An Education in Occupy

— Connor Elkington

TWO MONTHS EARLIER, I had been sitting in class listening to an ILWU member talk about Export Grain Terminal’s (EGT) union-busting tactics in Longview, WA. “Great,” I thought, “but how can I help from the campus of a little college in Moraga, California?”

Little did I know that the answer would develop out of my class project on Occupy Wall Street, when researching its strategies quickly morphed into organizing a movement on campus.

After coming into contact with Occupy encampments in Oakland, San Francisco and the CAL campus, I learned that not only did thousands share my disillusionment with society, but that there was a possibility for real social and economic change in our generation.

On our first trip to Oscar Grant Plaza, home of the Occupy Oakland camp, I was excited to see a self-sustaining community that took care of its members and even tried to help care for those who couldn’t help themselves. A library was established and filled with historical, educational and entertaining texts.

A kitchen was set up to feed not only the Occupiers, but anybody from the surrounding community in need of a meal; a garden was built to supply that kitchen with produce grown for, and by, the Occupiers. It was refreshing to see a “people over profits” ideal not only effectively put into action, but in a way that put the problems of society on display in public space for all to see.

Following the first Occupy Oakland police raid, I couldn’t help but ask myself:  Why would the police move on peaceful protestors in such a violent way? Why would they intentionally shoot tear gas at people who were acting as members of the media, mainstream or otherwise? And why was it necessary to remove the Occupiers in the first place?

As I tried to answer these questions for myself I realized that it didn’t matter how or why the encampment was evicted, just that the group was getting larger and the chants of “banks got bailed out, we got sold out” and “we, are, the 99 percent” were getting louder as a result.

As the evictions took place in Oakland, students in my social justice organizing class came together to form the group “Occupy SMC.” Our first goal was to educate our campus on the issues that were driving the Occupy movement and how they relate to students. Hastily we began to organize a teach-in, inviting professors from a range of departments to speak on their areas of expertise.

The event was successful — and best of all was the fact that it fell on the same day as the Occupy Oakland’s general strike and shutdown of the Port of Oakland.

As the teach-in came to a close we transported students to Occupy Oakland. This was our opportunity to stand with the longshoremen in their fight against EGT and their union-busting ways.

We went to the strike to show solidarity, not just with Occupy Oakland or EGT, but also with any worker who has been exploited by an employer. This march also served as a “warning shot from Occupy Oakland to EGT,” clearly stating that if EGT didn’t stop targeting workers’ livelihoods for the sake of greater shareholder profits, they would feel the power of the extended strike.

This support of the ILWU and workers didn’t stop with the November 2nd strike. Occupy Oakland re-upped its commitment just days after, calling for a West coast port shutdown on December 12th.

Occupy SMC lives on, holding a “Walk out, to Speak out” where over 150 students walked out of classes on November 16th to protest the rising cost of education and other economic issues on campus. We are also holding General Assemblies modeled after Occupy Oakland.

Now that countless encampments have been physically evicted it is important for all of the movements to support each other’s actions.

January/February 2012, ATC 156

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