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What happened in Oakland, Nov. 2
As a veteran activist from the anti-globalization movement who has jumped on the bandwagon of the OWS and OO movements, I am extremely concerned about some of the events that occurred on Nov 2nd in Oakland California, but maybe not for all the reasons you might expect. Before I go deeper I would like to stop and say that the negative aspects of what happened are a tiny fraction of an otherwise profound and inspiring day. I can tell you that the media flat out and deliberately lied about our numbers. Conservative estimates are at 50,000. Its hard to know for sure because the march stretched for 4 miles with 3 separate marches, the smaller one estimated at 20,000. This looked far bigger than Seattle 1999 which some claim was 60k. This is only the third General Strike since the days of the IWW, which is profound. What we accomplished is HUGE and should be an inspiration to the rest of the movement.
The media has not only down played the significance of what we have done, but they have lied blatantly and done their part to work against us. They have taken a few negative scenes and grossly exaggerated them. Truth be told, the whole day went by pretty peacefully until the cops arrived. The main event at the port of Oakland was peaceful all through the day with few if any cops present. Things took a turn for the worst only when the cops showed up in riot gear to antagonize, and the response to this was a very mixed bag with activists turning on activists and fighting with each other instead of against our common foe…..and this is what concerns me the most, not that a few windows got broken, but that solidarity and cooperation is breaking down as we fight among ourselves.
Interestingly, after intense dialog with the Anarchist community and also participants of the Nov 2nd ‘Black Bloc’, the people who took credit for attacking the Windows of the Banks claim to have no knowledge of who orchestrated the attacks on local business that supported the general strike. Many of those I talked to actively condemned the attack on Tully’s cafe and other shops that went on strike with us. This puts a really interesting slant on what happened. It has also been confirmed by video evidence that members of the riot police who brutalized our people on October 25th were seen in plain clothes with masks covering their faces. We have video proof that some of these ‘masked vandals’ and tough guys picking fights were in fact Oakland PD and possibly federal agents looking to instigate and discredit our movement. These cops in plain clothes were not here to support our movement but to work against it.
The attacks on the Banks and Whole Foods by contrast do not appear to be the work of undercover cops or feds. The black bloc has taken credit for these actions, and has given justifications for them. The banks have engaged in the biggest scandal in world history, as children are starving and homeless. In Chicago alone, more than 20 thousand children are without homes, and that is a conservative estimate. People are literally dying because of the actions of these crooks who orchestrated a transfer of wealth from the people to themselves. The attacks on their windows were not intended to inflict severe economic damage (the Credit Union transfer today accomplishes that much better), but to make a powerful statement of disapproval of their actions. The spray painted message on whole foods that read ‘Strike!’ might have left more people scratching their head, but despite their liberal image Whole Foods is guilty of union-busting activity, as they fund campaigns against the public option and environmental regulation. Whole Foods is an extreme right-wing corporation that only sells over priced health food to leftists because there is money in it. Reports claim that whole foods management threatened to fire anyone who called in sick to support the General Strike as well as firing anyone who even talks about unionizing. These were not random acts of violence intended to harm the community and create chaos, but a planed if divisive political statement against the exploitation of the ruling class against the common workers, in solidarity with their struggle.
Not all of the Anarchist community supported these acts of vandalism. Our movement is often very split on these debates. In fact, many of us have been very skeptical of these tactics saying that the black bloc should instead focus on making shields and using other non-aggressive means of protecting the occupiers from plastic bullets and tear gas, so we can build alliances with the general movement rather than burn bridges. Some Anarchists are strict pacifists. Not everyone who is an Anarchist shows up in black clothing and masked. Few Anarchists sympathize with the banks or see them as a victim in this scenario, but many Anarchists have stated that this is not the actions that we needed on this day due to the divisive aftermath. Elsewhere in the country, black bloc has had more positive relationships with the occupiers. In one such event they used shields with messages against police brutality, and served to protect rather than endanger the occupiers. The feelings towards this black bloc were generally positive, and in no way mirror the bad press that the Oakland black bloc is getting. Its possible that even despite the acts of vandalism in Oakland, people would not be quite as antagonized towards “the Anarchists” if the shops that were supporting us had not been vandalized as well. Local Anarchists realize this and have been giving statements either condemning all of the actions, or specifically the ones that targeted our supporters who went on strike.
Before I continue with my next point, I would really like to emphasize that the black bloc is not an ‘organization’ or necessarily explicitly Anarchist. Other civil rights activists have used it in the past. It is typically an anti-capitalist anti-fascist and anti-racist tactic, but really anyone regardless of political affiliation can wear black clothes and put a bandanna on their face. There is no ‘black bloc organization’. You sometimes get other socialists who are not Anarchists at all. The point here is that if you see another ‘black bloc’ somewhere they are most likely completely unrelated to other groups who have used the tactic elsewhere.
There are also a lot of other Anarchists who do not use the black bloc tactic and you would never know they are Anarchists because they dont fit the media portrayal of what an “anarchist” is supposed to look like. Some Anarchists include college professors like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and David Graeber who is a professor of anthropology. These are highly intelligent academic scholars who have put a lot of thought into their politics and decided that a society built on participatory democracy and free association absent a professional political elite is not only possible but desirable. David Graeber who is well versed in cultural anthropology sites the success of existing stateless societies that are ‘off the map’. Noam Chomsky is a proponent of Anarcho-Syndicalism, a system that very much appeared to ‘work’ rather well for a number of years in Spain during their civil war period until it failed to defeat the fascist coup; though during those years it worked better than anyone had anticipated. These individuals are not advocating chaos but an order based on ideas like participatory democracy and autonomous confederation of unions.
If this movement is going to go anywhere, we cannot allow outside interference to sow division between us. The Anti-Capitalists, including the Anarchists, will undoubtedly engage in some controversial tactics that are not supported by the wider movement, but in addition to this there will be undercover agents who will go above and beyond not only to discredit our movement but to sow division between our factions. Several people showed up instructing our people how to use plastic handcuffs to arrest their fellow activists, hoping they can create enough schism and infighting that our movement will completely fail. You have known collaborators with the authorities showing up and trying to paint this as an “Anarchist” vs ‘good protester’ debate and calling for the exclusion of all Anarchists from the movement entirely despite the strong role we played in making this movement happen from day 1. There is certainly room for criticism of these tactics. Hopefully the response will be that we can create a dialog where we can coexist, establishing some ground rules for not stepping on each others toes, but without devolving into infighting or working with our enemies who seek only to disrupt and discredit us. The Anarchists in general are not trying to discredit the movement, they support the class struggle of the 99% above all else. There is a diversity of opinions within the movement and you might find that you actually agree with some of them.
A lot of damage was done because our supporters were singled out and attacked, possibly because they were our supporters. Its time to mend fences and make amends for this. Bay Area Anarchists are already talking about organizing to help repair these shops and to promote support of locally owned business. We need to show solidarity with the people of our community, to defend them from those trying to attack them rather than attacking them ourselves. The banks and mega-corporations are not with the common people, but the debate of how best to combat them is still on the table. Its important that we don’t let them divide us, that we dont help them divide us. There can be positive roles for more militant activists that will help build alliances, like protecting activists from the police without antagonizing them. We can find constructive roles for these bolder individuals that will help our movement. There is a lot of work to be done and we can’t let these unfortunate events overshadow the tremendous things we have been accomplishing in Oakland and around the world.