River People Occupy Eureka
From an article I wrote for a newspaper published on the Hoopa Indian Reservation
A Universal Movement
By Malcolm Terence, Two Rivers Tribune Contributing Writer
We barely found our way through the growing Occupy crowd on the Eureka Courthouse steps when a woman handed us a 99 percent placard in the same gesture that a waitress hands you a menu when you enter a diner.
Despite the criticism that the Occupy movement has no agenda, the placard listed four demands in a bold, bulleted large font; Healthcare for All; Jobs with Dignity; Quality Public Education; and A Healthy Environment.
Many people waved their placards at the traffic streaming by on Fifth Street and many honked back, vehicles of every stripe—old clunkers, shiny new ones and oversized macho pickups. If honks were any measure, the Occupy gang had decent approval.
Occupy Eureka began on the same encampment model as Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Oakland, and, like them, it has been busted in the middle of the night on grounds that their encampment was illegal. When we arrived the tents were long gone and the small grassy area was solidly fenced off.
Through the crowd we saw Aryay Lenske Kalaki. We have known Aryay for decades going back to what we now call the Herbicide Wars. That’s when Mavis McCovey, then a nurse, alerted the world that there were too many birth anomalies showing up at the Orleans clinic, and the likely culprit was chemical sprays being used in the woods.
The Klamath and Salmon River towns organized then and Aryay was a valuable ally. He worked through the crowd, greeting newcomers and checking in with people carrying clipboards. He’s now at the age where many people settle into their hammocks but once an organizer…
By then nearly 150 people gathered and a woman sang on an under-powered public address system. There were enough people handing leaflets to stuff every pocket and the handouts were spilling over with more demands. Where did the claim that the movement had no agenda begin? Not Eureka.
Handouts included a list titled “10 Things We Want,” calendars of upcoming events, instructions for coping with police harassment and interrogation, even a suggestion of 14 places to occupy for different demands. The list began with “Occupy
Humboldt County Supervisors” over homeless shelters and ended with “Occupy Everywhere” with the demand “Restore Democratic Decision Making.” The dozen Occupies in between included police agencies, banks, HSU, Safeway and the timber company Green Diamond.
Just then the woman who handed us the placard circled through. She was Kathryn Donahue, a nurse who worked in the 1980s at the hospital in Hoopa. Her agenda was driven by her 34 years in the medical profession.
“We see people coming through the Intensive Care Unit almost dead, with no access to health care, so broke they have to choose between groceries or their medications,” she said.
The National Nurses United solution was a half-percent tax on short term speculative stock trades which could raise $350 billion a year. “They’ll tax my 401(K) investment account.” she said. Then she laughed and said that after the fiscal meltdown, “it’s now a 201(K).”
A string of speakers took the microphone and suggested actions, or retold the predations of the police after dark. About then a patrol car pulled in at the corner and Aryay headed over to intercept the officer who got out.
A prank caller told the police that there was a woman at Occupy Eureka not wearing pants. Aryay assured the officer that he had things under control. The cop seemed happy to return to his car and be spared shoving through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd checking for people without pants.
A young man took the mike and talked about the Eureka police one night slamming him so hard on the sidewalk that he passed out. A young lawyer advocate for the Occupiers invited more people to come by at night to shame the police invasions.
The poet Jerry Martien, another organizer of that day’s gathering, read his newest poem. It begins:
“Once we occupied a garden. Then some devil came out of our divided hearts and minds and said: what are your demands. Knowledge, we said. The difference between truth and lies. Stop your war against heaven and earth. We left the garden. Occupied his universities and draft boards. Missile silos and nukes. Pine Ridge and Alcatraz and People’s Park. OK, said the Devil. We got multicultural studies for the rich. A volunteer army for the poor.”
Another speaker announced that the movement was organizing to shut down the ports of Oakland and Los Angeles on Monday, December 12. Several expressed disdain with politicians of both parties and one offered the summation, “If the Goddess had meant for us to have elections, she would have given us candidates.”
A man standing in the back of the crowd shook his head and said the issue he’d organize was to get corporate money out of elections. “Start with occupying Thompson’s office, Feinstein’s and Boxer’s. Start in Humboldt and spread it from here.”
He identified himself as Matthew Owen and said he worked with home mortgages at Wells Fargo.
One of the last speakers said, “The first occupation here was 150 years ago when they murdered the people who lived here and stole the land.”
Aryay took the microphone again and said, “We want ideas. This gathering is part of the transition from what happened before the fence and what we can do next.”
As the larger crowd dispersed, a smaller group of 20 Occupy regulars formed a circle and offered food to all. One man invited agenda items explained their protocols for speakers:
If you agree with the speaker, hold your hands up and wiggle your fingers. If you disagree, wiggle fingers down. For strong disagreement, cross arms over your chest. If the speaker is going on too long, roll your hands like the basketball ref calling a traveling violation.
Then they talked, one at a time, and they listened.