The gift of Occupy Oakland was that it forced us to take an honest look at ourselves. I could see my grandmother—who died of diabetes—in the black women I met at Oscar Grant Plaza, where we set up the encampment in autumn 2011. Like her, they had a “sweet tooth” and moved through the crowd with snacks—probably purchased from the convenience store on Broadway. I could hear echoes of my grandfather in the many hardworking men who spoke to the masses gathered there. On the men’s faces,
I could see the pain of struggling to make do in a racist society and the toll of a diet of fried-fish sandwiches and Newport cigarettes. My grandfather was a minister in Chicago until he died from cancer, and he used to drink a Dr. Pepper nearly every night with his dinner.
We came to Occupy because we recognized that our economic system had created a dangerous gap between the rich and the poor. But it was equally distressing to realize how many of us had high hospital bills and suffered from diseases created by a food system that so often makes healthy food inaccessible to the poor.
I thought often of my aunt, who makes her own juices and was a Black Panther in Illinois in the 1960s and 1970s. Whenever she spent Thanksgiving dinner with me and my family, she would refuse to eat duck or turkey—or any other animal that was slaughtered to celebrate a country that had enslaved thousands of its inhabitants. She told stories about the Panthers’ free breakfast program, which fed poor, inner-city youth in Oakland.
In the plaza, as I met people who struggled with mental and physical illnesses and listened to their demands, I was eager to do something to help them and change the system that was making them ill. I was already convinced of the power of juicing to release toxins, energize the body and mind, and reduce the risk of illness and addictive cravings. Feeding people is a direct action. So I helped create System Out of Our System, or SOS Juice. I introduced SOS as a platform for discussion about food justice, health equity, and spiritual liberation.
In January 2012, I joined fellow activists in hosting the first juice event. Ohlone singers opened the event. Stic.man from the hip-hop duo Dead Prez addressed the group via Skype about his journey to health. We served fresh juice and showed videos about food and health. This is now a monthly event that has hosted everyone from former member of Congress and Green Party Presidential Candidate Cynthia McKinney to a hip hop and breakdance academy, Yoruban priestesses, and members of the Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International. We focus on liberating the community of its ills at a root level.
Today we train people to make juices and smoothies, sell the food at farmers markets, and bring discount juice cleanses to communities in need of more and better sources of nutrition.
Since I became vegan and began learning and teaching others to juice, I have become a clearer thinker—more peaceful and more aware. I feel more empowered to create solutions because I don’t hold on to negative emotions. I have stopped reacting and started creating.