Finding home (or, A million different Occupies)

I attended my very first Occupy the Hood meeting tonight.

It’s not like I was unaware of the movement–my co-pastor and I expressed enthusiasm and concern about Occupy Oakland almost simultaneously almost from the beginning, and when we read this article in October, we were pretty sure this was where we belonged.

But then we (or at least I) got caught up in the ups and downs of the Occupy Oakland ocean–joy at the experience of thousands of people filling the streets for the November action, horror at the mistreatment of protesters, disappointment as the movement became more about a particular space than about people in this community who barely have a passing connection to City Hall, dismay at the disregard by organizers for the stated needs of laborers prior to the port shutdown in December, rage at the outright illegal actions of the Oakland Police Department on January 28 followed by almost equal rage at the remarkable number of arrestees who did not place their single experience of police brutality in the context of decades of a broken police system that misuses great cops and perpetuates a longtime gap between cops and community.

And then I went to an event hosted by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy on the Black Church and Occupy. And people who lived in my community, who are in the justice movement for the same reasons I am, stood at the mike and over and over said, “You have to show up and look–there’s an Occupy for you.” They mentioned different committees–Occupy Food Justice, Occupy Education, Occupy the Hood.

There it was. I had been saying for over a month, almost as an apology to my friends who were so active in Occupy Oakland, “I just think Occupy the Hood is where I should be placing my energies.”

Now it’s interesting…I’m not 100% sure that I think keeping all our schools open is a good solution to the apartheid system of education in Oakland. But I have been heartsick about its brokenness for at least a decade, and in that group I am among other people equally heartsick, who are willing to do something (and more than just one thing–many of them are engaged in direct service and in advocacy around the issue and around the kids already). I’m not 100% sure what even an amazing group like this can do to end the “New Jim Crow” of our prison industrial complex that almost relies on a pipeline of children from our neighborhoods ending up in our prisons. But tonight I was in a room of people who know our children are capable of more and deserve more, and they also want to create a movement that is relevant to the majority of people in this city who are affected by so many of our brothers and sisters either in prison or carrying the burdens of having been in the system. I’m frankly a little scared about occupying foreclosed homes. But this community challenges my fear by reminding me of the injustice of so many of the foreclosures in our community.

In addition, there was a refrain throughout the evening that I bet the regulars didn’t even notice but which made my heart sing. They kept pointing out in relation to different events that particular ones would be family-friendly, with a priority on safety and security. Because these organizers know what it means for certain communities to be more severely impacted by police violence than others–the previously incarcerated, youth of color, all children who would be traumatized by the experience of violence. It made my heart sing because, in November, one of my favorite congregants said to me after the November protest, “It’s not that I disagree with Occupy, but I’m not going to those marches. I’m a young woman of color, and it is not safe.” In my own privileged (and still high from the November event) space, I thought, “She’s living out of fear instead of courage.” And then I saw what happened to hundreds of innocent protesters in the days and weeks that followed and realized my own arrogance.

What it comes down to, I think, is what it always comes down to: I stopped holding out for the perfect movement but didn’t give up on searching for the movement with integrity. I think I found home tonight, and I hope that this amazing family welcomes me, and that I am able to bring my own integrity to the process.

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