Monday, July 23, 2012

Obama Comes to Oakland, 23 July 2012

President Barack Obama dropped into Oakland today.  His first stop after the airport happened to be in my neighborhood, at the Scottish Rite Temple that shows its broad back to me while it faces Lake Merritt.
     Some of us in the neighborhood drifted over there to the police barriers at the corner nearest to the back entrance of the Temple where Obama was bound to enter, but we were tricked, after an hour's wait,  when he arrived the wrong way on that One Way Street.  
     Obama is still loved in Oakland, and some parents brought their children, hoping the chldren would catch a glimpse of their President.  There seemed a tongue-in-cheek awareness in the adults that we were acting like subjects hoping for a glimpse of the royals, but we enjoyed it like a quiet game, a meditation on how democracy used to feel when we were children and thought America lived by simple, decent values.  
        And there was an old-fashioned feeling of democracy there -- or, true to Oakland's mores, was it common courtesy, the custom of hospitality?  How often does the President of the country come to your neighborhood?  Meanwhile, as we waited, we had the game of watching the police on the top of the Temple scanning the territory, and we had the game of each person debating from which direction the President would arrive.  

      And it was a chance for neighbors to meet and talk with each other.  One child who seemed, with his father, to be Middle Eastern origin, was frightened by the barred barriers the police set up, taller than the little boy, and he had to be persuaded that he was not being placed in a jail.  He showed such unshakable suspicion that you had to conjecture that his fear was rooted in experience.  

      People chatted about having no interest in going later to demonstrate outside the restored Fox  when President Obama spoke there that night, and they expressed their dislike for those who called themselves Occupy Oakland.  "That isn't Oakland.  Those people aren't from Oakland.  Spoiled kids getting money from their parents."  "
       "It used to be mostly people from Oakland, all kinds," I said, "in the beginning."  
        For this group, it was the sense of neighborhood that they were enjoying; some were familiar to others as they walked up and joined the group.  
        It was understood that you don't fail to come out to greet the President if he comes to your neighborhood.  We knew it was just a ritual, and that we were not likely to catch a glimpse of the President even if he passed through this intersection where people had gathered on all four corners.  Basic hospitality.  We "sir" and "m'am" in Oakland. 

       Was it rumor that he would enter from the other end of the block in spite or that being a One Way Street.   Some began to believe that way and look down the long street to the other end.
      "It's a One Way Street." 
     "The President," someone said, "can go the wrong way on a One Way Street."  
     "Yes," another person said.  "They're not delivering mail on these streets -- at least not until later."

     The rumor was true, and we all gathered behind the police barricade and watched in the distance as the end of the street lit up with the lights for official vehicles.  Many dark government cars, and many white vans, turned mid-block into the lot behind the Temple, and when that was filled, they lined the street before us.

        His father led away the little boy whose face was still looking back with fear and worry.  Perhaps he equates public events with violence.

     A Job Corps instructor I had talked to during our wait told me where he lives, and it is in the building next to me.  He teaches on Treasure Island, and he is a member of the American Federation of Teachers Union, which prompted me to tell him how, during the San Francisco State Strike at the end of the 1960s, we met with and persuaded George Johns, head of the Labor Council, to give us the protection of our own little maverick union of clerical workers, teachers' assistants, and any others who did not fit in the AFT teacher's union -- We were AFT 1928.  He told me that all these decades later, it was still the same great lawyer who helps AFT win its battles.  This Job Corp Instructor was named Nathan:

     Meanwhile in Oscar Grant Park in front of City Hall,  

worthy warriors were hoping that Obama could stop federal agents who are fiercely intent on destroying access to marijuana, contrary to California State law.  

It has been a hot, quiet day, nothing like Aurora, Colorado.  On the next day -- Click on image to enlarge:

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