Monthly Archives: May 2012

Searching for Occupy 2.0: Here’s to the Fights Worth Fighting

It is probably facetious to say outright that Occupy is dead. At the same time, there’s truth in the statement. Since May 1st, generally seen as a disappointment if not an overtly spectacular one, it seems indisputable here in Oakland that things have changed. The Oscar Grant Plaza Gazette, which served an important role as a running catalogue of Occupy Oakland actions and events and related writings since the first camp’s inception, has officially packed it in, stating that in manic effort at self-preservation, “Occupy Oakland as such is on a slow and sure downslide as we fail to become less insular and self-referential and remain largely irrelevant to local struggles.” Bay of Rage, which seems to function as something of an intellectual voice for the anarchists and black bloccers, published an article entitled “Occupy Oakland is dead. Long live the Oakland Commune” (pretty well demonstrating the eternal elusiveness of any definitive statements regarding this movement). A working group has formed in effort to plan a re-thinking of the General Assemblies, whose attendance has dwindled and all but flattened in the weeks following May Day. My own prediction had been that Occupy Oakland, whose popular support within the city by many accounts has all but evaporated, would become increasingly irrelevant, but activists who had already connected, and the many virtually autonomous working groups which formed beneath the OO umbrella, would branch out to find their own battles to wage. Meanwhile, the state, with their ruthless persecution of the (honestly quite cooperative) Gill Tract Occupy farmers serving as a perfect example, has proven that they have no intention at all of pulling back the pressure. Many Occupiers these days are beginning to look a little worn, a little dispirited, in stark contrast to the energy and enthusiasm of only a few months ago. Indeed, many could be forgiven for declaring the American Occupy Movement dead, or at the very least on terminal life support.

And yet, while in many senses they would be right, they also couldn’t be more wrong. Occupy 1.0 is dead. The camps are dead, and they’re not coming back. But the new word buzz word now, repeated over and over on list serve e-mails and the endless underground journalism articles shared through them, is Occupy 2.0. Occupy, phase 2. While the first incarnation of Occupy Oakland may be dead, its spirit is very much alive. And, after-all, what more was there to begin with? Of the several list serves to which I subscribe, Labor Solidarity, Occupy the Hood (now called ROOTS), Brooms Collective, Occupy Education, none have shown any discernible drop in activity. Even Occupy Oakland, which (forgive me) I now almost exclusively identify with endless police skirmishes, still shows signs of potency and danger. This is perhaps best evidenced by the immediate and truly inspiring reaction to the shamelessly extra-judicial arrest of Christopher, an active, well-known and well-loved OO member, who was charged with assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon (which turned out to be no more than his own voice projected through a megaphone). Chris and others had attended a townhall meeting called for OPD officials to address the Alan Blueford shooting. It was a meeting which fast turned riotous, and the anger and shouting followed Chief Jordan and his entourage out of the hall when they left and into their cruisers. Chris was one of those leading the charge. Perhaps 30 minutes later Chris was followed and quite literally kidnapped by OPD Officers. This time they went too far. This was made evident that very evening, when the weekly Fuck the Police march drew numbers greater than it ever had before, and (somewhat uncharacteristically) remained peaceful. NLG Lawyers were out in force at Chris’ hearing the next day. And, sure enough, Chris’ bail was lowered and the charges drastically reduced. All of this within 24 hours of his arrest. Maybe it’s wishful thinking to detect a little fear in the immediacy of the city’s response. Had more peaceful protests continued, and Chris’ situation not remedied, the city at large might have learned a little more about the repression going on in downtown Oakland everyday, right under their noses, might have learned why those FTP marches have managed on for so long after all. It hasn’t happened in a vacuum, that’s for sure.

But FTP marches cannot define the movement. If they do, then, in my opinion, the state will have effectively won. Our message will have been subdued and many of the very people who should be joining us will instead bear the worst of a fight that isn’t theres. Right now, I think of the FTP marches, the vandalism and the police provocation, as last desperate attempts to cling to Occupy 1.0. So then, what is Occupy 2.0? Where do we find it? What will it look like?

To a large degree, it will look like what was already there. Just more so. Here I can only speak for Oakland. Oakland is what I know and I have never been to an Occupy elsewhere (except Berkeley, and I wouldn’t go back). Oakland has a long history of activism, and groups such as Just Cause, ACCE and Ella Baker have deep roots here. The “community organizer” title here is not an empty abstraction, and now, since Occupy, there are just a lot more them. With the camps disappeared, we have been forced to get away from our comfort zones. We have been forced out of our shell, to engage in the hard work of alliance building, to consider the issues that people face on the day to day, those problems that need fixing, that many have been working towards fixing for generations. Oftentimes we can provide numbers and energy to fights that are already being waged. Other times we can create self-functioning organizations ourselves.

Such is the case for Occupy Education, and possibly the newly formed Workers’ Assemblies. Occupy Education in California is a mammoth list serve of teachers and educators, some employed and some not, some members of the union, some temporary hires and Teach for America alums. Some of them are just parents, and some of them, like myself, are unaffiliated with any of them. I’ll be attending my first GA for this group on Saturday. I attended a Townhall meeting at Lakeview Elementary, one of five Oakland public schools slated to close in a few weeks (all of which attended by primarily poor, primarily minority students). Then I attended an Occupy Oakland Education meeting the next week. These are groups that are not bound by the typical union/non-union strictures, and they lack leadership. They are Occupy, but at the same time they are specialized. Education and school closures, specifically the closure of Lakeview Elementary, is one fight I’m particularly interested in, because in my opinion it represents a wrong that cuts across many issues, and typifies a place where labor, community and Occupy-style protest could coincide and reinforce one another. When the building re-opens in the fall, it will be an OUSD administrative building. What better target could there be?

There’s Occupy AC Transit, which today has one simple and attainable demand, arrived at through months of planning and dealings with drivers and riders: that is, to make bus transfers multi-use. As people grow poorer, they won’t be able to afford cars. And yet public transit has never been a viable option either, and since I started riding BART and bus to school about fifteen years ago, prices have almost doubled. Piecemeal, five cents here, ten cents there, year after year. Service hasn’t improved, if anything it’s worsened. Well, how about 40 of us taking over a bus and refusing to pay? How about drivers taking us to our stops anyway? Yeah, there’s an issue that people could get behind, that people are already behind.

So, is Occupy dead? Absolutely. Are we still Occupying? You bet. At this point, the damage has already been done. People have woken up, and they have realized that they are strong. Politicians everywhere would do well to take note. Even if our GA’s don’t draw numbers, and our movement has disappeared from the headlines, expect continuing civil unrest throughout the country as people realize their ability to stand up for their lives and their rights.

Long live the Oakland Commune!

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Impressions from May Day, Part 2: Brooms Collective Goes to the Mission District

There was this… (okay, i guess)

But as far as my own May Day Occupy experience, the most interesting was to come the following weekend. While I’ve been working, I’ve been living something of a double life, with my weekdays dominated by 9-5 office work, and my weekends by Occupy and the Occupy-related. It’s interesting having a foot in both worlds, but I think it’s important. We should be able to speak intelligently and calmly with those who disagree with us. We should remember that to a lot of people out there, in a lot of ways, we’re still speaking Greek (pun intended?). We should remain open to differing opinions, and we absolutely must keep a study eye on the temper of the community. We ignore it at our peril, which, I’m sorry to say, I believe we have done. In our diminishing levels of support, numbers, and expectations, we are now reaping the consequences.

As a case in point: the Mission District on the evening before May Day, when an evening march from Dolores Park, sponsored by Occupy Oakland, turned violent down a stretch of Valencia Street. A group of marchers, ostensibly Occupy Oakland members, smashed storefronts and the windows and windshields of parked cars, and they spray-painted anti-gentrification and anarchy symbols over any flat surface that could accommodate. During the next week, Wells Fargo donated $25,000 to a community fund to support the cleanup effort. The day following the Brooms Collective received this e-mail from a Mission District resident:

“I was a staunch supporter of the Occupy movement until this morning. This demonstrates the sad truth that history has repeatedly demonstrated: given a little power, the oppressed will become the oppressors. Affluent multinational thieves or mindless local vandals–not much of a choice, is it? I find them equally repugnant and I don’t want to live with either. Thanks for destroying not only a load of property but my own personal faith that anything in this world will ever change for the better.

Don’t bother emailing back to say Occupy Oakland bears no responsibility for this. You have lost all credibility so nothing you can say will make a difference. To anything.”

I couldn’t think of an adequate response. Because, if you ask me, she has a point. We can’t say we have no responsibility for what happened. Of course we do, and of course it’s wrong and she has every write to hate us for it. The prevailing wisdom, and my first knee jerk response to her anger, would be to divert the blame — I can’t imagine how the vandals were Occupy Oakland members, it’s just too crazy, too out of character. If you ask me, it’s a textbook case of the work of agent provocateurs, one to be remembered and catalogued and used for future reference. Here is one account by another Occupy blogger, in which he corroborates what I’ve heard elsewhere, that the vandals were unfamiliar faces, well-organized in their actions, and just a little too beefy and crew cut to convincingly pass as your average anarchist (though perhaps some of the regulars joined in as well, you can’t put anything past people). But in a movement as absolutely inclusive as Occupy, the risk of outside agitation should never be an excuse. We should never have had space that would allow something like this to happen in the first place. I understand the frustration in wanting to smash banks, but if we can’t even make the distinction between the property of the one percent and those of our fellow struggling citizens than I don’t know how we could ever hope to offer any kind of coherent solution to anything.

… and there was this

So, we the Brooms Collective, with our friendly and positive and community-minded sensibilities, took it upon ourselves to claim responsibility. After our weekly cleanup at the park on 32nd and San Pablo, we headed over to the Mission District. I’d only posted the event on OO’s website the evening before, so I wasn’t expecting us to get many. A few of our regulars had other obligations. One person met us at the 16th St. BART Station so, in the end, there were only four of us. But we put on our Brooms Collective T-Shirts (which my mom made during some of the GA’s — my mom is a pretty important part of this group, making for a, well, interesting dynamic), carried our brooms and our buckets, and started off down Valencia. Of course, most of the damage had already been done, and had already been cleaned up. We only found one circled Anarchy ‘A’ to clean off a wall. But we made our concern felt. We went into the restaurants and asked the managers if they’d been affected, and if there was anything we could do to help. We expressed our concern, and we gave them our e-mail, brooms@occupyoakland.org, in case anything like this ever happened again. Most of them thanked us. Some of them did not. Generally, I felt little anger from any one, mostly bemusement and even thankfulness. There was a degree of understanding and acceptance, as if this sort of thing was but yet another of the times’ many crosses to bear, that you can’t help for a few stray whackos (because that is how many people see us, I’m coming to realize). I don’t know, if you ask me we can do better than that. We do have a message, and we do have a purpose, and if we act with just a little more direction and sensitivity and self-control we could reach, and speak for, a far greater slice of society than we are right now. Thanks to events such as those in the Mission District, and a general environment of hostility to conflicting opinions, we risk falling into irrelevance. We risk becoming a fringe group, easily isolated from a populace that fervently wishes that they could support us, and which, in the end, is our only hope for protection from a state which will otherwise systematically intimidate, arrest, discredit and destroy the few hard core who remain. This process has already begun. It would be a huge tragedy if we proved unable to do something about it.

Impressions from May Day, Part 1: A Problematic Spring

I went to work on May Day. I believe that the vast majority of Occupy supporters did, at least those lucky enough to have work. I walked to the 19th St BART Station, and I didn’t see any shuttered businesses. During my lunch break in San Francisco, I went out to observe the protest just down the street on Market, and the crowd was exuberant and cheering and they were drawing friendly honks from the diverted motorists. It made me smile. But, unlike last November, this time there was no way that I would be willing to skip work. For one thing, my days at this job are numbered. It’s temp work, and I need the money. For another I just wasn’t sure that there were that many actions I was all that interested in joining. The build up to May Day, which I’d observed from a relative remove, myself having somewhat drawn away from Occupy over my last few months of full-time work, had seemed fraught with contention and worry. There was talk of a few scattered strikes, such as the shutdown of the Golden Gate Bridge, but that was dependent on the union’s participation (which ultimately fell through); perhaps another port blockade, but this perhaps would have seemed a bit redundant and mean-spirited. Some seemed to think that a reckoning of some kind was coming. Perhaps there were no good actions. Perhaps, things had changed.

But while a general strike of any real significance didn’t come to pass, neither did the reckoning, at least not in so dramatic a fashion. There were no spectacular arrests or instances of violence. Indeed, I was pleased and surprised, if not by the numbers of the specific protests, as by the level of support they still enjoyed. The Bay Area public is not yet completely exasperated with us. Even the vandalism and property destruction is still met with a degree of understanding. This is testament to the intelligence of the American people, which manifests in surprising ways just when it seems that all hope is lost and everybody else is just worth writing off.

After work I went home, ate some dinner, and decided to pass by the protest en-route to a Wifi café. I’m moving apartments soon, and I’ve felt the need to get out in the meantime, the walls a little too stir crazy and close. Internet cafés have been my best place for getting work done over the last few weeks, and I’ve come up with a nice and sizable little network of them (favorites being House Café on Grand, Urban Blends on Broadway, and the Barnes & Nobles Starbucks in Emeryville on Sundays, for the outdoor seating and people watching).

It was about 8:00 when I pulled my bike to a stop on 14th and Broadway. The crowd was diverse and fairly sizable. Speeches were still blasting away from the Dignity and Resistance March, an annual event that traditionally disembarks from Fruitvale BART and terminates at San Antonio Park, but this year made the longer trek downtown, perhaps in honor of the Occupy Movement. This was, from the accounts I’ve heard, the piéce de resistance of the Bay Area’s events, in the numbers it drew (up to 5,000), the manner of the demonstrators, and, of course, the inherent cultural strength of this action, having sprung from the activism of people like César Chavez and Oakland’s strong and proud Latino community, which has grown so spectacularly in recent years. My own impression is that many Latinos seem to sympathize with Occupy, and are pleasantly surprised to find more people responding to some kind of the same pain that people within their own community have experienced since ever hence. But this sympathy has limits, generally defined by the actions by protesters that will draw the police, and therefore precipitate risk of arrest. One well-respected speaker at an OO GA several weeks ago went so far as to say that the OO’s employment of the so-called “diversity of tactics” was becoming a race thing — that if Occupy couldn’t cut out their destructive behavior they risked further alienating minorities, who inevitably bear the brunt of police aggression. I’ve heard this sort of sentiment from other places that have reached out to us as well, such as activists out of Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland, to which a group of Occupiers were invited one day to participate in organizing against the Goldman Sachs credit swap scam, and who, upon arrival, attempted to commandeer the event, and left their hosts with an impression of arrogance and pomposity. I’ve heard black people refer to us as “entitled.” How unfortunate that I even feel the need to write “black people,” as if our movement were distinct from this population, as, unfortunately, it seems largely to have become, with a good portion of Occupy Oakland still remaining the blessed exception. Perhaps tensions of this sort are unavoidable. Indeed, the genuineness of these controversies can’t help but inspire a little pride in my own lily white heart, which, pre-Occupy, had been all but convinced that my people and my generation were good for little else but iPod-buying and afternoon beer-drinking. Thank God some of us at least are willing to take stances, to take risks. Such are the qualities of a strong and healthy populace. Such is the essence of the true American way, which is at its best when at its most disobedient.

OPD shows of its new hardware

As it turns out, I never made it to the internet café. I locked my bike up in front of Walgreens, and then I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in months and we decided to stick around to see what happens. It was only a few minutes later that the sound truck packed up and left, and the officially sanctioned dignity and resistance march ended. Soon after, the police began to mobilize on 14th East of Broadway. Protesters at the intersection would not be moved. Skirmishes broke out near the front. A man in a suit came down from one of the office buildings to heckle the crowd, and, sure enough, a crowd formed around him. Yelling ensued, and police approached, and after a tense few minutes, the man disappeared into their protection, followed by calls of “That guy’s the 1%! That guy’s the 1%” Some people had to be pulled back from following him further. The energy in the crowd was intense and passionate, and it wasn’t all white people. Far from it in fact, even as the dignity and resistance marchers left, though the crowd grew increasingly thick now with masked black bloccers, some bearing shields. I pulled my friend a little ways back from the front. I had the feeling that she’d never been in one of the bad protests before (Julie, if you read this, please feel free to correct me J), so didn’t quite understand how quickly these things can spin out of control. I for one had no interest in being arrested again, and I doubt that she did either. Mostly I think she came for the spectacle, perhaps a little late for the good stuff. Everyone should know by now that when the night falls, generally, everything goes, and that if you remain, you do so at your peril. I was not into peril on that day. When I heard them announce unlawful assembly, then I knew it was coming soon. And sure enough, not ten minutes later, the line of police charged us en masse, in effect arresting everyone who was not fast enough to get away from them, and, in one fast and screaming crowd, we ran. Julie and I ducked down 19th Street away from them. We stopped at a bar on Broadway, and watched out the glass windows as lines of police and white riot vans passed by over the next several hours, together with periodic sirens, and groups of shabbily clad, backpack-bearing kids, moving in groups intent on a mission of some kind or another. Luka’s was just as busy as it should be on a Tuesday night. Apparently, the fear of Occupy’s May 1st re-birth wasn’t enough to keep the revelers away. Or maybe they weren’t aware that Occupy had been planning anything in the first place. At this point, I’m not sure which is the preferable truth.

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