Occupy Oakland: Interview with Khalid Shakur, participant
2012-01-07 (Saturday) § Leave a comment
I visited Occupy Oakland at Frank Ogawa Plaza (a.k.a. Oscar Grant Plaza) on October 31, 2011 and asked some questions of people there. This is the longest interview I conducted. I was directed to this guy by a couple of people sitting in the Media tent. Audio is downloadable here and the transcript follows.
K: So, is it all right if I post this on the internet? Are you down with that?
KS: That’s okay.
K: Okay. And your name is?
KS: Khalid Shakur. K-H-A-L-I-D-S-H-A-K-U-R.
K: What do you hope will result from Occupy Oakland and how likely do you think that is to happen?
KS: What I hope will result from Occupy Oakland is the ability to have a self-sustainable lifestyle, to have the city which I live in (Oakland) as well as the other cities [unintelligible] that are participating in other occupations to have a complete turnaround with the infrastructure of how the various governments spend and allocate funds, to ensure that schools stay open, to ensure that libraries stay open, to ensure that people have access to proper medical and housing. Just the patience to ensure that the nonprofits that are for the people actually work for the people and not just collect federal funds and say that they’re an established nonprofit that provides services when they actually don’t. So the overall goal is to make sure that the services that it takes to maintain a balanced lifestyle are met and that people aren’t oppressed because they choose to live off the grid but still play a part and a role as citizens of this country that economically and socially provide a great deal to the makeup and the fiber of what success can actually be from a non-capitalist point of view. And I believe that can be obtained with, once again, proper balance, proper understanding of each individual’s goals and not having a hidden agenda based on greed or violence.
K: How do you see this gathering here contributing to bringing about those outcomes?
KS: I see this gathering contributing to those outcomes because the amount of positive energy that exists here. All the like-minded people that are on the same page stimulate not only themselves but others around them with very open and honest dialogue, very open, honest exchanges of what each individual expects from this. And with those positive interactions comes positive energy. And I’ve seen a great deal of transformations with various different people from all walks of life. I would just say reform. Social reform and mental health reform. We’ve got a lot of people out here with mental health issues that have actually become rather functional because of us being here.
K: How did you get involved in Occupy Oakland in the first place?
KS: I got involved – I was on Facebook and I saw on someone’s page that there was a GA meeting at Mosswood Park, and the wording – how the wording was structured, it excited me. I wanted to see what it was about, and I went to the GA meeting, and –
K: GA is General Assembly?
KS: The General Assembly meeting. And I already knew about the occupation of Wall Street. And I was like “Okay. Occupy Oakland, I want to be a part of it. This is my city. I already know what it’s about in Wall Street. And I wanted to see exactly how it was gonna be structured here.
K: What generally shared goals do you see in Occupy Oakland? And do you think there is any – Do you see any positive benefits coming out of more coherence in the message that people give here, or do you value the diversity more than any kind of possible coherence?
KS: Well, I think it’s both. The diversity brings about a very cohesive understanding of what we all want. And with various backgrounds saying the same thing, it just validates it even more. I think for the most part everyone is completely frustrated with the banking system. November 5th we’re asking everyone to pull their money out of the banks and put them into credible credit unions. Also, everyone is concerned about their children, the education that they’d be able to obtain in the future, ensuring that they will be able to get that proper education. And everyone is frustrated with Medi-Cal, the whole health industry fiasco. So the overall concerns of the majority of the population are the same, and everyone’s operating for the most part on autonomous actions to make sure that those socio-economic changes come about.
K: How concretely do you see reform coming for those things – for the issue of health care or schools? What parties would need to do what to produce better outcomes, in your view?
KS: Well, I think it would just have to be the city, state government taking full responsibility and acknowledging that they misappropriate funds, that some of the people – State Assembly, mayor – however you want to break down how each individual gets paid, I think that needs to be addressed. The pay cuts should start with the “hierarchy” of government and not the people who actually make the structure sound and solid. You take away the workers and the people, what do you have to have a government for? What are you governing? It’s like, you know, just an oppressive tyranny. So I think that they should address it themselves – city officials, government officials, you make too much money. You can take a pay cut. And let’s stop bailing out big business and bail out the people who actually need it. And I see that coming about, and I see that more people are working towards those efforts to address that and hold big business accountable and hold the banks accountable for destroying our economy.
K: Do you have any past or present misgivings about Occupy’s goals or tactics up to now?
KS: Well, no. I think if anything it’s a lack of organization. As far as Occupy Oakland, they’ve always been – or we have always been on a straight and understandable agenda as far as what we wanted to accomplish or what we are going to accomplish. It was just a matter of everyone – cause it’s all based on 100% consensus – so it was all based on everyone agreeing, and it would just be something trivial as far as semantics. Not the proposal that was trying to be pushed forward, but just wording, things like that. So it’s just minor egotistical battles of ideology. But for the most part it’s a functional system. But it’s more functional when the people recognize what needs to be done and do it themselves and not wait on an official decision on what needs to be done.
K: Are there circumstances in which you personally are prepared to engage in violence?
KS: Yes. When violence is used against peaceful protestors and I have to protect myself because I am a peaceful protestor, then I will use self-defense tactics in order to protect myself. There are some factions in here that the only thing that they want is violence. They are Anonymous, and when I say that I mean the organization Anonymous. And they are a small faction within this camp. And that is being addressed. We don’t want any violent acts being perpetrated by anyone. We don’t want to give Oakland Police Department or anyone else for that matter any kind of reason to have to greet this peaceful movement with anti-movement military-style tactics. So we want to continue this journey peacefully, and we hope that the departments that are here to protect and serve will honor this demonstration as a peaceful demonstration, and don’t rubber-bullet and tear-gas us this time.
K: What are your thoughts about your fellow Occupy participants? As far as the views you see, is there anything that you find repugnant and difficult to coexist with, or is it generally pretty peaceful as far as, you know, respecting other people’s point of view even when you disagree with them?
KS: Oh no, it’s quite the opposite. There are a lot of people with humongous egos here, with hidden agendas here, that either may or may not be racist. I don’t like playing the race card. I just say they’re ignorant. They feel like they’re smarter than other people, and I think they feel like they’re smarter than other people regardless of what ethnicity or what class they are. So we have a lot of people that love to hear themselves talk. And they assume that they have the greatest ideas that anyone has ever thought of. But that’s all they do, is talk. Those very same people that want to create division or want to establish some kind of anarchist violent rebellion are the very same ones that just spend their times trying to be disruptive and divisive and don’t do anything for the greater good of the community and what Occupy, Decolonize Oakland is supposed to be about. So I’ve had quite a few heated debates. I separate myself from them, and for the most part a lot of individuals who are here for the right reasons separate themselves from them as well.
K: You mentioned that decisions are made here by consensus, even up to 100% consensus.
K: Do you see that as a workable model for American society more broadly, or is that only workable in more specific contexts?
KS: I see that as a system that could work in American society. One would have to be very patient with it. But it gives everyone an opportunity to voice their opinions on the direction that they want, whether it be spending, school… Whatever your issues are, you have a voice. It might take a while for those things to be implemented because of all the different opinions, but at least it opens the door for all that dialogue of what the people want for the people.
K: What roles do you think a government should and should not play in an economy or society? What do you think is illegitimate vs. legitimate for a government to do in general?
KS: Well, I think it’s illegitimate for a government to oppress people for their own economical gain. If a government sees something being detrimental to a community but they apply those actions because it’s feasible for the city’s growth and not for the betterment of a community, then it kind of makes you not play a part in making those decisions. The people should play a part in making those decisions. As far as government involvement as a positive, that’s a very tough question, because then you start depending on the government for your self-sustainability and the direction that you want to go. And you start dealing with a lot of politicians with, once again, hidden agendas. So I think one would have to be very careful with how the government [pause] how the government – I don’t want to say “dictates”, but how the government guides ones decisions or one’s lifestyle. I think first of all it should be like a process of understanding their position before even getting involved. It’s kind of like, riding the fence on that one.
K: Do you have any common ground with the Tea Party? Do you feel you have as accurate a view of the Tea Party as you would like for people to have of this movement here? What have been your social –
KS: Say again?
K: What is your view of the Tea Party, or what kind of information do you have about them, and do you think you have any common ground with their goals?
KS: We have absolute – Well, yes we do have common ground with their goals. Both of us want the same things. We want a better economy. Tea Party wants school closures halted. No bailing out of big business. The only separation between us and the Tea Party is that we reach a demographic that is more of a definition of what America is. It’s not about so much anger and hate. I don’t know about the other occupations, what the rhetoric is or what the slogans are, what signs are being displayed. But there’s no Obama’s, you know, comparison to Hitler or anything like that. Most of these signs, like we have here: “Pray, Meditate, Decompress, Catnap, Be Still, Anti-Capitalist States, Supporting Prison Strikes.” I see things that are quite fundamental for self-sustainability and just fighting against oppression worldwide. I don’t think anyone has a direct target as far as who the enemy is. The Tea Party wants to create specific enemies and they don’t want to address the real problems, the real issues of how this country was run to the ground.
K: You don’t regard the banks, then, or people trading derivatives as the enemy, per se?
KS: Trading what? Stocks?
K: Yeah, stocks or, you know, mortgage-derived financial products or anything like that?
KS: Well, I mean, I don’t want to touch on that, because I don’t have all the vital information and stats on that. Of course people are gonna, you know, try and make money. I have mutual funds. I try and, you know, check my interest rates, know who I’m investing in, or just – It’s all about individual awareness. I wouldn’t invest with Halliburton. So as far as like… It’s an individual choice. Free will.
K: Are you taking any risks by being here?
KS: Of course. Risks with the Oakland Police Department, risks with the FBI, COINTELPRO. There’s humongous risks with Anonymous factions that are here to create divisiveness and are known violent organizations, whether it be internet or whether it be civil disobedience. “By all means necessary,” civil disobedience. So going against them, I’ve been labeled a agent provocateur, a cop, boot-licker and what have you. And by the Oakland Police Department and the various other agencies that responded, I’m a target to them. So there’s several angles that a lot of people are at risk. Being on these grounds we are calling ourselves anti-American to a lot of people.
K: Would you characterize yourself as opposed to capitalism as such? If so, what do you understand by the term “capitalism”? I’m asking because I see a lot of signs and I’ve heard people expressing, you know, some condemnation of capitalism. I’m not sure what they mean by that all the time.
KS: Well, me personally, I’m not opposed to capitalism. You have to trade. I’m opposed to imperialism. When one becomes so focused on money for the sake of survival and not necessarily the quality of their goods, or they start lacking on the service that they were originally supposed to provide and they still collect money, then I have a problem with that form of capitalism, because you’re just capitalizing on the woes of the people, and you set up something for helping provide the community with basic essentials or whatever, and then you abandon the mission. So that form of capitalism, yes. But as far as fair trade, just average business, you have to have it.
K: All right, Khalid, thanks very much, appreciate your time.
KS: You’re welcome.