By The Red Son
Months after almost all of the Occupy camps had been smashed, the initial occupation of the Gill Tract by Occupy the Farm (OTF) in April of 2012 became one of the most powerful and memorable events of the Occupy movement, not only in the Bay Area but nationwide. The film
of the same name was shot by an embedded and politically sympathetic filmmaker, Todd Darling and follows the group as it continues the 15
year struggle to preserve the Gill Tract as a community agricultural resource and to save the land from development by UC Berkeley Capital
Projects. Through direct action occupation, street marches, neighborhood canvassing and other tactics, the group eventually stopped development on half of the land and won access to 2.5 acres for the creation of a community farm.
Although the film’s release was delayed, premiering more than two years after the majority of events depicted, Darling’s persistence paid off with a final cut that is polished, emotionally moving, and politically useful. Having seen an early version of the film shown at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, CA, it is clear that the director took great pains to streamline the film, showing the important parts of the story while editing out extraneous material. This tightened up the narrative arc and eliminated the multi-climatic structure that plagued the previous cut. Additionally he was able to include the eventual establishment of a community farm on the tract and demonstrate that the group had won access to and use of the land that they illegally occupied. This strengthened the propaganda value of the film and reframes the events as a successful land reclamation struggle.
What is left is an accessible version of the OTF story which connects the struggle to broader context of the privatization of public
resources, multinational corporate control of the food system and the resulting inequality, and community-driven urban agriculture as a
solution to said inequalities as well as global climate change. At its core, it is a story of people who lost their connection to agriculture
(some through corporate monopolization of family farmland, others through systems of racial and class-based oppression) but took control over their food and their own agrarian roots by reclaiming land for the common good. The film’s message is clear: direct action gets results.
For those present during the initial occupation and involved with the group as it moved forward, the film may suffer from a solipsistic focus on a small number of core organizers while ignoring both the experiences of others involved and conflicts arising from important decisions within the camp. The biggest example of this is the choice to breakdown camp on the tract, depicted as a logistical consideration and gesture of goodwill towards the UC and its faculty, and presented as a logical and necessary move. But in actuality, it was one of the most divisive moments in the occupation.
However the film’s intended audience is quite broad and as such should be analyzed for what it is: propaganda. The film has widespread appeal and will introduce many uninitiated to ideas like direct action and consensus process. It could serve as an introduction and potential entry point to radical politics, similar to Food not Bombs, often called the “gateway drug of radicalism.”
Let’s be honest, radical politics needs more success stories and needs more victories, even imperfect ones. Beyond the actual material benefits of the occupation, it was a great propaganda victory. This type of propaganda-driven direct action draws upon a history of urban social movements employing similar tactics with the goal delegitimizing existing power structures while legitimizing radical groups’ capacities and alternative visions. There is no doubt that the OTF story, as told by the film and other places will continue to inspire people to use direct action tactics to affect the change they wish to see.
I give the film five burning dumpsters.
Occupy the Farm continues to oppose development on the Gill Tract and to support the thriving Gill Tract Community Farm. Ground has been broken on the southernmost portion of the land and construction of a high-end assisted living facility has begun. Meanwhile the 2.5 acre farm on the northernmost section is growing thousands of pounds of produce for equitable distribution, hosting free classes and workshops, and providing open green space for use by the surrounding community.
For more info or to get involved:
occupythefarm.org Occupy the Farm on Facebook/Twitterz The film Occupy the Farm is available on iTunes, Google, Amazon, and VUDU.