Local Occupy group seeks chances to make change
“I haven’t been a super duper activist for a while,” Katherine “Kat” Culberg said during a workday break. The school nurse and mother of two said she was energized by the Occupy movement, but found it tough to participate.
“It was basically in our backyard, but I still couldn’t get there,” she said. So Culberg, who likes Occupy’s broad tent and focus on social change, decided to bring it to Alameda.
Culberg’s efforts culminated in two public rallies meant to extend Occupy Wall Street’s fight against the power of big banks and corporations and anger at Wall Street for the role they believe it played in the country’s economic troubles. But like other local Occupy efforts, when the protests were over, Alameda’s faded from view.
Now Culberg and others are working to leverage their earlier rallies into a concrete effort to better Alamedans’ lot. They are bringing together a variety of local interest groups in the hope that together, they can find some common issues to tackle.
“I think that bringing it home to Alameda, we can give voice to the core issues and find our own way to address them,” said the Rev. Laura Rose, senior pastor of Alameda’s First Congregational Church.
Occupy groups in other cities, including Petaluma and San Francisco, have zeroed in on the foreclosure crisis, Rose said. And that’s one item Alameda’s Occupy movement is investigating.
“A lot of people from the West End felt it was all on the West End. I now know that’s not the case. It has moved east, and it has affected all Alamedans,” said Nancy Hird, who is analyzing local foreclosure data.
Kevin Good, who runs a local solar contracting firm, plans to bring the Bank of Alameda and local credit unions to the library to talk to people about the advantages of banking locally.
“I believe we have better resources at our local bank,” said Good, who said the Bank of Alameda is active in the community and that they offered him more personal service that he thinks he would get from a bigger bank.
Other challenges Rose and Culberg want to address are how to bring more lower income people and people of color into what, for now, is a largely white, middle class movement. A recent meeting held by the group was attended by just one person who wasn’t white, and a featured speaker – Alameda Point Collaborative executive director Doug Biggs – said residents there haven’t really had a lot of discussion about the movement.
“I think we need that voice,” said Rose, who was an active presence at Occupy Oakland and said the crowd there mixed homeless people and professionals.
To Culberg, the dilemma illustrates a frustrating paradox faced by people who work for social justice: The people they’re trying to help often don’t have the bandwidth to advocate for themselves.
“It’s a privilege to be a social activist a lot of the time,” Culberg said. “You have the time and the energy and the space to fight the fight.”
In addition to bringing more voices into the local Occupy mix, Rose said she is also seeking to unite politically active residents who often disagree on local issues.
“We know we live in a town where often contentious issues divide people, and divide our strength, really. We hope to keep it as broad as possible so we can form coalitions around things where we can work together and have a positive thrust,” Rose said.
Hird, who is part of the Alameda Citizens Task Force, said she came to Occupy thinking the two groups could help each other. The task force is working to put a measure on the ballot that would require any city effort to trade parkland to come to a public vote.
But Planning Board member John Knox White, who said he doesn’t see the measure as a community priority, said he thinks opposing political groups can find common ground. He pointed to a recently enacted city ordinance that is designed to make local government more transparent and accessible that he worked with a member of Hird’s group to craft.
“You can disagree with some people about some things and find lots of commonality. That’s what I like about the Occupy movement,” Knox White said.
One other group local Occupiers might find common ground with: The big banks and corporations whose actions inspired the movement in the first place. Good, for one, thinks they may be integral to turning protests into change.
“In order to do what has to be done, we can’t pretend that big business, Wall Street, and corporations can’t be at the table,” Good said. “We just have to redefine the game.”