Don’t forget, Gandhi got arrested too!


The author (top right) striking with Ella Baker Center staff and volunteers.

The author (top right) striking with Ella Baker Center staff and volunteers.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."-Gandhi

When the Occupy movement started, I felt detached and didn’t know why. Was it the policy side of me that wanted a clearer goal than just equality? Or the fact that no one involved looked like me. Or maybe I was just envious that I didn’t think of it first? Regardless, when my peers were tear-gassed on October 25th, something fired up inside me that brought me to speak up at the General Assembly leading to the historical strike last Wednesday, November 2nd. While I still wasn’t sure where I fit in with the Occupy movement, I stood strong with hundreds of thousands of folks on the streets shouting proudly “We are the 99%”.

On that historical night of November 2nd , we went out to celebrate the long day’s journey that led to the closing of the port. Around midnight as we were ready to go home, we were surprised to find lines of cop cars down Telegraph and Broadway. I will never forget the war zone visual of protesters facing the police with fire in middle. We watched around 40 or more folks get arrested around the same time as the tear gas hit me and my ability to breathe or react was gone. I have been since anxious about what form of brutality Occupy Oakland will face next. "How long can you harass a peaceful man?" Gandhi once asked.

Sunday, November 6th (1913) marked a pivotal day in history when Gandhi was arrested while leading a peaceful march of Indian miners protesting a tax imposed on all former indentured laborers in South Africa. With 127 women, 57 children and 2,037 men; Gandhi marched until he was arrested, released on bail, rejoined the march and re-arrested for the 2nd and 3rd time in 4 days.

Sadly familiar? Since its inception, the Occupy movement has actually been reminding me a lot of Gandhi’s non-violent approach to British independence. The peaceful marches, strength in numbers and police lash-outs. But more specifically, the current divisiveness we’re facing in Oakland over anarchist vandalism and Jean Quan among others resembles the divisiveness that took away from the strength of the Indian Independence movement.

People keep asking me what I think about Jean Quan right now and it’s hard to respond. I don’t feel like taking a side and widening the existent divide. When she got elected, Quan was all I ever wanted to talk about; she was my hope for Oakland. I remember debating with my dad about Obama awhile weeks ago. My response to his legitimate disappointments with the president was “I am so tired of all the Obama hate, and feel really lucky that Oakland has a mayor who still has great momentum and support even after a year in the seat. She is making an impact locally and I feel good about that.”

It’s hard to remember saying and believing that now, in retrospect. When she dealt with Occupy Oakland the way she did, yes my Quan bubble was busted. But again, I wanted to avoid the Quan hate-wagon mainly because my heart and mind could not handle it. I had already given up on national and world politics; if I couldn’t believe in Quan, who would I have left to believe in?

Then I remembered a statement by the Hopi Nation that guides our work at Ella Baker Center “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” That’s when it clicked. Me, you and everyone I know is my hope. That is why I Occupy.

For those of you who are still feeling detached, or are attached but don’t know how to support without camping out, here’s a list of simple ways to support. If you feel so inclined, walk to City Hall and speak your mind on Occupy Oakland. Ella Baker Center is also accepting donations that we'll deliver to the Occupy campers a few times a week. Here’s what we need.