At Home in the Muddy Water

A year ago today, I was heartsick for my city.

Long before the protest on January 28, 2012, Occupy Oakland had splintered into various groups, including our very own contingent of Black Bloc anarchists. Parodied as “Manarchists” during last winter’s “Sh*t People Say” video meme, Oakland’s Black Bloc was even denounced by the extreme hacktivist group Anonymous. With roots in Germany, Black Bloc tactics span 30 years and multiple continents. Even now, Black Bloc is credited for stoking violence in Egypt’s recent protests.

By this time last year, what was left of Occupy Oakland was no longer representative of Oakland, whether they were new to this town, or just passing through from random places like Turlock, CA. Under the banner of the Occupy movement, vandals set fires, destroyed property, and quickly lost the support of the 99% they claimed to serve.

During community Lunar New Year celebrations to honor the most auspicious Year of the Dragon, the Oakland Museum was forced to lock its doors and shield visitors from both rioters and police tear gas. The image below perfectly illustrates how the Occupy Oakland demonstrations on January 28, 2012 did little to hurt the 1% robber barons of Wall Street.  Tell me.  How many recycling collectors in Chinatown own shares in Goldman Sachs?

January 28, 2012. Outside the Oakland Museum during an Occupy Oakland Protest (aka #oo #j28). Photo: R Belle via Facebook.

January 28, 2012. Outside the Oakland Museum during an Occupy Oakland Protest (#oo #j28). Photo by R. Belle via Facebook.

Occupiers, journalists, friends and neighbors clashed on the internet as much as in the streets. Countless sparks flew at the mere suggestion that Occupiers helped local downtown businesses and bashing Mayor Jean Quan became a blood sport. Foolishly, I contributed to some of these online arguments, too. I learned not-so-valuable lessons like:

1. When anarchists set up a Facebook Event for a “F**k the Police” march with detailed instructions on starting fires and causing general mayhem, don’t bother trying to explain how absurd it is that their instructions also forbid marchers from breaking the windows of a specific Starbucks “because they give us free coffee.” Those anarchists can’t understand irony unless it’s printed on a T-shirt.

2. If you boldly criticize someone for his culturally insensitive and potentially latent racist comments about Oakland’s first Asian female mayor, unconstructive vitriol will ensue. But on the plus side, he will make a donation to the Oakland Museum, even if he does it purely out of spite.

One valuable takeaway from my brief time wasted arguing with strangers was the need for a positive creative outlet to combat the buzzing swarm of nonsense online. The media spotlight on Occupy Oakland made me desperate to broadcast love for my community’s complex history and beauty, beyond its infamous radicalism and lawlessness. So in true slactivist form, I turned back to the internet and used the visually pleasing social booking marking tool Pinterest for some online therapy. The Oakland Love Fest on Pinterest has been a curated scrapbook of catharsis ever since.

Today, I am still heartsick, just for different reasons. Any proud Oaklander can testify that heartsickness is a frequent symptom of topophilia. Sometimes there’s just no tonic strong enough. Because loving Oakland requires a flexible sense of security and the knowledge that break-ins are never as tragic as bullet wounds.

This January, we marked the fourth anniversary of Oscar Grant’s tragic shooting death with critical acclaim for the independent film Fruitvale. At the same time, hundreds of Oaklanders gathered to lambast the city council for the rising crime rate and their decision to hire controversial consultant and former NYPD Police Chief Bill Bratton, most famous for his “stop-and-frisk” racial profiling tactics.

As we greet Year of the Snake, I repeat old mantras to “be like the lotus flower, at home in the muddy water.” I know that I am incredibly lucky. In the last 10 days, I missed walking into at least 3 robberies outside my front door by only a few minutes. I am intensely grateful for every day that I do not have a gun pointed at me, get robbed, or worse. And my heart aches for every friend, neighbor, and stranger who hasn’t been so lucky.

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