Sunday, December 11, 2011

Occupy Napa!

"Occupy Napa" bumper stickers (front, back):

2011-12-11 "Model for how ‘Occupy’ movement should move forward" letter from Jon Riley, executive director of the Napa Solano Central Labor Council/Vallejo, to the editor of "Napa Valley Register"
A pretty great thing happened in Napa last week. More than 100 people braved what seemed at times to be near-hurricane-force winds to show support for the local Occupy Napa movement at Saturday’s rally and march, which was pretty good. And the support from the local community at large, which showed up to help feed the occupiers who stayed over the three nights at Napa Valley College, was even better. The great thing was what actually happened in the weeks prior to the Occupy NVC action even starting.
Napa’s Occupy movement is made up mostly of young activists from the college who have braved the elements and continued the movement in Napa since it began. At one of the Occupy events, the topic was discussed of how to best continue the message while also addressing the negative light in which the various movements were being viewed. Whether it was the way civic leaders were handling it, or how the occupations were increasingly being infiltrated by those with different agendas or just basic needs. They were looking to take Occupy to a different level, to identify what was turning focus away from the message and help keep the movement relevant.
After reaching out to community groups that had been supportive all along and getting their feedback, occupiers decided to focus on the impacts of the abuses of the financial institutions from which the original Occupy Wall Street derived its name. They realized that the same people who were dealing with these devastating results — cities, education, mental health institutions and their employees — also had to deal with the negative impacts of some of the Occupy movements themselves, which further dipped into their already dwindling resources. What occupiers decided to do was to have an action with a defined start and end point, focused on specific impacts that are consistent with what their general assembly believed in, and to take the necessary steps to ensure that the action would be safe, clean and in cooperation with the college, which they were there to defend by shedding light on the cuts that are being forced on it.
Now these are pretty lofty goals for anyone, let alone college students.
I had the privilege of participating in a couple of meetings between the students and the administration of the college. I was quite impressed with not only the college staff, who had the safety and well-being of the students as their No. 1 priority, but also with the young people involved. The Occupy movement is perhaps the largest leaderless group exercise in history, but just like life, the cream has a tendency to rise to the top and the students are lucky to have Alex Shantz, Julio Soriano, Jenna Goodman and Nick Watter to speak for the group and come up with meaningful solutions.
It was very heartening to see that while the president and chief of police at the college were very concerned about the issues at other colleges, they were also very open to seeing to it that the students’ First Amendment rights were honored, while maintaining student safety. The students chose to open up discussions with the college prior to the actions and were able to take the concerns back to the general assembly of the Occupy Napa group and come back with compromises that not only addressed safety, but also dealt with sanitation and clean-up. In other words, they came up with what should be a model for any future actions: It will keep the focus on the core issues and not the negative impacts of long-term Occupy actions.
As for the action itself, it went off without a hitch. It was a very safe, clean and orderly environment and, besides the wind, was a perfect day. The closest thing to a pepper-spray incident happened after a young man drove by several times yelling for us to “Get a job.” I looked around the group I was with and asked “You got jobs?” Yep — engineer, teacher, nurse. After his third trip, our eyes were certainly watering from laughing. Every time there was a lull in the conversation from then on, one of our occupiers would shout out “Get a job,” and it would start all over.
The fact of the matter is this: Some out there think the Occupy/99 percent movement is dead because the encampments are being torn down, but this is about a lot more than the “where” — it’s about the “why.” This is looking a lot more like Re-Occupying the American Dream. And that message will never die, especially if the young people I have seen at these events have anything to say about it.

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