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An Analysis of I-880 Direct Action
by Jonah Minkoff-Zern
Sunday Mar 7th, 2010 10:44 AM
I was a legal observer at the March 4th rallies and was doing legal observation on the march that ended up blocking 880. I did not go on the highway, as many people who were on the march chose to not go when we saw this decision being made. I am very concerned at the message below and felt a need to respond.
Dear Friends,

I was a legal observer at the March 4th rallies and was doing legal observation on the march that ended up blocking 880. I did not go on the highway, as many people who were on the march chose to not go when we saw this decision being made. I am very concerned at the message below and felt a need to respond.

I think it is important to critique the highway action not as good or bad, but to think about the significance of non-violent action that creates disruption and its place in our movement, and then discus in what ways this action was effective and well organized and what ways it was not.

Before presenting my analysis on the action, I want to address two concerning statements that this piece made, as it is absolutely essential to me that we not marginalize or segregate any one who chooses to take action based upon their beliefs, but that we work to build a collective voice :
First, I want to dispel the idea that the people leading this march took it to the highway and then left. While they were definitely not conspicuous, it was clear to me who was organizing the march and they did not leave when it went onto the highway, they were present, keeping people together and organized to the best of their abilities.

Second, I want to state concern at the use of the term "black block anarchists". To my knowledge this group did not identify itself as anarchist, socialist or communist (or even capitalist). It identified itself as people who were interested in taking direct action further than marching to Frank Ogawa Plaza, and I am sure that each of those perspectives, perhaps even capitalist or reformist, were on the march and even organizing the march.

Now, an analysis of the action. First, it is absolutely essential that there be a place in our movement for those who believe that direct action, beyond marching, as a significant and necessary tactic. It is right to think that those who are making the decisions and cutting our programs to the ground are not ultimately concerned with actions that do not effect the functioning of their system.

That being said, direct action must be done in a thoughtful and strategic manner. The action of taking the highway was done so in some ways and not in others. From my observations it was a thought out action that had been planned in advance. It was effective in that it was: 1. not violent and it did not involve destruction of property 2. it created a significant disruption in the Bay Area without using violence. 3. It enabled people who wanted to do more than march to have a means to express themselves. This opportunity in itself is important.

It was not a strategic action in that: 1. It was done so quickly that it did not give those who stepped onto the highway a clear opportunity to understand, reflect and take action based upon an understanding of potential consequences. 2. People were not well enough organized on the march to take action in a collective and careful manner and videos show that people were split up and did not all stay together once they took the highway. 3. There was not a clear message or reason why the highway was blocked, and no plan to communicate a message to the media and the broader community.

Thus, I think that the action had both positive and negative elements. It is not sufficient to simply dispel it or respond to it in anger, nor to simply applaud it. Each of us is comfortable taking action in our own way. It is essential that while we provide thoughtful critique people who take action in a manner that is different than us, that we not broadly condemn them. I don't think things are going to change right away in California, and things weren't really that good before they got really bad. If we want to effectively create the deep change that is needed, the type of article that I see below is not going to build unity of action, it is going to divide us, and create a separate more militant wing that is not communicating or organizing with everyone else.

If we want our change to be most effective, we must dialog about action and work to provide space for those who are able to or have the desire to take more risk to be part of making these decisions together. I hope that we can effectively respond to concerns like the one below in a way that will build unity, not foster division.

Yours in Struggle,
Jonah Minkoff-Zern

Date: Sat, 6 Mar 2010 10:57:41 -0800
From: Michael Siegel
Subject: [oaklandteachers] Much respect for March 4 actions; a perspective on the i-880 "direct action"

Wanted to send my respects to all the teachers for their work on March 4th.
Also, thought this "Note" that I found on Facebook might be interesting to
some of you. Basically, it exams who led the march onto Highway 880 on
Thursday, and asks a few questions about the motives and integrity of those
involved.

Solidarity,
Michael

Nico Dacumos: Why Did the March onto the 980 Freeway Happen?

Nico's Notes |Notes about
Nico |Nico's
Profile
Why Did the March onto the 980 Freeway Happen?
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Thu at 11:17pm
I have heard and saw with my own eyes that the march to the freeway was led
by a group of mostly white anarchists (black bloc). Why are people that
don't have any link to Oakland communities leading people in actions, the
consequences of which many, especially young students of color, were not
made aware? I saw at least 20 of these white folks in black fleeing the
scene, stuffing their black clothes into bags, hiking up their skinny jeans,
and jumping on their bikes. Meanwhile, I am on the phone with Irina and she
is telling me she is watching students of color getting loaded onto a paddy
wagon. Who is really paying the price here? As a public school teacher, I am
actually shocked and honored or something that kids feel like they care
enough to come out to support education. I am angry and saddened that this
event turned into yet another reason for the Oakland police to lock up more
young students and people of color.

An article published by Lillian R. Mongeau on oaklandnorth.net highlights
exactly why parents, teachers, neighbors, and anybody else who has a part in
the daily lives of students should be pissed off by the people who incited
the march into the freeway:

"Sebastian Beretvas, a 12-year-old Oakland School of the Arts student who
was arrested and then released, said he had been attending the rally at
Frank Ogawa Plaza with the permission of his parents. �We were going to take
the bus home and we saw some protesters so we joined the group,� he said.
�Then we were led on the freeway and I thought with one side of my brain
that this is fun. I thought with the other side of my brain, �This is a bad
idea.��"

A few hours later I ran into a teacher friend at the grocery store and she
had a similarly pissed off reaction to hearing that groups of mostly white
anarchists spent the morning and afternoon trying to get people hyped up to
run onto the freeway and then led the way once the march got to Frank Ogawa
Plaza. She immediately connected this incident to the Oscar Grant protests
and the role that anarchists played in how things went down on January 8,
2009 in Downtown Oakland.

One of my friends and mentors, an older Latina dyke with years of activism
and shit-starting under her belt, is convinced that most black bloc-ers are
hired narcs for the likes of the FBI, starting shit up, letting people who
really don't need any more exposure to the American justice system deal with
the legal consequences, and then walking away unscathed. I don't know about
that, but I certainly know that people at the protests didn't recognize many
of these white folks from any of the activist circles they frequent in the
Bay Area. Additionally, one of the people acting as a legal observer who was
arrested tonight specifically did recognize some of the anarchist ring
leaders and wanted nothing to do with them or their proposed stroll across
980.

At issue here is not so much the political ideology of mostly white black
bloc anarchists, but the ways that their incitement of actions here in
Oakland speaks to an entitlement and privilege that makes them think it is
okay to encourage people of color, mostly African American and Latino males,
to engage in "violent" forms of protest when they are already groups
targeted and abused by the police. Do they care that getting arrested will
have messed up consequences for these kids? Did anyone take a minute to
explain the possible consequences of their actions so that people could make
an informed choice? I have no way of knowing what was going through the
minds of the reportedly 150+ people who were arrested today, so I won't
pretend to know if people knew what might happen or not. It just frustrates
me to see people get locked up for ends I'm not sure are clear to anyone
involved.

People gathered today to protest the ways that the state continues to exact
structural violence on low-income and people of color, who rely on public
education as an avenue to access even the most basic of needs, nevermind
that we must do so while trying to navigate and side step the ways that
public education is used as a tool to indoctrinate us into American cultural
norms that tell us we we're not worth anything anyway.

In the end, I'm thinking about all the white kids in black I saw laughing
and running down 8th Street free as shit while my friends Cooper and Puck,
who went into today acting as documentation and legal observer, are sitting
in jail because they wanted to support and protect the young people and
people of color who were headed to the freeway behind back bloc-ers waving
Syndicalist flags.

If you can, come out and support those who were arrested tomorrow morning at
the North County Jail on 7th Street in Oakland. Demand that they be released
immediately so that no one has to spend the weekend in jail. Call 510.
777.3333 and make those same demands.