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An Open Letter to the Black Bloc and Others Concerning Wednesday's Tactics in Oakland
by A Medic
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 10:35 AM
A statement concerning the occupation of the Traveler's Aid building after the Oakland General Strike, written from the perspective of a long-time street medic.
I am street medic, and I have been a street medic for over ten years at this point. I want to make crystal clear that while I may not identify formally and publicly as an anarchist, I would say that many, if not most of my values are anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical and incorporate an anti-oppression framework. In accordance with those beliefs, I do not believe property destruction is violence. I also don't agree with the idea that cops can be provoked. I think using that term cedes ideological ground and legitimizes their behavior, inasmuch as they can justify their violence by saying they were provoked, or “forced” into action.

That being said, I have a huge problem with what I witnessed last night at 16th and Telegraph between about 11:30pm and 3:30 am.

My problem last night was not with the specific police/protester interactions. In fact, watching two hundred black bloc-ers marching on the riot cops as they staged was amazing and powerful. That sort of act I fully support, and it is part of why I medic, as I want those who are willing to undertake that sort of action to know that I have their back in a tangible way. I want people to understand that half the power the cops have over us is our own internalized fear of them, and that sort of behavior begins to dismantle that fear in a powerful way, and I fully support it. This I feel is very, very important.

My concern was with the ill-conceived tactics used to occupy the building, in that it looked like an anarchist glamorshot instead of a committed and revolutionary act to actually acquire and hold that space. I am tired of direct actions being done in a way that turns them into photo-ops and nothing else. I am tired of watching barricades be built only to be abandoned the minute the cops open fire. In addition, the crowd on 16th around the occupied building was terrifying far before the cops ever showed up. As a woman and queer person I wanted to get the fuck out of there almost immediately as it felt wildly unsafe on multiple levels, and I feel like whoever orchestrated the take-over made choices that specifically facilitated the overall crazy atmosphere. There were fistfights, screaming matches, fires, and just a general vibe that people were out to fuck shit up, and absolutely no attempt on the part of anyone to shut that sort of in-group violence down.

The setting on fire of the barricades was totally unnecessary, and may make it necessary for the city to call for the camp to be cleared; the breaking of windows and vandalizing of businesses which supported the strike was utterly stupid and counterproductive; and watching black bloc-ers run from the cops and not protect the camp their actions had endangered, an action which ultimately left behind many mentally ill people, sick people, street kids, and homeless folks to defend themselves against the police onslaught was disturbing and disgusting in ways I can't even articulate because I am still so angry at the empty bravado and cowardice that I saw.

I want people to march on the police. I want them to engage in significant and strategic property destruction, I want them to march on the police station, I want them to show the riot cops that they are not afraid, but I do not want them to do these things at the expense of the truly marginalized. That is what I saw happen last night, and it has made me incandescent with rage.

I want to win. I want our building occupations to last. I do not want them to be cleared within hours because a bunch of wild, fucked-up, selfish and wantonly destructive people, not all of whom identify as anarchist or black bloc, need to burn a bunch of shit to get an adrenaline rush by fighting with the cops.

Some of our own, including a fellow medic and friend, are in jail today because of their actions, and while I blame the arrests squarely on the cops, I want the black bloc to acknowledge that they created the conditions for that sort of thing to happen.

I want better tactics, and I want accountability to the communities that may be impacted by our behavior, and I saw none of that last night.

I saw black bloc kids running from the camp while it was under police assault, and as someone who spent about two hours negotiating and assisting in the care of an ostensibly homeless man from the camp, hit by a rubber bullet in the camp, while black bloc kids ran away to their safe homes and made comments like "at least we crushed the place" and "we'll just take it back," I want those kids to be held accountable to the damage that they did, damage made possible by their class and race privilege.

This letter was born out of anger and disgust at what I saw, but it also comes from a place of wanting to engage on these issues. I think that there is a place for these sorts of tactics in our movement, but they must not be guided by grandiose notions of anarchist glory, mob rule, and unfocused rage.

In Solidarity,

A longtime street medic

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by reader
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 11:12 AM
Excellent point. Thanks for bringing it up.

The really sobering experience that one has doing any type of action in Oakland compared to most other places is the number and extent of marginalized and abused people there. You either decide you are going to live with an AK-47 going off outside the apt, or you move. Most cannot move. Its a traumatic place to live even without fires in the streets. And each trauma marginalizes vulnerable people further.
by Kate
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 1:10 PM
RIGHT THE FUCK ON!!!
by shakes
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 1:26 PM
Thank you for a clearheaded response to an issue that obviously gets tied up in so many others. I think that we need to look for creative ways to have discussions about accountability in the streets that do not generalize and do not alienate. I believe you have begun this work with this letter.

I also think that an autonomous zone such as the commune is an excellent place to begin having these discussions. If people are afraid of physical repercussion (which by many accounts, they should be), then perhaps mediators or proxies can speak to their particular experience or street tactics without fear of reprisal. Just a suggestion.
by Tatiana
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 1:48 PM
Thank you so much for writing this. Your perspective and experience is like a drink of fresh water. I would also like to share something.

This is a letter that I wrote to the people who participated in the Traveler's Aid Society action on the night of Nov 2. My hope is that at least one person will be strong enough to be vulnerable, not as a representative of any group or ideology, but as a human being. I sincerely mean what I say here. It's time for us to connect as human beings.

Taking this building was a good idea, but the action was not planned or executed correctly. The public has no idea about the backstory of the building or the intentions behind Occupying the building.

If your goal is to occupy a building, why would you do it in the public spotlight? If people really wanted to put the building to use, they would quietly, secretly, break into the building, and fill it with people. They could have actually begun USING the building. Then, they could gain public support before an eviction attempt by educating the public about the history of the building and the good use to which an empty building had been turned.

Instead they made a public statement. That means that this was not a practical action. It was not a real attempt to use the building, it was symbolic. And a symbolic action is designed to send a message. But what was the message?

There was a banner hung in the building that said "Occupy Everything" I watched the TV live news report and the anchorwoman spoke the words on the banner as part of the report. At the time I thought it was cute. But later, after I read the description of what people were supposedly trying to accomplish, I saw that the banner should have carried a specific message about this particular building and action, to educate people about the story that was unfolding.

As for the "barricades", give me a break. I squatted in the Lower East Side in the early 90s. Evictions are not a game. The cops rolled a tank onto 13th street when they wanted the squatters out. A TANK.

Were these "protestors" actually intending to defend the building militarily? Did they think they had a chance? What is the point of barricades? What is the point of burning trash cans? Do you think that will make it possible for you to keep the building? Of course not. You know you can't win against their military might. We can only win against their limp morality, their shriveled integrity, and their flaccid principles. And we win by being morally strong, impeccable in our integrity and holding fast to wise and courageous principles of service and compassion. Service to the community. We win by expressing our morality, integrity and principles with clarity and grace.

The people who raged in the street last night were not motivated by an impulse to serve the community, that is clear. What did motivate them, really? Maybe they will do some introspection, look into themselves and ask of themselves what is true. Were they looking to have a good time? Craving excitement and adrenaline? Infatuated with their own egos? Were they swept up in the euphoric feeling that comes with being part of something, part of a group, a club? This movement is not about being in a club. This is the 99%. This is for everyone. We show our faces. And when I say this movement is for everyone, I want to feel that this movement is for you too.

The people who were part of the drama that played out late last night need to look into their hearts. They need to ask themselves who they serve. If they are seeking to serve their own selfish needs, they don't hold a place of honor in this movement. They are the troublesome relation and we are all wondering how they will reconcile with the rest of the family. Maturity is expressed in a willingness to take responsibility. They should apologize. Publicly. They should work to mend the damage that they have caused to the spirit and reputation of this movement, a movement awash in beauty and humility. The people in this movement are so humble, none of them will claim to have the authority to lead or to speak for the other members. We represent ourselves, and we are all in leadership positions. Decentralized structure means that we are all responsible. You be responsible too, "anarchists". Be responsible on a spiritual level. Be responsible on an emotional level to the good, trusting people in this movement whom you have hurt. Be responsible on an intellectual level by thinking carefully about your goals and strategy and acting for the good of the whole.

Taking this building and starting a library and center of operations would have been an action that served the good of the whole. But that is not what you did. You didn't take a building. You just took a lot of attention and made the conversation center around yourselves. The people in the movement deserve better. The 99% deserve better. They deserve an apology.
by Joselito
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 2:40 PM
This account jives with what I experienced and felt as I hung around 16th street and Broadway into the early wee hours Thursday morning. Let's be clear: it is a tactical flaw to fight the cops at this time (whether or not it would be useful at another moment would have to be gauged at that time). It achieves absolutely nothing. Anyone claiming that folks weren't itching for a fight that night is being disingenous. The fire and barricades were simply choreographed substitutionism, petty adrenaline-charged antics. Believe me, I've done it. The barricades folks made were made just for the thrill of doing it, they had absolutely no utility and appeared as caricatures of real barricades that would actually serve to impede or delay the pigs forward march. It may be true that the cops would have attacked either way, but it is unclear. Nonetheless, if that is true, why pull them into a loosing street fight when we can maintain the clear moral highground for a while and radicalize through with our inertia and ideas. Having chosen a different locale a bit off the beaten path, and done it more surreptiously, the squat may have succeeded for a bit. Cheers, nonetheless, for those that did it, as it firmly established squatting as a clear direction that this movement should be taking.
by Gio
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 4:25 PM
The Taking of the Building:

The taking of the building and fighting the cops was tactically a mistake, I agree. I do think it is a good ideal and should be done correctly to proceed to re-occupy the building, i.e. discussion and consensus by the GA. Its a worthy cause, and if done correctly, I think, has the majority support of the movement: people before bank's profits! Empty property foreclosed by the banks, is an absurd and irrational waste, in the light of people's needs. It can be turned into a people's service center again, run by volunteers, helping to bring value to the city's inhabitants.

It makes a strong statement against this upside down system of capitalist values putting private property rights above everything else to the extend that an empty building is kept empty because a bank can't make money on it. We need to repudiate that value system. We have our own value system that is in direct conflict with that. We have the moral high ground.

This can be used to further mobilize community--and world wide---support. The corporate media is trying to divide us. Lets not buy into their narrative, and lies. Yes, its not a time to break windows. But it is a time to take pro-active actions, and one of those is to expand the Occupation when it makes sense for serving the needs of the people, and addressing what is wrong with this system of organized greed. The occupation of the building makes sense and should be struggled for, and agreement should be reached in the GA.

The Truth of what Happened, and the Media spin:

The mainstream corporate media is distorting and misleading, people. We need to tell the truth. I was there and witnessed it all, until 2 am. The media's simplistic narrative is created by changing cause and effect. People were peaceful, and took the building and remained peaceful UNTIL the police attacked without warning. Yes, people were expecting and preparing for a fight. They built the barricades after reports that police were on their way, and a bus showed up full of them. And the flames, property destruction, etc, happened after the police showed up and attacked with tear gas.

The Media is trying to divide people, saying its an extremist, fringe group. Actually it was the same mix of people of the larger group: all ages, background, etc—went into and occupied the empty building, and opened it back up for the people. It was not just the actions of the black block. The black block created the barricades, lit the fires, and fought with the cops. But the action to take the building was done by everyone, the larger crowed. They all went in and there was a big dance inside and in the street. It was a festival. People approved it by voting with their feet.

The media focuses on a picture of people breaking windows, throwing things, destruction, creating fires, etc, so that the police were then forced to move in. That is wrong. All that happened AFTER the police attacked. Before the people were peaceful, and after being gassed and attacked, then some people took and fought back, and then things were broken, etc.

My criticism is that it would be better to have publicized this action, and its intention before hand, so that everyone now what this action was about before taking it, thus pe-empting the media distortion. And it have it done in the open, with full approval and knowledge by the OWS movement. Taking this action on your own is adventurism, and does have the effect of having the powers that be divide us and create confusion, and lies, as we have seen.

My eyewitness account of the event, I wrote up that night after getting home: "Later in the night a group decided to take over former homeless service building that has been foreclosed on by the bank and left empty. So they took it over to run it by the people. It was a festival of the oppressed. Music was played. Dancing in the street. The hung a banner in side the buildings windows that read “Occupy Everything.” A direct affront to the sacred cow of private property.

This was two blocks away from the main camp center. We then saw a bus load of police arrive. People started to erect large barricades to defend the space, and keep the police away, using large dumpsters, turned over, and wooden pallets. Riot police moved in and formed a line.

At about 11 50 pm, after only a short time after forming their line, they shot tear gas and stun grenades at the crowd.

Despite media reports to the contrary, they did so without warning. Later they issued warnings, but the first attack of tear gas was done so without, starting the violent confrontation. I was to the side and in audible range when I witnessed this, from their onset until the actual attack. Even though I moved significantly away and to the side, the gas was very potent and strong and I found myself, surprising, in pain, being gassed as well. Other people around the area likewise were suffering from its effects.
by sphynx
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 4:30 PM
(I wrote this to another "Open letter to the black bloc" that was displayed on OccupyOaklandorg, and it somewhat applies to this too:)

Fuck the person who wrote this article.

It is NOT “macho” to smash windows. At least half the black bloc were women, and many people of color. Have you not heard of Laila Khaled? What about Comandante Ramona? They were fucking soldiers.

Look at every other social movement in the world—will you condemn Egyptians for torching government buildings when by doing that, they are now running their own country instead of living under an oppressive authoritarian regime? Do you think the U.S. left Vietnam because they sat in peaceful protest while the United States blew their heads off? No.

It’s called resistance. I think a huge reason there’s so much “peace policing” happening at this protest is because so many white people—and poc who are fooled into their racist bullshit—are involved. I talked to a “hippy” white man on the way to the docks, and he said: “I don’t have a problem with undercover cops. That’s their job.” Yeah, seriously. Undercover cops have never fucked your shit up because you’re a white man who owns land. But they destroyed black families with crack. They killed Chicano leaders when they were actually starting to get people’s attention.

What the fuck did white liberals ever do for me? My mom couldn’t get welfare anymore because of Bill Clinton. White conservatives? She couldn’t get housing assistance because Bush cut the program that was helping her out. The white man created the circumstances that gave birth to my psychopathic gangster of a father. I don’t owe them shit. I don’t owe them an apology if I smash a fucking window—which I regrettably did not. I don’t owe ANYBODY an apology for exercising my freedom of speech if I write words on a public wall. That’s the people’s wall. It’s my wall. The corporations should be apologizing to us for filling our world with hideous advertisements.

But you are absolutely right: I’m not part of the same 99% as privileged white people who grew up believing the rich white man’s version of history. I’m not part of the group of poc that have been fooled by the white man’s lies. What the fuck do you have to be angry about? You don’t have a mercedes? You can’t afford 40,000 channels on the Dish anymore? You can’t easily pay for your shitty kids to go to school? Well guess what, my people have been dealing with that for our entire history, and we still are experiencing real oppression.

You don’t understand why preaching nonviolence is racist because you don’t understand violence. You don’t understand what it’s like to live in a place where you might get shot every time you step outside your door. You don’t understand the violence we experience when the police treat the families of criminals, like criminals. You don’t understand the violence I experience every time I turn on the television, and see my people portrayed as either whores, day laborers, or maids. When I fight back, it’s not violence—it’s resistance.

I wish I could say I had more white friends that sympathized, that tried to understand the oppression of my people—but they are few. I love them. I trust them. But I don’t trust the rest of you white people to back up me or my people when we get radical. I don’t fool myself into thinking you’re getting together to change things for me. You do this for you. I’m not part of your 99%, and I don’t want to be.
by doubtful
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 4:57 PM
Were Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi racist? Or others who gave their lives to nonviolent struggle against racism?
by Kate "Sassy" Sassoon
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 5:31 PM
Thank you so much for articulating exactly the flavor of "incandescent" rage i have been attempting to express since the last of us was released from Santa Rita yesterday. i too identify with the political and tactical position you take here, and find myself to have been strongly radicalized to prevent internal schisms within the movement that produce such effects like this.

while we 25 women were sitting in our 2 jail cells all day Thursday, we talked long and hard about this - we represented a fair diversity of perspectives, and even the most solidly supportive of the black bloc position agreed that this situation was fucked, in precisely the ways you lay out.

i am not anti-black-bloc philosophy, but that shit was, in fact, just stupid and self-aggrandizing. if you're going to engage in radical actions, be fucking SMART about it, and analyze the potential outcomes - especially the ones which you yourself are not going to have to pay.

in solidarity and love,

Sassy

by NTUIT
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 5:40 PM
eVERYONE SEEMS TO HAVE AN IDEAL OF HOW THINGS SHOULD BE AND THEN THEY WANT EVERYONE ELSE TO ACT LIKE THEY THINK IT SHOULD BE. this is not reality. everyone basically has to make their own choices and live with the consequences given the way things are in this world.

it would be real to see things as they really are not as we may want them to be. it isn't always a pretty picture especially when one looks closely at what has been going on for centuries in this world.
by reader
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 5:54 PM
>>I think a huge reason there’s so much “peace policing” happening at this protest is because so many white people—and poc who are fooled into their racist bullshit—are involved.

Actually it's because the US is a very different culture than Egypt, not because of anyone's skin color. The corporations own the MSM and spoonfeed millions of people their version of events 24/7 and it will be years before most Americans will be ready to understand, support or even just swallow the idea of people wearing black and fighting with police as being on their side. People who want peace are people who have never experienced an AK-47 going off outside their window or on their street and have no idea of what it means. They are not evil or racist or nazis -- they are ignorant.

Also, just saying "be SMART about it" amounts to nothing. People who are out of control, who just want to fuck shit up because that feels good, have no idea what "be SMART" means nor do they probably care. There need to be active ways to protect *everyone* against SOME people's rage because they cannot control themselves and -- at the least --will be easy prey for infiltrators and others who would like to bring down the movement.
Thank you for a very well written letter. I feel the same about what happened Wednesday. I too was volunteering as a media and went down late wed when I heard people were being teargassed. When I arrived, I was really disappointed to see all the vandalism around the occupy site.

I think we all tend to get into the same old tired debate of non violent versus property destruction; bad protester versus good protester, that we fail to keep our eye on the prize. I think we need to start using the word "strategy" more than "tactics" as that is what we are really talking about. Where was the strategy in Wednesday night's tactics of property destruction? Where's the strategy in trashing small businesses that have been supportive, if not tolerant of the occupy site? What's the strategy of taking over a building two blocks from OO knowing that the police will probably respond violently? Answer: there is none.

This is why I too am angry about what happened on Wednesday night. It was sloppy and politically undisciplined with very little consideration for the vulnerable folks in the encampment. If black bloc protesters seriously want to effect change, then they need to think about the larger strategy. How about property destruction in wealthy communities? How about doing independent actions not attached to peaceful demonstrations? Heard of the "days of rage" by the Weather Underground? Why not organize something independently so people who have an intention of property destruction aren't pulling non-violent bystanders who don't want to participate into the fray? More importantly, don't you think it could actually benefit the movement to have this kind of distinction, rather than it all being lumped into one demonstration where "violence occurred". It seems the only strategy that is ever used by those utilizing black bloc tactics is to have some kind of police confrontation after a mass action. It's the same, tired narrative and the end result is always the same: the corporate media has some great footage of people in ninja outfits smashing windows and setting garbage cans on fire. Meanwhile, the power and enormity of the actions of the strike are overshadowed and history is rewritten.
by deanosor
( deanosor [at] mailup.net ) Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 7:00 AM
or think they pulled it off well, the vision was to have an indoor space near the encampment, with a library, services, and even indoor sleeping especially as winter comes along.
I've actually bounced across from the thread "explaining" the Travellers action, with most of the comments and questions critical and actually pretty negative against, but THANK YOU for making this open letter

it seems to me, the Black Bloc faction - which seem to have a pretty tight control over the Twitter feed, website and the mobile number - are acting more like the 1%, a vanguard party. They know whats best for us stupid folks, and they will ignore, demean, circumvent

its really worth reviewing the reality of activism, especially infilitrators, provocatuers, anarchists and the so called black bloc. A good place to see how easily the Black Bloc's tactics can be coopted and turned against a movement is Berlusconi's Mousetrap - be warned, this is really, very heavy viewing, its dystopian reality
http://vimeo.com/8672001
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/17/italy.g8
I know people who where really badly beaten in G8, peaceful protestor/independent media, and the "excuse" was the Black Bloc
in this doco, members of the Black Bloc, admit to be played, to being pawns in a stage, to being manipulated, and to needing to find new ways of actions, predictability is their enemy, not just the cops

another example of police infiltration is from Canada, 2007, see how a union man exposes the provocatuers and defuses the little play http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=St1-WTc1kow

also, in reality, vs anarchist dogma, we can see from the UK, how deep and long the corporate and police inflitration and provocation is,
http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2011/01/472363.html
people are in goal, because these inflitrators supplied them with kit, wound them up with all sorts of crazy notions, drove them to a site, and let them go
and then the state used the crazy actions as an excuse for further reactionary oppression
http://spinwatch.org/-articles-by-category-mainmenu-8/54-corporate-intelligence/5418-unmasking-the-environmental-infiltrators

another sorry tale from UK is the London riots, which started as anti-oppression/anti-violence protesting and degraded into widespread rioting and looting, again a gift to power

so, Black Bloc faction, get real, read some recent history and get your head out of the infoshop library and listen to what people are saying

you are losing community support - you used them badly by associating kids, teachers, unions, workers - with property damage, vandalism, and riot porn...

only a small percentage of folks signed up for Black Bloc, maybe 1%

diversity of tactics, non-violence includes property damage, etc, are the kinds of dogmas that are going to get people killed and bring down an already weakened community
by concerned
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 12:02 PM
hey medic,

thank you for this letter and for your work wednesday night.

i have been talking to a few frustrated people about wed's action. i wish that the people that planned this action had the foresight to plan arrestee support or speak to the medic team *before* they started setting things on fire. i think that people who come to do direct service support need to be kept in the loop. i think that many people who do direct actions need to rethink how people who do support work are the ones that pick up this slack and make that work possible. the fact that these issues seem not to have been considered in planning wednesday's action, really proves that the activists who took the building are pulling some sort of self-congradulatory photo opp.

as a person of color, i expect actions by majority white groups of people to check their privilege and have intentional convos with support people about how marginalized groups will be affected.
by adam daesen
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 2:29 PM
Fuck the person who wrote this article, fuck the person who blogged this article, and fuck everyone who reblogged this article.

It is NOT “macho” to smash windows. At least half the black bloc were women, and many people of color. Have you not heard of Laila Khaled? What about Comandante Ramona? They were fucking soldiers.

Look at every other social movement in the world—will you condemn Egyptians for torching government buildings when by doing that, they are now running their own country instead of living under an oppressive authoritarian regime? Do you think the U.S. left Vietnam because they sat in peaceful protest while the United States blew their heads off? No.

It’s called resistance. I think a huge reason there’s so much “peace policing” happening at this protest is because so many white people—and poc who are fooled into their racist bullshit—are involved. I talked to a “hippy” white man on the way to the docks, and he said: “I don’t have a problem with undercover cops. That’s their job.” Yeah, seriously. Undercover cops have never fucked your shit up because you’re a white man who owns land. But they destroyed black families with crack. They killed Chicano leaders when they were actually starting to get people’s attention.

What the fuck did white liberals ever do for me? My mom couldn’t get welfare anymore because of Bill Clinton. White conservatives? She couldn’t get housing assistance because Bush cut the program that was helping her out. The white man created the circumstances that gave birth to my psychopathic gangster of a father. I don’t owe them shit. I don’t owe them an apology if I smash a fucking window—which I regrettably did not. I don’t owe ANYBODY an apology for exercising my freedom of speech if I write words on a public wall. That’s the people’s wall. It’s my wall. The corporations should be apologizing to us for filling our world with hideous advertisements.

But you are absolutely right: I’m not part of the same 99% as privileged white people who grew up believing the rich white man’s version of history. I’m not part of the group of poc that have been fooled by the white man’s lies. What the fuck do you have to be angry about? You don’t have a mercedes? You can’t afford 40,000 channels on the Dish anymore? You can’t easily pay for your shitty kids to go to school? Well guess what, my people have been dealing with that for our entire history, and we still are experiencing real oppression.

You don’t understand why preaching nonviolence is racist because you don’t understand violence. You don’t understand what it’s like to live in a place where you might get shot every time you step outside your door. You don’t understand the violence we experience when the police treat the families of criminals, like criminals. You don’t understand the violence I experience every time I turn on the television, and see my people portrayed as either whores, day laborers, or maids. When I fight back, it’s not violence—it’s resistance.

I wish I could say I had more white friends that sympathized, that tried to understand the oppression of my people—but they are few. I love them. I trust them. But I don’t trust the rest of you white people to back up me or my people when we get radical. I don’t fool myself into thinking you’re getting together to change things for me. You do this for you. I’m not part of your 99%, and I don’t want to be.

Maybe I’ll add more to this later.

from http://rosadefuego.tumblr.com/page/2
by adam daesen
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 2:32 PM
that may have been out of place. this post was in response to the other 'open letter to the black bloc', still a relevant point of discussion regardless.
by Cyd
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 5:29 PM
I hear you, and I'm often frustrated by white people declaring that non-violence is the only effective way to protest. I think people who don't have real police targetting and brutality as a part of their communities don't understand that fighting back as both a political and personal strategy for survival is necessary.

However, not to speak for the person who wrote this letter, but as they are a friend I will clarify what I believe they were saying. The critique is not of direct action, squatting, advancing on cops, graffiti, or breaking windows. The critique is of doing it in a way that is SLOPPY and without a plan for how to protect the people that were non-consensually involved. I hear you saying that there were poc and women in the black bloc. That doesn't mean that it wasn't organized in a way that wasn't disrespectful of other poc and women. I saw a lot of black homeless men in the camp who were PISSED AS HELL that their current housing situation and health were being jeopardized by something they had not been consulted about. I saw an older women who seemed to be confused as to what was going on nearly get trampled by younger people.

That camp is a space for a lot of folks with mental health issues and people who don't have an alternative 'home' to go back to. That needs to be considered when people act in ways that may jeopardize its survival. I don't have a problem with black blocs. I've been in them before and I think a diversity of tactics are important. Just do it somewhere else! Why shit on your neighbors front porch when you could do it in the police chiefs backyard?
by -
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 8:55 PM
while the sentiment of Adam D. is heartfelt and even somewhat ethical, I think there is a question of timing. All the people who are potentially disabled or toting children might not be able to run away if the police respond with tear gas (which was possible because that is what happened just a few days bef0re.)

In this edited film of the Whole Foods, Bank of America incident, do you see how the neighborhood residents are objecting that they don't want to get shot? Does diversity of tactics mean that onlookers have to take blows for you? Their concerns are sort of valid. Why did they do this before an audience of 100s. I mean, at dark hours of the day, plenty of cars get stolen or equivalent, and nobody gets caught because it takes a long time for anyone to respond.
And while you're at it, someone could pick an even better target that isn't in Oakland
by get your fingers out of your ears
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 9:06 PM
It is shocking to read dozens of nuanced, well thought out thoughtful critiques by people who are clearly radical and far from pacifist and then read the responses from the few defenders of the Weds games who really argue like elementary school children.

"They started it and you're all just pacifists who don't understand the revolution" - Talk about boring, one dimensional politics. Get you fingers out of your ears and hear what people (almost everyone) are actually saying.
This letter is spot on.
by A participant
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 9:31 PM
Thank you. I've yet to read an even a slightly articulate defense of the action. The main response has been a complete denial of what other radicals are actually saying and the robotic "destroying property isn't violence" meme.

The action sucked and it damaged the movement. Time to own up to the reality of what happened.







by Woman of color
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 10:43 PM
Finally some SANITY, I am breaking down into tears reading this realizing the trauma myself along with others have experienced during and after that night. I know of an African-American mother and her 6 year old son who had to leave the camp and sleep under the stairway of another building because of what went down that night. And I am no coward, I am a woman of color and so is my friend (also a mother), we had left the camp to go eat with our families, when we got the tweets and texts so we left our families home, and rushed back to the camp, ready to defend it with our cameras and bodies, we stayed there till 4am documenting the face-off with the police. While I am totally for the taking over of fore-closed buildings, that night and the abusive discourse that has followed has really left me upset, angry, alienated and dis-illusioned. But this article has given me hope that there are many others with sound judgement and a sane mind who also believe in an "anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical and incorporate an anti-oppression framework".
by Felix
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 11:08 PM
Thanks so much for this. I saw it when you first posted it, but am just now coming back and seeing the many thoughtful comments, most of which I strongly relate to as well.

Here's what I wrote before I came back and realized that lots of other people were already talking about something similar here:
http://oaklove.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/why-do-we-riot-an-open-letter-to-my-friends-in-the-black-bloc/
by Woman of color
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 11:08 PM
Tell that to the African-American mother and her 6 year old son who had to leave the camp that night and sleep under the stairway of another building because of what went down that night!
by Felix
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 11:12 PM
Really appreciated this comment above: it seems to me, the Black Bloc faction - which seem to have a pretty tight control over the Twitter feed, website and the mobile number - are acting more like the 1%, a vanguard party. They know whats best for us stupid folks, and they will ignore, demean, circumvent
by think
Saturday Nov 5th, 2011 11:43 PM
Here a similar thread of people taking issue with Wed night. Seems they should be cross-referenced.
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/11/03/18697018.php?show_comments=1#18697771
by Ray
Sunday Nov 6th, 2011 1:01 AM
Ayn Rand was an anarchist. Her philosophy, which spawned Libertarians and the Tea Party, is essentially one of financial "might makes right." The Kochs, Popes, and Scaifes are far more successful and effective at achieving their anarchist objectives than the Black Bloc, which might as well join them. Indiscriminate use of the "threat" to filibuster any meaningful legislation; blocking of any appointment based on completely unrelated ideological positions; willingness to force a federal default to dismantle the government piece by piece; playing into Grover Norquist's dream of "drowning government in a bathtub;" challenging electoral laws with the intent of creating election chaos; denying citizens the right to vote; using the power of unlimited money to overwhelm the courts and capture regulatory agencies; abuse of FOIA to intimidate, threaten, and suppress academic freedom; packing the Supreme Court with ultraconservatives who back-flip for corporate interests and turn the constitution on its head; creating the antidemocratic Supercommittee process to force austerity on the middle class and poor--all of these are among the tactics the Right is using (with the aid and complete acquiescence of the supposed party in power whose name begins with a "D") to far more effect than Black Bloc's silly little window-breaking and trash burning antics. If anarchy is what you want, you don't need to do anything--just sit back and watch those who have the power get what they want. Is there any reason to expect the Black Block to behave any better if they were in charge, given their self-indulgent displays of pointless destruction? Their philosophy (to the extent I've heard it expressed) is no better than the Tea Party's and they're not nearly as effective, but they're doing a damn good job of advancing the Tea Party's agenda. A heckuva job, I'd say.
by Dan
Sunday Nov 6th, 2011 7:16 AM
...they are. Helping advance the Tea Party's (and the radical Republican) agenda. Several months ago, I read a commentary written by a porminent California Republican. It was endorsed by what I consider to be the radical Right leadership of the party. Essentially, it said there is no more dealing with the Left. According to the commentator, the Left is hell bent on destroying the country and drastic measures will have to be taken. The statement that the Left will have to be killed (or imprisoned) was clearly made in the piece. The piece also made clear that if the Republicans get control of the White House and of Congress in 2012, this could very well come to pass--the Constitution suspended for the sake of internal security.

Not good....
by race_to_the+bottom
( glinder01 [at] yahoo.com ) Sunday Nov 6th, 2011 1:33 PM
The plain truth is that the Black Bloc in Oakland and in the rest of the world are the people's enemies. Everywhere it is the same, from Athens to Rome to London to Toronto and to Oakland. They have been repeatedly exposed as being penetrated by provocateurs. We know what the results are.

For many people in the Occupy movement, this is their first experience in a political movement which confronts power in any significant way. The labor movement has a long history of dealing with provocateurs. They would set off bombs during strikes. Labor leaders were framed and hanged through these tactics. In the 60s and 70s there was the infamous COINTELPRO program which created chaos and violence.

It is absolutely intolerable to allow black bloc elements in our midst. They are a far greater threat than plainclothes cops who attend our meetings and make reports. Anyone who insists on being masked and wearing black bloc gear need to be confronted and ousted. It is NOT the time for a psychological approach to these people and to try to reform them. There is no time for that and not necessary. The Right is right: this IS class struggle. The 1% knows it very well.

During times of real revolution, where the lives of entire countries hang in the balance, these elements are dealt with very harshly. They are seen as the fifth columnists that they are and dealt with accordingly.

That is why I say that we have to exercise a dictatorship over these people. It doesn't matter if they are sincere or simply misguided. Only the objective reality counts. They are the enemy and there is no room for our enemies in our democratic movement. There is a titanic struggle on the horizon, and allowing these elements in our midst will only permit further outrages to damage the movement.
by An Narchist
Sunday Nov 6th, 2011 10:51 PM
Hang on, hang on. I think that the open-letter here is pretty bang on and indeed I share many of the Medic's frustrations about foolhardy uses of black bloc tactics and property destruction. However, as someone who identifies as an anarchist, I take strong issue with some of slander that has come out on this thread (riotporn, Ray, 'accountability ins't authoritarian' and 'race_to_the+bottom', I'm looking in your directions).

These folks, who display no real knowledge of anarchism whatsoever, are trying to pull a fast one by equating a specific tactic and a specific activist disposition with an entire political philosophy. I call BS on this! Bear with me for a bit and I'll tell you why. Real anarchism is class-struggle anarchism, or anarcho-communism, a proud revolutionary movement that has had the audacity to demand the abolition of the very possibility of exploitation and domination for the last, oh, 150 years or so. Do you like having an 8 hour work day as opposed to 16 (for those who are lucky enough to have work right now)? Do you like not having to scrape coal out of mineshaft with your bare hands at 9 years old? You can thank anarchists for the vital role they played in those historic victories. Furthermore, anarchist unions have always been open to poc and women, unlike, ahem, those of some of our more liberal "friends".

Yet it doesn't stop there because anarchists see those victories as but stepping stones to a revolutionary transformation to a truly democratic socialism (not like the Marxist-Leninist nightmare 'race_to_the+bottom') where economic democracy and social ownership of wealth is combined with political direct democracy. Ayn Rand and her ilk have have nothing to with anarchism (that was the lowest blow Ray); they're ultra-capitalist scum who don't want -much- of a state because it might theoretically prevent corporations from making money sometimes. Anarchists don't want a state because it's inherently oppressive and we know that in the end a hierarchical society can only function on the basis of poverty and ignorance. We firmly believe that if we lift those scourges we will find that every person has the capacity to govern themselves in concordance with their fellow humans on an equal basis to manage society in a horizontal fashion. Freedom+responsibility+equality people; ya feel me?

This returns us to the subject at hand. The black bloc tactic was innovative when it first emerged in the 90s as a way to keep more militant activists anonymous, and thus a little safer from being picked off by police during or after a protest in the early days of the anti/alter globalization movement. Also, as ancient Greek armies discovered some time ago, being packed in a tight group (a bloc) can afford you some protection from aggressors in certain situations. I know anarchists who have never been in black bloc and I know black blocers who don't consider themselves anarchists. Whether black bloc is useful or not in the current situation is besides the point because I think what level-heads seem to be upset about here is not even the black bloc tactic per se, but the use of insurrectionist tactics and strategy. Simply put, the idea was that a big spectacular action against some symbol of the system would cause the people to spontaneously rise up. A minority of anarchists spearheaded insurrectionism beginning in the late 1800s, but it didn't work then and it won't work now. The trap was that practitioners of insurrectionism thought that those actions were a replacement to true movement building.

If we're serious about a revolution than smashy-smashy just won't cut it (and for the record, today's insurrectionists are pale comparisons of their predecessors; at least 100 years ago they had the courage to actually take out capitalists and tyrants, as futile as that proved, rather than running away at the first sign of police assault). I don't give a damn about a broken bank window or a spray-painted wall, I won't shed a tear for it. But neither will the banks for that matter, to fix those things is chump change for them and they are astute enough to know that their real power springs from enough of us believing we need them. There is a time and place for everything, but if we are serious about building a truly democratic, horizontal society, then we have to start practicing that in the here and now, which means collective democratic decision making about the actions we do, not just being unilateral. This builds trust and bonds that form the foundation of a fighting, vibrant movement. It means discipline and self-control, not driven by ego or blind rage.

Unfortunately, in the popular imagination, anarchism is often associated with insurrectionism. But we don't have a monopoly on that; even the Marxists have had their forays into that with the Weather Underground or the Red Army Faction for example. Insurrectionists have historically been a minority within anarchism, but they get all the spotlight. Nowadays I don't even think some of them are really anarchists at all in terms of the political philosophy behind the word. Having said that, can you blame anyone right now for being really really angry with the powers that be and wanting to lash out at the symbols of that power? If not then you know little of the oppression people feel in this country. Be that as it may, real anarchists know that the only way to revolution is though building a mass movement.
by NASDAQEnema
Monday Nov 7th, 2011 7:07 AM
A while back we Anonymous suggested some light hearted sarcastic theater in support of OpBART. The self-agrandizing ego thumping refutations by some street medics really made us wonder why we had to argue against violence with medics of all people. Well, congratulations. Thank you for proving our point. And to the author thanks for having the decency to stand up to thugs. We deface websites, we could care less about spray paint. We've never rendered a computer system inoperable however. Unlike whitehats. You see making fun of the state actually Requires Intelligence. That was the point. To raise the bar above mere thuggery. Any violence occuring would be tactical, precise, and effective because thugs wouldn't be able to Derail the Theatrics or Compete with the Intelligence of Purposeful Chaos. Instead, some of our colleagues have had their lives threatened by these thugs because they chose to dissent. Just who do these thugs think they are? Zetas? Black bloc as a tactic and structure is fine. Black bloc culture needs to grow up.

-Anonymous
by Woman of color
Monday Nov 7th, 2011 10:57 AM
Thank you "An Narchist" for your post :)
by Magonista
Monday Nov 7th, 2011 12:00 PM
I'm writing this as someone who has been observing Occupy Oakland from afar to provide an outsider's point of view of these events.
First of all, I'm very glad the author wrote this open letter, because it always helps to know what is really going on in these situations. I think what she has to say is very important and should be considered by anyone who participated in the occupation of the Traveler's Aid building and for future expropriations.
Now I'd like to respond to some of the comments I've read here. There seems to be an opinion that any sort of attack against property, whether an occupation of a building or the smashing of windows can only harm the Occupy movement at this time. From my perspective, this is not true. The best example I can give is the reaction from my aging lefty mother to the videos she saw and stories she read of the black bloc smashing windows, the building takeover, and the blockade of the port. She was enthusiastically in support of all three, even if she didn't understand the exact reasoning behind the window-smashing and fire setting, because they represented a fighting spirit that most of the other Occupations lack. She wasn't scared away by them, in fact she wants to go to Oakland because of them.
Keep in mind that she is not a young anarchist, when I was growing up she was relatively moderate. She's just tired of the passivity and moral-posturing of liberal/leftist protests, and seeing people take actions like these is radicalizing her. I doubt she is the only one who feels this way, in fact I'd say its probably more common than most of the people commenting here think.
I'd also like to state that from my experiences as a person of color, I feel much less safe in among cop-calling pacifist protesters than I do among black-clad, antagonistic youth, regardless of their race. At least I know the latter are on my side and won't turn me over to the cops if they get scared. I can't say that about the former. That's one of the reasons I've been less inclined to go to the local Occupy. Anybody who would rip the mask of a person and turn them over to the police is no better than the police themselves. If this is really a movement for the "99%" and not just the comfortable, white, middle-class and liberally inclined section of it, then a diversity of tactics is not only desirable but necessary.
Lastly, though its been explained a thousand times before, the black block is not an organization, its a tactic (regardless of whether its a good one or not), therefore claiming that they are infiltrated by police is absurd as well as unfounded.
I hope that people take the time to think about these things before being reactionary and fighting their fellow occupiers.
by TheGreenVeteran
Monday Nov 7th, 2011 2:09 PM
Sorry but, Property destruction is violence and serves no positive purpose.
by HTML
Monday Nov 7th, 2011 2:31 PM
Thank you for your thoughts, Magonista, and I'm glad to hear your mother was inspired by Wednesday's events.

However, I just do not believe there are many people who will see things the way she does, especially in comparison to all the everyday people who are terrified by the smashing and the burning.

When I was watching Wednesday's beautiful daytime events unfold, it was nevertheless clear to me that a lot of the diverse communities in Oakland were not represented in the numbers that we would all like to see. I was thinking especially of the vast multitudes of Latino immigrant families who came out in May 2006. I want them, and others, to be part of our movement.

Can we really say that Wednesday night's events would make those folks more likely to join us next time? I just don't think we can, if we are really being honest with ourselves. They would be so much more valuable to our movement than all the Black Blocs in the world, and they are going to be frightened away.

We have a choice to make, and I think it's an easy one. We can ditch the Black Blocing, which doesn't do a damn thing for us anyway, or we can forget about expanding our movement. I already feel like the wind is coming out of our sails after Wednesday night. The simple fact that we are having to take the time to have this debate, yet again, is a waste of all our time.

Presenting this as a choice between liberal pacifism and Black Bloc anarchism is a false choice. The most eloquent arguments I've seen against Wednesday night's activities have come from principled radicals who don't want to see this historic moment squandered on a few broken bank windows.
by Magonista
Monday Nov 7th, 2011 10:28 PM
HTML,

I don't presume to know the minds of the diverse individuals and groups observing and sympathizing with the Occupy movement. However, I don't think that equating efficacy with pure numerical growth is necessarily a good thing. If the Occupy movement reduces itself to the lowest common denominator that everyone can agree with and refuses to take risks, then it will become no more than another symbolic protest. Some people will be turned off by the idea of multiple forms of resistance, but it will attract others, and are the people who are so weakly committed to the movement that they can't handle diversity really the ones who should be the deciding factor in where this goes?
I did not present this as a choice between the black bloc and liberal pacifism, however you have made the false binary between the black bloc and "expanding the movement". These things aren't mutually exclusive. The real binary, the one that is damaging to "expanding the movement", is the one between hegemony and diversity. And if we are to accept diversity, I don't think that the BB should be something that is out of the question. Of course there are certain contextual issues which this open letter addresses very well, but a blanket condemnation is can only serve to weaken the movement, not strengthen it.
Finally I would like to comment on your desire to see people from different communities participating in the movement. I agree wholeheartedly that people of color are not represented very well. However I would disagree that it has anything to do with, or is even affected one way or the other, by actions such as property destruction. I know of several companer@s that support such actions and are disheartened by the timidity of the movement. For most people, though, their reason for not participating probably has more to do with the fact that they are focused on every day survival and don't see why they should spend what little free time they have on a movement that is still bogged down in middle-class issues that will not change their lives one way or the other.
by HTML
Tuesday Nov 8th, 2011 1:45 PM
I hear you, Magonista. I didn't mean to imply that "expanding the movement" at any cost, especially of our principles, is the way to go. But I really feel like we are walking a very fine line between maintaining pretty damn radical principles and being inclusive for mainstream people. We should all step back and look in amazement at what this movement has accomplished in terms of getting masses of previously apolitical or barely-political people to participate in pretty serious stuff, such as the ongoing unpermitted occupation of public space and the shutdown of the Port. I think this is a much bigger deal in other cities where there the state is far more hostile to the First Amendment, such as Nashville or Atlanta or New York. The fact that so many people are enthusiastically participating, and are willing to keep coming back after camp raids and mass arrests, is a huge victory.

I really don't think Black Bloc or property destruction will help us walk that fine line. I have a very hard time imagining that there are very many hypothetical people out there who are presently on the sidelines but will somehow be inspired to come join us because they see some windows get broken. But I absolutely believe that there are tons of people who will not come out, or who will quit the movement, if this stuff continues.

I think we have the potential to build a mass movement unlike most of us have seen in our lifetimes in this country. By definition that means we are going to attract liberals with whom we have differing worldviews, and we are going to have to deal with the contradictions that ensue. Smashing windows and setting fires rubs our newfound friends' noses in those contradictions instead of building bridges.

As far as diversity (of people) goes, I actually thought last Wednesday was beautifully diverse and represented the best of Oakland. But we can always do better. And, as I said, the movement would benefit mightily if we could win the participation of the tens of thousands of working people with children in strollers who came out to the immigration marches in 2006. I know there are companeros from every community who are down for whatever, but they are miniscule in comparison. And the family folk who came out in 2006 are simply not going to be encouraged by broken windows and fires. If nothing else, many of them have La Migra to fear, and they just can't afford to get mixed up in pointless heavy shit.

I'm signing off on this topic for now. I want to get past these debates (even though I have heartily participated in them), and on to the real.
by mamaz
Wednesday Nov 9th, 2011 10:43 AM
Not to mention Alice Walker, Cesar Chavez. Sure, there were some militaristic groups in the Chicano movement, but many more of them were people coming together in the streets, and guess what! They were peaceful. There are a million and one ways to revolt that do not include violence. Pick up a history book and do your reading.
I understand your anger, but before you speak please do your research.
by not a socialist but diggin this article
Wednesday Nov 9th, 2011 11:16 AM
http://socialistworker.org/2011/11/09/debating-our-tactics-oakland
by Magonista
Wednesday Nov 9th, 2011 12:30 PM
If you are addressing me, I'm well aware of the history of non-violence in Chicano communities. Especially since my family worked with Cesar Chavez personally, not just read about him in a book. However I have yet to see any evidence, from any point in history, where a major change was made through purely nonviolent forms of resistance.
So please don't talk down to me about doing my research, because I'm not a child and I'm not inexperienced or uneducated. Perhaps once folks get off of their pacifist high-horse, there will be able to be more communication in social movements and our differences can become our strengths.
One last thing I'd like to say before I move on is that I don't appreciate people trying to represent people of color. It really takes away our agency when generalizations are made about us and people make claims about what "the community" is, does, or wants.
by Bert McDert
( BertMcDert [at] gmail.com ) Monday Nov 14th, 2011 8:58 AM
This is the sort of response to indiscriminate, un-consensed-to vandalism and provocation that I like to see. It's not that these black-bloc style tactics are without a proper place, it's that they are being employed without regard for what that proper place is. In that context it's simply nihilistic movement sabotage. Why can't there be an understanding, a truce? Occupations really can't coexist with black blocs, and that's fine. What they can do is work toward compatible ends in incompatible -- and thus separate -- ways. If you've got all that revolutionary rage, you're not wrong. Just vent it in some *other* location from the occupation. Divert police attention from the peaceful protest, thereby making occupiers not only safer in the immediate sense but less easily demonized in general. Go ahead and be the boogiemen that make the demands of the occupiers seem that much more reasonable by comparison. It's useful work, as Earthfirst! and ALF/ELF have demonstrated. Many of y'all probably overlap with some of those entities. Yet to my knowledge those groups/philosophical tendencies don't focus on disrupting the work of the more mainstream organizations they came into existence to outflank. They simply stake out new territory and take heat off their more liberal allies. Maybe I just don't 'get' black bloc philosophy as well as I thought I did. Is that it? Can someone who does get it please explain to me why hijacking mass movements is considered cool?