"Some people just like to protest" said the billionaire mayor. Historically many in Berkeley do like to protest. Naturally, a suitable site amid the banks downtown has been seized as Occupy Berkeley in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and similar protests in cities everywhere.
Berkeley always seems occupied these days. Whenever a demonstration of any size of any legal sort takes place on campus or the surrounding streets, they fly helicopters over the town. This goes on sometimes for hours. Not only does it bear down punitively on the protest in question it sends an oppressive signal out to the population at large. Add to this frequent visits by news copters and you have a lot of unnecessary and nerve-wracking noise.
When I learned the location of Occupy Berkeley one day last week, I walked over to check it out. With a little sneaky feeling I stopped at an ATM belonging to a fellow crook bank which is located across the street from the bank of amerika where the local occupation was at. The corner of the block is the fortress-like BoA building, designed no doubt while it was under regular attack in the late sixties. Out of the very corner of its concrete slab is carved a semi-circle of benches which is handy to two bus stops. Too gloomy at night for many people, it's a temporary refuge for the lost.
But it was now a liberated zone with tables and signs, some food and supplies around back, and rain tarps suspended over it all, more festive than bleak. I greeted the familiar Berkeley ward captain of the streets Ghostchaser who was holding the fort. In fact few others were present on a lovely October day. She told me the recent history of the movement. I surmised that any of the real hell-raisers would go to San Francisco or Oakland where someone told me the adrenaline is high. Protest in the city of Berkeley is so anticipated and so tolerated that Occupy Berkeley is no challenge.
Ghostchaser wears a rhinestone cap over her long white braided-hair and has cute bunny teeth. She has a good sense of humor when you can hold her attention, but is more content to give you simultaneous multiple personal accounts in detail which fortunately are often funny. She has the floor now with her all-night tales of installing the village.
I've noticed another occupant stationed in the street-most seat. Ghostcatcher soon brings her up only to complain that she keeps asking her to bring her food. And yes, as if out of film made by John Waters starring Eddie Murphy, it's an enormous fat black lady who radiates helpless need and profuse gratitude as people do indeed bring her food. She is like the poster child for the danger of dependancy and, while she is certainly a victim of the society that Occupy aims to protest, she puts a unrepresentative face on it.
(And in that spot she remains while the nice weather holds up. When I visited on Monday she had a transistor radio cranked to distortion playing AM radio. For several minutes a hyped-up voice, spieling, "MacDonalds and Coke what a combination," rang out across the plaza. It seemed to defeat the purpose of a protest against corporate power.)
A few street fellows come and go. A tall black man in dashiki-wear plays a strange flute. Passersby tend to either ignore or sympathize with the scene, no unwelcoming looks. Quite a few stop to read to talk to anyone available, to put some money in the jar; others donate food.
Saturday was of course world Occupy Wall Street day and was a big day at the Berkeley microcosm. I set out with leisure and stopped for a while in civic center park where flags flew wildly over the fountain area. A Latin band in crisp shirts provided dance music for enthusiasts and first-timers. The farmer's market quite filled center street offering the cornucopia of autumn to the shiny shoppers.
There certainly were snacks as well at the Occupy site. Ghostcatcher and another lady with long platinum hair were coordinating a larger group of protestors and interested pedestrian traffic. Observing the available materials, I made a sign using a slogan I'd seen on-line adding a little tweak of my own. In careful poster lettering it read:
"I'LL BELIEVE THAT CORPORATIONS ARE PEOPLE WHEN TEXAS EXECUTES ONE"
(The sign was moved to a prominent spot and remains there after a week. People take photos of it. The line has also turned up in a Doonesbury cartoon.)
As I finished with it and attached it to a humble position on the all-but-buried map-kiosk, the main body of the protestors were heading back down toward the park. They were bound for the old city hall to hold a general assembly. I went along part way and was going to remain in the park until I saw the little clutches of bike cops. I decided to increase the numbers showing up just to annoy cops, or whoever it may annoy.
I'm not annoyed myself, but tiring quickly of a new phenomenon. Before leaving the main location people had been addressing the crowd using what I read was called "the human microphone." Popular at Occupy Wall Street where loud-speakers are banned, a person speaks a line and stops while everyone who heard him repeats the line so everyone else will hear it. It's very spirit-of-the-beehive and a no doubt a useful tool, but it got a bit twee when the general assembly commenced and a speaker began using a microphone and loud-speaker. They all fell into the same call-response pattern repeating what he said even though everyone could easily hear it. It begins to feel a little group-mind creepy at that point.
It was time for me to shuffle anyway so I did. Leaving by the southern walkway I quickly observed that another gaggle of bike cops was having a pow-wow at the end of it. Would I defer to them and scramble across a bumpy lawn to exit or would I walk on forcing them to move for me?
Anarchist or not I expect courtesy from cops.
Tonight after dinner I walked around the neighborhood as the crepuscular light deepened into darkness. I kept an eye for homes decorated for Hallowe'en and saw a few. They mostly bore the gleeful signs of children--a handmade colorful sign reading, "Beware of graveyard!" for example.
As I returned home I observed odd bright lights stationary in the southern sky. They were not UFOs though, but helicopters hovering over Oakland where the whip has come down.
(draft--more to follow)