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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism
"To Our Friends, We Are Here. To Our Enemies - We Are Coming!"
A look at the General Strike and the media, property destruction, and talk of 'violence.'
"To Our Friends, We Are Here. To Our Enemies - We Are Coming!"
In Defense of the Revolutionary Politics and Actions of Occupy Oakland
“It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose. If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose…[A]s they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back. Be prepared to defend these things you have occupied...”
– A Letter of Solidarity from Egypt
On Wednesday, November 2nd, history was made in Oakland. In the streets, history was lived. Numbering in the tens of thousands, people from across Oakland and Northern California converged, responding to a call for a general strike called for by the Occupy Oakland General Assembly a week prior. Upwards of 50,000 (and some say as high as 100,000) collectively went on strike, broke the law en mass, shut down the flow of capital, and defied police orders for hours. The crowds were a wide section of the poor and working population: students, union and non-union workers, and the poor and the homeless. 14th and Broadway was occupied from early in the morning until later at night when police used flash grenades and tear-gas to remove the crowd. In the intersection of the general strike, a huge banner over hung across the streets that read “Death to Capitalism” and “Long Live the Oakland Commune.”
The Oakland Commune refers to the occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza, (formerly known as Frank Ogawa Plaza), the small park that exists outside of city hall which has been occupied since October 10th. In the early hours of October 25th, acting on orders of former union and Communist Labor Party organizer mayor Jean Quan, the camp was raided with extreme force. Police from various agencies evicted the camp, arrested many, and shot tear-gas and other weapons into the camp which included families and children. A rally of over 1,000 followed that night, and people marched back to the plaza only to be met again with tear-gas and flash grenades. One protestor, Scott Olsen was hit in the head with a tear-gas canister and was critically injured. Driven by a desire to not only protect the occupation, but also to defend the very real community that had been created, people marched and tried to retake the plaza several times until the early morning. Some courageously fought with police, threw back tear-gas towards the cops, and busted up police cars. The next day, people again reconvened at 14th and Broadway as news of Scott Olsen had settled in and the Mayor, who had been out of town during the raid, returned to the city. Police were nowhere to be seen, and after the security fence was dismantled, a general assembly of several thousand decided almost unanimously in favor of a general strike. The occupation began again, and has once again become home to hundreds of people who have created an encampment complete with a kitchen, library, medical space, kids’ space, and much more. Decisions are made without leaders or hierarchy; instead through working groups and in mass general assemblies. Furthermore, the camp has also decided to not work with police, the city, or any politicians or political parties. This has been a major step forward for the occupy movement, and shows the extent in which anarchist ideas have had a huge influence on the camp itself.
During the strike on November 2nd, speakers addressed the crowd and messages of solidarity were read from as far away as Pakistan and earlier in the week, people in the US as well as in Egypt marched in solidarity with Oakland; in Cairo they carried signs that read “Fuck Police.” News commentators even mentioned how just the mood was different than that of Occupy Wall Street in New York. People here were willing to fight and also name their enemy: capitalism, and the governments that protect it and their police that enforce it. As a solution, people needed only to look at the world in which had been created out of the occupation, one of mutual aid, horizontal decision making, and solidarity. The general strike was not an attempt to ask or dialog with anyone in power; people were consciously refusing to sell their labor and reproduce this capitalist society. Together, en mass, as poor and working people, we took a side in the class war and started to hit back.
Starting at 9 in the morning, several large marches took place, which marched on banks, forcing many to close, as well as several businesses which did not allow their employees to strike and threatened several with reprimand. In one instance, a coffee and pastry shop was closed down after only several minutes of picketing and the boss allowed workers to leave with a full day’s pay. In the afternoon, an anti-capitalist march began, which marched with over 1,000 people. The stated goal of the march was to force businesses, especially corporations and banks, to close their doors. Windows at various large banks were broken and a fire-extinguisher filled with paint was used to write “STRIKE” in huge letters across Whole Foods. People chanted: “Union busting is disgusting!,” as the windows were broken and some of the patio furniture was taken and placed in the street. Whole Foods has a history of stopping the forming of unions at its stores and firing its workers for organizing. Later, as the march returned to Oscar Grant Plaza, many of the widows of the front of the nearby Wells Fargo were broken out by a large crowd.
Then, at 4 and 5 PM, literally tens of thousands of people marched from Oscar Grant Plaza to the Port of Oakland. There, earlier in the day, some Longshore ILWU workers walked off the job or simply did not come into work and helped shut down the port. By 5pm, the thousands of people began to arrive at the port, and it was effectively shut down and workers were sent home with pay. The occupation of the port by thousands of people cost literally millions of dollars and disrupted one of the largest and most important flows of capital on the west coast. At one point, a worker drove his car into the path of several protestors, threatening several with injury. Quickly the car was surrounded and the drivers tires were slashed and the car was pushed out by protestors with the driver still inside. As night came, thousands of people began leaving the port after word was given that as of the 8 PM shift change, the port was shut down. At around 10 PM, about 100 people marched from Oscar Grant Plaza to the Traveler’s Aid Society on 520 Broadway, a building that was recently foreclosed on and had once housed various programs for homeless people in the local area. After several hours of people enjoying the space and listening to speeches and music outside, word began to pass around that the police were on their way.
Fearing massive police violence on the same level as the raid against the occupation at Oscar Grant Plaza last Tuesday, people began building barricades on either side of the street and prepared for a police raid. As the police arrived, the barricade on Broadway was set ablaze, in an attempt to stop police from entering the street and help kill any possible tear-gas. This was also explained through a ‘mic check.’ When police finally did arrive, they quickly began firing tear-gas and throwing concussion grenades in an attempt to get people to disperse. At some point, many people left the occupied foreclosed building and went down Broadway or into the end of the plaza. Windows of the nearby police recruiting station, which had already been smashed out during a recent anti-police brutality march, were once again broken and defaced, as many people took out their frustrations in nearest possible manifestations of the police – their building. Two businesses were also looted and graffiti artists used this time to write various slogans, including, “Kill Cops,” Occupy Everything,” “Party like its 1946,” “Oakland Commune,” and “Until the Last Capitalist is Hung with the Guts of the Last Bureaucrat.” The police attack continued into the early morning, and many people were afraid that there would be an attempt by the authorities to evict the plaza once again. While the plaza eviction did not occur, police did make up to 80 arrests and finally took back the streets surrounding Oscar Grant Plaza by around 4 AM on Thursday, November 4th.
In the wake of the latest police attack, some within the occupation have called for the expulsion of anarchists. They have called for the repaying of the banks for their broken windows, and for a formal apology to be made by Occupy Oakland (OO). Furthermore, they are attempting to condemn anyone who promotes “violence,” and to ensure that OO will from now on take a completely “non-violent” approach to organizing in the future. Lastly, and most sinister, is the slander that anarchists are all police themselves, simply agent provocateurs sent to ruin the movement.
This essay is written in defense of the Oakland Commune, as well as the revolutionary actions that have been taken to make Occupy Oakland a revolutionary project against capitalism.
We Had No Right To Be There, Only the Organized Power to Be So
“I got a letter from the government
The other day
I opened and read it
It said they were suckers.”
Watching a video in support of Occupy Oakland produced by Moveon.org, a group which supports and raises funds for the ruling Democratic Party, one is lead to believe that those in the plaza were exercising their “first amendment rights” of speech and peaceful assembly, and in turn were attacked by a police force that does not respect those rights. This narrative has been picked up by many within the occupy movement and within OO, and it is important to counter it. Because, quite simply, it is a lie.
The occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza (OGP) was possible because people took the space. They did not ask, and they did not have the ‘right’ to be there. The current laws on the books say that camping in a park overnight is illegal. You are not supposed to have amplified sound and be able to cook and serve food without permits. Even the decisions made en mass by the general assembly, which forbade police from coming into the area, are of course a direct violation of the law. But there is nothing wrong with this; this in fact is a good thing, dear occupier.
People did not hold the space at OGP because they had a right to do so given to them by the government of the United States – they made the occupation possible by their sheer will and numbers. They took something and held their ground. What’s more is that they asked for people to come and join them in breaking the law, to make their movement bigger, and they did. In doing so, they created a base from which the camp could organize and run itself. They also created a material force in which they could support other struggles as well. This is why the General Assembly (GA) passed an agreement stating that they would offer material solidarity to anyone occupying schools and foreclosed properties.
We must also keep in mind the very radical nature of the encampment itself, which, as one news commentator described as, “More Malcolm X than Martin Luther King…” To the authorities, a growing illegal occupation of public space that openly denounces and does not want to work with the police or city government – is problematic to say the least. Furthermore, a growing section of the occupation was clearly anti-capitalist and revolutionary. This is something that the state could not have allowed to continue. And, is it any wonder that when police were cracking down on Occupy Oakland they were also arresting people in other cities and making plans to move on Occupy SF? If they can’t co-opt the movement, they will try to destroy it.
It is this reason that the city had to come up with a way to evict the camp. Using their trusty friends, the corporate media, a picture was painted of a violent and dirty camp spinning out of control without the help of a benevolent police force and a sympathetic city government. OO was said to be swimming with rats and filth, dirty kitchens and the ‘stabby’ kind of hobos. A series of warning letters and notices of eviction were sent out to the camp, and finally, on Tuesday morning, the state had had enough. With the mayor signing the order and then heading out of town, the police were left to do the one thing that they do well…
At this point, many people can agree that the reason that the state gave for the raid had nothing to do with the state’s real desire to destroy the occupation. It goes without saying, but clearly the government and the power structure do not want this movement being able to organize like Oakland has done. As one comrade said in the early days of the camp, “This is America, you’re not supposed to be able to do this.” And so, as the flash grenades exploded and the tear-gas filled our lungs, the police weren’t directed to do so because someone forgot to read their constitution; it’s because our material force, our occupation, stood in direct opposition to everything that the power structure is. The way of life that is capital cannot allow ours to exist.
Many people quickly grasped this concept, and cast no blame to anyone, who facing down rubber bullets and gas, picked up a tear gas canister that could have been aimed at anyone’s head, and threw it right back at the pigs. No one seemed to cry when the cars of the officers who attacked and hurt us had their windows smashed into oh-so many lovely pieces. No, people understood in an instant that this is war, and we will fight. Just as the Egyptians did, just as the Greeks did, and just as the kids in the UK did. After the first raid on the camp, many people came to a very simple, yet an important conclusion: the government lies and the media helps them. Their eviction had nothing to do with keeping the park clean and protecting that tree – it had everything to do with maintaining its power.
After the raid, the media continued its blatant whitewash. The police had to fire on us because protestors were throwing rocks, they cried! We don’t know who shot the tear-gas, it must have been the protesters, parroted the media for the police. We read the headlines and shook our heads.
The occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza was not an exercise in our ‘rights’ as Americans, it was an expression of our power as human beings. In flexing that power, we were met with the violence of the state, but we held our ground. On the night of November 2nd, we escalated again. Knowing that the cold weather was only going to get colder, knowing that just as in taking the plaza we can take other things, and knowing that capital will never meet our needs and only exploit us, a foreclosed building was occupied. It once offered services to the homeless and the idea was to create more services for the community as well as for the movement. In keeping with the decision passed by the General Assembly, hundreds came out to the occupation and also to defend it. Soon the police arrived, and began to clear people from the occupied community center just as they did at Oscar Grant Plaza only a week before. Nothing was different, everything was exactly the same.
That night, and into the next day, the media attacked us with the same ferocity that the police did. Just as the media was used to spread lies about Oscar Grant Plaza, and thus give endorsement and build popular support for the raid against it, this time the media gave justification for the police attack and helped demonize anarchists who attempted to open a community center. Thus the media gave us gems such as the police came to the area only after people started a bon-fire, perpetuating the lie that the police just wanted to keep residents safe. They said that anarchists wanted to burn the building down, which hides the truth that we opened the building for all and for the community surrounding it. That the police arrived after people began writing graffiti and breaking windows, when in reality this happened largely after the police violence began. This last narrative attempts to split the occupiers between “violent” and “non-violent.” It also hides the targets which actually were attacked, and the degree in which graffiti artists of all types took to the walls to write revolutionary messages. And, out of that tension, the corporate media gives us a hero – the fighter of anarchists and the defender of the “peaceful protest:” the peace police.
“Just how deep do you believe? Will you bite the hand that feeds? Will you chew until it bleeds? Do you want to change it?”
Nine Inch Nails
A violent contingent stalks Occupy Oakland. They have been known to assault protestors while on marches, call people who they disagree with or don’t like the look of “faggots,” and do their best to stop the actions of anyone who they do not agree with through the use of violence. No, it’s not the black bloc. It’s the peace police (PP).
For those fortunate enough to exist outside of the world of protest politics, you may be unclear as to what the ‘peace police’ are. PP are those that at demonstrations, try to get people to stop doing things that they consider to not be ‘non-violent.’ Case in point, when people spontaneously began to dismantle the fence around OGP on October 26th before the GA, PP screamed, “Stop! Stay non-violent.” Thus, for many of the PP, “violent” actions are more realistically anything that can be seen as confrontational, spontaneous, militant, and forceful, just as the occupation itself has been. That is to say, to the peace police, violence equates to actually being effective.
And the corporate media, the lap-dogs of the ruling class, LOVE THESE PEOPLE. In one video shot from a news commentator, they show PP ‘bravely’ placing themselves in between “anarchists” and the windows of a bank in order to stop people from banging on it to force it to close. In other situations, PP have become extremely violent towards individuals just for expressing their opinions. During one march, a PP attempted to start a fight with an anarchist who was chanting against the police and explained that the cops are not part of the ‘99%,’ they are the dogs of the ‘1%.’ During other situations, PP have used violence or fought those that attempt to break or paint over the property of the 1%, namely the windows of large banks or the walls of corporations.
As someone wrote in the online essay, We Laugh at the Waves as they Crash on Us!
What we found comical about this whole event was that the liberal pacifists themselves destroyed the myth of ideological pacifism, although from their position they are not able to see this. In the process of smashing bank windows, there were a couple protestors that took more hardline stances on pacifism, with a couple individuals going as far as grabbing, hitting, and tackling the people smashing windows. There was also talk from some of the “peaceful protestors” of forcefully removing peoples masks. Of course the sweet sweet irony in all of this is that while property was being destroyed (and it should be made clear here that it was only banks and union busting businesses that got destroyed – not that we, the authors, have any problem with small businesses being attacked. In fact, we absolutely love it as ALL business is still business.), the only violence directed toward actual human beings was on the part of the “peaceful protestors.” We notice here that the projected goal of pacifism, a peaceful world, is not possible through pacifism. We also notice a definite difference between non-violence and pacifism: the former being a specific tactic individuals might choose to employ; the latter being an ideology forced onto other people. It is here that we see the very same logic of the state and the police embodied in actual bodies. That peace has to be forced upon other people, regardless of how this happens. It should bring you joy then to hear that the peace police were beaten Greece style with wooden dowels and poles.
But why have the media demonized the anarchists and herald the peace police as heroes? It is simple. Because the anarchists are revolutionaries and the peace police are not. The anarchists promote a world that is based around the same anti-hierarchal organization that the camp is run on. They actively defend the occupation of OGP and of foreclosed properties from the cops. They are willing to use direct action to occupy space and to also attack the property of the 1%. The peace police are not. They do not want things to be confrontational. They do not want things to escalate. They do not want a revolution.
It is telling that to this day, only the police, whether the Oakland Police or the Peace Police have been the only ones that have used violence against people to make them do what they want or in a non-defensive way.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but, fuck the police.
The Property of the ‘1%’
“We’re not hurting anyone man, we’re setting em’ free!”
The strike on November 2nd cost the city of Oakland and various banks, city governments, and multi-national corporations, millions of dollars. This was paid in the way of overtime for police, the money lost by banks and businesses shutting down, the millions of dollars lost from the port closure and workers wildcat striking, and in the destruction of property of banks and large corporations.
It is the latter that has caused so much disagreement. According to the PP, reformists, and others, it is ‘violent’ to break the windows of banks and corporations. Since property is not alive and cannot feel pain, many people instead contend that in the destruction of property people are being forceful, violating, and destructive, and thus in turn, are violent. But if one contends that the breaking of a non-living windows or the spray painting of a wall is somehow violent on these grounds, then how is the shutting down of the port or the occupation of a public space not violent in the same manner? Based on sheer numbers alone, the occupation of the port cost banks and corporations millions of dollars more than the windows that were broken just hours before. And, the shutting down of the port was forceful: people refused to leave and physically blocked the movement of goods and workers. It violated the ability of the port to function as such, and it destroyed the ability of capital to reproduce itself. The same goes with the occupation. People forcibly took the space and violated the ability of the city and police to function as such, thereby destroying the park as the property of the city and recreating it as Oscar Grant Plaza.
There is also something to be said about the very targets which were attacked. Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, and corporations like Whole Foods. The hatred for banks should be very clear and easy for anyone to grasp. They’re helping to evict millions of people, hold them hostage with debt, invest in coal and other destructive industries, and many of them are investors in private prisons and immigrant detention facilities. Whole Foods had “strike” written across it with a paint filled fire extinguisher, and several of its windows attacked. When some in the crowd started chanting “peaceful protest,” the anarchists in the black bloc, (who hide their faces in masks and wear all black), responded by chanting “Union bustin’ is disgustin’!” Some may be too young to remember or completely unaware, but Whole Foods has a long history of gentrification, firing workers for organizing, and low wages. Furthermore, it is a corporation like any other and failed to close for the general strike. Thus, smashy smashy.
But while some people may not believe that the breaking of a window isn’t violent, they still buy into this idea that it is the destruction of property that causes the police to react the way that they did later that night. The only problem with this line of thinking is that the police were nowhere to be seen during the anti-capitalist march which attacked banks and corporations, nor where there any arrests. There were no arrests and the only physical violence that happened was fights between peace police and those beating off their attacks. Furthermore, when compared with the costs of everything else that day, namely the shutting down of the port of Oakland, the cost of the windows was miniscule. The reason that the police arrived later that night on Broadway was very clear: they were there to defend the property of the bank which owns the occupied building. And, once the police began to defend that property, people responded by defending themselves, breaking the windows of a police recruiting station, and the writing of revolutionary slogans.
Some people have tried to make the argument that the actions against bank windows “violated the trust” of other strikers because they did not announce to the crowd what was going to take place. We find it hard to believe that when an anti-capitalist march is called and anarchists dressed in ski-masks and all black are chanting, “What bails out, must come down, burn the banks to the ground!,” people are surprised when this starts to happen. If people felt uncomfortable during the march, they had every opportunity to leave and at no point was there a police presence or any clear threat of arrest.
But it is not even the actions which seem to be the problem, only the image in which they create. An image that has the opportunity to scare some people as images in the media have always done, regardless of if they are of immigrants, black males, or anarchists. Of course, this had been the problem from the start. The media has always been able to put this idea into people’s heads in order to justify whatever the government was doing. The image, the spectacle of ourselves will always be problematic and the media will never be neutral. The sooner we can except that and begin to make real, on the ground human connections with people the sooner we will begin to overcome these divides.
One of these narratives that has been perpetuated by the media is this idea that the ‘bad protesters’ ruin ‘good’ movements, which is a lie that has been sold again and again to people. What we should not be doing is allowing our enemies to define what the reasoning for them attacking us is. It isn’t the attacking of property, the shutting down of a port, or the occupation of a building, it’s that all of these things mean that we have lost our illusions of capitalism: that private property is something to be revered and that we aren’t willing to play the nice and peaceful game of petitioning the government for change. It signals that we are getting organized, getting powerful, and escalating the struggle against those who are exploiting us.
The government will attack any and all movements that are effective and seek to disrupt the status quo. Over the last 100 years, two of the most influential and radical organizations to come out of the US, both the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (from Oakland), suffered at the hands of the state and corporate powers. Their members were beaten, killed, imprisoned, and slandered in the media. They too were blamed for ‘ruining’ social movements and bringing the very police violence that was dished out to them. The IWW promoted sabotage as a legitimate tactic in the workplace and encouraged workers to strike across racial lines, building for a general strike which could expropriate the means of production into the hands of the working class. In May of 1990, a IWW organizer Judi Bari who was working to bring radical environmentalists together with union loggers was almost killed when a bomb exploded under her car. It’s worth noting that the bomb went off in Oakland, and that the attack was carried out in part by the FBI who wanted to stop Judi’s organizing efforts. The Panthers, who packed guns and patrolled the police also engaged in a variety of tactics and did not see a distinction between the self-defense of people against the police and government and the building of a revolutionary force through community organizing and ‘survival programs.’ For this, J Edgar Hoover named them the most dangerous group in the country and quickly a massive police and government campaign against them began, resulting in assassinations, frame-ups, counter-intelligence operations, and the imprisonment of its members.
Repression of social movements is not caused by “bad protesters,” it is caused by a conscious waging of social war by the authorities against anyone and anything that threatens its power. It is also nothing new, either in Oakland or across the world. The state will continue to repress social movements in order to stop threats to the status-quo.
As the anarchist journal A Murder of Crows wrote:
When repression strikes and comrades are arrested…the reaction of many is to disassociate themselves from those who are being attacked by the state. Liberals, progressives, and most activists draw up official statements denouncing violence, sabotage, and illegality, all in hopes of proving to the government that they are just good citizens who like to follow the rules and who are interested in "positive" social change. This spineless response is standard for the left, and serves to flank the state's actions. Disassociation is not only a cowardly act, but is also based on faulty logic.
The underlying premise of disassociation is that the state has reacted to a specific occurrence and that those being persecuted are responsible for bringing repression upon themselves and everyone else. Certainly there are specific acts that the state responds to…but this is not where repression stems from. In actuality, repression is a long-term strategy employed by the state regardless of specific illegal acts and is an attempt to maintain the status quo by any means necessary. Repression, then, is always present in many forms. It is the police, the courts, the prison system, the proliferation of security cameras, the immigrant detention centers and the like. If anyone needs further proof that the state doesn't merely punish people for breaking its laws, and instead represses in order to destroy its opposition, one need only take a look at recent events.
We understand that many people are upset about the property destruction that happened on Wednesday that might normally be sympathetic to us. We also understand that this is largely because of how that destruction was presented in the mass media and viewed by people both in and out of the movement. But we must be clear that this spectacle that is presented is exactly the same one that we have faced from day one from the state. The protest is okay, but stop camping. The occupation is okay, except for the violent homeless people and the rats. The police are okay, the protesters threw rocks first and that’s why we gassed them. The general strike was peaceful, except for when people broke windows. The people that broke the windows were anarchists. Everyone is okay, except the anarchists. And on and on…Just as we have seen in the last few weeks, the image that is presented to the rest of the world will always be one that portrays us in a negative light and hurts our movement. Just as the media smear campaign against every victim of police brutality, from Oscar Grant to Kenneth Harding seeks to squash popular resistance to the police, so does slander against those who take action against capitalism.
We must create a movement that actually has the ability to better people’s lives, create a new way of living, meet our needs, and relate differently to each other, and also empower ourselves to carry out the revolutionary struggle which is needed to get there. This is why when Whole Foods was attacked you heard former workers in the crowd saying, “Hell yeah, I worked there and fuck that place.” Or others, “I worked there and they fired us for trying to start a union.” This is why when the bank windows were attacked the first reaction of people was to throw their fists into the air and cheer with joy! As anarchist Margaret Killjoy wrote about the days events:
Immediately after the property destruction began, the debate raged: was this okay? Did this represent “us”? The only violence I personally witnessed was perpetrated by people screaming “non-violence” who attempted to hurt people who had just defaced property, but it was clear that the march was of two minds. Still, when a group tried to split the march (“non-violent go this way, violent go that way”) they were met by apathy and abandoned their plans. What was fascinating to me, though, was I encountered at least as many non-masked participants who were enamored – or even participating –in the destruction than those who felt alienated or betrayed. One man I saw, shouting into the broken windows of (I believe it was) Bank of America at the bankers on the inside: “Do you hear us now? We tried everything: we wrote letters, we signed petitions, we protested, and you didn’t listen. Did you hear that though? Do you hear us now?”
Furthermore, it is worth pointing out, that one of the stated purposes of the shutdown of the Port of Oakland was to act in solidarity with Longshore ILWU workers in the Pacific Northwest who are fighting the grain exporter EGT. In this struggle, ILWU workers have fought with police and damaged property, largely EGT grain. We must ask ourselves why we choose to support these workers yet demonize anarchists for breaking the windows of a bank?
Been Down this Road Before
In the first early hours of 2009, Oscar Grant was shot and killed by BART Police. His murder led to a round of riots in Oakland, many also taking place on 14th and Broadway. The largest of which occurred in July of 2010, after Grant’s killer, Johannes Mehserle, was cleared of murder but found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The riots lead to the looting of businesses and large amounts of vandalism (graffiti) and the breaking of windows. Much has been written about Oscar Grant’s murder and the movement against police brutality that it helped breathe life to, but we want to go back and reiterate the push from both the media, mainstream non-profit organizations, and the police who were united in pushing a line that sought to divide the protesters along lines of being “violent” and “non-violent” in order to break the movement and keep people from coming together in common struggle.
This line first came from the police that white anarchists were outside agitators, coming into Oakland to disrupt the legitimate protests of black residents, who wanted to largely remain peaceful, according to police and the city government. Non-profit groups largely picked up this narrative, calling on protesters to remain “non-violent” and to not “trash Oakland.”
As one black anarchist in the bay area wrote in the text, They Can’t Shoot Us All:
Many non-profits…oppose the collective uprisings and spontaneous activity because they feel the need to control the movement. These organizations view themselves as the saviors of the downtrodden; when dominated people rise up on their own terms, it threatens the position of leadership these organizations occupy in their imaginary worlds.
We have also come under attack from non-profits that operate entirely under the influence of the city government. One of these city-funded non-profits has taken up a full-fledged assault against us, using some of the $2 million in city money they have received to wage a propaganda campaigning against the unity we have found with each other through this struggle. They have even used city money to pay young people to come to their indoctrination workshops where they speak of the evils of people coming together and standing up to their enemies.
They have also helped to spread the absurd logic of the Mayor’s Office that only people born and raised in Oakland have the right to take to the streets. This...is an attempt to foster collaboration between disenfranchised people and their exploiters in a united front against the enigmatic “outsiders.”
In the past, our enemies have attempted to divide movements by distinguishing the “good” element from the “destructive” elements. This time, it seems that the primary division they created was not between the “peaceful” and the “violent,” but a racial division wedged between groups in the uncontrollable element in an attempt to neutralize our collective strength.
It would be wise to keep these words in mind, as once again we face the possibility of our movement becoming divided and broken apart. Once again, the lesson of the struggle for Oscar Grant shows how much the police, media, and much of the Left were united in holding a line that tried to break any sort of militant resistance by fostering perceived divisions between protesters based on racial or tactical lines. Remember who tries to make these divisions and it is even more important not to allow them to make them. It is also important to keep in mind that militant resistance on the streets of Oakland is nothing new and will continue to happen.
A Living, Breathing, Anarchy
Anarchism is the idea that the state exists to keep the inequalities and divisions within society in place that give power and privilege to a ruling class through massive amounts of violence; from the bureaucratic to the repressive to the racist, patriarchal, and hetronormative. This is the nature of all states, to preserve the existence of a class divided society and an economic system where the mass amount of the population is indentured, enslaved, indebted, displaced, imprisoned, or wage-slaves in a system that generates massive wealth for a small minority. Thus, the state is not a neutral force, it cannot be reformed or taken over to serve the people; it is an instrument against the people in order to preserve the inequalities that exist between us. Anarchists think that the way that we organize ourselves must prefigure the ways in which we want to live in a world without capitalism.
But what then, do anarchists want? Anarchists believe in non-representational forms of decision making; hierarchy, meaning, ‘from the head.’ Instead, we believe in horizontal organizations of power; anarchy, ‘from the base.’ This can be seen best, in the General Assemblies that take place at Occupy Oakland and across the country at different occupations. Here, mass groups of people organize themselves and make decisions without hierarchal organization or leaders. This is power spread out horizontally, instead of concentrated at the top. Anarchists also believe that labor should benefit human needs and that just as we all should share in decision making of things that affect us, we all should have control over what we produce and how. We can see this already happening in the camp, where ‘work’ is performed by free autonomous groups along the lines of mutual aid and human solidarity. People make food and feed each other, some donating labor, others donating food. People organize to protect themselves against the police and also help settle disputes. We hold workshops and classes, create newspapers and spread information, make music, hold meetings and make decisions, all without a central hierarchy or bosses of any kind.
Many of the values and organizational models of the occupation movement are anarchist values. They come from the anarchist movement, even if many do not use the name or understand it. It is of no surprise that the GA has supported many anarchist positions that other occupations would not. It does not cooperate or work with the police: it expels them from the camp. It does not work or cooperate with politicians or political parties. It does not make demands to the power structure it is fighting; it organizes itself to fight that power structure. It does not ask for the things it needs, it takes them, occupies them, and uses them for its own benefit.
But many will ask how we get there? How do we organize ourselves into a revolutionary force that can make Occupy Oakland into Occupy Everything? Anarchists do not believe in working within the system. We do not participate in elections or encourage people to vote, we encourage people to self-organize where they work, where they live, and where they go to school. People need to take direct action and occupy space from which to organize from and to meet their needs directly. But anarchists do not believe that the state will ‘wither away’ under the ground swell of an ‘alternative society,’ (co-ops, etc) or even from the occupations themselves. The state will use violence to crush threats to its power and to also destroy revolutionary or potentially revolutionary movements. This is why we saw the state respond to Occupy Oakland on 25th in just the way that it did. Thus, a revolutionary struggle must be waged against an apparatus that uses massive violence to protect this class society that ultimately destroys the state. Such a movement must defend itself from the violence of the state or it simply will be crushed.
Such a struggle must use a variety of tactics to not only spread our occupations, strikes, and direct actions, but also to defend the spaces in which we have already taken. Those that scream “non-violence” to those fighting back against police who have just raided a camp of people asleep have no solution in this regard. They have no idea of how to defend themselves or the rest of us. We must defend ourselves from the state and their police; if our movement is to survive and if our movement is to grow.
As things heat up and more people start to take action. As workers go on strike, students walkout and occupy their schools, as people fight the police, as those in their homes, apartments, and trailers take back their living space, the property of the capitalist class will be attacked. It is going to happen. People will riot when the police kill someone just as they did when Oscar Grant was shot. They will loot stores when they push the police out and retake the things that other poor and working people have made. They will spray paint the walls with slogans and messages. Homeless people, those foreclosed on, and our own movements will take over buildings, plazas, and property. They will break the locks and move in. Workers on strike will attack scabs, fight police, and destroy company property, just as some of the ILWU workers have done in the Pacific Northwest. People on a march against capitalism who pass by banks and understand them to institutions which are part of a system that they want to destroy will break their windows. As the economic and ecological crisis deepens, as the struggle escalates, and as more people are drawn into taking action, things will continue to happen. People will defend themselves and they will engage with their enemies. They will organize and they will act en masse. This is not a new struggle - it is one that has existed since capitalism began.
We can still feel ourselves flinching as the flash grenades explode in our memories. Our noses and skin still burn and tingle from the tear gas. Our bruises have not healed and we wonder if anyone we know is still in jail. But we also remember that sea of people who responded to a call for a general strike. We remember the workers who went on wildcat and called out sick, the tens of thousands that shut the port down, those who bravely stood up to the police, and those who took action against the banks. We remember the students who walked out of class and the kids who came with their parents. We feel amazing warmth for everyone who braved rubber bullets and tear gas canisters to defend the occupation. We remember it all, for on that day we walked along streets where the police were not allowed in. We walked into liberated spaces and occupied buildings, as music and laughter filled what was once nothing. We saw graffiti on the walls and it brought smiles to our faces because it was exactly what we were thinking.
Indeed our comrades are here with us. They are all welcome here. We are in Chiapas, on the very first day of 1994. We are on Ohlone land, occupying Glen Cove in Vallejo only a few months ago. We are back in Oakland, during the general strike of 1946. We are in Exarchia in Greece, right after Alexis was murdered and we are spilling into the streets with so many thousands of others. We are ourselves only a year ago, rioting on 14th and Broadway as Footlocker is looted and someone is writing “Riot for Oscar” on a wall. We are in Egypt. We are in London. We are Orwell in Barcelona and we see the red and black flags waving and we know now what he meant when he wrote what it was like to be in a city, “where the working class was in the driver’s seat.”
We are coming. We are already here.
LONG LIVE THE OAKLAND COMMUNE!
DEATH TO CAPITALISM!
FREE ALL PRISONERS!