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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.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by anarchist
Sunday Mar 7th, 2010 11:42 AM
5 minutes earlier there were 300 people in front of ucop (uc office of the president), with only 5 nervous looking cops defending it. why wasn;t that the time and place, why did people just chant about class war for a minute and keep going? i think it's because the ucb kids, and maybe some other activists who spout insurrectionary rhetoric, already had this stupid kamikaze mission planned out for everyone. a few blocks later people started instructing the crowd "we are going to the freeway, run!! don't let us get blocked off!!" only about 100 of an originally 250 or so strong march actually ran onto the freeway. the other 50 arrestees were just people left behind in the street who didn't disperse fast enough.

i understand wanting to get off campus and replicate tactics from other countries but this was the wrong ass way to do it. first of all this really is the worst possible time of day to do something like this. for another, this was not china or bangladesh with thousands of people, or greece or argentina with militant barricades. this was a spectacular activist stunt where everyone was pretty much guaranteed to get arrested as well as at fair risk of being injured either by motorists or police, for what, the sake of slowing down traffic AS PEOPLE WERE GOING HOME FROM WORK! this action just also reflected sketchy, manipulative behavior by people with dumb ideas.

fuck this action, what an utter disappointment and waste of militant energy. the people who organized this are jackasses who should not be trusted by anyone to organize anything again.
by Konsider
Sunday Mar 7th, 2010 12:53 PM
In response to Nico's claim that the irresponsible black block anarchists resulted in some unaffiliated people being inadvertently arrested, those who went on the freeway were very much aware of what was happening but decided to brave the consequences of their actions. The impression given by Nico is that if only the anarchists would disappear, informed choices could be made. The decision to go on the freeway was clear to all those involved and, contrary to Nico's claim, had everything to do with the issue of education cuts.
by limb
Sunday Mar 7th, 2010 2:25 PM
although I didn't march on myself, I was with them up until the freeway takeover and it was awesome. very successfully executed and was very happy about the number of people who went. hopefully all the charges get dropped.
by @
Sunday Mar 7th, 2010 2:42 PM
You trying to breed random distrust over this is fucking pitiful.
UCOP wasn't "the right time and place" (for what? more of the same old?) because the marchers were surrounded by lines of riot police on the intersection behind and the police were mounting on the intersection ahead. Who knows if this was pre-planned or not (and who but the state would care), but HOW COULD ANYONE NOT KNOW THAT WALKING ON A FREEWAY IS DANGEROUS?
To accuse some protesters of "sketchy behavior" and "leading student-protesters onto the freeway" is to accuse student-protesters of being idiots. They wanted to get on the freeway because it looked fun, because it was a defiant escalation, because they were hyped to continue marching-- AND because they have their own decision making skills in that moment. Maybe the person who said "We're getting on the freeway! Run!" was just someone excited about the march-- the videos I saw showed people on megaphones telling the crowd to walk slowly and stick together.
But ultimately the distrust you're trying to breed is pitiful you bitter shit.
by and by
Sunday Mar 7th, 2010 4:07 PM
that is the stupidest article written. having been on the freeway i can say that it is entirely inaccurate. I had not planned on getting arrested, but was made aware of the plan to block the freeway and can admit that i got swept up in the moment. That being said i have absolutely no regrets, i dont believe in getting arrested on pupose but feel like the action was a success. Also i had a shit load of fun and feel serious affinity with a bunch of people i didnt before. this is another situation where a liberal reveals their MO, speaking for other people. Saying that people were basically tricked into it takes away the power of everyone who made the decision to go on.

by @
Sunday Mar 7th, 2010 4:33 PM
other than tricked into not storming UCOP or doing something more useful maybe. i just don't think there is ever a fucking point to these kinds of actions where people are pretty much deliberately getting themselves arrested to make a spectacle, or "a point" as they like to say.

i think we are all aware that name-calling is easier than having an actual debate, but why don't you respond to that critique instead of calling me a bitter reactionary?
I'm a person of color who found the march very inspiring and to say I was lead by mainly white people as if because I'm brown means I have no mind of my own and follow others is not only saying I'm dumb but saying I'm dumb because I'm a person of color and I'd probably punch you in the mouth if you ever said that in front of me. You have some never speaking about black and brown people as if they can’t make decisions to take part in actions them selves as if it wasn't choose to participate in action we felt was necessary. You just don't like anarchists because they present an alternative agenda to government that's fucked up and you want us people of color to be slaves to the government and these fuck up police. These white anarchists are not all white either which just goes to show you what you know which is close to nothing. You present a critique that presents no alternative in the end and the anarchist provide a clear alternative like encouraging the student worker movement to adopt basic anarchist principles such as accepting each other as equals in free and fair society where power is horizontal and all decisions are made by group consensus meaning no one left out and full transparency. Anarchy is about the workers and students coming together to help build a movement the seeks to force the government to resign peacefully or be overthrown with great vengeance. Anarchy is about autonomy that means self-governances long as your freedom does not infringe upon the freedom of others like the freedom for a boss, ceo and investor’s to capitalize off of the exploited working class nobodies and that's what we are nobodies and maybe your a capitalist and so you have an axe to grind with anarchists no matter what they do even if it's a non-violent direct action/non-violent civil disobedience. What the fuck do you want us to do give up and depend on politicians to bring change and vote? How would you have brought more attention to a variety of cause surrounding the issue of budget cuts. I bet the freeway occupation steals the most publicity and I bet you don't even know that this kind of civil -disobedience take place in other countries. You're just another punkass on the wrong side of history. Time will tell us who you really represent when we have the majority on our side and you're still talkin all that mad shit BUSTERASS! Photobucket
by Sibel
Sunday Mar 7th, 2010 5:45 PM
I think JMZ has something of a point where he talks about degree of acceptance of other tactics.
I don't consider the freeway tactic to be particularly objectionable, personally.

However, at various meetings and online dialogs, people sometimes stress acceptance of 'diversity of tactics'. The case they often might immediately be referring to would be minor conflicts between different strains of participants at a major protest event like the DNC or an ANSWER march, such as radicals finding the permitted marchers with kids to be boring, or large organizations calling the Black bloc to be a bunch of Cointelpro for creating news coverage with their antics of running down alternative streets and drawing graffiti.

The diversity of tactics discussion makes me ponder hypothetical tactics which I would not tolerate, and I could actually think of a few.
Perhaps there are two levels of tolerance that are relevant - can people in one organization actually tolerate the presence of another group showing up at their permitted event without driving them off or standing under the large movement umbrella, and secondly, would group #1 actually come to the aid of group #2 if they suffered legal bills, needed fundraising, or actually needed anything from group 1.

A couple examples at the well cemented ANSWER marches in the city would be presence of paleoconservatives/911 Truthers/Ron Paul fans in the march, or presence of the probably <6 crazy antisemites like Joe Webb who would show up wearing swastikas. I don't think anyone ever threw a tomato at the latter, but I totally wouldn't have minded. They really brought everyone down by jumping into the press coverage. At a demo, I once made a comment to a local filmmaker about the Alex Jones fans as being 'half right', because they share a critique of the government, and he responded by saying they are definitely not even 50% okay. I tend to agree, but I can still deal with them standing around.

In terms of the experience above, I think that if there actually is a widely held opinion by a large contingent in a movement of being irritated by another group... but more in a passive aggressive way where they're not going to drive you off or try to wrestle the bullhorn out of your hand, but they're not going to donate to the legal fund.... then this opinion should be voices. People should have the information about the level of risk and support they might have for various actions. Everyone should be aware that these feelings exist before they believe they're the vanguard of a large movement.
Actually shutting down a rival group would be a different dialog.
I wrote a rebuttal that I think is kinda good. You can find it on here, or here

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?saved&&suggest&note_id=394631490829
by JMZ
Sunday Mar 7th, 2010 6:25 PM
I just wanted to make sure it is clear that the essay at the end is not my writing. It is what got me upset enough to take the time to write what I did at the beginning. I take full responsibility/ credit for the first part of the essay, but definitely not the second part, which is what I was responding to.
by Melissa Merin
Sunday Mar 7th, 2010 9:52 PM
E, I appreciated what you had to say. A lot. Thanks. Jonah, I also appreciated your fair and honest analysis and summation. Thanks.
by March Forth Actions!
Monday Mar 8th, 2010 7:43 AM
I attended the rally in San Francisco and I support the actions of the youth and student take over of 880.

The Civic Center brought thousands of students, teachers and community members out, many for the first time. The 880 student take over escalated the struggle. Participation and escalation are exactly what is needed.

Pitting people and actions against one another is a very bad idea.
by go-to-your-room!
Monday Mar 8th, 2010 7:34 PM
Just a few comments as someone who was on the ol 880:

To the laughable comment of "Why are people that don't have any link to Oakland communities leading people in actions..." First no link to Oakland? That was my Mama who was stuck in traffic for an hour, you presumptuous fool (Sorry Ma).

Next this fool writes: "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"
To this, all i have to say is many of the folks who help pull off that action (black-bloc or not) are teachers and after-school teachers in the eastbay, the rest were either students or residents of those very communities you refer. My self included on all three categories -teacher, student, 510 breed and spread resident.

So maybe next time, this author will stick to what s/he has actually experienced or researched. I hope this solidarity-lacking-fool has fun with that freshly torn asshole.
by Whitey-on-the-moon
Monday Mar 8th, 2010 7:50 PM
So, three White anarchist are running from the cops, down a freeway, when
the White guy turns to the Asian guy and says "hey its good to be white
huh?" When the Black jumps in and says "W.H.A.T. B.R.O."

He must have been referencing the:
White
Hetero
Anarchist
Team
Bringing
Revolutionary
Offense

WHAT BRO would finally like to come out of the shadows (walnut creek), and claim all dis/credit for the I-880 freeway offensive. Your welcome.

W.H.A.T. B.R.O.
"No Gods, No Masters, other than a white guy"
P.O. Box 987
Walnut Crik, CA
94595

by ntuit
Tuesday Mar 9th, 2010 10:23 AM
i live in oakland. if oakland took the unlimited funding they give to the oakland police and gave it the education, parks and health care - oakland would be a better place. If teachers were paid the same salaries as the police oakland would be a better place. the people of oakland are not well served by their government. there is not health, education or park security - it is all police "security"

maybe the kids shouldn't have been arrested. maybe by being arrested it will take them farther away from this corrupt system which doesn't respond to the people's needs. Santa Rita jail and the Alameda County Sheriff's department is another money hog and totally regressive, totalitarian organization that loves to rule over the people of oakland. let's cut their staff and the jail by half and think of all the money we would have for the real needs of our community.

it is so convenient to blame the anarchists or other free spirited people for anything that happens...and just give a total pass to where the real blame should go - the police state and the political careerists who so generously support it.
by Melissa
Tuesday Mar 9th, 2010 10:33 AM
ntuit, that was great!
by WHATBRO
Tuesday Mar 9th, 2010 3:16 PM
Its nice to know some punk wrote a communique for me and my ilk. My only regret is that i couldn't lure more foolish young colored people into the waiting arms of my gestapo swine masters before the pigs beat me until i couldn't walk and then threw me in a holding cell for five days. huh.

Whitey-on-the-moon,

This action was sincere, and judging by the debate and reaction, it created the ruckus we set out to create. Young people put their asses on the line, and stayed strong in the face of some very fucked up police response and the pathetic name calling of those who weren't in the street that day. I got out of Santa Rita at 2 am today, with a couple others, and just this morning did I start looking at the news and learning about whats been going on out side. Solidarity with everyone who got arrested, solidarity with everyone who marched with good intentions for the cause. Solidarity for the kids in berkeley smashing windows and the kids in oakland smashing cop cars.

Put up or shut up.
by fucknd
Tuesday Mar 9th, 2010 4:57 PM
makes an appeal to the authority of this journalist. turns out she's white. and not sure how well her less than 2 years in oakland and her fluent "skier-ese" connects her to the local community she writes about. hahaha.

her bio:

Lillian R. Mongeau write about education in Oakland for http://oaklandnorth.net, a hyper-local news site run out of Berkeley\'s Graduate School of Journalism. She arrived in Berkeley after a few years of traveling, teaching, and writing. She had a regular guest column in The Oregonian in 2008-2009, and was a community blogger for them before that. From 2005-2007 Mongeau lived on the Texas-Mexico border teaching English at Roma Middle School as a Teach For America corps member. She has traveled throughout Europe, the United States, and a bit in India and South America. She speaks halting Spanish, a few words of German, and fluent skier-ese. Mongeau is a 2004 graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University in New York City.

Read more: http://www.good.is/community/lrmongeau#ixzz0hjMWCuyO