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Will The Real Occupy Berkeley Please Stand Up? (News Analysis)

By Ted Friedman
Friday November 11, 2011 - 02:13:00 PM

As Occupy Oakland vies with Occupy Manhattan for world-attention, and Occupy Cal revives memories of the sixties' Free Speech Movement (40 arrests in two days), Occupy Berkeley is struggling to find its voice amid a vast national movement of same-sayers. 

Will the real Occupy Berkeley please stand up? 

After more than a month, the still fledgling Occupy Berkeley movement is positioned to carry the banner of the City of Berkeley into the battle against money-sucking corporations. 

With nary an arrest, and the support of the City of Berkeley and its police, Occupy Berkeley may be starting to see its strength--longevity and community activism. 

Discussion at Thursday's planning meeting--the ideological core of OB--focused on whether to merge with Cal or stick to its own principals. As some dedicated participants in the small meeting (20) are realizing, OB speaks for Berkeley while OC speaks for university students. 

While some OBers note that Cal is a big chunk of Berkeley and entitled to its fair share of representation, others say the students' issues are narrow--especially tuition complaints. Some see OC as an upstart. "It's too early to judge them; they just started," said a Thursday member of the general assembly.  

The divide--if it is a divide--is currently a hot topic on the Occupy Berkeley Google Groups discussion forum as it was at Thursday's planning meeting. The competition from a nearby occupy movement (Cal), which has not yet acknowledged OB as comrades-in-arms, may be facilitating OB to define itself. 

Occupy Berkeley is presently a homeless encampment . Berkeley and Oakland homeless citizens pitched their tents in October when it became apparent that OB had succeeded in encamping despite a city directive against overnight camping. 

Although initially there were tensions between the homeless encampment and the occupiers, those tensions have eased as homeless citizens have voluntarily worked in occupies' interests--and their own. 

A key person from the homeless encampment has pitched his commodious tent with Occupy and has emerged as a key security resource, who recently rid the encampment of troublesome drug users, who had encamped at the South east corner of Civic Center Park near a Berkeley High School lawn lunch-spot. 

According to the unsung hero, the departure will keep police Chief Michael K. Meehan, his lieutenant, and Mayor Tom Bates from stumbling over syringes as they make their regular goodwill tours of the park. 

Camp security, which has its own reports at general assemblies, although untrained and mostly un-appointed, has done enough of a good job that Chief Meehan told me Tuesday at City Council, he regards the encampment, "an effective protest." 

Emerging late Tuesday from city council, OB's neighbor, I walked into the middle of a camp security "intervention", enforced by OBers encamped that night, and homeless campers. The fracas involved an alleged sex-offense, a tempest in a tent, in the OB tent encampment, but involving homeless citizens of Oakland. 

Another unsung hero from the homeless encampment forcefully escorted the alleged perp from the camp. When the accused returned, he was finally yelled out of the park by Raven, self-appointed head of camp security. 

Ersatz or not, it worked. It's all good at camp OB. For now.  

City manager Phil Kalmarz told me Tuesday he plans no actions against the camp, and that from the city manager's point of view "things are going well in the city's maintenance of the park." Asked whether his hands-off policy could burden his interim successor (Kalmarz leaves office Nov. 25th), Kalmarz replied, "I'm against burdens." 

City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Max Anderson, and Jesse Arreguín succeeded in a "baby step" towards council endorsement of OB with the passage Tuesday of a council approval of a Cal Faculty endorsement of the national anti-Wall Street movement. 

With all this support from the City of Berkeley, the ball is now in OB's court. 

In fact, OB is feeding and supporting a tent city of homelessness sandwiched between old and new City Hall. Sometimes the favor is returned, as when the homeless cooked up a meal and delivered it to the general assembly last week, or when homeless citizens participate in GA. 

Occupy Cal, which is in conflict with its university's encampment policies, and having its tents regularly confiscated, is unable to provide community services. Some OBers have suggested the city reimburse them for their social service activities. 

Another faction within the GA recommends aligning with as yet unformed "regional spokescouncils," and "affinity groups" which might stage large regional actions. But, according to another participant, an "inter-communications working group" has "dissolved" like other working groups, which have either languished or are re-forming. 

A discussed action to "shut down Chase" downtown has been postponed until next week, while issues involving a co-operative downtown action with Cal can be resolved. 

The Chase action, which is now being vetted for effectiveness by the GA, may have grown out of the charge from a camp key-person (there are no leaders) that OB was "wimpy and ball-less." Some of the big balls have been caught up in the hormonal upsurge at Cal and may not return to allegedly "ball-less" occupy. 

Hormones or homeless? Stay tuned as Berkeley's indigenous Occupy community writes a new chapter in Berkeley's history of political activism. 


Ted Friedman is now known at Occupy as "Uncle Ted," (see Ted's "Occupy Yourself" commentary in Planet and Thomas Lord's, "About Ted's Position").