Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anti-capitalism, death, decomposition, may day, oakland, oakland commune, Occupy oakland, occupy wall street
May 1, decomposition and the coming antagonisms
For those of us in Oakland, “Occupy Wall Street” was always a strange fit. While much of the country sat eerily quiet in the years before the Hot Fall of 2011, a unique rebelliousness that regularly erupted in militant antagonisms with the police was already taking root in the streets of the Bay. From numerous anti-police riots triggered by the execution of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, to the wave of anti-austerity student occupations in late 2009 and early 2010, to the native protest encampment at Glen Cove in 2011, to the the sequence of Anonymous BART disruptions in the month before Occupy Wall Street kicked off, our greater metropolitan area re-emerged in recent years as a primary hub of struggle in this country. The intersection at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland was, more often than not, “ground zero” for these conflicts.
If we had chosen to follow the specific trajectory prescribed by Adbusters and the Zucotti-based organizers of Occupy Wall Street, we would have staked out our local Occupy camp somewhere in the heart of the capitol of West Coast capital, as a beachhead in the enemy territory of San Francisco’s financial district. Some did this early on, following in the footsteps of the growing list of other encampments scattered across the country like a colorful but confused archipelago of anti-financial indignation. According to this logic, it would make no sense for the epicenter of the movement to emerge in a medium sized, proletarian city on the other side of the bay.
We intentionally chose a different path based on a longer trajectory and rooted in a set of shared experiences that emerged directly from recent struggles. Vague populist slogans about the 99%, savvy use of social networking, shady figures running around in Guy Fawkes masks, none of this played any kind of significant role in bringing us to the forefront of the Occupy movement. In the rebel town of Oakland, we built a camp that was not so much the emergence of a new social movement, but the unprecedented convergence of preexisting local movements and antagonistic tendencies all looking for a fight with capital and the state while learning to take care of each other and our city in the most radical ways possible.
This is what we began to call The Oakland Commune; that dense network of new found affinity and rebelliousness that sliced through seemingly impenetrable social barriers like never before. Our “war machine and our care machine” as one comrade put it. No cops, no politicians, plenty of “autonomous actions”; the Commune materialized for one month in liberated Oscar Grant Plaza at the corner of 14th & Broadway. Here we fed each other, lived together and began to learn how to actually care for one another while launching unmediated assaults on our enemies: local government, the downtown business elite and transnational capital. These attacks culminated with the General Strike of November 2 and subsequent West Coast Port Blockade.
In their repeated attacks on Occupy Oakland, the local decolonize tendency is in some ways correct. Occupy Wall Street and the movement of the 99% become very problematic when applied to a city such as Oakland and reek of white liberal politics imposed from afar on a diverse population already living under brutal police occupation. What our decolonizing comrades fail to grasp (intentionally or not) is that the rebellion which unfolded in front of City Hall in Oscar Grant Plaza does not trace its roots back to September 17, 2011 when thousands of 99%ers marched through Wall Street and set up camp in Lower Manhattan. The Oakland Commune was born much earlier on January 7, 2009 when those youngsters climbed on top of an OPD cruiser and started kicking in the windshield to the cheers of the crowd. Thus the name of the Commune’s temporarily reclaimed space where anti-capitalist processes of decolonization were unleashed: Oscar Grant Plaza.
Why then did it take nearly three years for the Commune to finally come out into the open and begin to unveil its true potential? Maybe it needed time to grow quietly, celebrating the small victories and nursing itself back to health after bitter defeats such as the depressing end of the student movement on March 4, 2010. Or maybe it needed to see its own reflection in Tahrir, Plaza del Sol and Syntagma before having the confidence to brazenly declare war on the entire capitalist order. One thing is for sure. Regardless of Occupy Wall Street’s shortcomings and the reformist tendencies that latched on to the movement of the 99%, the fact that some kind of open revolt was rapidly spreading like a virus across the rest of the country is what gave us the political space in Oakland to realize our rebel dreams. This point cannot be overemphasized. We are strongest when we are not alone. We will be isolated and crushed if Oakland is contained as some militant outlier while the rest of the country sits quiet and our comrades in other cities are content consuming riot porn emerging from our streets while cheering us on and occasionally coming to visit, hoping to get their small piece of the action.
For a whole generation of young people in this country, these past six months have been the first taste of what it means to struggle as part of a multiplying and complex social movement that continually expands the realm of possibilities and pushes participants through radicalization processes that normally take years. The closest recent equivalent is probably the first (and most vibrant) wave of North American anti-globalization mobilizations from late 1999 through the first half of 2001. This movement also brought a wide range of tendencies together under a reformist banner of “Fair Trade” & “Global Justice” while simultaneously pointing towards a systemic critique of global capitalism and a militant street politics of disruption.
The similarities end there and this break with the past is what Occupy got right. Looking back over those heady days at the turn of the millennia (or the waves of summit hopping that followed), the moments of actually living in struggle and experiencing rupture in front of one’s eyes were few and far between. They usually unfolded during a mass mobilization in the middle of one “National Security Event” or another in some city on the other side of the country (or world!). The affinities developed during that time were invaluable, but cannot compare to the seeds of resistance that were sown simultaneously in hundreds of urban areas this past Fall.
It makes no sense to overly fetishize the tactic of occupations, no more than it does to limiting resistance exclusively to blockades or clandestine attacks. Yet the widespread emergence of public occupations qualitatively changed what it means to resist. For contemporary American social movements, it is something new to liberate space that is normally policed to keep the city functioning smoothly as a wealth generating machine and transform it into a node of struggle and rebellion. To do this day after day, rooted in the the city where you live and strengthening connections with neighbors and comrades, is a first taste of what it truly means to have a life worth living. For those few months in the fall, American cities took on new geographies of the movement’s making and rebels began to sketch out maps of coming insurrections and revolts.
This was the climate that the Oakland Commune blossomed within. In those places and moments where Occupy Wall Street embodied these characteristics as opposed to the reformist tendencies of the 99%’s nonviolent campaign to fix capitalism, the movement itself was a beautiful thing. Little communes came to life in cities and towns near and far. Those days have now passed but the consequences of millions having felt that solidarity, power and freedom will have long lasting and extreme consequences.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the movement is now decomposing and that we are now, more or less, alone, passing that empty park or plaza on the way to work (or looking for work) which seemed only yesterday so loud and colorful and full of possibilities.
All of the large social movements in this country following the anti-globalization period have heated up quickly, bringing in millions before being crushed or co-opted equally as quickly. The anti-war movement brought millions out in mass marches in the months before bombs began falling over Baghdad but was quickly co-opted into an “Anybody but Bush” campaign just in time for the 2004 election cycle. The immigrant rights movement exploded during the spring of 2006, successfully stopping the repressive and racist HR4437 legislation by organizing the largest protest in US history (and arguably the closest thing we have ever seen to a nation-wide general strike) on May 1 of that year . The movement was quickly scared off the streets by a brutal wave of ICE raids and deportations that continue to this day. Closer to home, the anti-austerity movement that swept through California campuses in late 2009 escalated rapidly during the fall through combative building occupations across the state. But by March 4, 2010, the movement had been successfully split apart by repressing the militant tendencies and trapping the more moderate ones in an impotent campaign to lobby elected officials in Sacramento. Such is the rapid cycle of mobilization and decomposition for social movements in late capitalist America.
So what then killed Occupy? The 99%ers and reactionary liberals will quickly point to those of us in Oakland and our counterparts in other cites who wave the black flag as having alienated the masses with our “Black Bloc Tactics” and extremist views on the police and the economy. Many militants will just as quickly blame the sinister forces of co-optation, whether they be the trade union bureaucrats, the 99% Spring nonviolence training seminars or the array of pacifying social justice non-profits. Both of these positions fundamentally miss the underlying dynamic that has been the determining factor in the outcome thus far: all of the camps were evicted by the cops. Every single one.
All of those liberated spaces where rebellious relationships, ideas and actions could proliferate were bulldozed like so many shanty towns across the world that stand in the way of airports, highways and Olympic arenas. The sad reality is that we are not getting those camps back. Not after power saw the contagious militancy spreading from Oakland and other points of conflict on the Occupy map and realized what a threat all those tents and card board signs and discussions late into the night could potentially become.
No matter how different Occupy Oakland was from the rest of Occupy Wall Street, its life and death were intimately connected with the health of the broader movement. Once the camps were evicted, the other major defining feature of Occupy, the general assemblies, were left without an anchor and have since floated into irrelevance as hollow decision making bodies that represent no one and are more concerned with their own reproduction than anything else. There have been a wide range of attempts here in Oakland at illuminating a path forward into the next phase of the movement. These include foreclosure defense, the port blockades, linking up with rank and file labor to fight bosses in a variety of sectors, clandestine squatting and even neighborhood BBQs. All of these are interesting directions and have potential. Yet without being connected to the vortex of a communal occupation, they become isolated activist campaigns. None of them can replace the essential role of weaving together a rebel social fabric of affinity and camaraderie that only the camps have been able to play thus far.
May 1 confirmed the end of the national Occupy Wall Street movement because it was the best opportunity the movement had to reestablish the occupations, and yet it couldn’t. Nowhere was this more clear than in Oakland as the sun set after a day of marches, pickets and clashes. Rumors had been circulating for weeks that tents would start going up and the camp would reemerge in the evening of that long day. The hundreds of riot police backed by armored personnel carriers and SWAT teams carrying assault rifles made no secret of their intention to sweep the plaza clear after all the “good protesters” scurried home, making any reoccupation physically impossible. It was the same on January 28 when plans for a large public building occupation were shattered in a shower of flash bang grenades and 400 arrests, just as it was on March 17 in Zucotti Park when dreams of a new Wall Street camp were clubbed and pepper sprayed to death by the NYPD. Any hopes of a spring offensive leading to a new round of space reclamations and liberated zones has come and gone. And with that, Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland are now dead.
If one had already come to terms with Occupy’s passing, May 1 could actually be viewed as an impressive success. No other 24 hour period in recent memory has unleashed such a diverse array of militancy in cities across the country. From the all day street fighting in Oakland, to the shield bloc in LA, to the courageous attempt at a Wildcat March in New York, to the surprise attack on the Mission police station in San Francisco, to the anti-capitalist march in New Orleans, to the spectacular trashing of Seattle banks and corporate chains by black flag wielding comrades, the large crowds which took to the streets on May 1 were no longer afraid of militant confrontations with police and seemed relatively comfortable with property destruction. This is an important turning point which suggests that the tone and tactics of the next sequence will be quite different from those of last fall.
Yet the consistent rhythm and resonance of resistance that the camps made possible has not returned. We are once again wading through a depressing sea of everyday normality waiting for the next spectacular day of action to come and go in much the same way as comrades did a decade ago in the anti-globalization movement or the anti-war movement. In the Bay Area, the call to strike was picked up by nurses and ferry workers who picketed their respective workplaces on May 1 along with the longshoremen who walked off the job for the day. This display of solidarity is impressive considering the overall lack of momentum in the movement right now. Still, it was not enough of an interruption in capital’s daily flows to escalate out of a day of action and into a general strike like we saw on November 2.
And thus we continue on through this quieter period of uncertainty. We still occasionally catch glimpses of the Commune in those special moments when friends and comrades successfully break the rules and start self organizing to take care of one another while simultaneously launching attacks against those who profit from mass immiseration. We saw this off and on during the actions of May 1, or in the two occupations of the building at 888 Turk Street in San Francisco or most recently on the occupied farmland that was temporarily liberated from the University of California before being evicted by UCPD riot police a few days ago. But with the inertia of the Fall camps nearly depleted, the fierce but delicate life of our Commune relies more and more on the vibrancy of the rebel social relationships which have always been its foundation.
The task ahead of us in Oakland and beyond is to search out and nurture new means of finding each other. We are quickly reaching the point where the dead weight of Occupy threatens to drag down the Commune into the dust bin of history. We need to breathe new life into our network of rebellious relationships that does not rely on the Occupy Oakland general assembly or the array of movement protagonists who have emerged to represent the struggle. This is by no means an argument against assemblies or for a retreat back into the small countercultural ghettos that keep us isolated and irrelevant. On the contrary, we need more public assemblies that take different forms and experiment with themes, styles of decision making (or lack there of) and levels of affinity. We need new ways to reclaim space and regularize a contagious rebel spirit rooted in our specific urban contexts while breaking a losing cycle of attempted occupations followed by state repression that the movement has now fallen into. Most of all, we need desperately to stay connected with comrades old and new and not let these relationships completely decompose. This will determine the health of the Commune and ultimately its ability to effectively wage war on our enemies in the struggles to come.
Some Oakland Antagonists
 The decolonize tendency emerged in Oakland and elsewhere as a people of color and indigenous led initiative within the Occupy movement to confront the deep colonialist roots of contemporary oppression and exploitation. Decolonize Oakland publicly split with Occupy on December 5, 2011 after failing to pass a proposal in the Occupy Oakland general assembly to change the name of the local movement to Decolonize Oakland. For more information on this split see the ‘Escalating Identity’ pamphlet: http://escalatingidentity.wordpress.com/
 The demonstrations on May 1, 2006, called El Gran Paro Estadounidense or The Great American Boycott, were the climax of a nationwide series of mobilizations that had begun two months earlier with large marches in Chicago and Los Angeles as well as spontaneous high school walkouts in California and beyond. Millions took to the streets across the country that May 1, with an estimated two million marching in Los Angeles alone. Entire business districts in immigrant neighborhoods or where immigrants made up the majority of workers shut down for the day in what some called “A Day Without an Immigrant”.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, anti-capitalism, anti-police, bay area, chaos, fuck the police, may day, oakland, Occupy oakland, occupy wall street, riot, vandalism, violence
From Anarchist News:
Based on media coverage of the past week, here are some highlights:
—Monday April 30th, San Francisco, nighttime—
-Several hundred people march from Dolores Park behind a banner reading ‘Strike Early; Strike Often.
-First police cruiser to respond is covered with paint bombs and has its windows smashed by a garbage can, forcing it to retreat.
-Police who attempt to respond are forced back inside the Mission Police station when the crowd arrives and begins attacking. Windows are broken. the building, several vehicles, and a few cops are rained upon by paint bombs.
-Roughly a dozen yuppie business on 18th street and on Valencia have their windows broke and/or are hit with paint bombs.
-The fence is torn down from around a multi-million dollar condo construction site, which then loses its brand new windows.
-Several cars are have their windows broken and tires slashed. The vast majority of which were luxury cars. One luxury SUV is set on fire.
—Tuesday May 1st, Oakland, daytime—
-Snake marches leave strike stations and attempt to force the closure of several banks, businesses and government agencies (including CPS). Several scuffles break out with police and do-gooders. One such bank is entered and trashed from within.
-Police attack, fire crowd control weaponry, arrests, de-arrests, all out brawling.
-Several banks and ATMs suffer vandalism. As do a handful of businesses, including Mcdonalds.
-Windows smashed out of Police van which is trying to make arrests.
-Windows smashed on one news media van parked at Oscar Grant Plaza, tires slashed on another.
-Plaza is temporarily re-occupied and the surrounding area covered in graffiti.
—Tuesday May 1st, San Francisco, daytime—
-Building at 888 Turk is re-occupied and declared to be the SF Commune once again. Banner dropped from the facade reading ‘ACAB’.
-Individuals on the roof of the SF Commune fight the police who are attempting to evict it. One throws several pipes at SFPD vehicles, breaking their windows and otherwise damaging them. Another masked individual throws bricks at the police, knocking down officers and those standing too near to them.
—Tuesday May 1st, Oakland, nighttime—
-Police attack demonstrators at Oscar Grant Plaza, all hell breaks lose. Running battles between police and demonstrators all throughout downtown. Police use snatch squads and brute force.
-Many dumpsters and trash cans are set on fire along Broadway.
-Banks are attacked by demonstrators evading the swarming riot police.
-Two OPD cruisers are set on fire.
-CalTrain building is attacked
-Four Fremont Police vehicles have their windows and/or tires taken out.
Strength to those arrested in relation to the May Day events in the Bay, and elsewhere.
Freedom for Pax, and all other comrades imprisoned and awaiting trial.
Love to all the rebels who demonstrated their ferocity this week, including those who carried out targeted attacks in Bloomington, Portland, Memphis, Denver and NOLA.
Particular affection for the comrades in Seattle and New York: Seattle which made us cry in the face of pure beauty; and NYC which tried its hardest to do the damn thing, in spite of having to confront the world’s seventh largest standing army in order to do so.
Everything for Everyone! Let’s abolish this absence!
Death to the existent!
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: brawls, cops, fighting, may day, oakland, Occupy oakland, opd, police, the oakland commune, violence
According to the OPD:
Today the City of Oakland facilitated marches, demonstrations and protests of various kinds at locations throughout the City. The City of Oakland is committed to facilitating peaceful expressions of free speech rights, and protecting personal safety and property; however we have continuously stated that we will not tolerate destruction or violence.
Today’s strategy focused on swiftly addressing any criminal behavior that would
damage property or jeopardize public or officer safety. Officers were able to
identify specific individuals in the crowd committing unlawful acts and quickly
arrest them so the demonstration could continue peacefully.
Given the anticipated size of the crowd, mutual aid was called early in the day to
enhance OPD staffing.
Protests started at 7 am with about 45 people boarding buses heading to ferry
stations throughout the Bay Area. Meanwhile, protesters set up a series of marches, pickets and blockades at locations throughout the downtown area.
Around 11 am, groups converged in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza before splintering into two groups that headed northbound on Broadway, where some isolated incidents of vandalism occurred.
At about 12:30 this afternoon, a large crowd assembled at 14th and Broadway and
some protesters began throwing objects at officers who were attempting to make
an arrest. The crowd surrounded the officers and small amounts of gas were
deployed on three occasions in limited areas to disperse the specific small groups
of people who were committing the violent acts.
As of 2 pm, a crowd of about 400 had assembled at 14th and Broadway and in
Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, then headed to Fruitvale to join a permitted march. That
march began at 3 pm and grew to about 3,500 people who eventually converged at
Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in the early evening. By about 8 pm, most of the crowd had
peacefully dispersed; about 300 – 500 people remained.
Starting at about 8:30 pm, OPD issued two dispersal orders to clear the area at 14th and Broadway, 15th and Broadway/Telegraph, and Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. The
orders came shortly after OPD had attempted to arrest an individual. A crowd of
about 300 people surged forward and began throwing bottles and other objects.
Although most of the demonstrators heeded the dispersal order, a group of about
60 people splintered off in about a dozen groups, running through the Plaza and
northbound on Telegraph Avenue and Broadway.
OPD’s focus tonight is to keep the groups from reorganizing, and to minimize
vandalism and damage to public and private property.
· 25 arrests confirmed (1 felony arrest for an assault on an officer; 2 felony
arson arrests, including an arsonist who burned a police vehicle)
Preliminary Vandalism/Damage Assessment
· Minor vandalism/graffiti at Bank of America at Kaiser Center
· Vandalism at Bank of the West (2127 Broadway)
· OPD van had windows broken
· News media vehicle had tires punctured
Following 8:30 pm dispersal orders:
· Fire reported at 19th and Broadway
· Windows broken at Wells Fargo Bank (20th and Franklin)
· OPD car on fire in 1300 block of Franklin
· Car on fire near Internal Affairs Division at Frank Ogawa Plaza
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anti-capitalism, capitalism, crisis, crisis center, downtown oakland, general strike, oakland, occupation, Occupy oakland, occupy wall street
From Anti-Capital Projects:
Tonight we open the Crisis Center. In this abandoned building that once provided services to those in need, we open the Occupation Crisis Center. Capitalism cannot avoid crisis. Capitalism cannot resist crisis. But capitalism is not the crisis. We are the crisis. Capitalism is not hungry, homeless, jobless, excluded, exploited. We are. And across the globe, across the nation, across borders, across Oakland, we are moving to meet our immediate needs. We are reclaiming space that has been unused, used against us, left empty while we sleep outdoors, while we cook and organize and struggle outdoors. We open this building in this moment of crisis — in our moment — to continue our occupations, continue our struggles, to seize this crisis and make of it a new world in which everything belongs to everybody. We will use this space for organizing, for talking, for making plans. These are our needs. We will use this building to continue, to endure, and to grow. These are our needs. We will not be asking to have them met; we are here to meet them. To Occupy Oakland; to Occupy Wall Street; to our comrades in Greece and Oaxaca and Cairo: we know you are here with us. We are with you. We are you. You are all welcome here. Our true loves are everywhere, and we find each other in these spaces that we claim. We welcome you to the Crisis Center. We have much to do here, and we have already begun. For our friends and our loves: we are here. For the rest: we are coming.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: capitalism, crisis, Enemies, general strike, nihilism, oakland, occupy everything, Occupy oakland, oscar grant plaza, private property, public space, society of enemies
We are the consequence. Thus reads the poetry of the moment, spraypainted on the side of a dumpster-barricade outside of Occupy Oakland in the hours before it was besieged by hundreds of cops and destroyed. A threat, a promise, but more than that the phrase means that what is happening here in Oakland is not just a ephemeral explosion, not just another one of the twice-yearly riots that passes through the city like a comet. No, it is part of a sequence. There are consequences to the things we do. Our days are no longer a collection of mere happenstance and triviality, no longer a random distribution of inconsequential moments. Finally, what happens happens for a reason, even if from the perspective of the dominant order this reason appears as purest irrationality. Finally, what happens is what must happen, even if from the perspective of the dominant order this necessity appears as pure contingency. There are consequences. We are those consequences. We are the pure products of a political and economic system that can no longer guarantee for us even the mere survival upon which its own survival depends, that can’t even provide us with the unbearable jobs and mind-numbing schooling of decades past. Nor can the American state any longer guarantee social peace – not even if it could afford to imprison another 2 million people. The consequences have arrived. After orbiting the world as riots and general strikes, massive urban encampments and near-revolutions, those consequences have finally come home to the decaying US cities from which the crisis first emerged.
But we are more than simple symptoms of capitalism’s collapse. We are also the agents of consequence. We are the hinge between if and then. We are what makes what must happen happen. If we were driven to occupy Oscar Grant Plaza by the nature of the conditions, then it is also true that we did so intentionally, with clarity about our purposes, and with minimal equivocation. We established a space premised upon free giving and receiving rather than exchange, a space where anyone could find a meal or a tent, attend a workshop or political conversation, and, if they wanted, participate in the maintenance of the occupation in numerous different ways (though participation was never a requirement). We did this with open hostility to the cops and the city government, refusing their entreaties to negotiate on multiple occasion. Such a commune can only result from all kinds of care, attention, willfulness, decision and effort. This space was, in many regards, the opposite of the spontaneous. And yet, without an openness to the spontaneous, without a sensitivity to the order of what happens – in other words, “material conditions” – it could never have come about. The crisis is the necessary but not the sufficient condition of the commune. When we tore down the fence the city erected to keep us from the returning to the plaza, we did so not only because we had to, not only because we wanted to, but because we chose to.
Curiously, nihilism has become the philosophical vogue among radicals at the precise historical moment when, for once, people can do things that actually matter. Of course, if you plays the odds, nihilism is the safest bet. Most of what we do doesn’t matter. Chances are that capitalism will be succeeded by something as bad as it or worse or by centuries of total ruin. Furthermore, any sober assessment of the enemy and the state of those who have avowed their total opposition to the status quo can only lead one to conclude that any force capable of establishing some other way of living must emerge not as a result of willful, voluntary antagonism but in response to new historical developments, new “objective conditons” among people who are not now, in any sense, declared enemies of what exists. But what such a standpoint misses is that we are history, too. We are those objective conditions. This is why the moment of crisis is significant, because it is a moment when the spell of “objectivity” is broken, when the myriad apparatuses and institutions designed to ensure that what we do doesn’t matter – from the police to the universities to the media – stop functioning, when they can no longer fulfill their task of neutralizing, displacing, misrepresenting or repressing antagonism. Crisis is the moment where what we do matters because the apparatuses for containing antagonism have failed. Because there are consequences.
Crisis is the condition. It is the conditional term in the proposition, the if phrase, but crisis is not itself capable of producing consequences, of turning an if into a then, a condition into a consequence. So many people – friends and strangers – who did what needed to be done, who recognized the opportunity! None of this just happens. It takes tremendous effort, preparation, intelligence. It is the fruit of years of conversations and friendships and projects. Though none of this will ever be acknowledged openly, and no names will be shared, each of us knows the dedication and ferocity and courage of our friends, as well as the incredible things done by people whose names we will never know. We know what it took: from the most mundane tasks to the most thrilling, all of it necessary.
Two years ago, “occupation” was adventurism or vanguardism, the suicidal plunge of the lunatic fringe that barricaded university buildings or rioted in the consumer corridors of university districts or marched insanely onto freeways. The signs read we are the crisis because we were, we were the first expression of a crisis become general, the insane children of an insane world. But now we are no longer merely the crisis. We have grown up; we have graduated (even those of us who never went to college or were already quite grown). We are the consequence. We have moved from the futureless universities into the presentless squares of our cities, from the sites of the formation of labor-power toward the place of its circulation, and finally, with the general strike, the place of exploitation. Small though they were, those flares lit the way: they provided moments of theorization and practical elaboration which have pointed now, finally, to the centers of all our cities. The slogan Occupy Everything, once absurd, is now banal. Though occupation has up until now remained bound by semi-public property – university buildings and parks – the general strike now looming promises the possibility of taking occupation to private property itself. We can start taking the things we really want and need: the buildings we will need to survive the winter months, for example. There will be consequences to what we do on the November 2. Let’s make them as brutal and beautiful as possible.
–The Society of Enemies
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: autonomous, banks, bay area, bay of rage, liberated space, occupations, occupy, Occupy oakland, occupy wallstreet, oscar grant plaza
From Bay of Rage:
Social rebels from around Oakland have descended upon Oscar Grant Plaza and have created a genuine, autonomous space free of police and unwelcoming to politicians. Whereas other occupations have invited the police and politicians, or have negotiated with them, Occupy Oakland has carved a line in the cement. That line of demarcation says: if you pass this, if you try and break up or over shadow this autonomous space, you are well aware, as observed over the last couple of years, what we are capable of.
This article is a report back on the first week at Occupy Oakland, a reflection on problems we have been facing and some thoughts on moving the occupation forward; onto some next level shit.
After much organizing, logistical coordination, joy, sweat and tears, we’ve managed to hold down the first week of the occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza (conservatively known as Frank Ogawa Plaza). The police have not stepped foot inside the parameter of the occupation without an impassioned, hostile response. Likewise, the people who do enter the space have not left without an inspired and rebellious spirit – a fever.
On the first night, there was concern about how many people would show up or if any of them would feel empowered enough to stay the night. Despite the rain, at least 1,000 attended the rally and about two dozens tents were erected. After food was served, the first general assembly took place in the amphitheater of City Hall. In the form of a speak-out, an amplified sound system and an open floor made way for those in attendance to passionately talk about why they were there – why they hate capitalism, its pigs and its prisons. Here, people could speak their minds without the obstacles of an agenda or decision-making.
Different from many other occupations in the occupation movement, organizing took place for a week prior to the plaza takeover. On the very first day, the camp had a fully functional kitchen, an info-tent and a supply tent. By the end of this week there was a medic tent, art supply tent, an insurrectionary library, a free store, the Raheim Brown Free School, a media tent, a POC tent, a Sukkah, a DJ booth, and not to mention hundreds of sleeping-space tents. In addition, the rotating kitchen crew has been feeding everyone consistently from 8am until midnight and throwing spontaneous BBQs. Despite a few hiccups, these designated areas and tents have been beautifully maintained and non-exclusive – functioning to attract new-comers, leaving little prospect for anyone to feel like a spectator.
Immediately, different logistical issues that had to be dealt with spawned various working groups, or committees. These committees are in constant rotation. This “beauty in chaos” allows for a loose, flexible structure. Simultaneously, people are freely organizing and interacting with the camp however they desire. A few crucial sub-committees that the occupation hasn’t necessitated until recently, but have since been created (and experimented with) are: security (dealing with outside forces such as police, who from the beginning were not welcome), mediation (dealing with internal conflicts and dynamics), a facilitation working group (which organizes the agenda and shapes the process of the general assembly), a POC caucus that has been meeting every day, and finally, a newly formed anti-authoritarian/anti-capitalist caucus and a queer working group. People are no longer spectating the increasingly rapid destruction of their everyday life, instead they are actively participating in breaching normalized boundaries – how people relate to one another in a way that empowers everyone involved.
The General Assemblies, or “GAs,” are places where the people of the occupation can get updates, have debates, plan for actions, and decide on proposals. The GA Facilitation Working Group came up with a modified consensus process where a 90% majority – instead of 100% – is sufficient to pass a proposal. However illusory or “democratic” this process functions, its strategic implementation strips power away from potentially authoritative individuals who might hijack or otherwise sabotage our ability to make decisions and move forward. Because there is a specific group working on the facilitation process, the GAs operate smoothly and are usually quite exciting. Additionally, a lot of people that speak at the GA are really fucking on point. Thus far the general assemblies (of 200-300 people nightly) have passed decisions to never endorse political parties or politicians, to send a solidarity statement to comrades at Occupy Wall Street and another to those on hunger strike in the Pelican Bay state prison. This is also a space where anti-state and anti-authority sentiments flourish, be they against the police or the city government. As can be expected, some people say some really fucked up racist/sexist shit, but they are usually booed off stage. With what may be a perfect ending to the first week, a letter from the city (delivered en mass 30 minutes before the GA) was read aloud. The city detailed specifically what must be improved or taken care of “for our own safety” (when did the city ever care about our safety anyways?). Boldly (you could feel tension when the idea was initiated), some began chanting, “Burn it”. Without hesitation, someone took a lighter to the letter. Another person added lighter fluid to the burning, single sheet of paper. The flames raged wildly for a full minute. The crowd of at least 300 cheered and hollered with an enthusiasm unprecedented at any prior GA. For some reason, we feel that Occupy Oakland is different…
In addition to the amazing infrastructure and the excellent facilitation that has been set up, the organized events are extremely diverse and most of the time explicitly political. Each of the events throughout the first week nurtures the overall, vengeful tone of the occupation – performances, Hip Hop shows, poetry slams and movie showings. In each case, people find time away from hard work to enjoy each other’s company. In addition to planned events, numerous impromptu ciphers, dance parties and performances break out – accentuating a generalized desire to cultivate autonomous actions. One day a SambaFunk Band marched their way into Oscar Grant Plaza, proceeded to play for almost an hour – hundreds surrounding them, dancing. This beautifully unexpected addition to the occupation, along with others like it, demonstrates a recurring spontaneity. Multiple times throughout the day you hear people exclaim how inspired they are by this occupation and what is possible here. In addition to the more creative and fun events, workshops take place during the day and have been explicitly nonconformist. The workshops range from topics such as contemporary uprisings in Greece, Chile, and Oaxaca to Occupy Everything, which connect the student occupations to what is happening here. This upcoming week, everyday from 1-5pm there are more of the same: specific talks discussing particular political topics such as “Police/State/Prison” and “Oakland schools are being shut down! What are we gonna do?” Notably, the very first demonstration out of Occupy Oakland was an anti-capitalist march where over 200 people marched through downtown Oakland chanting, “1, 2, 3, 4 – organize for social war!” — among other things . This march attracted a diversity of people. Over 200 rebels chanting these radical slogans chill you to the bone. The following night, a queer march left from the occupation and went to Hella Gay, a queer dance party in Oakland. Upon reaching the club, marchers demanded to be let in for free and the venue acquiesced.
Incessantly, Occupy Oakland startles and excites many with its implicit radicalism. On Saturday, October 15th, MoveOn.org (a “grassroots” organizational front for the democratic party) organized a march and demonstration in conjunction with the national occupation movement’s day of action. They attempted to exploit Occupy Oakland when they announced that it would draw to a close in Oscar Grant Plaza with a series of speakers including several mayors from around the Bay. Upon this announcement, a proposal was brought to the GA: a refusal of special treatment and/or endorsement of politicians and political parties/organizations. It passed like a maple leaf in the wind. After negotiations with MoveOn, and based on our own policies, no politicians would be allowed to speak on behalf of their party at that event and thereafter. Surprisingly, MoveOn eventually complied with our demand. When someone broke the agreement (rather, they took advantage of a loophole) and began reading a statement from Congresswomen Barbara Lee, someone from the occupation promptly told those from MoveOn how they broke the agreement and how the democratic party is “counter-revolutionary.” At this point those who were brought to the occupation via MoveOn’s march begun to disperse and explore the camp (perhaps because it was far more interesting than hearing all of the old boring democratic rhetoric that has been said time and time before).
Over the past few years, Oakland has demonstrated its uniqueness in social conflict and protest. This distinctiveness isn’t anything new; rather, it has just reemerged. To elaborate, a comrade wrote in The Occupation Movement: On Greed, Unity & Violence:
“Oakland is currently under occupation by the police. The form of this occupation varies; the situation is much different in Temescal than in deep East Oakland. We live in a militarized space. Whether it’s police executions of Black youth, police harassment of sex workers along International Boulevard, or the city council’s racist legislation in the form of anti-loitering laws, gang injunctions or the suggested youth curfew, this paramilitary occupation is a project of local government to pacify and contain the city so capitalism can go about it’s business uninterrupted.
But Oakland doesn’t just have a violent, repressive contemporary situation; we have a vibrant history of struggle and resistance. From the 1946 General Strike to the formation of the Black Panther party in 1966 to the anti-police rebellion following the execution of Oscar Grant in 2009, Oakland has long been a city full of people that refuse to sit down and shut up. Despite every attempt by the state to kill that spirit, it lives on and will be out in full force over the coming days.”
Occupy Oakland reflects Oakland’s radical history. Because of this, an overwhelming anti-police sentiment guides the conversation about and the reaction to police. The GA has refused to comply with the city’s demand that we apply for permits (which we were told would automatically be accepted without charge). This lawlessness has played out when police have attempted to enter the occupation. On several occasions, many surround the approaching police and in unison began chanting “Pigs go home!” and “Cops get out!” When the police officers realize their lack of power, they have no other option but to leave. This tactic of resisting the presence of the police started spontaneously, but has since been the usual response. We hope that other occupations will look to this practice and realize its significance.
Despite the brilliant infrastructure, there have been problems. Some extremely important committees have been slow to respond to the growing need of the camp. Some of this is due to the transient nature of the groups, where people come in and voice their disagreements and then take off, leaving the work to the people in the committees who are already stressing about getting things done. Although there is “beauty in the chaos,” it has become evident that to some degree, disciplined organization is imperative. Ideally, a harmony of chaos and composition will surface.
One of the biggest problems emerging in the camp is specific dynamics of racism, sexism and other oppressive habits. In the first several days, excitement and festivity ruled the commune. This slowly transitioned into over-frequent dance parties that spilled late into the nights. Excessive drinking, unwanted sexual advances, harassment, and fights persist daily. This behavior, it should be mentioned, also exists without the presence of alcohol, but takes on a different form with alcohol. [NOTE: we are beginning to see reports of delinquency, drug use and violence in the media that may begin to duplicate in other media outlets. This could be the beginning of a campaign against the occupation. We would like to mention that these problems exist everywhere, as this occupation is to some extent a microcosm of Oakland, and until there is incentive to unlearn these behaviors, “peace” cannot be actualized. Again, this is not to say that they are not serious or that they are tolerated.] All of this has led to concern about the camp developing a Burning Man or Woodstock environment, devoid of almost all political content (other than the politics of culture, sub-culture and counter-culture which have a very limited potential and ultimately alienate people from one another). What is desired is a complete transformation (or destruction) of society, not just a cultural one. These dynamics are not unique to the occupation, but rather happen every day in Oakland and everywhere – they are symptomatic of a society that has broken all of us. In reaction, a mediation team has been set up to deescalate situations and allow for dialogue between those in conflict, resulting in much benefit. Despite all of this, Occupy Oakland is magnificently self-regulating – when a fool’s gotta go, a fool’s gotta go. This occupation is constantly growing and expanding – becoming more and more dissident by the day, pushing us all to our limits. Let’s see what else this occupation movement has to offer…
Beneath the internal conflicts lies an aching desire to externalize such wrath. Hundreds upon hundreds of people simply talk and mingle, discussing politics and life. You can almost taste a collective hostility towards each individual’s own socialization. People are learning how to be human beings without the mediation of capitalism and its apparatuses. Whereas alienation and isolation rule our every interaction, it has been replaced by the crisis of remembering the last 10 names of those you’ve met in the past hour. The war on alienation and isolation is fought through complex and voluntary social experiments, ultimately revealing the gaps of power relations that are facilitated, in part, by capitalism
Another pressing issue is that of expansion. The plaza now hosts somewhere around 150 tents on the grassy areas alone. Sunday night, 30 minutes before the GA, a letter from the city was delivered en mass to people in the occupation. It detailed the city’s intolerance to many things, among them, camping in the concrete area of the plaza. Logistically, moving to the concrete would be the most immediate remedy to the growing population density of the occupation. Are we to push that boundary? Already, a small encampment has manifested in Snow Park, which is a few blocks from Oscar Grant Plaza. Almost all of the grass is taken up at this point and if we are to push the boundaries with the city, we must be prepared to defend the spaces we select to house us next. Expansion onto the concrete would only be a temporary solution. If we are to expand to another location, we must nurture the crisis of the occupation – population density – and encourage many more from the street find a home in the occupation movement and seduce others out of their homes to do the same. [NOTE: Those occupying Snow Park stand their ground against police who tell them they are not allowed to be there due to a school being nearby. Since then, to some extent, the school and its students have announced support of the occupations in OG Plaza and Snow Park. However, Snow Park is in need of a greater occupying force. As of tonight, we are unsure whether that extension of the occupation can be held through the following day.].
The recent letter from the City gives light to their attempt to stifle our capacity. With good reason, they are afraid. It is likely the occupation will attempt a diversity of expansion strategies through the coming week. Undercover police are naive to think we haven’t noticed their technique of dividing the occupation on already present tensions – some COINTELPRO type shit. The camp is vulnerable – bearing wide-open entrances in almost every direction. Do we look to barricades? Do we take the barricades into the street? These are questions that will be answered in either a collective, intuitive and organic response to police eviction or in much planning and preparation. One thing is certain: the people of Occupy Oakland are well prepared to defend their new home.
Occupy Oakland (as you may have gathered at this point) is unlike any other. We begin to appreciate this when we realize our potential and current condition – that we are a force to be reckoned with, a danger to the capitalist functioning of Oakland. Police attack is no more imminent than the all too likely opportunities of widespread insurgency. Strategizing in accordance to our immediate geography’s potential as well as its weaknesses is key. Unions, schools, libraries and more, they are already our allies, as we are theirs. An overpowering confidence saturates the air of Oscar Grant Plaza – a threat and a promise.
Occupy Everything! Demand Nothing!
-Autonomous individuals among the liberated space known as Oscar Grant Plaza.