Last Wednesday, I baked a pie for my local Democratic club meeting. I named this one the Occu-Pie Apple Pie, because all good pies should have names.
A new face showed up at the meeting to tell us about a MoveOn rally on Friday afternoon. She liked my pie, the rally sounded interesting, and I decided to go.
But first, a little about Ventura County. It has the beach city of Ventura; the working-class Latino city of Oxnard; and the purple-to-red East County, home of the Reagan Library, and that’s all you really need to know about East County politics, isn’t it? While others howled about Occupy Wall Street police brutality arrests, I tweeted: “Videotape of police brutality does not, in and of itself, swing America to your side. Love, Rodney King country.”
So I showed up to the MoveOn rally Friday afternoon with a simple sign (“I am the 99% – are you?”), figuring that I’d be there for half an hour and then move on. About 50 to 75 people joined the rally, all with signs.
And people honked approval at us.
And they honked, and honked, and honked.
A few people shouted at us to “get a job!” and “move to China!” but I could barely hear them over the honking.
About half the people waving signs at this rally were people I’ve seen at prior political events. Others were simply ordinary people who had stories to tell, stories that a casual observer wouldn’t associate with an upper-middle-class safe city.
I decided to attend the #OccupyVentura rally the following day after a local Democratic women’s club brunch meeting. I drove a friend, Karoli of Crooks & Liars. Here’s her story of big signs.
Before I arrived, the group marched to the local Bank of America to withdraw funds, but the branch shut down early to avoid a scene. Overall, the mood was as mellow as you’d expect from a sleepy beach town. The OccupyVentura rally was cleared with police in advance, and a couple of police officers hung out in a distant corner of the park. I saw one man with an Obama-as-the-Joker T-shirt, but no obvious LaRouchies, anti-Semites, or Ron Paul fans as have been reported at other OWS rallies.
The quintessential occupier of Ventura: a man with one tooth, a brilliant idea for renewable energy that would save the world, and an overwhelming desire to tell me everything about it except for the idea itself. I wanted to hear more, I wanted to take him to the dentist and buy him new clothes, I wanted to run away – all at once.
Away from the street, a handful of tents and a stage were set up. A band played for an hour, then people spoke at an open mic (with a real microphone). The stories they told were deeply personal, sometimes angry, sometimes confessional. A couple of speakers emphasized the need for action with specific demands such as reinstating Glass-Steagall. However, the emphasis was on sharing stories: anger, pain, bewilderment. Organizers had set up a command central tent, a media tent, a sign-making area, and my personal favorite – the Occuplay!
The one thing missing from the rally was an effort to engage people in traditional political action – no voter registration, no petition to sign, no collection of email addresses. If the movement grows, the people telling their deeply personal stories need to take that next step.
The following day, I was among the volunteers representing our local Democratic club at an annual street fair. A number of community groups set up booths among the sellers of kettle corn and Etsy-type crafts. We had steady traffic all morning – people who asked about the local clubs, people who wanted to register, people who wanted to buy buttons and bumper stickers, people who just wanted to flash a furtive thumbs up sign. Sometimes, in a purple-to-red county, we just need to let Democrats know that they’re not alone.
David Pollock, who’s running for Congress in the new CA-25 now held by useless backbencher Elton Gallegly, had a carnival barker’s cadence: “Register to vote! Are you registered to vote? You can’t vote unless you’re registered!” Whether it was his voice or something else, we signed up 22 Democratic voters by 1 PM, including 2 Republicans switching parties.
This story began with an Occu-Pie, segued to a rally raising community visibility, then to a bigger rally raising consciousness, and then to direct action registering voters. It’ll end with another Occu-Pie. In this face-off between 1 Big Max and 99 sweet little pumpkins, who will win? The pie baker!