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Josh Healey
Josh Healey
Josh Healey is a writer, community organizer, and educator in Oakland, CA.



Wisconsin after the Recall Beatdown: Down but Not Out

Jun13

by: on June 13th, 2012 | 5 Comments »

It is election night in Madison, Wis., and I am standing where it all began, in front of the state Capitol here in the heart of America’s rebel dairyland.

Earlier today was the recall election against Gov. Scott Walker, the viciously right-wing governor whose legislative attacks on public workers and unions sparked a grassroots rebellion in early 2011 involving hundreds of thousands of angry Wisconsinites. The Wisconsin uprising, through its occupation of the Capitol and its sheer massive numbers, inspired people across America and beyond to fight for economic justice in bold new ways, paving the way for Occupy Wall Street in the fall.

For me, the movement was as beautiful as it was personal — I’d gone to college in Madison, taught in the Milwaukee public schools, and organized events in Green Bay. Scott Walker was attacking my old teachers, my students, and my friends. But they fought back, and hell, it looked like they – we! – might actually turn the tide against decades of corporate rule. Standing here outside the Capitol on election day, amidst the glorious Solidarity Singers leading 1,000 people in rousing versions of “Eyes on the Prize” and “Union Maid,” the smell of hope was strong in the summer air.

And then the results came in.

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May Day in Oakland: Immigrant Rights, Occupy Agitation, and a Tank

May3

by: on May 3rd, 2012 | Comments Off

I wake up to the sound of helicopters. Living in Oakland, the city of beautiful rebellion and tragic violence, I’ve long since learned to recognize the distant buzz of police choppers, but I usually don’t hear it before 8 am. Then I remember: Today is May Day! The revolution is starting early today!

Okay, maybe not the revolution, but like activists across the country, I looked forward to this May Day as a chance to re-energize and unite the diverse working-class movement now called the 99%.

I spend the day on the streets of Oakland, marching with over 5,000 people – from Salvadoran immigrants to striking nurses, from white-haired professors to black-clad anarchists, some of whom did attempt to storm the barricades and received a dose of tear gas in response. For the most part, though, May Day in Oakland is less an insurrection and more a festival of solidarity, full of music, street theater, and an immigrant-led march that reminded everyone that border walls and racial profiling have no place on International Workers Day — or any day.

Despite the hype promised by the helicopters, the events in Oakland get off to a quiet start. Occupy Oakland has put out a call for a general strike, but unlike the 30,000-person strike of last November that shut down much of the city, the early May Day crowd is noticeably smaller, as is its impact. Throughout the morning, several hundred masked activists march through downtown Oakland, at times blockading various banks and government agencies but mostly drifting around aimlessly, unsure where to direct their anger.

By noon, 500 demonstrators converge on Frank Ogawa / Oscar Grant plaza in front of City Hall. They soon move into the streets, where they are met by over 100 cops in full riot gear and – surprise, surprise – we have our first clash of the day. The cops attempt to clear the streets, using flash grenades and arresting the first of what will be 25 people throughout the day. Meanwhile, a group of militants throw paint and small objects at the police lines. As more cops storm in, an Occupy activist on a bullhorn gives loud, contradictory instructions to the crowd: “Stay calm! Fuck the police!”

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Why Passover is the Greatest Holiday of All Time

Apr10

by: on April 10th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

Why Passover is the Greatest Holiday of All Time

more than the fourth glass of wine
in a family that gets drunk off two

more than the smirk you throw
at your older brother
when you recite the tenth plague,
the killing of the first-born

more than hiding the afikomen
in the exact same spot you found it
fifteen years earlier:
behind the closet door,
under the board games,
stuffed inside a box of tissues so old
it might actually be the same box

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The Quiet Racism that Killed Trayvon Martin: Reflections from Miami

Mar25

by: on March 25th, 2012 | 9 Comments »

Before he became the latest and most-Tweeted victim of racial violence in America’s long, dirty history, Trayvon Martin was just another kid growing up in Miami. He was a high school junior, got A’s and B’s in his classes, planned to go to college and become a flight mechanic. His folks were separated, so he split time between his mom’s house and his dad’s. He was just another kid.

Just another black kid, that is.

To George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon last month in the gated community outside Orlando he shared with Trayvon’s father, Trayvon was suspicious. Up to no good. A walking, talking threat of darkness.

Trayvon’s innocence — what could be more all-American than bringing home a bag of Skittles to watch the NBA All-Star game? — juxtaposed with Zimmerman’s vigilante persona makes this appear a classic case of right and wrong, black and white (or at least light-skinned.) But this is bigger than two individuals. This is bigger than the District Attorney who – unbelievably – still has yet to arrest Zimmerman. This is the reality of institutional racism in 21st century America: a racism that creeps along quietly, strong and determined, touching every corner of American life, until before you know it, it has touched a new corner of American death.

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Occupy Oakland at a Crossroads: Rebirth or Self-Destruction?

Feb1

by: on February 1st, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Over the last few months, I have been an active, critical, yet ultimately proud member of Occupy Oakland. Despite the sometimes-questionable tactics and lack of much diversity in this working-class, multi-racial city, I believed that Occupy Oakland was still a young movement and would mature into a more solid political force. Sadly, it seems, we still have a long way to go.

On January 28, Occupy Oakland’s attempt to take over an unused public building turned into yet another painful, predictable street battle with the Oakland Police Department (OPD), with over 400 people arrested by night’s end. The police’s actions were more brutal than ever, from the tear gas and sound grenades to the unlawful mass arrest that has left many of my comrades still in jail as I write this. I stand unequivocally against the severe repression and the increasing police state that we find ourselves in. To my fellow Occupiers, though, it is time that we critically examine our own tactics. If we don’t, Occupy Oakland is going to fizzle out quicker than Rick Perry’s presidential campaign.

The events in Oakland on January 28 indeed occupied national headlines and local jail cells, but they almost certainly lost more supporters to the movement than they gained. Needlessly picking fights with the cops, vandalizing City Hall, and putting our own people in harm’s way is not the path to social and economic justice. It is a losing, incoherent strategy, one that will continue to damage the public’s support for Occupy until our claim that “We are the 99%” becomes a bad joke. Forget whether folks can survive endless police confrontations and court dates. The question now is: Can Occupy Oakland survive itself?

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“Art Is My Occupation”: Rethinking the Role of Artists in the Movement

Jan17

by: on January 17th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

As a member of the self-identified “slash profession” – writer/organizer/educator/whatever pays the rent that month – I have learned how to wear multiple hats. How to move between different worlds and code-switch my headgear to meet a particular place and community. Alright, I got this big event coming up tonight…should I wear the Kangol, the fitted, or the yarmulke? (Correct answer: all three.) Sometimes, though, it’s a struggle figuring out which slash to bring out in which situation. Take Occupy.

I got back in Oakland full-time last month, and immediately jumped into the beautiful chaos that is Occupy Oakland. I joined the big West Coast port shutdown on December 12, started attending the alternatively powerful and painful General Assemblies, and connected with the two committees I’ve begun organizing with, Occupy the Hood and Labor Solidarity. It’s been great, and I’ve gotten to stretch some of activist muscles that I hadn’t used in years. (Sometimes literally – holding one side of a 30″ banner with that wind whipping off the bay is harder than it looks.) But while I’ve been bringing my organizing and education experience to the table, sometimes I leave behind the thing I do that I’m doing right now on this laptop. Writing. Telling stories. Creating culture.


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Occupy that Next Level: Four Ideas for the Movement

Nov21

by: on November 21st, 2011 | 19 Comments »

From the massive student strike at Occupy Cal in Berkeley to the police crackdown of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s birthplace in New York City and dozens of actions and headlines in between — from coast to coast, last week was an important, up-and-down week for the growing Occupy movement. Where the movement heads in the weeks and months to come, however, will be even more critical to the fate of this people’s uprising — and possibly to the fate of equality in America. So the eternal question presents itself again: what is to be done?

After missing out on the fun of the initial two months due to travel, I had my first full-on experiences with the Occupy movement last week. I attended general assemblies in Oakland, marched with debt-straddled students and foreclosed homeowners into banks in San Francisco’s financial district, and participated in that huge, beautiful strike at UC-Berkeley. Everywhere I went there were tents- tents being set up, tents being torn down, tents even floating in the air at one point. Even more, though, there were people, thousands and thousands of them: proud of the bold, game-changing actions they had organized so far, angry at the violent police reaction they had received courtesy of the 1%,and debating (for hours and hours, in mass meetings and countless committees) what to do next.

This is my contribution to that conversation. I am a student of history, a writer and community organizer, and a deep believer in the power of listening. Last week, I listened to literally hundreds of people, both within and outside of the Occupy movement, who all had powerful, personal takes on the situation. There are many challenges that face the movement, but there are even greater opportunities. From the Arab Spring to the European indignados, revolution (or at least resistance) is in the air, and here in America, we have a rare political opening for mass social change unlike anything in a generation.

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“When Hope Comes Back”: A Poem for the 99 Percent

Nov17

by: on November 17th, 2011 | 21 Comments »

Well, that was fun. Powerful. And #Occupytastic.

Last night, I was out on Sproul Plaza at UC-Berkeley, with over 10,000 people reclaiming the space for OccupyCal. I was there to receive the Mario Savio Young Activist Award, which had been scheduled for the same night across the plaza inside Pauley Ballroom. But with thousands of people outside demanding free speech and equal education on the very same steps that Mario Savio had once stood himself, the two events were beautifully combined, and I was able to give my poem outside with the people, right where it belonged.

Here’s some very rough video of the piece, along with the full text below. Long live Occupy!



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Rosh Hashanah in Quetzaltenango

Oct3

by: on October 3rd, 2011 | 1 Comment »

Mount Tajumulco, Guatemala.


tonight i gather with my tribe
to welcomea new year with life & laughter
&the biggest bottle of cheapwine
we could find in Guatemala.

we are not at shul
in Crown Heights or Skokie.
we are at socialist,
Spanish-language school
in the reddest heart of this highland city
called Quetzaltenango.

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What Next, Wisconsin? Some Ideas for the Movement

Mar1

by: on March 1st, 2011 | 7 Comments »

I’ve never been so proud to rep Wisconsin.

More than the Packers bringing the Lombardi trophy back to its birthplace, more than the moment I introduced my boys back in DC to the glories of a cheese curd, the massive uprising to defend workers’ rights that has erupted over these past two weeks in Madison has cemented my Badger pride forever.

I’m 2000 miles away from the action inside the Capitol Rotunda, but through text messages, Facebook reports, and (sweet Jesus!) decent coverage from the national media, I feel like I’m just down the block on State Street.

While my analysis is secondary to the activists and agitators in the trenches (snow trenches, to be exact), I want to offer some notes on what has made all this so amazing:

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