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East Bay | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism | Health, Housing, and Public Services | Police State and Prisons
An Open Letter to the Black Bloc and Others Concerning Wednesday's Tactics in Oakland
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.
A longtime street medic