Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Oakland’

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Justice & Injustice

January 26, 2012

Seminary Intern Andrew Greenhaw reflects on justice and injustice, following a weekend celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Having the opportunity to preach this last Sunday as our community celebrated the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a privilege. As I worked to prepare the sermon, I read and reflected on King’s incredible response to God’s call to justice. King had a gift for hearing God’s word for our society and had the courage to respond to that word.

During my time here at First Church, I have noticed time and again this congregation’s concern for justice, whether it be the Occupy movement, the UCC’s Mission 1 Food Justice Campaign or the unlawful imprisonment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Last week as I was reading and reflecting on King’s life in preparation for my sermon, I heard another call to justice.

On the local news was a story about a man named Marcel Johnson who had been arrested at the Occupy Oakland camp. After being taken to jail, Johnson, who also goes by Khali, did not receive his psychiatric medication and had an altercation with a corrections officer. Because of Khali’s prior arrests, under California’s three strike law he may now face life in prison on charges stemming from the altercation.

I do not know Marcel Johnson, but I know that this is injustice. We live in a country that locks more people in prison than any other. And it is widely known that a horrendously disproportionate number of those locked away are, like Marcel Johnson, African American. It may not be as widely known, but is no less true, that a shocking number of those imprisoned for life under California’s three strikes law are black men convicted of non-violent crimes. This is not justice. This cannot stand.

If we are concerned for victims of torture, if we are concerned for prisoners at Guantanamo, let us also be concerned for Marcel Johnson and prisoners here in California. If we want to honor the work of Martin Luther King Jr., let us speak out against the mass imprisonment of black persons in this country. I know how much this congregation cares about justice and how much it does to bring about justice.

So when I heard the call to justice in Marcel’s story, I felt I needed to share it with you.

More about First Church…

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Zephania and Economic Justice

November 18, 2011

On Sunday, November 13, one of the lectionary readings for the day was from the book of the prophet Zephania. In it the speaker warns the people about the dangers of “resting on the dregs” of economic wealth.

In the two Sunday services at First Church Berkeley, preachers Phil Porter (9 am) and Sam Rennebohm (11 am) reflect on issues of economic justice, weaving in reflections on the Occupy movement and the 99%.

Here are the videos of the two sermons:

 

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Non-Violence: More Reflections on the General Strike

November 7, 2011

Sam Rennebohm, First Church Seminary Intern, shares his experiences of the march to the Port of Oakland that was part of the General Strike called by the Occupy Oakland movement on Wednesday, November 2.

The march yesterday evening was one of the most amazing demonstrations of people power I have seen—inspiring, non-violent, communal. I remember being on top of the bridge into the port and seeing people stretching for blocks and blocks in either direction. There were people of all ages and races, Berkeley and Oakland teachers, workers representing their unions, babies and toddlers, people on stilts and on bicycles, high schoolers and university students. Rarely do we witness such a true representation of that phrase “all walks of life.”

We marched into the port with such positive and life-affirming energy. As we walked through the port, people broke into celebration. There was dancing and singing and drumming, and people waved flags. There were also powerful conversations happening in small groups, people talking about their ideas and ideals with one another in passionate ways. All the while it was the sheer presence of so many folks that was causing the Port to have to shut down its operations.

At one point in the evening, while we were blocking one of the gates to the port, two or three people got angry with a car that was driving by and started to bang on the windshield. A group of maybe 100 soon gathered around them and started chanting “peaceful, peaceful” with enough force to entirely change the energy. The people who were angry calmed down, and the crowd convinced them to let the vehicle drive away.

It was an amazing indication to me that, even though there is no true center or established leadership here, the overwhelming (literally) majority are committed to non-violent methods.

I left the Port around 9pm, and the energy was still very celebratory and positive. Even as we were piling into the BART, people were giving each-other high-fives and hugs and telling their stories.

Reading the news-reports from the middle of the night, it saddens me to hear of what took place. It also convinces me of the importance of continued involvement in this growing movement – the importance of maintaining strong voices for the methods of non-violence.

More about First Church Berkeley…

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The March to the Port of Oakland

November 3, 2011

by Phil Porter

As I begin my day this Thursday, November 3, the day after the General Strike in Oakland, I am mostly experiencing frustration over what little media coverage I have scanned (mostly online). Reports are focusing primarily on vandalism and clashes between police and participants later in the evening. Little is being said about the scope of the march or its tone.

The crowd at the evening march of the General StrikeI went downtown both in the morning and later for the 5 pm march to the Port of Oakland. At that later time, I had intended to stay for a while, perhaps march for a bit and then return home. I ended up walking all the way to the port and back.

The crowd was huge, stretching for blocks. I’ll attach a photo, but it was hard to capture the scope of the march. The crowd was varied and the general vibe was positive, friendly and celebrative. Personally, I think this is the big story from yesterday: the action was only called a week ago and thousands turned out for it. And not only that, but folks were willing to walk all the way to the port and back (a couple of miles each way.) That, in my opinion is a sign of high commitment. This huge crowd got itself to the port and back with only a small police presence (I saw a dozen or so police on motorcycles at a few intersections along the route of the march, but they weren’t directing traffic.)

“Shutting down the port” can conjure up many different pictures. My experience of what happened was that the crowds alone clogged the roads leading to and from the port which make truck traffic impossible. From where I was, I didn’t see any other sort of disruptive action. Mostly what I witnessed was people walking down and then walking back. I felt the primary message that was being communicated was “we are standing together because things need to change.” (From other reports I have seen, the port may have chosen to close even before the march arrived there.)

When I walked back to downtown Oakland which was still relatively early (7:30 pm) a group was gathered in the intersection at Broadway and 14th. I must say, I felt at that point I experienced a bit of dread, because I believe the possibility for conflict dramatically increases the later it gets. And this morning, I began hearing the reports of problems. This will always be the part of the story that the media leads with.

I am a firm believer in non-violent protest and I see absolutely no value in the defacement or destruction of property. It seems a shame that the dynamics of public and political action and the attention they receive pivot precisely on that. The Occupy Oakland movement has both benefitted and will be harmed in this unfortunate equation. As a progressive person of faith, I believe that “the truth will set us free” and that the truth of any situation has many sides to it. I would hope to see a fuller truth represented in the media.

Other stories and points of view on the activities in Oakland and the larger issues of the “Occupy Movement” are welcome. Email your thoughts to pporter@fccb.org.

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National “Move Your Money” Day

October 28, 2011

by Richard Wong, a member of First Church Berkeley

National Move Your Money Day is November 5th—A way to participate in the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Move Your Money logoOn October 13th about 30 people from FCCB, the GTU community, and local clergy met to discuss how people of faith can support the Occupy Wall Street movement. One idea was to encourage people to move their money from major banks to more local options. This is not a new idea. It was first proposed by Arianna Huffington in December 2010 as a New Year’s resolution to address the excesses of the banking industry and the havoc they have played in the housing market and in the economy at large. This idea has now gained national momentum because of Bank of America’s debit card fee and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

On October 25th, Jody and I completed transfer of our bank accounts from Chase to First United Services Credit Union. We did this to align ourselves with the National Move Your Money campaign, which has declared November 5th as the day to move your money from large banks to credit unions and local community banks. We feel that we can make a difference in a concrete way by this action. We are standing with “the 99 percent.” So far, over 45,000 people have pledged on Facebook to participate. For more information on the ‘Move Your Money’ campaign, visit online at www.moveyourmoney.info.

The “Big Six” banks, JP Morgan/Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have evolved in the past few years to become the institutions “too big to fail.”  Why do we have this situation?  In 1990, the six largest banks accounted for 9 percent of all U.S. deposits.  By the end of 2010, the six biggest banks accounted for 36 percent of deposits.  This concentration of deposits into the major banks was the result of 37 regional/national banks (remember Security Pacific Bank?) in 1990, merging from buyout, acquisition, and bankruptcy to become only four in 2009 (Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan/Chase).  Add the investment banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and we have the Big Six.

The result of this shift was that the largest and most profitable banks have moved away from being traditional lending institutions and have become speculative trading entities.

This collective mismanagement has resulted in the foreclosure crisis, record high levels of unemployment, and the American and world economies in turmoil. It is time to reverse this trend.

Jody and I invite you to join us in the Move Your Money campaign as a concrete way to “do something” in the face of our current economic crisis.

To find a local credit union go to www.findacreditunion.com, submit your address, and a listing of credit unions in the area will be given.

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Fed by the 3000: An Experience of Occupy Oakland

October 28, 2011

by Phil Porter

I am 58, white, gay, a property owner and resident near downtown Oakland, somewhere in the middle on the income scale (and have more than one job to be in that position), President of the Koreatown Northgate Community Benefit District Board of Directors, Minister of Art & Communication at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, political and theologically progressive but not radical, inclined toward art rather than politics, co-director of a non-profit organization, grew up in Indiana and claim my Midwest roots, am the adult child of normal parents, am responsible to a fault, a Pisces, an introvert…

Occupy Oakland General AssemblyThis is all to put into some sort of context what I am about to report. You can interpret as you well, but it seemed important to “place” myself a bit before I share what I witnessed.

I went downtown on Wednesday, October 26, the night after the police broke up an Occupy Oakland rally with tear gas, to “check out the scene.” I had heard there was to be a “General Assembly” at 6 pm. I wasn’t sure what that was, but assumed that it had something to do with the way that the movement was being conducted.

What I witnessed was nothing short of incredible. I expected to stay for a half hour but didn’t leave for three hours.

A huge crowd of people gathered in the amphitheater next to City Hall. I’m not good at estimating but some were saying 3000. There were a few “facilitators” with a small microphone system. The meeting began with people having a chance to speak for a minute or two about anything. They shared experiences about the night before and the encampment in general. Some railed against the police’s actions the night before, others claimed the police as part of the “99%”. The crowd was respectful and caring and excited to be back together in force.

And then they began a “resolution” process based on a modified consensus process (they seek 90% agreement.) Although I can’t quite capture the whole process, let me share some of my own experience of it.

The group was using the “human mike” technique where the speaker at the microphone says a few words and then the whole crowd repeats it so that those at the edge of the space can hear what is said. Sometimes it is repeated in two waves. If you haven’t been in a large group doing this, you should try to get a chance to experience it. Besides the amplification of the speech, it takes on the powerful quality of “litany”, of the back and forth of speaking and listening. It was creates engagement and a sense of solidarity with the whole group. At one point those at the microphone asked the people near in to turn around so that they were actually speaking outward in the circle. From where I was sitting on the amphitheater steps, suddenly there were then a whole group of people sitting in the middle of the space facing me, speaking the words coming from the microphone right toward me.

The commitment to inclusion in decision-making was extraordinary. After the first resolution was presented (to call for a General Strike on November 2) and clarifying questions were asked, folks were invited to gather in groups of 20 to discuss the resolution. And we actually did. Mind you, at this point it is dark, with mostly just a few street and building lights, the flash of cameras and the glow of cell phones. The crowd is still huge. We could barely see each other but we gathered and talked. The comments were insightful, considered, serious and thoughtful. I don’t say this to suggest that it was surprising to me, but rather to emphasize that this was the tone I perceived in the whole crowd. Folks may have been impassioned, but they were also calm, considerate and committed to the conversation. And even as the time passed (and I must say, this process is a slow one) people stayed with it and were exceedingly patient. Remember, the crowd has not diminished over the course of the evening, perhaps it has even grown.

The process of discussion and debate put our national political process to shame. They (we) listened to each other, were genuinely committed to finding the right common decision and stayed with the process for a long time, even in this huge crowd in the dark, with relatively little previous “coming together,” even without a direct connection to the folks way on the other side of the crowd or even being able to clearly see who was speaking.

I did finally leave at about 9 pm before this resolution was voted on (I read online that it passed with a 96% vote from almost 2,000 people.) I found myself worrying about how the evening would end when the legal time for gathering would pass, but as I walked home I saw no police presence at all, other than the helicopters that circled overhead. I haven’t heard or read anything about what happened so I assume it ended peacefully.

And this is the another important point: the media will cover the drama and the clashes but they probably won’t report that real news: the 3,000 people gathered in the dark committed to working together to make some decisions for their own good, for the good of others, the country and the world.

I went because it is one of my practices to try to witness first-hand events that I’m not sure I can trust the media to report accurately, especially when it happens in Oakland. Because of who I am in my communities (and some of the qualities I listed at the beginning), I think people will trust what I am reporting, even as my reflections are shaped by my “place” in the world.

I left, though, as something more than an observer. I sat in that crowd for three hours on the cold, hard steps of the amphitheater. I was surrounded by voices chanting back the words of the speakers, I joined in a discussion circle. In the dark, in a crowd that stretched in all directions around me.