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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Police State and Prisons | Racial Justice
Another response to "A Basic Explanation of Recent Events in Bay Area" Article
A response to an article written about recent Oakland protests.
A response to the Article “A Basic Explanation of Recent Events (July 13-15, 2013) in the City of Oakland"
The article written by Anon is a misunderstanding of how things went down in Oakland over those three days and how locally anarchists and other militants interact more generally in the streets. The play by play put forth by Anon is an informative account but most of the analysis is inaccurate and detrimental to an understanding of our present moment. There is an essentialization of both race and anarchy in Anon's piece. This response offers a counter analysis that attempts to push the discussion about the tensions around race, and insurgency into a fresher terrain that reflects our recent experiences and especially our excitement around building racial solidarity through lawlessness. The terms “black” and “white” are used throughout to cut to the main racial dynamics, but obviously ignore the aspects of racial diversity that adds layers of complexity to the discussion that this piece can't touch on.
It is a complete misreading of the events that played out during any of the three days of Zimmerman protests to believe that whites threw down first, and created a space where then blacks were safe to follow in tow. What is described in the article does not reflect the way that most blacks understand their risk assessment and engagement in protests here. The author argues, “(g)iven the brutal ways they are treated by the police, black people are less likely to commit random acts of vandalism in public.” It has not been the case that white skin privilege allowed for certain risks that blacks weren't able to take because of the way police targeted their darker-skin more heavy-handedly. Instead many blacks allow their rage to manifest in fierce street fighting that is evenly matched, if not more intense than their white counterparts. Actually, based on Oscar Grant protests among other past uprisings, by and large it was white anarchists who hovered on the sidelines hoping that young black kids would decide to start the shit. It's true that individuals or groups who come with the explicit desire to riot will attempt to push a situation towards that direction, but this should not be viewed as a mostly white anarchist practice. We can't paint with such a general brush stroke who we think started or escalated the riot that went down any of these nights. There is a mistake in using a quantitative lens for understanding these dynamics instead of a qualitative one. Anon's article posits that the person who breaks the first window shows the way for others to act, but this is not something that needs to be shown to others, especially blacks. Riots are not new to black folk in Oakland.
In the wake of a rich history of black militancy in Oakland, recent flare ups with police murders, brutal displacement from gentrification and redevelopement projects friendly for whites and hostile to blacks, and new militant formations during Occupy Oakland, Oakland demos have seen a steady presence of young and/or militant blacks. They organize in friend circles and crews,in different political groups, as APOC, and within other anarchist
tendencies. Many were present these last few days when shit went down. They have the agency and the tenacity to do what they want in the streets and have shown their rage more palpably than whites, especially the second night, when it was mostly masked blacks that marched. It's a mixed group that smashes windows and fights cops in Oakland, but now more visibly than ever, blacks are donning masks and using black bloc tactics. Often it is the bravery and intensity of the black comrades who white anarchists should set the bar from. with racial and class tensions at a boiling point in Oakland, whites can show their opposition to white supremacy by attacking gentrifying businesses, and the racist police state. It is important for whites to show their solidarity because race relations are volatile and whites become targets when they show complicity with white supremacy in their actions. Guess what happened to the liberal white man who stumbled into a mostly black crowd with his laptop while doing a webcast? Or how the dozen or more blacks reacted to the news reporter when he refused to stop taking their photos? For some reason Anon decided to paint a portrait of black people without teeth who need guidance and assurances and can't take care of business themselves.
The author's article attempts to explain what the label “outside agitator” means for anarchists and reveal truths about it's accuracy. He lists two characteristics,“1: The white anarchist outside agitator IS usually white. This is a true and undeniable fact, and it is not lost on people with good vision.
2: Individuals who are ideologically opposed to the ideas of anarchism portray the anarchist as white in order to turn people of color against the ideas of anarchism.” Responding to point one, “outside agitator” is a designation for who vandalized property, so it is counterfactual to say they are usually white. There are many white anarchists but they are not “outside agitators” the way that the media and others blame them for all the property destruction. This framing ignores the black street fighters completely. It erases the actions of APOCers who bloc-ed up. Point two has grains of truth, but there is far more to the term than simply a concious effort to steer p.o.c. away from ideas of anarchism. A further misstep by Anon is to fail at explaining the “outside” part. Who is to say what “outside” is? Those who decide to move to Oakland and have lived here for years or plan on it are still labeled as outsiders by this categorization. Those who live in nearby cities, where the issues are obviously relevant to them, have every reason to show up. The term creates a straw-man, asserting that out-of-towners are intruders, but combatants instead must valorize the autonomy and solidarity of people who travel greater distances to participate in our demos. “Anarchist outside agitator” allows for a difference and distance between black and white participation that does not dismantle the misrepresentations put forth by our enemies. It is a mistake to accept the concept, as Anon has, without thoroughly challenging its problematic connotations.
In local mainstream media the journalists, mayor, police, and other talking heads offer innacurate and vague explanations for who caused the destruction. They have two subjects they say show up at night to ruin the efforts of otherwise peaceful demonstrations. They talk about "vandals/thugs/idiots" when referring to black rioters. They mention “outsiders/anarchists/professional rioters" when talking about the white rioters. These subjects are complexly coded around race and the disjuncture in description has clear racist implications. Anon fails to describe how our enemies invisibilize participation of black bodies purposefully because there is a concerted effort by the establishment and most of the left to suggest that black protesters are peaceful and law abiding. They want blacks to believe they must follow in the pacifist footsteps of religious and community leaders. Anon briefly mentions how "(t)he legal system, the media, the clergy, the politicians, and the black president did their jobs perfectly after Trayvon was murdered, ensuring there would be no black revolt against the forces of fascism," but doesn't hone in on why black participation in conflict is impermissable, namely because an organized black rebellion scares the shit out them. Instead progressives and peace activists provide a paternalistic viewpoint that militant and young blacks are victims who are mislead into violence by white anarchists since they lack education, good judgement and above all their own agency. It is frustrating that Anon partially parrots this anesthetizing discourse by suggesting blacks join white rioters once certain conditions of safety are felt in the streets.
The article seems to frame white anarchists as individuals with privileges that afford freedom, risk-taking, experience in the streets, and particular goals that can bring in black participation. It says, “Let it be clear, the white anarchist outside agitator is not always white, nor are they always from outside Oakland. But they are often not from Oakland, happen to be white, and have a fixation on the most basic actions that have come to signify rebellion. Freedom inspires freedom, but some people are freer than others. Those with more freedom in this country can choose to either use it or squander it.” But once we rebuke the argument about the white anarchists being at the forefront and seperate from black anarchist and militant participation we can turn our contempt towards the actual vanguardist groups in Oakland who make efforts to co-opt and pacify demonstrators. Groups Anon fails to call out as the vermin they are. Over the past days of struggle the overt attempt to herd protesters and neutralize rage from the Revolutionary Communist Party(RCP) and International Socialist Organization(ISO) among other groups in coalition is worth looking at under a microscope. These entities organized with specific political agendas as is the nature of political parties, leftist coalition groups and non-profits. With megaphones, banners and signs these groups try to keep the demonstrators on certain march routes and try to keep the energy down to prevent spontaneity and a riotous display especially from blacks. On Sunday, when demonstrators arrived back to the plaza after their high-energy march through West Oakland, the RCP man on the megaphone led a countdown for the crowd that ended in a call to lie down and have a die-in which de-energized everyone. A question for the RCP was raised, "How can we fight while lying down?" While many wanted to march downtown, the organizers effectively stalled this move for several hours until crowds had considerably diminished. During the march on Monday night, there was a young black woman on the megaphone, who many said was part of the ISO. She was hell-bent on controlling the crowd and yelled at those who tried to march up Grand Ave. further than the organizers had planned for. She and other “appointed” leaders were able to steer the crowd away from the swanky commercial areas, and it was clear that she was aware her identity as a black woman made it harder to challenge her leadership. This frustration was especially felt by black anarchists who were opposed to her authoritarian manner yet repeatedly were checked for their raised voices. Black leadership, identity politicians, whites who harbor white-guilt and blindly defer to blacks in leadership roles in struggles, are also enemies to smashing white supremacy. They help pander to all kinds of racist and problematic assumptions around revolt, in their attempts to prevent it from taking place. When finally the uncontrollables were able to veer from the march route that had been set, and headed back from International Blvd over towards the courthouse, she urged everyone to hold hands as they approached the building, while well-aware of the contrary desires to sack it. When they arrived at the police line, "organizers" helped facilitate an impromptu speak-out that once again felt like a de-escalating tactic. One especially young black boy spoke of the need for war against the police. His audible gesture towards unrelenting violence against our enemies might have been the threshhold that had to be crossed before the mutiny against the speakers could transpire. The desire for vengeance, mostly ushered in by black youth who began interrupting the speakers, prevailed and people ditched the megaphone-bearers and hit the streets to downtown and smashed shit again. While Anon's article rightly called out Jack Bryson, it was odd to hone in on him, when Jack did not seem to play a visible role in the recent demonstrations, ignoring those who actually created barriers to our rage. It is worth noting that family members of the murdered, such as Trayvon's, do not get to tell others how to show anger, this is another trick used by politicians to quell revolt.
The article is wrong about the "Vengeance for Trayvon" riots because they don't fit nicely into any kind of white-anarchist- as-protagonist sequence. Sure white anarchists can try to understand how to make their participation purposeful in sharpening their attack on white supremacy and their ties with black comrades. Anarchists, both black and white, can conspire how to bring people in or make their disruption more long-lasting and far-reaching. But anarchists and pro-rev types can only open a space up so far with tactics, aesthetics, political theater, and direct action. Riots are seductive to multiple actors with various motivations. Some are gang-bangers who aren't afraid to participate or even fight the police because they deal with intense violence already. Some want to get some free shit once the window to the store no longer exists as a barrier, some want to get their names up on as many walls as possible, and some do want to turn riot into insurrection. It's wrong to believe Anon's conviction that the ritualistic black bloc is the prime agent responsible for more of Oakland rebelling. No one can hold everyone to the same motivations or standards of behavior. To do so would begin to diagnose, package, and even police the participants. There no guarantee it is possible to be in dialogue with the person who hammered the waiter, and this is preferred. Quan urged protesters to regulate(police) who participates in Oakland demonstrations. She echos the legal system that condoned Zimmerman's murdering of Trayvon. The system fails people at every turn and there are obvious enemies. Homogeneity within tactics and participation doesn't exist, there are informal agreements and certain norms around protest culture but they aren't absolute, to be able to do so would be fascism. It is better this way. The more uncontrollable that folks are, the harder it is to classify and understand what is taking place and the harder for the police state to stop it. Anon's article does a disservice to rebels by attempting to linearly and logically break down these outbursts and how folks tend to operate in the uncontrollable spaces that are created. Instead these events should be viewed by those outside the conspiracy as chaotic, amorphous and indecipherable, and ultimately seductive. The article makes invisible certain black agency while it tries(and fails) to re-explain the racial dynamics that have thus far been obfuscated or misinterpreted by our enemies. Their inaccuracy is to our advantage. If authorities truly don't understand the racial solidarity that plays out among those in the streets, or can't believe that blacks can do it all by themselves, then they will have a harder time stopping the next uncontrollable acts or preventing others from joining in. It is the friendships forged in the conspiratorial fire from which more accomplices are born. Anon says it is when East and West join, that the phoenix will rise and we won't die, but this already happens when Oakland revolts, just in short bursts and on a smaller scale. In our contestations we have birthed a struggling and fledgling phoenix. The trick is to experiment within the terrains of our city and beyond, with all types of accomplices old and new, to build and strengthen our capacity for resistance. Then these incendiary moments will spread under conditions that allow the newborn phoenix to find it's strength and rise.