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!