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Michael Berkowitz

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Occupy... Your Neighborhood!

Posted: 12/30/11 09:12 AM ET

Evelyn Glaubman was outraged at the tax cuts for the rich. She fumed when they were extended. "These tax cuts hurt the schools, the cities, the roads," she complained. "They are part of the problems our country faces. I felt that I had to do something."

Glaubman called a few friends, who called a few others. She picked a busy corner of Berkeley's Solano Avenue, across from a Chase Bank and next to a recession closed movie house. Joined by her friends and theirs, they waved hand made signs that said "Tax the Rich" and "Join Us." And people did... at first a dozen or so.

But then more and more came. They stayed for an hour or so every Monday, met with an enthusiastic reception from passing autos which honked and gave thumbs up. Some stopped, parked and joined in. Now the numbers have swelled to almost a hundred. People have committed to spin off to satellite locations closer to their homes.

The group is largely seniors, volunteers seasoned in the labor, civil rights and anti-war movements. Some call themselves "Senior Action" or "Occupy Retirement." Out of the senior centers and into the street, they joke. Glaubman herself was a friend of politically conscious, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (1928 - 1982, whose work gave us the movies Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report and more).

Harry Brill, the group's co-founder, is 82. He is a veteran of labor and political struggles. "We needed something for people who normally don't get active, something they would feel comfortable doing, but have their voices heard," he said. One woman came because she felt alone after her activist husband's death. Another woman, wheelchair bound as a result of arthritis, felt the group was more appropriate for her than the younger Occupy Berkeley and Occupy Oakland demonstrations.

But younger people as well have joined. Many enjoy the socializing and festive air of the group. The local newspaper has complained that the group showed "too much gaiety," as if one shouldn't enjoy taking political action. Local musicians have aided and abetted. Popular local artists have serenaded the demonstrations, including Hali Hammer and Nancy Schimmel. Schimmel, whose mother Malvina Reynolds wrote such standards as "Little Boxes on the Hillside" and "What Have They Done to the Rain," has formed the group Occupella which organizes public singing at Bay Area occupation sites and marches, promoting peace, justice and an end to corporate domination. It currently specializes in supporting the Occupy movement.

Festive atmosphere or not, local politicos like former Berkeley Councilmember Carla Woodworth and former Rent Board President Randy Silverman have lent their support, as well. "It would be nice," observed Woodworth, "if more local officials would join in, rather than try to squelch the movement. There is ample evidence that the Occupy Movements provide services that the City often doesn't. Besides, the clean up from the financial system is much worse and more toxic than anything generated by Occupy." And, indeed, last week, a woman being wrongfully evicted from her home sought support at the demonstration, was referred to Congresswoman Barbara Lee's constituent services and has secured her home. People from the demonstration have also organized out of it a food collection for those in need. Others are talking about taking a more pro-active stand, possibly civil disobediences.

So as Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Jose and Occupy San Francisco have been repeatedly broken up by police, moved and reconfigured. . . the more modest, but growing, seniors and their friends seek to occupy your neighborhood next. And they want your help! Like the sign says: "Join us!"