Alyssa Eisenberg, aka @alyssa011968, was one of 400 people arrested outside the YMCA on the evening of January 28 as part of the Occupy Oakland Move-In Day action. She gave the following interview with the Occupied Oakland Tribune about her experience in the movement.
OOT: Why did you first get involved in Occupy Oakland?
AE: I had been waiting for something like the Occupy movement to come around for a long time, before Obama as elected but especially after. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis several years ago, I would get sick and miss work and fall behind on my bills. Then I would work out a repayment plan with the credit card companies but right before it went into effect they would sell my debt to another agency and then I would owe the same amount all over again. For years, I had to fight with these companies and they became so lawless due to the regulatory agencies being too weak to do anything.
I was diagnosed at 31, just after I finally finished college, and I had such a hard time dealing with Pacificare. They could not deny my prescription but they would make me jump through so many hoops to get it approved and re-approved every few months that I would either have to miss work to deal with Pacificare or be off the medication for a while. If you’re too sick to fight, they’re just going to let you die. In my opinion, they push disabled people out of the workplace by making you fight for everything.
I thought if we had a Democratic President and a Democratic House and Senate then something would change but it never happened. Not that I thought Obama was a real progressive but when he just gave away the public option for the healthcare plan I saw that our politicians are completely beholden to the top 1% and they don’t represent people like me. We’re basically on our own against these huge unregulated corporations.
I first heard about Occupy Oakland through the Daily Kos and I got involved because we need to see change. Like any organization, it may not be perfect but it is our best opportunity. I was there on the first day and did a podcast with some interviews. What kept me coming around was the diversity of people and their creativity. It was more based on compassion than how greedy you are. If it was up to Occupy Oakland, you wouldn’t have to fight an insurance company for medication. People wouldn’t have to struggle because healthcare would be provided for free instead of for a profit.
I loved the way everybody had different jobs in the camp, there were people on security and the kitchen, everybody was in a committee but they did whatever they felt they could do. People worked, it’s just that they didn’t hate their jobs. It was nothing like working everyday until 5pm in a job you hate.
OOT: What was your experience like getting arrested on Move-In Day?
AE: Outside the YMCA, the police just announced that we were under arrest. I had no idea what was going on because there was no dispersal order and we had no idea why we were being arrested. Somebody later told me a police officer pointed at me and said, “Look who’s here.” They knew who I was because I am always talking about Occupy Oakland on Twitter. Another cop was asking me questions when an officer came by and said, “Oh, you have my favorite.” I was worried they might do something to me – they don’t like me because I always take pictures of them around the Plaza.
By the time I got in the bus, I was leaned over because my cuffs were so tight that it hurt to stand up straight. Another woman’s hands were turning blue because her cuffs were so tight that she was crying. Another woman peed on herself because she was stuck on the bus for so long. While I hated it there, I got off lucky compared to some other people.
We finally got to Santa Rita around midnight but after a few hours of staying there, I began to ask about my medication. A guard told me, “We don’t give meds to people who are cited and released, only to people who have to stay.” They finally took us to get booked around 12 noon the next day but they just moved us all into another cell. Finally, a nurse came down after the National Lawyer’s Guild called the jail and she asked, “Are you having an emergency? You don’t look like you’re about to die.” The guards eventually said that I would only get one of my medications anyway and that I would be forced to stay longer if I took it. This was already at 4pm and I had already missed two doses.
What they don’t realize is that I’m not just sick, I’m disabled, and without my medicine I can’t even think straight. When I was finally released, I signed a form that I couldn’t even read because I went so long without the medication.
OOT: How have the police pursued you?
AE: Around the Plaza, cops started saying, “Hi, Alyssa,” even if I never met them before. Another time, one of them bumped into me and whispered something into my ear, it was very inappropriate and awkward, I didn’t understand why he was doing it. One time a cop chased me out into the street while I was taking his picture and I was almost hit by a car.
Before Occupy Oakland I was no fan of the police, I’ve been far from an angel throughout my life, but I didn’t realize they were so sadistic. I had no idea they would brutalize people for doing absolutely nothing.
OOT: How did you get involved in Haiti solidarity work?
AE: After the earthquake, the Daily Kos was raising money for Haiti and then kept it going so peope could support them. So I got involved but I felt like I needed to learn the history of the country if I really wanted to help the out. The more I learned the more I realized that you couldn’t turn away. It’s not only about understanding US policy toward Haiti but realizing it is the only country that had a successful slave revolt. The human rights movement really started in Haiti.
Eventually, I realized that I had to look more closely at the different NGOs and figure out which ones were really grassroots. There are charities like the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services and most of them I don’t trust because the US doesn’t give the money to Haiti but to these NGOs, who sometimes end up having more money than the Hatian department dealing with that same issue. That’s how Bill Clinton helped destroy trade tariffs, so we could dump rice there, put farmers out of business and make them work in sweatshops.
OOT: What’s next for Occupy Oakland?
AE: That’s a good question. I think we’ll continue to have small actions that reach out to the community, not to do anything for anybody else but to open up access and work with people to help themselves. Having been poor, I used to be insulted when people would say they would show me how or teach me how to do something. I was like, ‘I’m poor not stupid.’
Also, we went to jail for doing nothing so I think it is time they arrest some of these bankers. We can work on foreclosures and maybe even try to occupy another building where we can stay without a constant raid.