Occupy Movement: The Fire This Time

Ex-Black Panther Ericka Huggins says that protesters share the same anger and hope.

Ericka Huggins
Ericka Huggins

EH: California is a consciousness-raising, awareness-awakening place; it is a state where the concept of intersectionality — the connections of race, class, gender, age, citizenship status and sexual orientation — is discussed outside the classroom as well as inside it. Because of this, people migrate here for a more progressive or open-minded way of living.

But of course conservative and biased points of view flourish here, too, and Oakland’s proximity to San Francisco makes it the not-so-sleepy town across the Bay. It is a less expensive and more transient city, slow enough to provide reflective discourse and action, diverse enough to be the home of both Jack London and Huey Newton. It is a town with the highest percentage of lesbians in California, and it is also a refuge for immigrants from all over the world.

This, in addition to the large populations of African-American, Mexican-American, indigenous tribal peoples, European-American [people] and thousands of blended American families who come here for a safer and more diverse racial, ethnic and gendered experience.

Here in Oakland, this salad of culture and histories comes together, and as a result, creative and revolutionary ways of being blossom and are then often quashed by repressive forces, which makes resistance grow even stronger. This is not just an Oakland phenomenon, but it is highlighted here, where the people have a historical memory of social change, and law enforcement has a historical memory of brutal resistance to that change.

TR: You have stood on the front lines and been jailed and silenced in various ways for doing so. What is your take on this kind of organized resistance? Will this movement hold? What does it need to grow? What can retard or obstruct its movement, and what do you think can be done to prevent this?

EH: Those of us who can help to sustain Occupy Wall Street can do so by going to the Occupy location in their city. This morning in the airport shuttle, I passed by the Occupy New Haven tent city on the Yale New Haven Green, set up in the snow! It was on that same green people from all over the U.S. rallied to free me and Bobby Seale in 1969. I encouraged those who live there to think about warm food, tea, blankets. I offered what I could: simple, human support.

Too often in history, the risk takers are appreciated only decades later. John was killed for his beliefs — J. Edgar Hoover made sure of that — and the government made sure that Bobby Seale and the Chicago 7 were arrested. In a court of law, Bobby was gagged and bound to silence his legal right to represent himself. FBI’s COINTELPRO threatened to kill me many times.

Now, decades later, people thank us, invite us to speak, ask us how we managed to stand up and step out. It was the right thing to do, at the right time, with and for the right people.

Those who have taken risks can speak and answer questions and share the wisdom of success and failure, of focus and purpose, of asking for what we want in clear terms. I encourage people of color, men and women from all incomes, the jobless and those with jobs, students and teachers, straight and LGBT, able-bodied and those living with disabilities, young and old, to become part of the conversation. To ask, how can I be of use? Distance from the Occupy movement creates a paradoxical distance from ourselves. We truly are the 99 percent.

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