A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Oakland's New Mayor Hits The Ground Running

On Monday, Libby Schaaf was sworn in as Oakland's 50th mayor at the historic Paramount Theater, where she used to dance in the hallways as a little girl while her mom served on the board of directors. And she left no doubt in anyone's mind: There's a new sheriff in town.
"I have lived here all my life, and all my life I've been one of Oakland's biggest boosters," she said. "But I've also spent my life frustrated by Oakland's lack of safety and the gross inequities in our public schools. I've been miffed when investment has passed us by and I've been furious when people have disrespected our beautiful city with dumping, graffiti, and most recently with smashed windows."
Translation: Look for a crackdown on violence.
This will not come as welcome news to the so-called "anarchists" – I call them nihilists – who just want to fight. (Trashing the Christmas tree at Jack London Square? Really?)
But it's music to the ears of the people who actually live and work in the part of Oakland that's been affected by the violence.
They are young people, minorities, single moms, restaurateurs, tattoo artists, sculptors, painters, hipsters and entrepreneurs, including one guy I talked to who runs a medical marijuana dispensary.
They are appalled by Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and all the other killings that demonstrate a nationwide pattern of blue-on-black violence too obvious to miss. But it's their garbage cans that are being set on fire and their neighborhood stores that are being looted. And they can't understand how that does anything to stop police brutality.
Not everyone thinks the violence has been a bad thing. I heard a student at Berkeley High being interviewed on KCBS last weekend, and she said, "Nobody paid any attention to what was happening in Ferguson until they burned the QuickTrip down."
But she couldn't be more wrong. The only thing burning down the QuickTrip accomplished was to give the other side an excuse to divert the conversation from Officer Wilson's behavior to the protestors' behavior.
What really generated public interest in the case was the sight of hundreds of people peacefully chanting, "Hands up! Don't shoot!"
As Martin Luther King, whose birthday we'll celebrate next week, would have told us, that the only way to win when the other side owns all the guns, printing presses and TV stations is to force the American people to watch what is being done in their names.
Dr. King called it "bearing witness," and it worked for him. It also worked for Gandhi. "People Power" brought down Marcos in the Philippines, Mubarak in Egypt, and the whole Soviet Union. In each case, the only shots fired were fired by the losing side.
There must be some way the police and the protestors could get together and figure out how to isolate these nihilists. It's in their common interest. The protestors could protect their demonstrations from being hijacked, and the police could get a decent night's sleep for once.
Back in my day, during the Vietnam War demonstrations, we'd deal with the problem by surrounding the troublemakers with hundreds of people. That might not work today, so today's protestors will have to figure out their own tactics.
But if they can't do it in Oakland, where can they?