By Andrew Dunn, CSSC Guest Blogger
A primary critique of the Occupy movement—both from without and within–has been that it doesn’t have concrete demands. In the rare cases when Occupy general assemblies have issued demands, they have been broad and far-reaching, such as “end discrimination” and “end all wars.” Perhaps because the problems we face are so vast and entrenched, deciding how to tackle them can be difficult and contentious.
Also, issuing demands on behalf of the movement as a whole would limit its scope and power, many argue. Thus, we’ve seen Occupy become a diffuse global movement rooted in a multiplicity of shared values, able to work for a host of social justice priorities. Here in the Bay Area, where I live, I’ve seen people in various communities channel the strength and passion of Occupy into actions with wildly different goals, but all aiming to create a better world for everyone. The lack of focused demands at the outset has paved the way for small cells of the movement everywhere to issue demands relevant to specific places and moments.
One example of a recent Occupy success occurred last week, when activists in San Francisco disrupted a Wells Fargo shareholder meeting, demanding that the bank end unfair business practices and become accountable to its customers. And on Earth Day, we saw the birth of something that has captivated my imagination more than any other Occupy action yet—Occupy the Farm.
Occupy the Farm began on April 22 in Albany, just north of Berkeley, when 200 community activists cut through a chain-link fence surrounding a vacant patch of land owned by the University of California. The 14-acre parcel—known as the Gill Tract—contains some of the best arable land in the entire Bay Area, according to spokespeople from the Farmers’ Collective, the group that planned the action. They intend to create a volunteer-run farm that will distribute fresh produce to the local community and serve as a learning center for students of all ages to gain hands-on experience growing food.
Standing in the way of Occupy the Farm’s specific demands is the UC, which plans to develop the parcel and several plots of land adjacent to it. According to an image from the UC’s University Village Master Plan, the Gill Tract would be transformed into recreational space, possibly baseball fields. Just south of the Tract, the Master Plan calls for the building of an elderly-care facility and a grocery store. The Farmers’ Collective and its now numerous volunteers (full disclosure: I have also volunteered on the farm) contend that such projects could be built anywhere, but “farmland is for farming.”
Despite the urgency marking the protesters’ project, the UC says that although the blueprints have been drawn up, they have “not taken any steps to implement the Master Plan.” They claim the future housing and retail development would improve the neighborhood, not diminish it. In the meantime, the UC plans to continue using the Tract for agricultural research, some of which the Farmers’ Collective opposes. One organizer, a man named Gopal, asserts that the corn UC researchers plant every summer is used for gene-isolation experiments, the results of which are solely applicable to biotech purposes, such as genetic engineering. The UC has not refuted this claim, only stating that the research aims to help feed a “hungry planet.”
I have always believed that we as a movement should be using the word Reclaim instead of Occupy—not only does Occupy connote colonialism, exploitation and war, but what we are really doing is reclaiming public land for the public good. By camping and farming on the Gill Tract, Occupy the Farm is reclaiming century-old farming land for public benefit. If their plans come to fruition, an area destined to be sold off for private consumption and exploited for the profit of corporations like Monsanto, would instead be used to train the next generation to provide organic food for their community. Should a public university even think twice about which use of the land is the right one to pursue?