Letters, 11/12/11

Letters, 11/12/11

A letter I wrote to friends, 11/12/11.

Subject: Really Real Talk on a North American Saturday morning (no artificial sweeteners or preservatives)

Good morning Humans,

I hope you’re all doing well.  I hope that, if it’s morning for you, your coffee is within reach, and that it’s piping hot and satisfying.  If it’s not morning, I hope that you don’t have a coffee pot to clean.

It’s about 6 in the morning as I begin writing this to you, and a thought amongst many has been rolling around in my skull since the wee hours of the night that leads to this venture.

There was an old-timey tradition, before the days of IMs, SMS, and Nigerian bank notices, that has been widely commented upon as lost in our instant gratification culture.

It was called letter writing.

When I was much younger than I am now, my parents generally only encouraged (read: forced) me towards letter-writing when I had done something undesirable.  I’m sure that I wrote at least 9 letters to my grandparents to explain why I had received yet another failing grade in Social Studies or why I had rung up a $200 phone bill calling 976 numbers. It was always such a shameful ordeal, but in my parents’ view, the shame would push me towards change.

The onslaught of change has historically led me to truly epic letter writing.  At the age of 14, simultaneously faced with the increasing illness of my father and an abrupt, unwanted relocation from Georgia to Montana, I began a goodbye letter to a girlfriend that didn’t lead to that final goodbye until 175 pages of single-spaced, dot-matrix lines had been produced. In the letter, a fictional narrative was constructed within that farewell: a tale of adventuresome seas filled with sailing vessels and dashing captains (myself, of course) and plucky sidekicks (the aforementioned girlfriend). I am certain I would serially cringe at reading it today; alas, my copy was lost in the moving process. Conclusively, my family’s upcoming change was undesirable to me, and my response was to attempt to make something beautiful out of it.

Perhaps it is the sense that something undesirable (or, specifically, something that needs to change) looms in our collective atmosphere that urges me to write this to each of you this morning in long-form letter format, rather than simply posting this on Facebook or Tweeting this to strangers that happen to search for my #hashtags.

This seems, to me, a much more personal way to reach out to my friends and comrades. In my growing need to affect — no, to right the wrongs of the global system we all live in, I am compelled to write those wrongs.  And so I write this letter to you this morning, despite my current lack of caffeine. Conviction was always a more effective stimulant, anyway.

I realize that I’m sending these correspondences to an ever-growing list of people; if you’re new to this list, hello! As usual for these sort of things, I apologize if this email is an unwelcome addition to your long list of Groupon and LivingSocial offers and male enhancement spams. Please feel free to reach out to me privately if you want to be left out of these emails.

Briefly, I posted a blurb about Veteran’s Day on my Facebook page that might be worth your time; if you haven’t read it yet, here it is.

As some of you are aware, I was involved in the Occupy Cal action this past Wednesday. The roots of this action go deeper than the Occupy movement itself; students at UC Berkeley have been fighting for over two years in the light of statewide education budget cuts while the administrators further enrich themselves at the public till.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau makes $445,716.00 a year, more than the salary of the President of the United States, while the contemptible war criminal John Yoo — you know, President Bush’s “Enhanced interrogation / torture is OK!” guy — has seen his salary grow by 187% in six years. See for yourself:

http://ucpay.globl.org/index.php?campus=BERKELEY&name=BIRGENEAU+_+ROBERT+J.

http://ucpay.globl.org/index.php?campus=BERKELEY&name=YOO+_+JOHN+CHOON

It was on Wednesday that the student and faculty activists at UC Berkeley decided to adopt Occupy Wall Street tactics to their protest — and few could have anticipated the response from the administration and the UCPD.  On the same day that thousands peacefully marched down Telegraph Avenue, tents were set down in Sproul Plaza in the midst of a large crowd of protestors, which led to the UCPD actions depicted in the links below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=buovLQ9qyWQ

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2011/11/09/occupy-cal-encampment-planned-at-uc-berkeley/

See the dude near the bushes in the first link that couldn’t move as the high-rent mall cops ordered him to — and hence, beaten so hard he suffered bone fractures? He blogged about his experience; I highly recommend you read this above all other links I’ve posted here:

http://oxthepunx.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/arrested/

This specific paragraph from the blog post above struck me deeply. Keep in mind this is after his being mangled by batons.

They cuffed me and dragged me into Sproul Hall, where they were holding around thirty of us.  An officer came and asked me my name, and I told it to her.  She then started firing off questions, and I politely told her that before I did that, I wanted to know my rights at this point in the process and when I would be able to speak to a lawyer.  She responded, “You have no rights”, to which I responded “That’s impossible.”  In one of many disturbing moments of the night, she informed me that I was wrong – and wrote me down as a non-cooperative arrestee.   That simple request will earn me extra harsh treatment in the student disciplinary process, she assured me.  Throughout the night, we were referred to as “bodies” not “people.”  I was never Mirandized.

There have been multiple reports of Occupy protestors across the country being detained without being notified of their Miranda rights. In some cases, people have been incarcerated for days without a simple notification of the charges against them. I am reminded of the case of Bradley Manning, held in military custody since May 2010 without trial for the charges of releasing classified information. In my mind, the myth that an American’s unalienable rights in regards to detention are guaranteed to be honored by law enforcement has been irrevocably shattered.

My personal attendance at the protests at UC Berkeley didn’t begin until later in the evening, when the crowd pushed to retake the steps of Sproul Hall (to the shouts of “WHOSE STEPS?! OUR STEPS!!”). You can see my photos here:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150341383152093.338221.708282092&type=1&l=9ddcf0ca21

During my time in Sproul Plaza, I witnessed the tents carried back into the Plaza. I stood witness as, amongst all of the anxiety and anger in the crowd, the hundreds of people were able to peacefully sit and begin what was the first-ever Occupy Cal General Assembly — direct democracy in its purest form.

Several times I saw the students around me react in awe to the events happening around them.

“Wow! This is epic!”

“We’re sitting in history! It’s happening right now!”

Some simply choose to gape. I couldn’t really blame them.

I led a group of twenty students and individuals as we tallied votes on a proposal for a statewide Education Strike on Tuesday, November 15th — the day before a critical budget meeting of the UC Regents. There was no hesitation at all as twenty people informed me of their support for the measure, which eventually passed at 1am in the morning with 95% approval. The tents were dismantled by the UCPD the next morning, but the newborn fire had already been stoked; the strike had been declared, and the administration of UC Berkeley could only prepare for continual days of walkouts and political action by students and faculty ahead of them.

The next day, Chancellor Birgeneau released a statement that defended the police response. In part:

It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience. 

Not that it’s 100% equivalent to the situation at UC Berkeley, but I’ve attached a photo as food for thought.

As a side note, in case anyone has the idea that the front of authoritarianism is united in the case of the Occupy Wall Street protests, know the the Berkeley City Council and the Berkeley Police Department now largely refuses to honor mutual aid agreements to the UCPD in cases where Occupy Cal demonstrators are involved, save in dire emergency. This was in direct response to mutual aid provided to the Oakland PD in actions involving Occupy Oakland, which led to excessive force and cases of out-and-out police brutality — a situation that the Berkeley Council rightfully finds distasteful.  Also, the Oakland Police Union has sent out erratic signals of support for the movement, even as its members take police actions against it.

So what should all of this all mean to you? I won’t attempt to answer that question for you. I can only provide my own perspective and hope that it enlightens Truth, my ever-persistent quest item.

I want to continue this on a statement that I believe is vital to all of this.

I find myself in a fortunate situation: although I am in a job that demands more of my time and attention than any other I’ve had, in reality I still have multiple resources to devote to this cause: temporal, financial, and emotional.  To date I’ve poured around $800 into the Occupy movement, not to mention my nearly-daily attendance at General Assemblies at OccupySF (6pm on weekdays at the OccupySF camp in Justin Herman Plaza!). Not to mention, as should be readily apparent by this letter, that I’ve allowed the movement to fill a sizable portion of my heart. This has become one of my Great Causes. It is something I care deeply about, and I wish for it in the face of oppression to flourish and grow. Most of all, I wish for it — as Michael Moore (the lightning rod that he is) recently quipped — to kill apathy and inaction.

I fully realize that most of my friends here do not have the same sorts of resources to devote. A lot of you have more intensive jobs, and sometimes, in multiples. Many of you have children. A whole lot of you don’t live near Occupy actions. A few of you don’t know where you even stand with the whole Occupy movement (and, perhaps, aren’t even sure what we stand for).  Regardless of your circumstances, if you care about the goals of OWS even a little, there’s always something you can do to contribute to greater understanding and meaning.

The first thing — and I believe, most important thing — you can do is simply to talk about it. That’s one of the main points of all of the letters and emails I’ve written to this distribution list; just TALK. You can do it here publicly, you can do privately. You can strike it up with our next beer. There are many varied forces aligned to sculpt the public perception of OWS, and shockingly, many of them act to obscure and distort the pursuit of Truth.  Without tooting my own horn too much, the realities on the ground are best reported by those that participate; know always that you can get the Real Straight Deal from me if you have questions or concerns about the path of the movement. I always endeavor to be as forthcoming and honest as I can be, and that applies to the movement as much as anything else.

If you are so lucky that you happen to be in vicinity of an OWS political action or march, take an hour out of your day to seek it out. Bring your camera. Bring some optimism. Strike up a conversation with someone you would not normally speak to. Take opinions in stride, and don’t be threatened by viewpoints you don’t share. Cheer internally when you find one that does. Most of all, don’t come pre-equipped with assumptions. Take in what lies immediately in front of you, and judge for yourself.

If you happen to have material resources like surplus camping supplies and outdoor goods, donate them to local camps and homeless outreach programs. I am always happy to take these items off of charitable friends’ hands. If you wish to donate your hard-earned cash to me directly, know that I will be frugal and use your funds to the greatest efficacy.

Know that you always have the choice to do nothing at all, and I can accept that. Know that regardless of the choice, I am here to assist you.

I won’t let this missive drag out too much longer (mostly for my desire for this to be a morning read). I had a great time seeing some of you last weekend, and look forward to the weekend’s activities.  To some of you, I regret that our previous event wasn’t conducive to contributing to the conversation I wish to further enable with this letter.

So then, one very brief, final note. This is about something that each of us has that, often in the day-to-day, we don’t quite realize.

That thing is POWER.

We all have the power, unrealized or not, to EFFECT CHANGE in this world.

I was in the Occupy SF camp during the second raid by the SFPD in mid-October. It was, bar none, one of the most powerful and affecting moments of my life.

As the police tore down the camp, I saw many things I did not wish to see, nor ever expected to see in San Francisco — a city with a rich, long history of activism that is celebrated by privileged and wanting citizens alike.

I saw SF police, our everyday neighbors and friends, toss aside unarmed protesters like rag dolls onto hard pavement.

I watched as many were thrown to the ground for simply defending their place in public space. After confining them with plastic cuffs, often the detained were left to squirm on the cold concrete for long minutes before the police dragged them into vans.

Even as calls to local news media were made hours before the expected police action, no reporters or satellite trucks were present. For the mainstream media, there was nothing of note to report in Justin Herman Plaza that night.

I witnessed men and women dragged from the scene by collars and belts, and in two cases by their fingers. One man’s fingers actually broke.

In the face of so much brutal oppression, I noticed something surprising.

Cameras. IPads. Video cameras. Mobile phones. More and more appeared by the moment.

One cameraman filmed too close to a group of police; they tackled him as his camera clattered to the asphalt; immediately, five more cameras popped up.  “What’s your name?!  What’s your name?!” was called out. “SHAME! SHAME!!” They couldn’t arrest everyone with pictures.

Even as public works trucks prepared to leave with confiscated camp goods in hand, protesters sat in the road in front of the trucks, most with cameras in hand. Some were even livestreaming everything to the Internet. “Say Hello to the world!”

All through the long night, people stood in defiance and shouted in unison with recording device in hand:

“THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!!! THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!!!”

From all the discussions I’ve had with people from California to Iceland to Japan that have seen the footage of events I personally took a part in, side by side with those that share my desire for a better, more fair world — I can confirm that the whole world is indeed watching.

My dear, sincere hope is that you will do the same, and act in accordance to your own means and beliefs.

I wish health and happiness for every one of you.

~~ (>’-‘)> ~~ Adam Edgmond

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