Occupy the Farm (OTF) began on April 22, 2012, when over a hundred activists began planting crops on an unused plot of land in Albany, California. Like the date—Earth Day—the site was chosen for its significance as the target of a decades-long struggle to preserve one of the last pieces of prime agricultural land in the area. The Gill Tract, as OTF’s home is known, contains the last Class One soil left in the East Bay and is located within a thermal belt that provides some of the best farming conditions statewide. Just three miles from the UC Berkeley campus, the fourteen-acre plot is all that remains of the original 100-acre Gill Nursery purchased by the University of California in 1928. Since the 1990s, community groups, local residents, and UC faculty have fought to establish a sustainable urban farm on the land, pressuring the university administration to protect the school’s legacy as a pioneering institution for sustainable agricultural research. Despite this history, the majority of the Gill Tract is currently being used for research related to genetic modification of corn, and is slated to be rezoned for commercial development in 2013.
Our day with Occupy the Farm began with a morning meeting in the backyard of a nearby house, where an ever-growing diameter of activists circled around a picnic table spread with fresh fruit, tea, and breads. The action plan for the day was straightforward: go in; weed; harvest; get out; distribute.
When he’s not teaching kids about urban agriculture, Ashoka Finley regularly tends to the Gill Tract farm with other folks involved in Occupy the Farm. Ashoka became involved in activism in 2009 during the budget cuts movement at UC Berkeley and participated in the occupation of Wheeler Hall. Forty-three students locked themselves inside the building for 12 hours, while thousands of supporters waited outside in a standoff with riot police.
Taylor Kohles also became an activist during the student movement at UC-Berkeley, and went on to organize with Occupy Oakland, getting involved in projects such as Oakland Occupy Patriarchy and the East Bay Solidarity Network, a mutual support organization of workers and tenants. A new initiative of theirs, Foreclosure and Eviction Free Oakland (FEFO) aims to stop all evictions - foreclosure, rent, and squat - in West Oakland.
Lindsay Grace moved to Oakland from L.A. two years ago and has organized with Oakland Occupy Patriarchy. In her interview she speaks about the Feminist Vigilante Gangs march, which was meant to encourage women, queer and trans folks to come together to physically confront patriarchy, and have one anothers’ backs at all times. Oakland Occupy Patriarchy was formed out of a need for a space to address patriarchy within the Occupy Oakland commune/camp and wider community. A self-defense class, Offensive Feminist, came out of the group and continues to meet weekly. The Facebook event for the next class can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/123085451197090
At times seen as a relatively uncontentious encampment, having managed to evade negative media, Occupy Los Angeles still experienced traumatic events like being raided, evicted, and arrested in hundreds. Similarly across Occupy communities, people with historically marginalized backgrounds found the need to create their own spaces within the larger group, so the Occupy Los Angeles (OLA) Queer Caucus was formed, more formally known as the LGBTQA2Z Caucus. Thereafter, affinity groups formed around projects in common, as was the case with the OLA Queer Affinity Group, or Los Angeles Queer Resistance Collective, a producer of radical queer propaganda and hub for zine-making skillshares. Before visiting the site of the former encampment, we spent some time talking with John Waiblinger, whom the Los Angeles Queer Resistance Collective had chosen as its delegate for our interview.
Despite being an appalling development in Arizonan legislature, HB2281 was preceded and eternally upstaged in mainstream media by its older sibling, Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (SB1070). SB1070 was a controversial law enacted in 2010 and requires all immigrants over 14 to carry identification and comply to racial profiling, stops, documentation requests, detentions, and arrests by the police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
We had the opportunity to talk to Lupe, a spirited MAS graduate, who earnestly identifies as a thug-turned-activist and organizes with Derechos Humanos and Occupy Tucson. He is just one example of how new laws spawned by racism and anti-Mexican bigotry are invading multiple aspects of people’s lives. Lupe spoke of the MAS program as being life-changing, familial, and formative; HB2281 destroyed that. He also described a night with his family, when his brother-in-law ran to the supermarket during dinner preparations, but was stopped, arrested, and ultimately deported to Mexico instead; SB1070 made that legal and common.
Our first day in Tucson also coincided with the weekly meeting of Derechos Humanos, an activist coalition which leads the local struggle for human and civil rights, increasingly challenged by the militarization of the Southern Border and its soldiers’ cruel treatment of undocumented people. The coalition’s goals include: