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Exposing Cultural Myths at Occupy Oakland

What a welcome relief the Occupy movement’s trend of “leaderless” groups! True, this seemingly contradictory concept is difficult to absorb in a culture the promotes a leadership style that models the strongest, loudest, most persistent, and most vocal monopolizing the microphone – both physical and its cultural equivalent.

But, as Americans know well, repeat something often enough and it becomes part of the cultural vernacular. So, despite the difficulty politicians, media, and many Americans have in grasping this new paradigm, Occupy movements across the country continue as leaderless groups.

After the Oakland camp’s most recent tossing by police word-of-mouth convened about 1,000 people at the main library to strategize. Then they marched the four blocks back to City Hall for the 6 p.m. General Assembly.

There are refreshing and humorous moments at GAs when a random person from the crowd hops the line of speakers, commandeers the mic, and rambles on about the CIA commanding “us all through the fillings in our teeth”, that we’re at the “end times”, or that aliens are watching from outer space and waiting to invade. Then, the mic is retrieved, gently, and GA business continues.

Last night, the group reiterated its commitment to non-violence; anyone unable or unwilling to practice non-violence will be escorted, gently, from the group. It also consensually agreed that Saturday, November 19 is the next major gathering in Oakland for those aching for a different system of governance, society, and relationship to one another.

These peaceful and informal GAs belie the myths perpetuated by local government and the media about epidemics of violence at Occupy sites.

Then again, the movement is exposing other cultural myths and morality tales for what they are, too: formulas for shaming generations of wage-earners into silent compliance.

Presidential hopeful Herman Cain recently reiterated a classic:  “If you’re not rich, don’t blame Wall St, blame yourself.”

Variations on the theme include:

The rich have what they have because they “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”.

“God” shows His approval of the righteously hard-working by endowing them with material wealth.

The unemployed have given up or are too lazy to seek jobs.

“The American Dream” is there for the taking by anyone willing to work for it

Education ensures success.

The planet is a treasure trove of natural resources for bold risk-takers to tap.

Indeed, even the myth that police maintain social order for business is evaporating in the face of reality.

Jesse Smith lives in downtown Oakland and, at first, he was skeptical of the Occupy movement’s manifestation in his neighborhood. After he reconnoitered, talked with Occupiers, and understood that they echoed his grievances about our country’s direction, he joined the camp’s business liaison group.

Yesterday, he stood in the sunshine at the police barricades erected after the police raid early that morning and explained that the business liaison group had surveyed some 100 businesses in a 2 block radius around City Hall.

“We collected data that no one else seems to have: around one third of the business owners report neutral impact on their business by the occupation; another third, owners of convenience stores and pizza joints, report a positive impact – business has gone up; the rest, places negatively impacted, are the attractive retail outlets that tend to be chain stores.”

Most business owners note that the police actions are “the only detriment that they experience to their bottom line.” They say their vendors call and ask them, ‘Is it safe to come to downtown Oakland?’ There’s an impression outside of Oakland that there’s been a need for a constant police line and that raids and violent police actions are imminent. This, if anything, is what is killing commerce here.”

Dorothy King is the owner of the sixty-year-old Oakland-based family business Everett and Jones barbeque.

“People say small business owners in Oakland suffer because people don’t spend money here. No, if the small business owners who live and work in Oakland suffer it is because the big banks take our money out of our community and do not invest in our city.”

In the sunshine, a protester near Jesse Smith patrolled the police barricades behind which municipal workers picked up debris from the for-now demolished encampment. One side of the sign he carried urged, “Mayor Quan, City Council, how about a little imagination?” The other side read, “Re-Occupy asap.”

Judging by how the majority of people conduct themselves in Oakland these days, peacefully and with determination, it is only a matter of time before the latter comes true.

Susan Galleymore is a former “military mom” and a radio host, writer, and author of Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror. Contact her at susan@raisingsandradio.org.

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SUSAN GALLEYMORE is author of Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror, host of Stanford University’s Raising Sand Radio, and a former “military mom” and GI Rights Counselor. Contact her at media@mothersspeakaboutwarandterror.org.

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