Hello, I’m Nancy and I’m a Blogger
When I started singing at Occupy Oakland and Occupy Berkeley events, I started writing about them but didn’t have a blog set up to post these pieces on.
Then we decided to have an Occupella website, and now, with the help of my daughter, Nancy Ibsen, internet maven, I have a home for my blog. Sometimes I write about moments, like the five Buddhist monks walking by us in their orange robes when we were singing at the Montgomery Street BART station, one carrying a matching bottle of orange juice. Sometimes I write little stories.
My other blog, Writing Malvina, is about writing a book on my mother, Malvina Reynolds, with snippets from my source material, and sometimes it's about what I do in between writing.
Saturday, Feb 21, 2015: Police Conduct and Net Neutrality
Lately I’ve been going to a lot of demonstrations, some with Occupella, some without. Here is a report on two I attended by myself.
A week and a half ago the Berkeley City Council finally took up the issue of police conduct during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in December, after postponing twice. Students organized a demonstration to march through downtown Berkeley from the west end of the UC campus to Old City Hall, where the council meets. The students designated three “elders” to be monitors along with the younger ones. I didn’t volunteer because I was going to duck out when we got to city hall; I go to a writing workshop every Tuesday night and never the to go to city council meetings. Poor me! So I got to leave just as the speeches started and go home to a perfectly cooked pork chop and then on to hear more amazing writing. My life is full of high-energy demonstrations and listening to deep writing and I guess that’s some kind of balance, with laundry and tooth brushing in between.
I like going to a demonstration and finding most of the faces unfamiliar. For a while I walked next to a tall thin white kid. He told me he had been having coffee in a place on Shattuck, watching a helicopter-eye view of a Black Lives Matter protest march and then he looked out the window and there it was in real life so he joined it. He said he didn’t think it would do much good. I said here it might. He said yes, if it will help anywhere it will be in Berkeley. I told him Richmond was pulling ahead of Berkeley in the hopefulness department, facing down Chevron in the last election. He had no idea, thought Chevron owned the town, said when you get off BART, there Chevron is, all over everything. But their millions couldn’t buy them an election. So maybe one kid is more hopeful now.
The council put a moratorium on the use of tear gas and over the shoulder baton strikes against peaceful demonstrators (whatever that means) until further study is done.
Friday I went on my first demonstration for net neutrality. I was pleasantly surprised at the mix, old as well as young, and black leadership. We gathered at noon at the Comcast store on University, a youngish black woman led chants and gave a speech that drew laughs from the crowd at Comcast’s expense, then we marched in the street (I didn’t expect this but the city did, they had police cars helping block the cross-streets) singing “Which Side Are You On” and chanting, the four blocks to the Verizon store on Shattuck where there were more speeches but I didn’t hear them because I was holding up a sign (Don’t Block My Internet) at the corner so people crossing Shattuck at Center could see what the crowd a few doors down was about. Okay, if you came in late, here’s what it’s about. Net neutrality, according to Wikipedia is “the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.” The concept affects not just pricing but speed of loading.
So most of the demonstrators were there as activists, wanting their small organizations’ websites to continue to reach people as easily as the big commercial sites do. I was there as an activist but also as a small business owner (Sisters’ Choice Recordings and Books) and I want my website to load on your computer as quickly as Amazon’s without my having to pay extra.
P. S. Today is my eightieth birthday.
Saturday, Feb 7, 2015: March for Real Climate Leadership
For me, the March for Real Climate Leadership starts in the North Berkeley BART station. I am wearing my bee antennae and my blue rain jacket (we were supposed to wear blue to stand for water). I drift towards a couple of women who look like they might be going to the march. They smile, so I join them. Both are going to the march, both teachers and activists, so we have a lively conversation all the way to Grant/Ogawa Plaza. We are coming early for various reasons but the plaza is already lively with people and signs and banners. We split up and I make my way across the face of City Hall towards the Animals Against Extinction banner but am stopped in my tracks by a large chorus singing a beautiful song in a language I don’t know. It is the Oceania Coalition of Northern California. Their banner says: “Pacific Islands/Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia/We are not drowning, we are fighting/For our Mokopuna.” Afterwards, I look up mokopuna. It means grandchild or young person.
When the song is over, I walk on and find Bonnie and one of our singers just setting up. More lively conversation. I spot fellow activist Margaret holding a big white circle with a white twiggy thing on top, can’t figure out what she is supposed to be until I see the other parts—she is holding one of the vertebrae and ribs of a whale. The Pacific Islanders form another circle with Idle No More, sing a song, then Pennie Opal Plant of Idle No More suggests that the islanders with their two huge banners (the other says “Our tides are too high/So we rise”) lead the parade and Idle No More (the mainland indigenous people) follow them.
Hali and Forest come, tune up, and we start singing. People are suiting up in insect costumes. We attract a circle of singers, then a couple of videographers. Marianne comes in her bee costume with her uke. Then a washboard player and a banjo join us. The labor group forms up behind the indigenous groups. They all start marching and we follow them to the turnoff where we are going to cut across town and meet them as they come down along Lake Merritt. We pass an ecumenical table and are offered grape juice in compostable cups. I spot an old friend and give her a flyer for my upcoming birthday concert at the Freight and Salvage Coffee House, which will be a fundraiser for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. We walk down 15th Street, it’s so downtown Oakland, a bail bondsman between two art galleries.
We reach the lake in plenty of time to rest on a bench and enjoy the sunshine, then when we see the police on motorcycles clearing the street we station ourselves in front of the Scottish Rite Auditorium where no cars are parked. The indigenous groups pass us, then I begin to see a few familiar faces in the crowd and a heartening number of strangers and think to myself, this is better than drugs. We sing as people of all sorts keep walking by or dropping out for a bit to join us, we take breaks during the passages of two brass bands, and finally fall in behind the last marchers, heading toward the white awnings of the booths we can see a few blocks away at the amphitheater at the end of the lake.
Then the rain starts. It’s heavy, but I’m close enough to a big eucalyptus tree that I can take shelter before I get too wet, and the shower is over in minutes. It’s warm and sunny again from then on. I ask someone I know if any of the booths are selling food, she says “Here, have the rest of my Chinese take-out, I don’t want any more.” Then I run into my friends from Petaluma who had been looking for Occupella to sing with us but somehow missed us, so we find a bench and eat our lunch and snacks. Meanwhile, someone from CRPE has opened the program from the stage and two people have spoken in Spanish. Lunch done, we relinquish our bench to others and wander about. I stop to listen to a terrific African-American speaker from Southern California tell us how Occidental Oil wanted to put 200 wells in her small community but they fought them off for three years and then the price of oil dropped so Occidental wasn’t interested any more. We all cheer.
I head back towards the 12th Street BART station but someone tells me the Lake Merritt station is closer so I head that way, kid around with a couple of Native Americans as we wait for the Richmond train. I arrive home exhausted and exhilarated. Probably not as exhausted as the people who came on the bus from San Diego. Or the organizers of all this, bless them.
When we went to the big anti-fracking rally in Sacramento last March, we were disappointed in how little publicity it got in Bay Area papers; this march is the lead story, with lots of photographs, on the Oakland Tribune website, and gets pretty good placement on SFGate (the SF Chronicle online).
Photo by George Killingsworth
Sunday, Jan 25, 2015: Black Lives Matter
Occupella has been doing Black Lives Matter sings at BART stations since December 12. As we do this, we have been learning how to be allies. The group is usually all white, and at our first sing, at the Berkeley station, someone showed up with an “I can’t breathe” sign, to which a passerby took exception. Now we have signs about justice and peace and Black Lives Matter. At Orinda, someone questioned why our signs said “Black Lives Matter” instead of “All Lives Matter.” Now we have a leaflet explaining why, when we talk about police accountability, we say “Black Lives Matter,” not “All Lives Matter.” Of course all lives matter, but the fact is that for various reasons, most of them having to do with discrimination, black life expectancy in the United States is shorter than white life expectancy.
Our song sheets have worked well, with both black and white commuters occasionally joining in on the well-known songs. One very young black man joined in on “I can hear my neighbor crying, ‘I can’t breathe’” which he probably heard on twitter. I learned it from facebook. So the fact that the music of the movement isn’t being picked up by national radio and TV and the big recording companies as it was in the sixties isn’t keeping it from getting where it’s needed. The song sheets are on our website.
I don’t feel eighty, but my knees do. It isn’t as easy to march as it used to be. Monday, the Martin Luther King holiday, I don’t join the march at Fruitvale Station but I get there an hour early, at the invitation of Nanci Armstrong-Temple, to help her lead singing for the children. I watch the young competent women--and a few men--organizing the children’s activities before the march. I was one of those young competent woman organizing with Women’s Strike for Peace back in the day. We were mostly white, these are mostly black. They set up tables with paints and paper and cardboard and markers for kids to make signs and paint pictures of our community, what we love. They have marked off the children’s area in front of the beignet place (“Get powdered!”) with the agreement of the owner and laid down plastic tarps for children and their adults to sit on as we sing. They have designated two people for security to make sure children don’t play by the fountain, the shopping center security guard doesn’t like that.
And here he is, tall, young, black, in uniform, to say that we need to move; he doesn’t want children here when the march starts at 11. They must be upstairs in the play area. Our folks negotiate, we get to stay till 10:30. A couple of kids are holding handmade signs saying “My Life Matters.” We start the singing with “This Little Light of Mine,” people suggest verses, then Nanci introduces a song I don’t know, an oldie called “High Hopes” about ants working together to do something big.
In the middle of the second verse, a woman reminds me that it’s nearly 10:30. I cut off the song at the end of the second verse saying “Now we’re going to do something ants are good at. We’ll pick up our stuff and make a line--you’ve seen ants do this--and we’ll follow the leader” which they do, and Nanci leads them up the stairs to a surprisingly inviting play area on the roof, a lawn surrounded by play structures. The kids scatter for the equipment, but after a few minutes play, the older ones surprise me by coming back to the circle for a teach-in on struggle and allies. The teachers ask the kids to go to two stations--one for people of color and one for allies--and make both groups sound equally important. They emphasize to the adults that it is the ethnicity the children identify with that count here, not that of the parents. The kids go to their areas and the teach-in begins. As I leave, I pass the allies group. The teachers have a chart up and are talking about the troubles and dangers in the lives of people of color. The kids are listening.
It is not just that I remember being a thirty-year-old activist in the sixties. I remember going to rallies and picket lines and NAACP meetings with my parents when I was a kid in the forties, and I don’t remember anything like this.
Comment from Vicki posted 1-26-2015:
If there is any chance that you might not be the only blogger ever, Nancy, I suggest that the blog entries have a place for the blogger's name. I like that most of the posts have the date and place and event clearly marked. This might be an important historical source some day!
Thanks for the report on the children's activities. Children should be welcome at marches--the security guard should know that. Too bad he doesn't.
Comment from Nancy Schimmel posted 1-26-2015:
99% of the writing here is mine, and if it's somebody else's they are identified.
Saturday, Aug 9, 2014: Our Power Day of Action
Bonnie and I went to the Our Power Day of Action yesterday not as Occupella but as ourselves. We arranged to meet at the Richmond Greenway (not at all green in a drought-year August, but home to some lovely raised beds of sunflowers and tomatoes), where the rally would be the last event of the four-day Our Power conference which drew environmental justice activists from all over the world.
I got to the Greenway too late to hear the delegate from Mozambique, but heard some fascinating and soulful speeches from local organizers from Richmond, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles, and a militant gardening song in corrido style. I did get to hear Ana Manuela de Jesus Chã of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brasil, in which landless people are now moving into a large tract of forest marked for lumbering. They are building shelter, planting seeds. They mean to stay. They need the land, we need the forests not to be cut down. This is the intersection of social justice and environmental issues that I have been interested in since the eighties, when I met Carl Anthony and took his Race, Poverty and the Environment class at Cal.
After the speeches, people from the Richmond Laotian community led a traditional ceremony. They brought a white and green and red tower maybe three feet high to the stage and surrounded it with flowers and food and wine. An elder spoke and then we all held hands, people moving in to connect the lines of people holding hands in the audience to the people on the stage, and he blessed us all.
The sound system was powered by enthusiastic bicyclists.
Then I wandered around the gardens, booths, food trucks, art projects and groups of chatting people. My neighbor Jean was there, and Aaron who teaches gardening and cooking to children and two or three other familiar faces, but not many. To me the amazing thing about the organizers and attendees was the number of young people of all ethnicities. I am so used to grey-haired peace marchers and Sierra Club volunteers, but the environmental justice movement is drawing in teens and twenty-somethings.
I hadn’t found Bonnie yet so I decided to BART home (the way I had come) instead of trying to connect with her for a ride. I started walking up Sixteenth Street and there she was, walking down. She had gotten lost on the way from her gig in Walnut Grove. So I walked back with her and we listened to the music. We heard a young African-American hip-hop artist do an a cappella rap about mindfulness and being in the moment. He was good. Bonnie went up and got his info. You can see “Mindfulness” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71kFGRCL8is. He works with the Mindful LIfe Project and tries to reach kids through the music they like. We talked to Margaret Rossoff,who works with Sunflower Alliance, about the upcoming People’s Climate Rally in Oakland on Sunday, September 21, 2-5pm, in support of the big 350 climate justice demonstration that weekend in New York City. Bonnie and I can’t go to either one; we’ll be at the Children’s Music Network gathering near DC.
Thursday, May 15, 2014: Four Demonstrations in Two Days
Thursday morning I take BART to Grant/Ogawa Plaza for the 8:30 action against building a coal port on the old army base on Alameda which would bring coal in open train cars through West Oakland, an area with extremely high rates of childhood asthma. I had asthma as a kid. I go to these things. The rest of Occupella is working at this hour, so I’m just here as me, not to sing.
Today is also Bike to Work Day so the paved part of the plaza is full of bikers eating free pancake breakfasts, chatting, picking up bike info at booths. At first I can’t find the demonstration. I do see lines of police blocking the two entrances to the Rotunda Building where the developer’s office is, so I figure I’m in the right place. I see Kristina, who hasn’t found it either. She’s a biker, so she’s earned a breakfast. She goes off with her pancakes to hear the biker’s raffle.
Then I see the banners up on the steps to the lawn. I go up and stand next to the end guy, who turns out to be Jack Fleck, who has written some parodies we use. He tells me about a Bike Music thing that will be part of a Lake Merritt celebration on Sunday, September 20. He’ll be providing the political part of the program, and would Occupella like to sing? I think we would.
I see my neighbors, Jean and Henry, with their daughters and grandchildren. I tell Jean I like to be at a demo where I know a few people but most I don’t. Lots of young people at this one. Several groups have organized this—some doing banners, some doing the street theater, which we parade over to the Rotunda Building entrance to see. A bunch of young folks in hazmat suits spread out a big tarp and proceed to dump barrels of “coal” on it. The wind blows the black dust. They stick a “Coal—hazardous to health” sign in the pile and surround it with yellow caution tape, then walk around asking us to please avoid breathing. You can see it here along with the day’s best teeshirts: SEIU on the front, a cobra on the back captioned “Will strike if provoked.” The crew cleans it all up as we disperse.
I head for BART but am stopped by some interesting flyers in a window facing the plaza and realize it’s the new location of Laurel Books. It opens at 10:00 and it’s 9:40, so I go into Talavera Cafe for a latte but see a sign for a hot plantain drink, atol de platano. I’ve never heard of it, so I order a small one. I like it. I ask what’s in it. Plantain, water, sugar and cinnamon.
I head for the bookstore and am greeted by a familiar face from their old location on MacArthur. This store is bigger and lighter. I find my current favorite writing notebooks, Decomposition Books (100% post-consumer recycled paper, pretty covers) and buy one with a sloth on the cover. I write about the demonstration on the way home on BART, have a quick lunch and nap, and head out for the next one: postal workers at the West Oakland Post Office at 2:00. It’s supposed to thunderstorm so I take the car. It rains for about five minutes as I drive, but the sun comes out for the action. This is a union action; there are free bandanas and buttons and food. We are the only music, and we get asked for encores. Hali sings her parody of “Mr. Postman” and Bonnie has brought some relevant phrases for the zipper songs. Some folks sing along, and two of our regulars show up on short notice from facebook. This is a good gig.
Friday is one non-Occupella gig and one of ours. At 11:30, Hali and I are scheduled to sing with Max Ventura for the annual raising of the peace flags on the flagpoles at Berkeley’s city hall and civic center park in honor of Conscientious Objectors and War Resistors. It’s our Ain’t Festival, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” and “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.” When I was telling Claudia about this, I couldn’t remember one of the songs, and she said, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”? I think I might write a parody to that. I get there way early and have half an hour to kill, but then I remember that the annual quilt show is up at the main library a block away, so I end up getting there barely on time. We sing as the flag goes up, then between speeches by men who were COs or burned draft cards back in the day, and a report from a woman who is in correspondence with Chelsea Manning. A small but earnest group shows up for this every year. It’s timed to coincide with lunch hour at Berkeley High School, which is right across the street.
I meet Leslie and Bonnie at Lafayette BART station for a Black Lives Matter sing; Hali and a different two regulars show up later. I’m still not singing much after my cold so I hand out the new leaflets Leslie and Sally made up. Most people rush past but then the station agent comes by and says “I can’t believe this music! When I heard it I almost cried!” She is black. Then a white woman asks, “Why Lafayette?” I explain that we go to a different station every month. She says, “There are no brown people in my town.” I say, “We’re the ones that need the message, not them.” She takes a leaflet and goes on. When we finish I tell the others what the station agent said. It makes our day. On the way back on BART I tell Hali about Claudia’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” question and she immediately sings, “Ain’t misbehavin’, I’m savin’ this world for you,” and says, “I think I’ll write that.” Fine with me.
Saturday, Mar 15, 2014: Anti-fracking Rally in Sacramento
“We are earth’s immune response!”
The North Oakland/Berkeley bus to Sacramento is to load in front of the Alchemy Café on Alcatraz this morning, so Bonnie and Leslie and Hali and I meet early for coffee. We just beat the crowd. Then we hand out our new “No Fossil Fuel” songbooks and lead singing in front of the café as people wait for the bus.
When the bus gets going, we hear some announcements and then a woman tells us about acidization, which I hadn’t heard of. The SF Chronicle says, “Drillers have been pouring acid down oil wells for more than a century, using it to dissolve the underground drilling debris that surrounds new wells. Acid can also clean out hydrocarbon deposits that gum up older wells. In the Monterey Shale, however, oil companies are using larger amounts of hydrofluoric and hydrochloric acids to open tiny channels in the rock around each well. Those channels allow oil trapped within the rock to flow into the well.” So the new anti-fracking bill, SB 1132, the oil and gas well stimulation moratorium, restricts both fracking and acidization until we have more information about their effects.
After the bus talk, we lead the passengers in another set of songs.
When we arrive in Sacramento, we pose for a group photo, then make our way to the rally area, where the stage is wisely set up in the shade of the capitol (it is predicted to hit 84 today). Some of our usual singers can’t get reservations on our bus, but Donna Mickleson prints up twenty books from our website and they sing on the Fruitvale/Downtown Oakland bus. We run into VJ Mohan who found YouTubes of the songs parodied in the songbook for people who don’t know the originals. Here’s his playlist. When VJ sends us the video he writes: “...thanks to the songbook the bus ride to the rally was more exciting.”
After the first rally we find a huge tree to shade us while we sing for the marchers on their way to encircle the capitol. Donna and other friends join us as they pass us on the march, so we have a good group by the end and sing a lot of songs. Someone walks by with a sign saying, “You can’t drink money,” so we immediately put that in the zipper song we are leading. A guy with a banjo comes up at the end and sings us an original anti-fracking song he wrote. We exchange email addresses. The Raging Grannies and some folks from the Brass Liberation Orchestra also perform.
Occupella is scheduled to sing one song at the second rally, but as we are going offstage the program managers asks us for another. We make a quick decision and pick an appropriate encore song. More photos here. Native Americans and Latinos are well represented in both the audience and in the rally speakers. One Indian woman carries a sign saying “Mother Earth Does NOT Negotiate.” Here's a report from Indian Country.
The rally speakers are many but brief and good. The one I remember especially is Pennie Opal Plant, whom I met last year at Gathering Tribes in Albany, CA at the circle in support of the Idle No More movement of Canada’s First Peoples against the tar sands drilling and pipelines. She says to the 3000+ people at the rally today, “We are beautiful. We are earth’s immune response!” At the end of the rally, a man leads “De Colores” and Bonnie notices someone using our songbook for the words. Most impressive fact about the rally, IMHO: The San Diego Bus left this morning at 1:00 a.m.
We sing a couple more songs on the ride home, but we are all pretty tired. Our bus captains send around a tip jar for the bus driver. Occupella ends up with a lot of appreciation for our work and some new contacts. It’s been a satisfying day.