Bridget and I rolled around the block looking for a place to park Edna Lu and serve tea at Oscar Grant Plaza – the heart of Occupy Oakland. Only one side of the plaza is open to the street and there’s no parking on the whole stretch. Dismayed, we parked a block away trying to figure things out. Several friends showed up and hopped on the bus. We circled again and a fellow who seemed to know the scene at the Plaza jumped on the bus to help us find a place to park and serve.
We pulled around to the back where there was vehicle access directly onto the plaza. In a split second decision, we decided that even though there weren’t any other vehicles on the plaza, we would take our chance and serve tea for a few hours. It was 9 pm.
Immediately after pulling up we were welcomed by all sorts of folks, and as the tea serving went on people expressed their hopes of us staying at Occupy. I was hesitant to have my whole house in an illegal encampment in front of City Hall as it was, let alone if I were to spend the night there and continue to serve tea.
However, as the night went on and we served more tea, I realized how important it was to be a part of this movement. The evening was windy and the people needed warmth. We were bringing in important resources like tea, electricity for charging phones, and water. And beyond all this, we were creating a mini community within the encampment where people could relax and feel comfortable, and even escape momentarily from the craziness.
As the night got late, and it seemed the tea would never stop, Bridget and I closed down. As I lay awake, trying to sleep, feeling eager for the next day and slightly uneasy about sleeping there, I was startled by movement and voices at the back of the bus. “Come here! Put your hands behind your back! What is that – your stash?” This was an undercover cop hassling a crackhead. “Hollywood, I need backup!” he stammered into his walkie talkie, “I’m over here behind the white bus.” He pushed the crackhead up against the back of my bus, just one foot from my head peeking from the curtains. Oh, great I thought, now the cops are going to come to the bus. The cop was a plain-clothed black man with inner-city swag and lingo, and as his backup never showed up, he slick-talked the crackhead, making arrangements with him to not blow his cover or else he’d arrest him. This resulted in an understanding between the two where the crackhead was now in the cop’s pocket. The cop could use this to his advantage by getting some information from the man. I wanted to lean out the window and thank the cop for rousting the crackhead, but realized this might not be the best thing to do for many reasons. And also, the crackhead has just as many, if not more, reasons to be at a protest about economic inequality.
We awoke the next morning and started to prepare for tea serving. I started chatting with some folks who were there to make free coffee for everyone, but had been shut down by the fire department for having an open flame in the park. I figured that since I didn’t want to get shut down, I might as well keep some of my curtains and my big side door closed and make hot water for these folks. For a couple hours we blasted the stove and made dozens of gallons of hot water for the coffee peeps.
It just so happened that the day we showed up for Occupy Oakland was a big day for the movement. It was the General Strike and march to the port to shut it down. As the day picked up, we switched from making water for coffee to making water for tea. We opened the doors and put out chairs and a rug. People came in swarms. We had a line for much of the day and it got hectic.
The people who came to Occupy Oakland were black, white, yellow, and brown; old and young; ex-military and Buddhist monks. It was incredible. An 82-year-old Colombian woman came said she lived alone and had no family, but when she came to the protest she felt the warmth of people’s faces and felt like she was at home with her family.
One of the pleasant surprises was a black fellow with the inner city vibe named Gibran. He came aboard all excited about herbs and teas. It ends up he’s super into herb blending and making tea for people. In fact, he had been at Occupy Oakland on Sept 25th serving free herbal brews when the encampment was raided and his pump top thermos was taken by the cops. I gave him an even larger pump top and he set to making some of his own blends to serve to people…
As the day became the evening, and the evening became the night, it seemed like we ought to leave. Something was stirring in the air. As we were nearly packed up, a friend came by to tell us that police were gathering at one end of the plaza. We drove through the plaza and out the back and I felt relieved to get my home out of there. Yet, I also felt like we were leaving our new-found family and their struggle. Many people wanted us to stay… to stay for a while – as long as needed. It was a hard thing for me. I really do want to be as free as possible so that I can choose to seize opportunities like this as they arise. Yet, other opportunities were calling. We pulled out 25 hours after we arrived, but it seemed like another time in another world.
Note on the Occupy Movement: The Free Tea Party is not a political project. As a project we support nonviolent movements aimed at creating a better world. I would love for the tea bus to show up at a Tea Party rally – the counterpart of the Occupy Movement – as the tea bus operates to create community with any and everyone. I, Guisepi, as a human being, have my own personal opinions and personally support the Occupy Movement as a protest to economic inequality, corporate influence in government, wall street money-grubbing, and irresponsible government spending (mostly in the military realm).