By Eric Louie
April 14, 2012
The directions said the meeting would be held in a spray-painted building next to the railroad tracks.
It sounded like an interesting location for a 99% Spring Training session, the nationwide effort going on this week to train 100,000 activists in preparation for actions on May 1 and beyond. The goal is to get more citizens talking about the issues and to encourage participation in what is expected to include mass, non-violent, direct action and civil disobedience. The trainings started this week, with most being held this weekend.
The training sessions have created much in the way of heated discussion within Occupy, with some openly calling into question the intentions of labor, MoveOn.org and the Democratic Party. It is feared these organizations are co-opting the Occupy movement for electioneering purposes and, by doing so, are propping up a failed political system in dire need of comprehensive reform.
Others believe Occupy is an all-encompassing movement and must include all voices (except the 1 percent and non-breathing corporations of course); that labor has the resources and the organizational expertise to achieve realistic goals.
The meeting I attended Wednesday evening was held at the Ozcat Culture Center in Vallejo. I figured a 40-minute drive North would provide an opportunity to meet others outside of the larger cities of Oakland and San Francisco. (In full disclosure, by the time I signed up online, most of the sessions, including those recommended by my union, were full and I didn’t feel like gate-crashing).
The roughly 40 people in attendance at the community center were in their 40s and above, including some retirees – but there were some younger people in attendance as well.
On padded office chairs and couches, we sat encircled around a laptop computer to watch a series of short videos interspersed with discussions and role-playing in between. Guillermo Herrera, 31, of Vallejo, also known as Dr. G on his Ozcat radio station show, led the video session segment.
A wide range of historical movements, including the movement to abolish slavery; the women’s suffrage movement; the civil rights movement; the farm workers labor movement; HIV/AIDS advocacy, as well as more present-day struggles including immigration policy, climate change, corporate personhood, campaign finance reform, globalization and the exploitation of cheap, outsourced labor, were discussed.
Non-violence and its ability to achieve goals, including generating positive public perception, were stressed. Suggestions included lowering one’s voice to calm down a heated situation and standing relaxed with hands to the side. There was also a demonstration on how to de-escalate a potential confrontation with an irate bank employee.
Though non-violent protest action is being stressed to reach common objectives, the irate bank employee scenario was the only type of confrontation discussed. One woman asked, “What’s the point if you don’t draw attention to yourself?” And though there was literature outlining the types of non-violent direct action that may be employed during protests, as well as information on how to deal with law enforcement and potential arrest, these issues were not discussed in much detail.
In attendance included a nurse at Napa State Hospital who is also an SEIU shop steward, a public school teacher who said it will be difficult for students to demonstrate May 1 because of end-of-term exams, and a plumber who lamented newly-constructed homes are being offered for sale at prices buyers can’t afford. Many in attendance are fighting foreclosure or have become foreclosure refugees.
During the meeting, Herrera collected emails he will use to help organize an Occupy group in Vallejo. He is planning a May 1 protest event at City Hall before caravans shuttle Vallejo demonstrators to join up with Occupy Oakland for planned mass-protest actions.
Julie Voice, 29, a Vallejo native, said she was inspired to see more grassroots activism occurring in her hometown. A single mom and proprietor of a coffee shop, Voice – who had to walk away from an underwater mortgage – said because of her busy schedule, she has been unable to attend as many Occupy protest events as she would have liked.
“I have been looking for a way in,” she said. “I don’t usually have time for this kind of stuff.”
For more information go to http://the99spring.com.
Eric Louie is covering the Occupy movements for The Newspaper Guild-Communication Workers of America Local 39521.