The day they evicted the Occupy Oakland protesters, the helicopters came back. They hovered over downtown all day, hanging in the sky like giant house flies. Eventually, my mind tuned out their incessant buzzing, but they were still there each time my eyes turned upward.
I had an evening meeting in Jack London Square, so after school I walked the mile-and-a-half through downtown Oakland where the protesters and policed had re-gathered for another round of their complicated dance.
The protesters looked relaxed, signs slung casually over their shoulders. They were talking on i-phones and sipping sodas from McDonalds. And I marveled that this is how we fight capitalism. Many of the protesters were young, with babies or dogs or bicycles in tow. A man stood on the steps of the public library speaking into a loud-speaker, and the crowd repeated his words in unison so the people further back could hear.
The police looked tense, gripping their night sticks with determination and white knuckles. At the city center, they were wearing riot gear and holding clear plastic shields in front of them, even though nothing was happening yet. I could count the zip-tie handcuffs hanging from their belts. I tried to make eye contact with them, but their eyes are hidden behind helmets.
Later, when the protesters began marching, the noise escalated and sirens blared. The protest moved like a giant, undulating creatures as it made its way down 14th to Broadway. The police surrounded it on all sides, making me think of ants attacking a long, sluggish worm.
I hurried to get a head of the protesters, and for a moment I occupied the empty space between the front line of marchers and the front line of police. The police were trotting towards me, shoulder-to-shoulder, with shotguns drawn and loaded with tear gas canisters. The protesters were pushing behind me, shouting threats from behind a heavy banner, “We are the 99%.”
For a moment, I feared the police wouldn’t let me through. But as I passed them, one of the heavily armed officers made eye contact with me and said, “How are you?”
And I answered, honestly: “I’m scared.”
And I offered a silent prayer that the children I play with every day, the children who live in this neighborhood, would get home safely.
The morning after Occupy Oakland shut down the Port, my phone rang just before 7 am.
It was my mom, and I was still sleeping. Groggy, I answered and she asked if I was okay. Oakland had made the news again and it all sounded sensational from far away. She hoped that I was smart enough to leave before there was trouble, before darkness fell and chaos was unleashed.
I had to get up and go to work. There were children who were waiting to see me smile and make them laugh. My legs ached: it was a long walk from downtown to the water’s edge. I rolled my shoulders and stretched my hands, waking up.
I was there, I tell my mom, but I didn’t see trouble.
I saw dogs and babies and bicycles. I saw banners and drum circles and hipsters. I saw anarchist trucks handing out free ice cream, shuttles safely carrying people with disabilities in and out, ministers laying hands and praying over protesters. I saw marching bands and Dia de los Muertos costumes and Guy Fawkes masks. I saw friends and strangers and people with bullhorns and dance parties and a really amazing view of the sunset over San Francisco.
I might have seen change. But I did not see trouble.
As my mother hoped, I left when darkness fell, and I was not there for vandalism or violence. I was marching with friends, many of whom have been arrested at protests or have been victims of police brutality. We collectively voted to leave before the trouble began, so we made the long trek back out of the Port, encountering no opposition or police.
It takes courage, patience, perseverance to work for change. These are times when many are rising, joining, creatively attempting to do their part. I am not one of those who is brave enough to leave my own life in order to make a stand. But I did feel like I needed to be there, to be a part of it in some way.
And in order to witness, the story has to be told.
What has been your experience with the Occupy protests? How do you work for or embody change in your own life? How is the message of the Occupy movement changing (or not) your economic decisions? What do you think can be a faithful response to the current economic crisis in America?