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.
Wednesday, Nov 18, 2015: Occupella Enters History
Or at least a Stanford history class
Historian Estelle Freedman invited Bonnie and me to come to Stanford today to talk to her class on Social Movements through Song in Modern America (1900 to the present). She wrote to us: “I was trying to explain in class this week that social protest songs did not end after Vietnam. You are both living proof!”
A baker’s dozen students file in, mostly first-year, for whom the twentieth century is ancient history. We go chronological order so I go first, with an anecdote from my father about singing in jail after a demonstration against Herbert Hoover in 1932:
About the first question asked in a situation like this when one sits down next to another prisoner is, “What are you in for?” True to form, the prisoner next to Walter said, “What are you in for?” and Walter replied, “Non-support.” The other guy said, “Who, your wife?” and Walter replied, “No, the President.”
That was a singing period, and Walter and the leaguers were in good voice. Walter started out singing with some of the old American standards that everybody knew, and gradually nearly everybody joined in. Then he shifted to the work songs, such as ‘Solidarity,’ ‘Hold the Fort’ and others, and ended up with Walter and the leaguers singing the ‘Internationale’ and every prisoner marching around between the benches with his fist in the air.
I tell the class I grew up with the Almanac Singers’ Talking Union album (1940) and Paul Robeson singing Ballad for Americans (1940). The students have heard some of this music in class and seen the film about my mother, Love It Like a Fool (a film about Malvina Reynolds). I tell them how I had been propelled into the peace movement by seeing the post-nuclear-holocaust film On the Beach in 1959. A nameless group of six of us sang and led singing at peace rallies and marches, much as Occupella does now. I bring in a topic the class hadn’t covered, oppression of children. I mention Free to Be You and Me and we sing Stuart Stotts’ “So Many Ways to Be Smart,” about high-stakes testing. The students join in easily.
Bonnie introduces herself as growing up in conservative Orange County and being electrified hearing the Freedom Singers singing songs of the Civil Rights Movement on KPFK in 1964. “I didn’t know that some 20 years later I’d be on a folk festival stage—admittedly overawed—singing right next to Bernice Johnson Reagon, one of those very Freedom Singers; and I’d be leading my song, 'Still Ain’t Satisfied' (1971), a song owing a large debt to the Black Gospel music I’d first heard through the Civil Rights Movement.” Bonnie leads the class in her update to that song from the Occupella songbook. She talks about the confluence of conditions that opened her way into singing for social justice:
1) The growing anti-war movement with roots in the Civil Rights and Labor Movements which both had a history of singing
2) The youth culture of the late sixties that valued music as much as anything
3) The women’s movement. Women had been shut out of the music industry except as singers, and were now playing instruments, forming bands, becoming engineers, managers, distributors. There was a pull toward the commercial music world women had just broken into that made for more emphasis on stars and recordings and less on communal singing than in the earlier singing movements, but the festivals did bring women together.
Bonnie and I met in a workshop on children’s songs at the National Women’s Music Festival in Champaign-Urbana around 1979 and found that we lived about five blocks from each other in Berkeley. She talks about the blacklist forcing political musicians like Pete Seeger off television and out of the larger nightclubs and concert halls and into children’s music, which produced that sixties generation that embraced social justice music and brought it into the charts. I tell about going cross-country on the CORE bus to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and stopping at a bus station cafe out in the middle of nowhere and seeing “Blowin’ in the Wind” on the jukebox.
Then we talk about Black Lives Matter and lead “I Can Hear My Neighbor Sayin’ ‘I Can’t Breathe” and I sing my song about coal trains in Oakland, “Cry in the Night”:
There’s another kind of “I can’t breathe,”
A grip on the throat that needs relief
When the air is full of dust and smoke
And little children begin to choke...
We talk about the environmental justice movement, which combines environment, race and class.
The students have good questions. Two I remember are, “Were there any social movements you regret not being involved in?” and “Was there a period when music didn’t seem to be part of the movement?” which gives me an opportunity to talk about event organizers who don’t get it, who schedule fifteen speakers with one singer at the end when people are worn out and leaving.
Bonnie leads “Who Were the Witches,” Estelle leads other women’s songs, the day’s topic. We leave handouts with songs and the whole of my father’s story, Occupella cards, and flyers for the Climate Mobilization this Saturday.
Estelle didn’t anticipate it when she scheduled us, but a sit-in for divestment is going on right now in the main Quad at the Stanford campus. We go by before class; a man is giving a talk on Gandhi and non-violence. After class, one of the students, wearing a Divest Now! teeshirt, takes us back to the Quad and introduces us to some of the students in charge at that moment. A planning meeting is going on, but we are invited to set up in another area. A young man spreads a big cloth in front of us and others come and sit down. They seem happy to join in on a couple of songs from our No Fossil Fuel songbook and when I offer them our copy, they are eager to have it. We leave feeling satisfied with the day.
Comment from Williamfack posted 7-19-2016:
I am curious to find out what blog system you are using? I’m having some small security problems with my latest website and I would like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any solutions?
Comment from Nancy posted 8-16-2016:
Williamfack, my daughter designed our website and blog, so it's not on a public system.
Comment from Marcia Pratt posted 11-22-2015:
Loved reading this and loved finally singing with Occupella at Climate Rally today. Hope to do it again.
Friday, May 15, 2015: Four Demonstrations in Two Days
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.
Comment from Margaret Jackson posted 5-19-2015:
Linda's dad was a CO and did alternative service during WWII. Both of her brothers likewise in the late sixties.
Friday, Apr 10, 2015: Report from 1971
Malvina Reynolds Attends the Vancouver Indochinese Women's Conference
Twice during the period of US participation in the war in Vietnam, Indochinese women came to Canada to meet with Canadian and US women. “At the first conference in 1967, the Indochinese women asked that there be a second conference to include third world women since none of the participants there were third world. The conference in April of this year [April 1-6,1971] was set up expressly for the purpose of having third world women participate in a conference dealing with the wars in Indochina.” From Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings, edited by Alma M. Garcia.
My mother was invited to the second conference. I went with her. We stayed with her friends the Ingleses in Vancouver. She went on to the sister conference in Toronto; I did not. When we were both home, my mother tape-recorded her recollections in my presence. To understand the economics of the conference and her participation, you need to remember that according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, $100 in 1971 dollars is equivalent in purchasing power to $579.56 in 2015 dollars.
Malvina: In April I was called to Vancouver, to a conference of Voice of Women, the Canadian peace organization, working together with U. S. Women for Peace. It would bring together women from western United States and Canada to meet with women from North and South Vietnam, from Laos and Cambodia. [The Cambodian women were unable to come, but two each came from the other countries, each pair accompanied by a male interpreter.] We couldn’t have been with them otherwise, since they wouldn’t have been permitted into the States.
The University in Vancouver charged the conference a token dollar for the use of excellent modern facilities.
Later in the week there would be a final meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Theater; I was to sing there.
For a good change, this time most of the conferees would be Third World people and women’s liberation militants. The white middle class women who had had charge of these conferences up till now were pushed, sometimes rudely pushed, into the background. We were frisked. If we didn’t have special buttons indicating that we represented the minority groups, we were kept out of some sessions.
Women who had come at their own expense from as far away as Hawaii found themselves floating around the halls, angry and at a loss. The old timers, who had the organization, the experience and the sources of money, were sidetracked.
I was classed with them, but I watched curiously, a bystander. I’ve had conferences enough in my lifetime to last me forever.
Kay [Ingles] and the others were very much upset. Among the new people there were some who were so provocative in their actions one could believe that it was their intention to divide and disrupt the conference. If one of the Third World women would say, “Gee, it isn’t fair to treat these sisters so,” one of the aggressive ones would say, “We’ll use them and kick them in the face.”
Each evening one group would take responsibility for the main meal, to entertain the Asian visitors. One evening it was, for instance, the Chicanas, who made a Mexican style dinner and served it in one of the special dining rooms they had available in the Student Union. Money for the materials, and for daily sandwiches for the delegates, came from a special account.
One of the Third World groups, instead of getting materials and preparing a dinner, got together the Asian visitors plus a large number of their own group and took them all to an expensive Chinese restaurant. They ran up a bill for three hundred dollars and simply turned it over to the food fund to pay. They hadn’t cleared the matter with anyone. And although the Canadian women had put their cars at the disposal of the conference, these delegates rented cars and gave the bill to the committee.
The finance group had been having trouble raising money for the conference—the usual problem. There were quotas for the women’s organizations in each of the big cities and the money wasn’t coming in. People were saying to me, “Kay is drawing on their personal account.” They weren’t rich people.
[There seems to be a gap in the transcription here. I think Malvina is referring to one of the conference organizers, probably Muriel, whom she mentions elsewhere.]
She is one of these people that you meet once in ten years—authority, good nature. She speaks and stands and looks and everything is right about her. And she was able to kind of hold things together. She was absolutely in personal charge of the [Indochinese] visiting party and wouldn’t be separated from them. Because these other guys [the US and Canadian delegates] would keep them up all night, every night talking. And they were tired.
When I was on stage I called Kem Phet to the microphone, and she sang. And I know she was pleased. And they saw the audience reaction to it. I was a person who was doing a job and doing it well and I was special to the Indochinese. They were very fond of me. I’ll give you a couple of examples. We got into a discussion—kind of a little thing—just a few of us standing around. Vo Ti The happened to be standing next me and she said, “We don’t need the men.” I don’t know that she was even there when it [the incident under discussion] happened, but somehow she picked up that phrase and it happened that it was just right. And then when we were coming in to Toronto,we could look down from the air and see the houses. Kem Phet said, “Oh, oh, petites boites, petites boites!” They had laughed spontaneously at this song [“Little Boxes”] when I sang it for them.
The Queen Elizabeth Theatre [in Vancouver]—they had called me for two things, to sing and give the pitch. And everything was so heavy and factual-- it was hard to get the Indochinese to talk about their personal story. They had to tell you what the world was like. . .what was going on. So we did get their stories, but it was hard partly because they don’t think that’s important and in the second place it’s painful, for many of them it’s very painful to tell the story. So with all this heaviness I come on with my satirical stuff and get the audience singing and they just love it. They love it better than if I had just come on under ordinary circumstances. There everything is pain and they can get this release of singing. So it goes very well and I did serve a very good function.I made a very good pitch. I said, “I have been called here to sing for you. I’m glad to do it, but I really can’t think about my songs because my mind is on that wallet. Take it out. These people have come a long way and the expenses are high...” and so on. I made it about this long and they made a collection of over $700 and it wasn’t a full house and there were a lot of young people there who didn’t even pay to get in, let alone put money in the collection. So they said, “You’ve got to come on to Toronto.” I hadn’t planned it. So I called Bud [her husband], and Ruth [her business manager] was on the phone. And we fixed up the calendar and called off a few small things and I went off to Toronto.
The opening night I sang two songs and they went very well. They made me sing another one. Someone else made the pitch, but I added, because I had learned this in the meantime, I said, “Two of the women on stage here walked for three months to get to the plane to get here, with forty pounds on their backs, and one of those two women had spent years in South Vietnamese jails being tortured. And she’s here and it’s incredible the kind of torture she went through.” I said, “No, it’s not incredible. The incredible thing is that she is sitting here fairly well and smiling.” I said, “In view of that, I know when you open your wallet you’ll look very carefully at what’s in there. So please take it all out and put it in the collection and if it looks too small please write a check.” And that was all. So I did my job.
But that was the first night and there were a couple of days of conference and then a cultural evening the last night which was taken charge of by the Third World and Women’s Lib. And so when there was a kind of organizers’ conference in the lobby I said to Muriel, “I don’t know what’s expected of me. If I have no further function I’m going back to San Francisco.” So they consulted and right away they decided I should be in on the cultural thing. The girl who was in charge figured out the time when I should be in. So I stuck around for another two days of more of the same. I kept out of quite a lot of what was going on there too, because I’d heard the story in Vancouver. I came to this cultural evening...
Nancy: The same kind of thing was going on as in Vancouver.
Malvina: That’s right, conferences, seminars.
Nancy: But people being kept out, the security, the whole bit.
Malvina: That’s right, but the feeling was that it had tapered off a little. The experiences over there had carried over here to the extent--because even in Vancouver toward the end the security was let down; they allowed everybody in to the last meetings. It was easier. I was trying to explain this to Kay and to the others. That this is the cutting edge of the first time that these elements have come together and it’s a very valuable thing and even if it costs a lot it has to happen and it has to work itself out, but Kay can’t see that far. She is just so furious I don’t know what’s going to happen to her related to the movement. She’s in a very bad frame of mind. She just can’t stop talking about it. We’re going up there next summer...
Nancy: Well, but she has to think it over and get away from the emotional impact of the situation.
Malvina: There is a certain rigidity about her. She had lovely kids. I stayed at the house two times and so I got very well acquainted with the youngsters and very fond of them and they of me. And one of them is named Hugh. They are all very handsome, very self-contained and they are under a pretty heavy hand. The discipline in that house is pretty strict. And Hugh loves to cook and he likes to get in the kitchen and mess around and she pushes him out. So many kids nowadays don’t know what they want and he loves to cook.
Here they were going to have this great big roast beef dinner for the [Indochinese] guests and a few other people--no Blacks, I discovered after the thing was set up. This was the typical Canadian dinner in her house and Hugh wanted to make a Yorkshire pudding. So he and I looked in the book and found a recipe, but it was getting awfully near dinnertime. Well, it’s the kind of thing like biscuits, you can make it awfully quickly. But Kay just got angry. She got angry at the whole idea of the way he wants to fool around, so I let him help me make French dressing in the blender and I made it with two hard boiled eggs and it was very, very good. That boy will be a cook someday. He’ll be good. Well, it’s just how up-tight they can get.
There’s a great big building there in Toronto that’s a weekend vegetable market, but with walls and windows. It’s a regular building, but it’s kind of a big cold room. The night of the big cultural meeting was in the Market. Everything was cleared out and they had chairs in there. When we came to the door they wouldn’t let us in. We had our buttons. Everybody had to have buttons. I had my badge, but that wasn’t it, they wouldn’t let us in. And one of our leading women from Voice of Women said, “They want to frisk us. They won’t let us in.” I said, “They can frisk me, I don’t mind, it’ll be a new experience.”
So I laughed and walked right in amongst these girls that were standing there very grim. But I had the guitar and I just walked in and the others finally got in, but we had thought we wouldn’t be able to get in to this cultural meeting. And you can imagine what this must do to people who are this way and that way about the whole movement. And some of them are. One woman said to us when I was sitting with Muriel and Kay, “What does Third World mean?” That’s how little she is into the movement. Some of them were very uneasy about it.
Well, I got in there and one of the girls who was in charge who is a kind of a moderate of whatever it was--whether it was women’s lib or Third World--I think it was women’s lib because she was white--said, “Malvina, I hope you won’t be too disappointed, but it looks as though they are not going to put you on the program tonight.” So, okay, here I had stayed over, two extra days. I had paid my own fare there and when I saw that Kay was going on her own bank account, I cleared with Bud and gave her a $100 donation and I paid my own way. You know that damn thing must have cost us close to $500, my going up there. I had hung around there longer than I had wanted to just to sing a couple of songs and they said no. But okay. I went in.
It was very interesting to watch the meeting. It was full of young women who put up the fist at every possible occasion, shouting slogans, but on the other hand. . .this is something that the Voice of Women folks didn’t realize--though some of them did--this is the first meeting on war in which the majority of the audience were Black. Now that--whatever price, you say whatever price, it may have been tough, it may have been nasty, mean or whatever, but it was a great first. And the people who spoke at the microphone gave greetings from Blacks, people from Venezuela, from Cuba, from Mexico, from China, from Japan--and they had a little kid, Chinese, who sang an anti-war song. And some of them sang. . .it was damned interesting, it was damned interesting to see these young very militant women of all colors including whites. And then after a number of acts had gone by, the chairman said, “Our Indochinese friends have requested that Malvina come up and sing.” That’s one of the nicest things that has happened to me in all my life.
So I came up smiling and I sang two songs, “You’ll Be a Man” [about the Vietnam War] and “Daddy’s in the Jail” [about the Civil Rights Movement]. Amazingly, the audience sang with me and they cheered and they wanted me to sing some more. There was no more hostility not only toward me, but also toward the people I represented: Voice of Women, Women for Peace, Women’s International League [for Peace and Freedom].
Afterward I sang I was as usual kind of hanging back, afraid. So they came up to me. A young reporter from one of the liberation papers wants this song, and this one wants some more songs. She wants to learn them. And they have the Women’s Liberation Rock Band which is a good rock band and they want my songs. So they played at the end of the session. When they were finished I grabbed my guitar, asked them to wait a minute and they improvised as I sang “We Don’t Need the Men” and “We Hate to See Them Go.”
When I was typing this, spellcheck said Chicanas wasn’t in their dictionary. Chicanos was.
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.
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