In Defense of the Revolutionary Politics and Actions of Occupy Oakland
I went on strike on November 2nd in Oakland. I am not from Oakland, nor do I live there. I live in the Central Valley of California, about an hour and a half away. I work two jobs. I pay a mortgage. I am a member of a union. According to the discourse of the mainstream media, I’m middle class. According to the welfare office, I live in poverty. According to the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, I’m part of the 99%.
I am neither. I am part of the working class, which through our waged and unwaged labors creates everything. But I am also a proletarian. I strive for a world without class, towards a human community free of capitalism. I have been an anarchist for over 10 years. I was not in Oakland when the camp was raided, but I had been to the occupation several times before and many of my friends, from former Panthers to anarchists, were involved. On the night of Tuesday, October 25th, I, along with thousands others, attempted to retake Oscar Grant Plaza. I returned the next night for the general assembly which called for a general strike. I returned for the strike and in the days that followed began working on this piece in response to some of the critics of the day’s events.
In a revolutionary struggle, there will be violence. The state is violent and it will use violence to destroy threats to it. It will protect the property and capital of the economy. We must defend ourselves against this attack and be able to defend our movement. In this struggle people will engage the police as well as the property of their enemies. More and more, people are going to break the law in large groups. They will go on strike largely without union support, occupy their workplaces, students will walkout of school and occupy them, people will expropriate goods from businesses, and people will engage with the police. These are all things that have already happened, in this and other struggles, and will continue to happen as part of a revolutionary struggle against capitalism.
As we engage ourselves in this process; as more and more people become part of the movement and start to fight back, the task is on us as revolutionaries to make real and genuine human connections with people that convey our ideas of why capitalism must be destroyed and a new world built. Our struggles, occupations, and projects must communicate to others a logic and a reason for other people to get involved. In doing so, the media, the mass representation of ourselves to a large audience, will always be distorted. Those that cry we are hurting the movement’s image do nothing to actually articulate what the movement is to anyone, they simply are waiting for our enemies to do it for us. The media will scare people. They will repeat the lies of the police. They will also justify the raids on occupations. It is time to start thinking about occupying and taking media away from the bourgeoisie, just as in Oaxaca and in Greece.
Lastly, as anarchists, we should not be surprised that many within the movement will turn on us and sell us out. They have allowed us to do so much of the ground work and now they want us to leave and turn the occupation movement into just another election campaign or union drive. And, as anarchists, we should not be surprised that some within our own ranks will turn on us and denounce certain parts of our movement, just as those that joined the Republican government in Spain.
Yours in the class war,
"To Our Friends, We Are Here. To Our Enemies - We Are Coming."
“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.