids. Those kids that I see, hug, play with, feed, read to, teach. I’ll do anything I can so those kids don’t have to grow up to be adults in a city where money owns everything and cops fire at innocent people. I was hit by some sort of shrapnel tonight, I’m hurt. I can’t go to work tomorrow to say hi to my little friends, mi amigitos, because when I did what I could to change their world- the cops blasted me, us, back. I’ll be back downtown tomorrow, though. On crutches if I have to. Because while being there in class with them matters a lot, Occupying Oakland matters most for those kids.

I spoke with her afterwards and she elaborated even further;

When I first witnessed these 3 and 4 year olds playing ‘cops’ (one child chases the others and pins them to the ground with their arms behind their backs) it really began to hit me how significant these kids’ futures are. Many of these children and their parents are Oakland natives or longtime residents. Their lives are spent largely in and out of poverty, their neighborhoods have all the bad stuff we hear about on the news. When kids create a game out of their understanding of police brutality…that is something worth marching about!

I’ve been going almost every day after work, since the first day of Oakland’s Occupation. Some days at the camp I felt discouraged by stories of people feeling uncomfortable, or seeing public drinking. But each day there was something someone said that redeemed it for me, that reminded me why I was there. Last night was insane. Nothing that happened in the camp or in the protests can compare to or warrant that nightmare. All night I was noting how many elderly people and children and dogs were out marching and I was thrilled “This is great! There are even more diverse faces than before, everyone’s getting out in support!”. Then came time for the running and screaming and I of course worried where those kids were, hadn’t the police seen them? Or the people in the wheelchairs? I knew that they must have. That was the truly, truly scary part.

The lies that the Oakland PD is propagating about their use of violence can’t stand up to eyewitness accounts and the spread of truth by word of mouth, digitally or otherwise. In the span of 48 hours, Oakland has made the world’s headlines, even being covered by Al Jazeera. Cities throughout the U.S. and abroad have publicly voiced their solidarity.

To have this happening in my own backyard, listening to shouts and sirens and helicopters outside my window, feels like a very surreal dream.

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Haiti – A map of Jacmel

Posted by Ted on Apr 5, 2010 in Causes, Technology, Travel

Last night I discovered that Google Maps updated its satellite data of Haiti after the earthquake, including Jacmel where I worked for two weeks, clearing rubble from two schools. This map will serve to complete the travelogue, along with the posts here and the photo gallery.  Clicking on the map should take you to the interactive map which will allow you to zoom in for more detail.

A map of Jacmel, showing some of the places I visited

A map of Jacmel, showing some of the places I visited

It is my hope that it will not only give geographical context to my writings and images, but that it may help future relief workers bound for Jacmel get their bearings. If you are in or recently returned from Jacmel, and would like to add data to this map, please let me know.

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Haiti – An epilogue

Posted by Ted on Mar 20, 2010 in Causes, Travel

During my 57 hour trip home from Jacmel, via U.N. transport, moto-taxis, three planes, BART, and my own two feet, with an overnight in Port-au-Prince and Los Angeles, my thoughts raced, processing the last two weeks.

Especially today, after two nights sleep in real beds, truly alone for the first time in two weeks, I found that I have come away with more questions than answers. Listening to “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley in the hostel near LAX, I wondered what will become of Haiti. There is still so much work to be done, and yet, there is also a sense that the emergency is over, and relief organizations will focus their time and money on the next disaster, leaving the country to fend for itself without the infrastructure to support it.

Already, Haiti seems far away and long ago. Two weeks is not enough time to become so accustomed to a place that home doesn’t feel like home. I flip through the photos on my camera, and they are at once familiar and strange. While stopped at the Daly City BART station, I looked out the window and saw houses in one piece, wondering where the rubble was. I thought about “the Big One” that will happen sometime, maybe even sooner than later what with all of the earthquakes in the first three months of the year – Haiti, Chile, Taiwan, and Cuba just today. Mother Earth is restless. When it’s our turn, will our buildings fare better? One hopes.

At West Oakland, I looked out to the port, the container loaders lined up, ready to transfer cargo to and from ships, a pit-stop on the road of commerce. There were thousands of containers, probably empty, stacked high and wide, and I wished that some of the wasted relief money could go towards sending them to Haiti, and converting them into housing that would survive the coming rainy and hurricane seasons. How much would it cost to buy, ship, distribute, and convert these useful castoffs of consumerism?

Before Fruitvale I looked at the passengers on the train as we passed the local Goodwill distribution center, wondering how long it would be until their tshirts, emblazoned with American pop culture, would end up discarded, donated, and shipped off to third world countries like Haiti, only to end up in the markets for meager profit.

As I walked home, I felt uneasy, noting that the streets were too clean, without moto-taxis and colorful tap-taps communicating with each other through their horns. Buildings were standing and there were no tents or rubble to navigate past. Now in the comfort of home, a weariness sets in as I wait for my love to come home, looking forward to being quiet, and holding each other, thankful for our privileged lives.

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