Occupy Oakland After the Crackdown
The night of January 28th in Oakland left me feeling angry. I felt anger toward police for brutalizing people in the streets, illegally kettling protesters, and collectively punishing the entire march with indiscriminate use of chemical weapons and projectiles. I felt angry about protest organizers and march leaders employing completely ineffective and non-strategic tactics for realizing our goal of opening a functioning community center which would cooperatively feed, educate, and provide support for anyone who asks and about the secretive process by which a building was chosen for reopening through embarassingly fantastic hopes of what might be possible through such tactics. I was embittered at the fact that at the end of the day hundreds of people were violently subdued, arrested, and thrown into Santa Rita jail and that we were unsuccessful in what we had set out to do that morning, our momentum squandered.
And I felt angry that at the end of a day which was supposed to be about collective liberation, service through directed collectivization of material resources, and reappropriation of space to satisfy the needs of communities robbed of their most basic social, economic, and human entitlements for too long, I did not feel liberated, I felt angry.
I took from that day that anger was to be the dominant lens through which so many of us would experience the day’s events, as that blinding emotion motivated a police officer to drastically overstep his authority in a disgusting display of sociopathology and knock the teeth out of a woman’s mouth with his metal baton. I witnessed the power of that incredible motivator to extinguish all reason, or perhaps to amplify desperation, when plastic shields challenged kevlar armor and disparate bottles and stones freckled chemical clouds of noxious chemicals, their bearers picked off with rubber bullets traveling at sufficient velocity to rupture an inopportunely positioned spleen. My appreciation for their efforts at shielding the still less protected crowd was overshadowed by my sadness at our situational disempowerment and complete lack of strategic focus.
A conversation in the language of street battle is rendered instantly one-sided by a well-funded, overwhelming, militarized police force because that is the only language they speak, and it is phrased adeptly. And every time that happens, despite the popular outrage garnered, the movement for concrete changes in infrastructure, in access, in accountability grows weaker, as our anger at our collective inability to exert our will to make this world more hospitable for all its inhabitants clouds our ability to act strategically and with unstoppable power. Our power is not in combat with the tools of Capital and the State. That is a losing battle, lost over and over.
We will make gains for justice in direct proportion to our own ability to serve the most needy in our society. We will seize power over our collective resources as we challenge ourselves to redistribute power within our movements to those who act with a soberness unclouded by macho ideas of valor and honor. In cooking with our anger at ceaseless injustice, violence, and repression, kept simmering on the back burner, we will find the clarity to amplify our strength in popular appeal and creative solutions to social problems.
We each have limited energy and resources. Let us not squander what we have on fabricated warfare which will only end in defeat and further entrenchment into the hollows of oppression where the fury concerning our sad situation will only produce more fantastic scenarios for the achievement of our liberation. We, those of us marching in the streets in the USA, occupying plazas, parks, and buildings, are not at war, as anyone who has actually been at war would explain. Underpinning this romanticization of our situation is an understanding of the very real war on poor people, people of color, women, and LGBTQ identifying people in this city and throughout this world built on a foundation of genocide, slavery, and hatred which continues to undergird so many of our economic and social relationships. But the battlefields of that war are not solely demarcated by lines of riot cops.
Circumstances as we experienced on Saturday punctuate the power of the elite. If we can collectively commit to the work of mending bridges burned within our own communities, finding solidarity across political divides within our own movements, and amplifying the power of marginalized people in our actions, we will far less often experience a similarly disadvantaged confrontation with the police as we will find other creative ways to achieve our ends without sacrificing our dignity, our bodies, nor our limited resources.
Within the Occupy/Decolonize movement, many tactics employed successfully in prior instances now run ashore. Movements must adapt as those forces which seek to crush them adapt and employ new strategies. A true diversity of tactics should be employed and continually reassessed. A patriarchal value system with skewed interpretations of integrity, honor and courage is packed deeply within the baggage which we all carry on board our movements. A fundamentalist attachment to macho tactics which reinforce this destructive system of values is as damaging as the state violence imposed from above. A lack of openness to public dialog and creative negotiation even with those who hold power arbitrarily and use it unjustly is just as problematic as a fundamentalist attachment to pacifism.
There will not be an automatic co-optation of this movement through pursuit of any particular tactic. Cooptation is a complex process which the Occupy/Decolonize movement has been actively resisting since day one, and the intricate layers of relationships and truths upon which this movement rests can weed out attempts to misuse its awesome potential for revolutionary change. Opening a public dialog with those who control resources which the movement requires in order to function is an offensive action as it exists for all to see. So much of the power of the Occupy/Decolonize movement lies in its radical openness.
A campaign with populist support for specific strategic resource acquisition is not a foray into “representative” politics where supplicants make demands and autarchs make choices. Public demands for strategic ends have an entire gradient of tactics to back them up, to enforce those demands and to acquire positions of power within the discourse, and to provide a wedge for individuals with significant power in society to make an easier and less costly choice than deploying riot police. Very importantly, the exposure of persistent injustices inherent to lack of just action by those who control government bureaucracies and wealth streams destabilizes already tenuous societal power structures, based upon lies, during a context of already widespread mistrust and disillusionment with the status quo
Movements occur en masse. But resources, property, and land can be acquired through an array of tactics, all of which can intersect and be mutually supportive. Let’s leverage everything we have available to us to acquire what we need in order to keep building this movement and a new society based upon helping those in need to help themselves. Police lines will be meager within the deluge of human solidarity we have potential to unleash.
Nick Robinson lives in the Bay Area.