(UN)OCCUPY OAKLAND: AN OPEN-SOURCE LOVE POEM

NOTE: All corrections, clarifications, additions, suggestions welcome. I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of this tapestry that is Oakland – there’s room for a million more threads.

Acknowledgments to They Came For Me by Uchechi Kalu, and Restless by Li Young Lee
Many fronts, one struggle, right? – Tom Maliti

I.

They have come for the city I love
city of taco carts, wetlands reclaimed
water birds, gutted
neighborhoods, city of toxic
waste dumps and the oldest wildlife refuge
in North America.

City roamed by spirits
of Ohlone, home
of the international treat
council, inter-tribal friendship house
city
in which I love and work, make art,
dance, share food, cycle dark streets at 2am
wind in my face, ecstasy
pumping my pedals.

City where women make family
with other women
picnic in parks with their children
walk strollers through streets.

City that birthed the Black Panthers
who took on the state
with the deadliest of arsenals:
free breakfast for children, free clinics,
grocery giveaways, shoemaking
senior transport, bussing to prisons
legal aid.

City where homicide rate for black men
rivals that of US soldiers in combat.

City where I have walked precincts
rung doorbells, learned that real
democracy
is street by street, house by house
get the money out and
get the people in.

City of struggling libraries
50-year old indie bookshop
temples to Oshun, Kali-Ma, Kwan Yin.

City where Marx, Boal,
Bhaktin, Freire are taught
next to tattoo shops
bike coops rub shoulders
with sex shops, marijuana
dispensaries snuggle banks

City of pho, kimchee,
of injera, tom kha gai, braised goat,
nabeyaki udon, houmous and chaat,
of dim sum and wheatgrass and chicken and waffles.

City of capoiera and belly-dance,
martial arts, hip-hop
city of funk and blues and jazz.

City that shut down for 52 hours
in 1946, dragged jukeboxes
into the streets, jammed
to “Pistol-Packin’ Mama” for the rights
of 400 female store clerks
to fair wages and unions.

City of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union,
who refused for a record 10 days
in 1984 to unload a ship from South Africa
in the world’s 4th largest port
faced down million dollar fines.

City of nail parlours, hair brokers, tarot dens
nano-tech, biotech, women-owned auto shops
gondolas on a lake fruity
with sewage, magical
with lights.

City of one-hundred-twenty-
five freaking languages
the most ethnically diverse
in the USA.

Here on the shores of a lake
where all the waters, fresh and salt
of history and revolution mingle
they have come for the city I love.

II.

They have come for the people I love
butch dykes and tranny boys
trans men and drag queens
the two-spirit, gender-queer
dreadlocked and pierced
dancers and drummers
unionists stevedores
copwatchers carpenters
labor historians bodyworkers
scholars shamans jugglers
welders mechanics plumbers
painters truckdrivers fruitpickers
immigrant activists hemp weavers
raw-fooders rollerbladers
bikers builders engineers
wheelchair warriors war resisters
musicians and co-op creators
bakers of bread, growers of food
reclaimers of wasteland
cleaners of polluted waterways
teachers nurses healers
layers of pipe and cable, strippers of asbestos
urban farmers scientists tech freaks
radical lawyers artists
internationalists organizers
the ones who know that making a movement
is a life’s work, know
how to go limp when arrested, how
to eat from the land, heal
without surgery, drugs; raise
a child without violence.
They have come for my people
with rubber bullets, with teargas
with flash-bang grenades and destruction
with pepper spray and sticks
with 40mm canisters aimed
to fracture skulls, they have come
for the people I love.

III.

They have come for the dream that we dreamed
a city of parks and libraries
Jingletown Art Murmur
First Fridays Sistahs
Steppin’ In Pride
Bay Area Solidarity Summer
Women’s Cancer Resource Center
Pueblo Community Health
Destiny Arts
a city of Refuge, a city
of safe streets, vibrant schools
food co-ops in every ‘hood
acupuncture
for the people, yoga
for the people, power
to the people, books
not bars, living wage green
jobs not jails
clean air and water
public healthcare, public transport
urban farms on every block
children making art and science and music
adults making home, community.

Tonight, last night, the night before
the helicopters roared
at 4am, a pack
of jackals in the sky, they snarled
contempt at all that lives and grows
vanished at dawn
could not face us at sunrise.

IV.

Look.
A thousand candles. Look
the woman tipped out of her wheelchair
by the police, illuminated. See
the ones with the wrist casts, wound
dressings, eyes rinsed of teargas
with camomile tea, watch
the street medics check their supplies
mediators earth the rage, watch
how we labour
at strategy, technique, dialogue
at race, class, gender, disability
at coalition-building, at complexity
conversation by painful
conversation. Watch us
do this thing. Look
there under the jeer
of the circling ‘copter, three
generations of hijabi women
do yoga asanas
on the plaza’s straw.

They have come
for the city I love
for the people I love
and the people I love
and the city I love
keep
coming
back.

SHAILJA PATEL, NOVEMBER 2, 2011.

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