The dilemma of the disenchanted progressive has come full circle. If the progressive is disenchanted and deeply puzzled, what about the progressive community – what about a place like Ocean Beach?
This then is the third and final part of the series. In Part 1, I presented what I see as this dilemma for disenchanted progressives: as people on the political left we are disenchanted about the tempo and types of changes that President Obama has ushered in to date. And yet, as I discuss in Part 2, this country is facing a mass movement that represents an American brand of fascism, and it’s gunning for President Obama.
That is why progressives need to defend Obama from these attacks by the extremists. We cannot and will not allow the reactionaries and fascists to reverse a presidential election. At this point, it is we, the progressives, who now stand for Constitutional government; it is we who must stand for the election of 2008, and need to guard this “victory”.
Despite his faults, his weaknesses, Obama needs to be defended and shown that we – the progressives – are his allies. It is crucial when facing fascism that those who oppose it collude and coalesce with others who stand to lose under this reaction, to build coalitions and networks. …
One year after his election, it is not for us to abandon the first African-American President. It will not be us – the progressives of this country – to kick Obama under the bus, just as the far-right reaches a new zenith in their abilities to mobilize against him. …
His historic election is way too close to be forgotten by us. The hope he has given us is way too fresh to be denied. It is not time for progressives to hide from the very real threat that a fascist American movement makes. Now is the time to ensure that Obama survives and sees our numbers surrounding him. …
Why is this important for Ocean Beach?
Despite our small community’s relative isolation and quaintness, we are part of the larger city, the larger country. What is going down across this nation affects us here – at the end of Highway 8. And OBceans have known this and have dealt with national issues over the past decades.
In fact, for the last half century, Ocean Beach has been in the forefront of most social and political issues confronting the country. It has been an island of liberalism in a San Diego sea of conservatism. It has been a beachhead of progressive ideas and practices. It is a community tolerant of different lifestyles, sophisticated culturally, with a tradition of housing rebels with causes.
If anything, OB has provided – at least since the Sixties – cultural space for alternative lifestyles that went against the grain of the establishment, of the “straight” world; lifestyles that were able to hold off over-zealous urban development, that provided an incubator for ecological awareness, and that demonstrated to the rest of the County a remarkable awareness of the changes that the general society was going through.
Bottom line, OB became a village at the same time that much of Southern California developed into a myriad puzzle of suburban sprawl, crisscrossed by freeways, constrained by an automobile-centered way of life, and a deeply-set middle-class alienation.
There were a number of conditions that allowed OB to become the way it is. A huge youth population – whether college students, surfers, service workers, or navy personnel – coupled with a wide working class, renter-dominated economic base, were some of the more important conditions that paved the way for the village we now have.
Perhaps it was because of the staunch conservatism that ranged supreme since World War II in San Diego, there had to be an anti-pole, and our beach neighborhood took the job. But on every cultural and social level – art, music, social nuances that found expression here, and on political levels from urban planning to environmentalism to a disdain for military empire, this island, this beachhead – or whatever analogy you want to use – became the antithesis to a white-dominated reaction that has held this part of the country since the Fifties.
Art - Since a half century ago, OB became home to noted artists and free expressionists. Think of the OB Spaceman. He wasn’t alone when he developed his particular traits of blacklight paintings. There were other artists around – not as unconventional perhaps, but they’ve been here. OB also has held a tradition of public murals – look at all the murals painted on businesses around town, look at the murals painted by kids during our Street Fairs then mounted on visible walls. Think of the Peace Sign on top of Peace Rock. And significantly, think of the OB roots of the Comic-Con co-founders – Shel Dorf and Ken Krueger – both of whom just passed away this month. This community nurtures an artistic creativity and tolerance for the free expression of different lifestyles.
Alternative Lifestyles – Surfer Sub-Culture – Obviously OB as a beach town in Southern California was right there when the surfer sub-culture burst upon the scene in the early and mid-Sixties. Surfers had long, bleached hair, were untidy and unruly, didn’t accept authority – and they usually went their own way – to the waves – and didn’t exactly go along with the program. OB was ripe for the surfers and the community ripened with them (not to mention we have damn good waves at the beach and at Sunset Cliffs).
Gays and Lesbians – Again, since the Fifties at least – OB has harbored and tolerated gay lifestyles. Newport Avenue used to (perhaps it still does) have a network of gay businessmen, prominent members of the community, still in closets until the Seventies perhaps, but it was there; we had one of the few gay bathhouses at the beach – on Santa Monica. Support for gay and lesbian lifestyles expanded during the Seventies – the newspaper with this blog’s name led the way for an acceptance of those sexual orientations. This still exists and was demonstrated at the polls during the most recent election that had Prop 8 on the ballot – the measure outlawing gay marriage. OB residents voted 73% against the discriminatory statute.
The Hippies - Everyone by now knows this analogy, that by the late Sixties, OB had become the Haight-Ashbury of San Diego – named after the San Francisco birthplace of hippies. Due to the youth base of the community, the rebelliousness of the hippie sub-culture took root here unlike any other neighborhood in San Diego, and unlike any other neighborhood in all of Southern California. Along with it, came its music, its drugs of choice, its costumes and slang. The counter-culture took root here and has maintained itself ever since.
Other “abnormal” lifestyles were also tolerated – like bohemians, bikers, hard-core druggies, Klan-types, skinheads, intellectuals, cartoonists, computer-nerds, the list goes on.
Music - OB has had a rich tradition of counter-culture music, from the rock and roll of the Sixties and Seventies, to the punk rock of the Eighties and Nineties, to the pervasive underground music scene today in OB. In the heyday of the hippies, local rock groups would play in backyards and in parks. Today, Newport Avenue resonates with competing musical venues – and the scene is still growing. Just this past summer, for the first time, the local merchants association sponsored a CD of music by Ocean Beach bands. OB’s musical underground is about to break out.
Along with the hippies, came an appreciation for healthier lifestyles and ways of living. Organic food, vegetarianism, non-synthetic clothing, the calming some achieved from “Eastern” religions and philosophies, a critique of Western medicine, finding “balance” in de-stressed living, – were all part of this toleration for the unusual that our community developed. What later became People’s Food Co-op saw its birth during the early Seventies, as people clamored for better, healthier and cheaper basic foods.
A common thread throughout all – or most – of these cultural attributes of Ocean Beach was a genuine, grass-roots anti-authoritarianism and anarchistic libertarianism – a rejection of the mainstream, of establishment authority and values. This then, in turn, found expression in the political issues that OB embraced.
Ecology / environmentalism – Since Earth Day 1970 and the very-real battles that the youth of OB fought with the authorities – over the jetty in July 1970, over Collier Park in 1971, this seaside community has had a strong affiliation with the greening of America, of eco-friendly lifestyles and a respect for the earth. Politically, this led to such groups as the OB Ecology Action Committee, the OB Preservation League, the Save OB Coalition, and more recently the OB Grassroots Organization (OBGO). From stopping the destructive jetty, to saving land for parks instead of for apartments, to pressuring the City to build more parks – like Dusty Rhodes and Dog Beach, to forming and developing a community garden on wasted space at the corner of Voltaire and Sunset Cliffs, OBceans have been at the forefront of the new environmental awareness that has swept the globe.
Democratic Urban Planning – Parallel to the new environmental awareness and its political expressions, Ocean Beach took the front seat in creating a democratically-elected planning process and structures. The OB Planning Board, the result of years of lobbying the city and of different groups working together, stands today as a first – not only in San Diego’s history – but in the history of the state of California. Its forerunners, the OB Planning Organization, the Community Planning Group – both formed in the early and mid-Seventies – had worked with the Town Council and the Merchants Association to create this grandparent of all planning boards.
Underneath the impetus to form the democratic process in urban planning was an anti-development sentiment, a sentiment against over-scale construction projects, apartments and condos that dwarfed the rest of the community, that closed off corridors to the ocean, to the cliffs and to the eye. Back in the Seventies, OB was faced with a development crisis – these were the days before the 30 foot height limit, before the Coastal Commission, before construction limitations. The crisis was manifested in what was called the Precise Plan for Ocean Beach, an urban design drawn up by financial and professional elites, hungry for control of the beach and the seacoast. Ultimately thwarted by the citizens and small businesses of OB, the crisis was resolved in favor of the village.
The Rise of Grass-roots Activism -The year 1970 witnessed the real birth of OB’s grass-roots activism – with the community standing up to the jetty that was proposed by the City and the Army Corps of Engineers. Other issues and campaigns followed. They included efforts to limit large developments on the cliffs, to save parkland as noted, to develop child care institutions where none existed, to counter excessive police conduct with the Town Council Police Review Committee and the Human Rights Committee, to form alternatives in such areas as schooling, media, heath care, community-based agencies, in community centers.
The victories of the early and mid-Seventies were later reflected in such movements as the fight against the Strand Theater being turned into a porno movie house in the Eighties, by the fight against a board walk across OB’s beachfront in the Nineties, and by the verbal fisticuffs of the wars against Mission Bay hotels, SeaWorld, a toxic dump site, and Starbucks during the Millennium. This was also seen in 2003 after the shooting of a homeless man by police, as 500 protesters shouted slogans against police brutality.
More than any other single manifestation, the rise of OB’s grass-roots and street level activism signaled to the establishment and the community itself that this neighborhood stood up on its own. And this has reverberated across the county. Whether one agreed or not, many throughout this corner of the Southwest had heard about the ‘boycott Starbucks’ efforts in the early part of this decade. And just one year ago, even the mayor of this city had to acknowledge the activism that saved the Ocean Beach Library.
Opposition to War – It is almost redundant to recount how OB stood against the Vietnam War. Anti-war activists helped fuel the early community movement in the Seventies, as the youthful crowds that filled the beach shacks and apartments across the village echoed the attitudes of the activists in opposing the American military adventures in Asia. The famous Collier Park Riot of March 1971 began as an anti-war demonstration. A couple years later, the then-Bank of America was targeted by protesters for being a sponsor of the blood-letting in Vietnam.
Fast-forward to the early years of this decade, as President Bush geared up for the invasion of Iraq, numerous demonstrations against the coming conflagration were held in OB. The activists of OBGO continued their opposition after the US occupied that country and gave a community base to the new anti-war movement.
Liberal Candidates and Initiatives – Reflecting the grass-roots activism, OB voters have always voted for the more liberal or progressive candidate or ballot initiative. Back in the late Eighties, a local candidate for City Council ran on a platform that was anti-nuke, anti-development and pro- civilian review of police. He won a plurality in this community – while losing the overall election – beating more traditional candidates. And as noted earlier, 73% of Ocean Beach voters were against Prop 8, the homophobic statute.
Alternative Media – The new ecological, anti-war, and counter-cultural awareness that developed in OB from the late Sixties on also – and significantly – found expression in alternative media forms and press. The Liberator was the forerunner to the OB People’s Rag – our name sake – and became the community’s first underground newspaper. The Rag itself lasted a long five years, with publication runs of 5,000 to 10,000 copies every 2 weeks. And there were other lesser but still worthy attempts at media – The OBcian published by the OB Preservation League, the early Beacon had shades of being an alternate source of community news, The Whole Damn Pie Shop – published in OB but not necessarily a neighborhood rag. And today, we have numerous OB-based individual and group blogs – and of course – this website that you are reading.
This recounting of OB’s political and social awareness is meant to demonstrate that despite its laid-back and easy-going reputation, OB has been at the forefront of many of the issues that have confronted this nation over the last half century. Whether it’s music, culture or politics, this “outpost of sanity”, this “People’s Republic of OB” has stood the test of time in being a counter to the alienating and commercial pressures forced on Americans in general.
We all know the sigh of relief as we approach the end of I-8 driving home to our coastal seclusion. This is one place where we know intrinsically that community is important. It takes a village to be human and we’ve made such a place here. Our sense of sharing with our neighbors, our outfront tolerance and progressive values are what makes this place worth living in. We see our values in the various neighborhood groups and treasures, whether its the Planning Board, the OB Historical Society, People’s Food, the Farmers Market, our library, our elementary school, our holiday parades, our surfing spots, in the liberal businesses that line the main streets, in the music scene that is exploding …
Yet, there is an uneasiness simmering across our country that we cannot ignore. There are dark and potentially violent forces gathering on the horizon, who want to take this country – and our village – back to another time, a time when Negroes, Mexicans, young people and women knew their place, a time when one didn’t question authority – a time that would never elect an African-American as president.
Those of us who call ourselves OBceans and who say OB is a state of mind need to carry on the traditions that OB has experienced over these past decades, the traditions of tolerance and dissent and of questioning authority. We are politically and culturally sophisticated, we are community-aware, and we have become a model for other communities and neighborhoods. But all this is threatened by the ugly head of something we don’t even want to think about – the rise of an American fascism. There are things happening in our nation that are simply unacceptable, and we as a community need to stand with other communities who resist the reaction of the extremists of the right.
Many of us long in tooth and gray in hair remember the days so long ago when another president was threatened. As he rode into Dealy Plaza in Dallas on November 23rd, wanted posters and signs calling John Kennedy “traitor” adorned telephone poles around that city.
That cannot happen again. That cannot happen to the current President, the man whom many of us here in OB voted for. The man who is attempting to right the wrongs of the most recent past. Our village must stand with him. It turns out that it does take a village to save a president.