It was a warm, sunny afternoon at Frank Ogawa Plaza last Friday as a handful of community members began chalking an outline for this week’s artwork facilitated by the Fresh Juice Party.
Music was blasting from a few well-worn speakers as revelers intermittently danced and chalked. FJP even recorded their own “Chalkupy” song.
Every week, FJP facilitates a “Chalkupy” event at the plaza with a predetermined theme chosen by the chalkers. This week’s piece was inspired by an image of the Frank Ogawa Plaza on Google Earth that still shows a myriad of Occupy Oakland tents in place. The caption for the piece read, “Far. From. Over.”
The chalkers began by outlining the space with a series of numbers and letters to determine the exact location of each tent. Slowly, more people arrived until a total of about 20 chalkers were performing various functions of the project. Additional sidewalk art was created including a Native American symbol with the words, “You are on native land,” written below it. Another man was offering to do chalk outlines of passersby.
Earlier in the week, Oakland Local sat down with the three FJP organizers to learn more about their work.
In their other lives, Pratibha Gautam is a freelance attorney, Craig Casey a musician and studio engineer and Naomi Pitcairn is a graphic designer.
They are all Oakland residents and have been friends for more than 17 years. They are a rather unassuming group with a common theme of humor, a healthy dose of self-effacement and a penchant for chalking.
“People say a lot of things about Oakland, but Oakland is fun. This is one of the funnest towns," Pitcairn said. "People have a lot of creativity and a huge sense of making their own fun. Our [chalkers] … have the guts to go out and chalk and basically they are masters of having fun and that’s why we love them.”
“Our core mission, in a sentence, is activism should be fun,” she added.
Gautam explained the groups dedication to chalking: “What brings us out here every Friday is that it is a party, we get to gather with our friends who we may not see the rest of the week.”
Even the plaza power-washers seem to enjoy the art, reportedly following FJP online during a recent chalking event in Los Angeles, in which police arrested one organizer for chalking.
"They seemed to follow what happened in L.A. and they congratulated us on that," Gautam said.
Though, the relationship with city workers hasn’t always been so positive. Pitcairn was sprayed “maliciously” by a city power-washer, she said. So far Oakland police have not intervened to stop the group.
“I guess we’re on our own in the good and the bad sense,” Pitcairn said.
One of last week’s chalkers, Byran James, sat observing the completed mural saying it was his first time to the gathering, but he planned to come back this upcoming Friday.
“I came out here to go to my friends house … I’m like wow everyone’s sitting here kickin’ it and stuff and listenin’ to music and stuff …They should put some tents back out here. Tents, just like this.”
Meanwhile others hung around dancing to “As we Enter” by Nas and Damien Marley.
The Fresh Juice Party rose to stardom nearly a year and a half ago when they roasted President Obama, with a song in support of Bradley Manning, at one of his fundraisers in San Francisco. The protest elicited a high-profile response including one from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and Jon Stewart from "The Daily Show."
“Honestly, the [FJP] website went up in less than 24 hours” prior to the action, according to Gautam. “We say our launch party was [Obama’s] fundraising breakfast. He attended our launch party.”
The protest was so successful that the group decided to continue and, later, when the Occupy Oakland movement began, they worked to collaborate with them. Now, with Occupy less visible at Frank Ogawa Plaza, FJP remains the most prevailing activist presence with this week’s chalk art reminding passersby that the movement lives on.
Late last year, FJP hosted a three-day event for whistleblowers at the Berkeley International House, called, “Occupy the Truth: Whistleblowers Conference.” Headliners included the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsburg, Julian Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, among others.
“The [fundraiser] breakfast was to get the issue [about Bradley Manning] out more in the public … so to get [former NSA senior executive turned activist] Tom Drake in a room with somebody who potentially has their own whistle to blow, we thought would be really cool,” Gautam said.
And the group is just getting started. They are all in a band and plan to launch their new album, “Where is Our Change,” on Sept. 17, said Casey.
In addition, they are hatching a plan to do a downtown “Police Brutality Tour,” which will include reenactments with narrators positioned in locations where violence occurred. The tour will include “scannable” bar codes “where you can use your cell phone to watch the police brutality,” Pitcairn said.
The group continues to build momentum and remains as mischievous as ever.
“We always have a prank or two up our sleeves,” Pitcairn said.