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March, 2015
3-14-2015: Gill Track Demonstration at the Walnut Creek Sprouts-Today Bonnie, Leslie and I drive to Walnut Creek to lead a few songs at a demonstration at Sprouts, a supermarket that calls itself a farmer’s market but isn’t. If there were a Sprouts in Berkeley, we would be demonstrating there, because the demo is organized by the urban farmers and students who are farming at UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract under a temporary agreement.  Read more

February, 2015
2-21-2015: 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. Read more

2-7-2015: 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). Read more

January, 2015
1-25-2015: 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. Read more

August, 2014
8-9-2014: 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.  Read more

May, 2014
5-15-2014: 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.  Read more

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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, Mar 14, 2015: Gill Track Demonstration at the Walnut Creek Sprouts

Today Bonnie, Leslie and I drive to Walnut Creek to lead a few songs at a demonstration at Sprouts, a supermarket that calls itself a farmer’s market but isn’t. If there were a Sprouts in Berkeley, we would be demonstrating there, because the demo is organized by the urban farmers and students who are farming at UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract under a temporary agreement.  

According to the February 26 Vallejo Times-Herald, “Crews hired by the University of California cut down 53 trees Thursday morning, preparing for the construction of a mixed-use residential-commercial project on land at the university-owned Gill Tract. 

“The controversial project, which includes a Sprouts Farmers Market store and senior housing, is slated for construction on both sides of Monroe Street at San Pablo Avenue, east of the University Village student residential complex.” 

The original plan was to put in a Whole Foods, but Occupy the Farm deflected that to Gilman Street. Sprouts is Plan B. So here we are driving around the Walnut Creek Sprouts parking lot which is quite full midday on a warm sunny Saturday with cars and big SUVs. We spot some folks from the Brass Liberation Orchestra including Mike, who plays trumpet sometimes with Occupella at Tax the Rich. Bonnie drops off Leslie and me and the guitars and music stand near them and comes back much later, having found parking down the street. She reports that the coffee shop in the complex opens at six a.m. to serve the commuters.

And here comes a group of men and women in red teeshirts saying “Raise Up, Fight for $15.” They are part of April15.org whose website says, “We are fast food cashiers and cooks, retail employees, home care providers, and airport workers who have come together from all over the country – and the world – to fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.” They hand out flyers for another demonstration at UC Berkeley, Telegraph and Bancroft, April 15, 4:00 p.m. We hand out flyers for our Black Lives Matter sing at Walnut Creek BART on April 24. One of our regular singers joins us. Student types hold up two long banners in front of the store asking people to boycott. In front of them is a tree stump that we find is from one of the trees cut down at the Gill Tract, and some limb sections and leafy branches as well. A couple of women pick up leafy branches and hold them upright as they stand there. 

This reminds me of a whole ‘nother demonstration, one of my favorites, from the eighties. That one was protesting the World Bank funding of rainforest destruction for cattle farming. We stood in two rows along the sidewalk in front of a bank on Market Street holding tall eucalyptus branches up like trees. A woman with a chain saw came along and “sawed” us down. Then two guys in a cow costume came along munching on invisible grass and pooping out Monopoly money which was gathered by a top-hatted banker type who stuffed it into a big bag. The whole story laid out neatly. It inspired me to write “Eating Up the Forest.” 

Anyway, here we are in front of Sprouts and the band marches across the parking lot toward us playing, then gives rhythmic support as we chant from the sheet of chants handed out to us, then we listen to speakers. We learn that Sprouts gets their produce not directly from farmers, as their name implies, but from a union-busting supplier. After a couple of speakers, someone announces that those who want to can sit in at the nearest entrance, blocking it, and others can picket the other entrance. We didn’t know about the sit-in, but nobody seems surprised. The band leads the way to the other entrance and people circle up. We stay by the microphone, waiting our turn. The Sprouts security people direct traffic around us but do not interfere with any of this. After someone from the Teamsters Union speaks, we lead “Fifteen Bucks an Hour,” “Come and Go with Me to That Land” with appropriate zips, and “Put It on the Label” about GMOs. People join in, especially the young sitters-in. We may be singing at the April 15 rally as well. We’ll let you know.

 

 

 

Comment from Peter Straus posted 7-16-2017:
Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy
Naomi Wolf

On The Guardian website. Implicates the Big Banks in directly helping lead the attack in San Francisco


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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.


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Saturday, Feb 7, 2015: March for Real Climate Leadership
Oakland, California


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


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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.


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Saturday, Aug 9, 2014: Our Power Day of Action
Richmond, CA

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.

 


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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. 


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