The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy

November 30, 2011

The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class’s venality
By Naomi Wolf
Originally Posted on

Occupy Wall Street protester Brandon Watts lies injured on the ground after clashes with police over the eviction of OWS from Zuccotti Park. Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Occupy Wall Street protester Brandon Watts lies injured on the ground after clashes with police over the eviction of OWS from Zuccotti Park. Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that “New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers” covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that “It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk.”

Read the rest of this story.

Fighting “the Man” vs. Confronting Injustice

November 30, 2011

There is a difference between wanting to fight and wanting to confront.

Sometimes, not just at Occupy Oakland events but in many movement spaces in general, I get the sense that some people want to fight the police and they want to fight the state.  They want to escalate the tension to the point it erupts in violence.  With tear gas, beatings, pepper spray.

It’s cool.  It’s radical.  It’s militant.

But the point of a direct action isn’t to incite a fight, it’s to put pressure on a strategic target so it gives you leverage to negotiate or make demands.

Again, there’s a difference between wanting to fight and wanting to confront.

Nonviolence is not afraid of conflict.  In fact, nonviolence means confronting violence and injustice.  Nonviolence is a powerful way, and in my opinion the most powerful way to confront injustice. Read the rest of this entry »

Hip Hop Stands Up for Occupy

November 23, 2011

The very existence of Hip Hop has always been political.  It is a culture that grew out of a people that were told that they didn’t have a voice.  That their concerns and their realities didn’t matter.  So I often get frustrated at the dichotomy we create between “conscious” rap and “mainstream” rap.  It is all political.

That said, I do want to give special recognition to artists like Jasiri X, Rebel Diaz, Lupe Fiasco, and others who continue to take strong stances in support of movement work.  Here are some “Occupy” themed songs that have come out recently, check them out.

“Occupy (We the 99)” by Jasiri X.  My favorite one.  Make sure you check out his other videos too.

“We are the 99%” by Rebel Diaz, who blessed us with a performance recently at this event at Occupy Oakland.

“99 to 1″ by Marcel Cartier

“Occupation Freedom” by Ground Zero & The Global Block Collective

“Better Days” by Rob Royalty & Flick Millan

“We are the 99″ by Sgt Dunson

“Revolutionary Hip Hop: Occupy London” by DCP

What are your favorite Occupy Movement anthems?

Vigil to Honor Our Ancestors

November 20, 2011

On 11/17, I was honored to help organize this vigil to honor our ancestors at Decolonize/Occupy Oakland.  This event was organized to remind us of the shoulders on which our struggle stands on, and to remind us for whom we continue to struggle.


Support OSA!! Liberate, don’t Occupy!!

November 17, 2011

I admit, at first I had some hesitations about signing this petition.  But the more I thought about it and the more I heard from parents with children at the Oakland School for the Arts, the more supportive I became.

Let me explain.  Last night at Occupy Oakland’s General Assembly, a proposal was approved to “Occupy” a park located on Telegraph & 19th.  There is some symbolic justification of this location, where a statue is being built to memorialize past movement leaders such as Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez and others.  Ironically, the Oakland Chamber of Commerce is footing the bill for this memorial: the same Chamber of Commerce who represents Oakland’s own 1%, and who was the leading voice in evicting Occupy Oakland from Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza.

This is a decision voted on in haste, without enough information and input from immediate neighbors, by a General Assembly that was attended by just over 200 people.  The vote did not happen until close to 9PM.

The major concern is this: This park is located a block away from the Oakland School for the Arts, a school that has already had to cancel several classes due to safety issues.  Kids go here.  And parents and neigbors are rightfully concerned.

Without prior support from the immediate neighbors, then these encampments really do become “occupations,” in the worse sense of the word.  We need to be liberating and decolonizing our communities, not occupying them without involvement of immediate neighbors.

The General Assembly process at Occupy Oakland needs an overhaul, but that is a larger conversation.  In the meantime, we need to support OSA.  If you agree, please sign this petition and forward it along.

Let’s Stay and Talk: Direct Action, Negotiation and My Dream for the Occupy Movement

November 16, 2011

Why Direct Action?
In Kingian Nonviolence, we talk about a couple of reasons why we use Direct Action.

First, Dr. King often times talked about the need to “dramatize an issue.”  Injustice is often times concentrated in certain neighborhoods, and it goes largely unreported by the media.  Many people in this country simply have no idea how much good, hard working people are struggling because it is hidden from them.

March from Selma to Montgomery, AL

Even with issues that we all know about and acknowledge, say poverty or street violence,  society refuses to address it in a real, serious way.  There is a murder every two days in Oakland, yet we continue to pump millions into a prison system that is ineffective, expensive, inefficient, immoral, corrupt and illogical while school and social service budgets continues to get cut.

Direct Action brings those issues into the forefront of society and forces us to address them.  It is a tactic used to take issues that society is refusing to deal with, and putting them right into people’s faces so they have to deal with them.

Another reason you use Direct Action is to give yourself leverage at the negotiating table.

Negotiations, genuine negotiations, can only happen between equals.  If one party has more power than the other, then that party can simply say, “we’ve heard your concerns, and we don’t care.”  That is not a genuine negotiation.

Strategic Direct Action puts pressure on the system so that it gives you more leverage, balancing the power dynamics and creating the possibility of a real negotiation.

Let’s Stay
And that’s what these physical encampments are doing, and that’s why they are so critical to maintain.  That is why we need to stay.

The camps are putting issues that affects so many of us into the forefront of society, and forcing the country to address them.  They are putting so much pressure on so many institutions that they are forced to listen to us.

And Talk
But here’s the thing: In my opinion, some Occupy movements – including Occupy Oakland – are putting incredible pressure on the city government and wasting it away by not negotiating.  We are wasting away one of the most important outcomes of direct action, we are wasting away one of the purposes of the physical occupations.

As I wrote earlier, if you’re not willing to negotiate with the systems that you are putting pressure on, why are you putting pressure on them?

Sometimes I feel like some folks care more about the fight than the change we are trying to bring.  Forget about fighting the city and the police for a minute because we are in an incredible moment when we have more power than either of them.  It is a huge opportunity, let’s not waste it away by refusing to sit down and negotiate.

The Bill of Rights

What to Talk About
For a start, how about permits?

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t believe we need permits.  I believe that the First Amendment of the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights supersedes city camping ordinances.

But negotiations are about dialogue and compromise.  The bigger issues that we are fighting for are more important than fighting the city over local park policies.  I’m willing to compromise on my beliefs about the First Amendment if that means we can keep the encampments and get closer to addressing the real issues.

And it would be a fair compromise because a permit would force us to take more responsibility of our space – keep it cleaner, keep it safer, and keep it more accessible.  We, the movement, need to be accountable too.

Or, how about the city give us an unused building?  We’ll maintain it, we’ll use it in a productive way that helps the people and the city.

And if they refuse to consider these proposals/demands, we can escalate the level of direct action – another general strike, mass civil disobedience, etc.  The city can’t keep paying overtime for thousands of police, and we can make them listen to us.  Our mass actions need to be tied to a specific demand or we waste our energy.

We’ve been so busy fighting the evictions that we haven’t been able to put enough time into solutions.  Let’s negotiate/demand a safe, stable and sustainable physical presence so we can move onto the solutions.

What Not to Talk About
As a movement, we need to identify our common principles, the things that we are not willing to compromise on.  If you care about change, you should be willing to compromise on tactics and strategies, but you should never compromise your principles.   We need to identify, as a movement, what those common principles are.

The 6 Principles of Kingian Nonviolence might be a good place to start.

They ARE the 99%!!!
Seriously, city officials, police officers, and journalists are part of the 99%.  Over the past week, I have had one-on-one conversations with members of all three, and all three were supportive of our cause but felt like the movement didn’t want them.

Most city officials, cops and journalists are not millionaires.  All of them have suffered cutbacks and layoffs.  They do not write the policies that affect our communities in the most egregious ways.  Yes, there are local issues like city funding priorities and gang injunctions, but they have no control over big banks or large multi-national corporations.

Saying that city officials are part of the 1% delegitimizes the fact that one city counsel person camped with us the first night, another introduced a resolution to support Occupy Oakland, and our mayor has been a progressive activist her whole adult life.

Saying that all cops are evil delegitimizes the police in Albany who refused to arrest protesters or the former Chief of Police of Seattle, who after the WTO protests became somewhat of an activist.

Saying that the entire mainstream media is out to get us delegitimizes people like Rachel Maddow or even John Stewart, who have been providing great coverage (and comedy) of this movement.

So Who’s Our Target?
It’s the 1%, right?  It’s the Koch Brothers, the Karl Roves, the Glenn Becks, the CEO’s of major banks and multinational corporations.

And here’s the thing: As much leverage as this movement has given us, we are not close to having enough power to impact the 1% in any real, significant way.

So What Do We Do?
Nonviolence is not about defeating your opponent, but about winning them over. What we need to do is to win over the people and institutions we have access to.  We win over our cities, we win over our local businesses, we win over local police departments.

With the pressure we are creating, they are forced to listen to us.  And our message needs to be, “join us,” not “fuck you.”  The “fuck you” message turns away people who want to participate, who want to help.

Imagine a movement if local city governments, small businesses, and the police are united with the community.  Only then, along with more leadership from the most impacted communities (a whole other post), would we be able to truly represent the 99%.

It’s possible in a city like Oakland.  It’s not only possible, but if we want to put pressure on the 1%, it’s critical.  We have a progressive mayor, and a couple of progressive city counsel members.

And I know that not everyone is supportive, but remember that nonviolence can be aggressive too.  We can mobilize and put pressure on people, and if that doesn’t work we may have to mobilize and get them out of office (De La Fuentes might need to go).

Plenty of businesses have already shown support (shout out to Everett & Jones!!).  And when I saw images of Oakland Police escorting and protecting the march that went from Occupy Oakland to Occupy Cal, it made me think that a lot of them would rather be in that role than shooting tear gas at us and having to play the bad guy.

I get the feeling that our movement is bigger than we even realize, but we are not even trying to reach out to a huge population because we are so caught up in our anger and assume they are against us before they even open their mouth.  If we can win the support of those institutions, then we would have the power to pressure the 1%.

Cities could divest from major banks.  They could tax big box stores.  They could demand low-income housing from major housing developers.

And if enough cities can come together, we can begin to shape national policy.

The Real 99%
Dr. Lafayette, the co-author of the Kingian Nonviolence curriculum, told me once that “we spend 60% of our time dealing with conflict within our own movement that we can never even get to the real opponents.”

I would argue that it’s higher than 60%, and I think we need to start looking at the city, local businesses and the police as part of the movement and figure out strategies to make that a reality.  We need to figure out strategies to win them over, because we need their help in order to get to the 1%.

So that is my hope, dreams, blueprint, proposal, recommendation to the Occupy Movement.  If we are going to claim the 99%, let’s really come together as a true representation of that and go after the 1%.

And now, onto some more random thoughts.

Random Thoughts

Citizens United
As I was writing this post, the local news was playing in the background.  Professor Robert Reich was talking at the rally at Occupy Cal, and he said that if corporations are considered people and money is considered speech, it becomes even more critical to protect the first amendment rights of people who don’t have the money to speak for them.

Thought that was a GREAT point.

Who’s Spending the Money?
There are reports that have come out that says that “Occupy Oakland has cost Oakland $2.4 million.”

Occupy Oakland has not cost the city $2.4 million, the decisions that the city have made about how to respond to Occupy Oakland has cost the city $2.4 million.  Big difference.

Imagine what they could have done with that money.  For that money, the City of Oakland could have bought this movement a permanent building where the community could have come together to continue to organize and offer services for the community: something the city can’t afford to do on it’s own and something Occupy Oakland has been trying to do.  Win-win.

Leaders and Responsibilities
I’m sorry, but I am still critical of this “leaderless” concept.  There are people in leadership roles, and that’s the simple fact.  It doesn’t matter what they are called or what the process for them becoming leaders were, this movement has leaders.  Not one single leader, but there are still leaders.

Not owning that role is a convenient way of escaping the responsibilities that come with being a leader.  Leaders need to be public so they can be accountable.

And I’m not even criticizing those in leadership roles.  OO’s leaders, for the most part, have been doing an amazing job.  They simply need to own it and make the process more transparent.

Why Not Leaders???
And what’s wrong with leaders?  Seriously?  As long as they are accountable to the people and serve their best interest, what’s wrong with that?  It can even be rotational.  But leaders bring focus and discipline, something all movements need and all successful movements have.

On Monday morning as we were getting ready for the police to show up for the eviction, there were rumors flying all over the place about where the cops were, which direction they were coming from, when they were moving in.  At one point, someone yelled that the cops are coming east on 14th, and encouraged the entire crowd to begin marching towards them to meet them.

Of course, the police were not moving in and the crowd ended up marching around the plaza.  That was an impromptu decision made based on a false rumor, and it moved the majority of the crowd away from the intersection of 14th & Broadway – an intersection with all the media and streetlights – into a darker area that had fewer escape routes and less media.  If the police were trying to arrest the entire crowd, it could have been a perfect trap.

This was allowed to happen because anyone can use the people’s mic and try to get the crowd to do what they want.

On the other end, the peace monitors I was with had a very clear leadership structure, which we had all agreed to earlier that morning.  Two union activists served as our tactical leads, and we agreed that we would all follow them.  We were much more focused, disciplined and strategic about where we moved, how we lined up, when we moved, etc.

Leaders are not a bad thing.  I’m just sayin.

“Taxing Success”
When critics of this movement talk about us wanting to “tax success,” they are under the assumption that we are playing on a level playing field. But the game is rigged.  If you are born into a poor family in a low income neighborhood, you do not have the same chances of success as, say, Paris Hilton.

If someone is so successful that they don’t have to worry about money, chances are you had better odds at success than others to begin with.  All we are asking is that they do their part to make the game more equitable.

The People’s Mic
I love the people’s mic.  I just witnessed a wedding in front of a police line called by the people’s mic.

It forces people to keep the message simple, getting to the core of the message and making the language more accessible.  It makes people listen and focus more (talk about active listening!).  You internalize the message, as the listener steps into the shoes of the speaker.  It helps people who are not used to public speaking.  It unites people.

But it’s not for every situation.  I mentioned the confusion in the crowd on Monday morning.  It’s not a great tool when a large crowd is trying to make decisions on the fly.  Because anyone has access to it, it doesn’t always lead to the best, most strategic decisions.

Alright, Good Night Occupy Oakland.

Occupy Oakland Raid & Rebirth (Again)

November 16, 2011

Here we go again.  On Sunday, November 13th, we heard rumors that another raid/eviction of Occupy Oakland was imminent.  I joined a group of Peace Monitors, led and organized by local Labor Unions (shout out to UNITE HERE, ILUW and others) and was out in the streets from 2AM to 7:30 AM, and again from 5PM to about 9PM.

Check out what I saw, condensed into 7 minutes.  It includes spotting a sketchy guy looking down on us, a wedding that took place in front of the police line, the eviction, the march to reclaim the plaza, the 1,000 strong GA later that night, and much more.

For more pictures, click HERE for the early morning pics and HERE for the reclamation later that day.

The Peace Monitors

The Interfaith Tent

The GA

Taking a Stand: My Plea to the City of Oakland

November 13, 2011

Occupy Oakland is at a crossroads.  Anyone who has been a part of this community and a part this movement is beginning to see that.  In addition to facing eviction (again) from the city, witnessing a murder at the plaza and the weather turning on us, public support is also beginning to wane and internal conflicts are beginning to escalate.

Since the hugely successful General Strike on November 2nd, there have been countless, mostly heated debates about violence and nonviolence, property destruction, the condition of the plaza, drug and alcohol abuse, the General Assembly, and meetings with city officials.

I know that the GA has not taken a strong unilateral stand against violence.  I know that the GA has not taken a stance against drug and alcohol use.  And I know the movement leadership (and yes, there are leaders) are still largely unwilling to dialogue with the city.

But I also know this: A HUGE portion of the larger Oakland community want those things.  From what I have seen and heard, there is a lot of momentum in many circles to move in those directions.

At times, I have felt that Occupy Oakland has been so open and welcoming to different viewpoints that it has prevented us from taking a stand.  What does it say about our movement that we can’t take a strong stance against violence?

We need to take a stand.  Without principles to ground us, our movement will never be successful.

There are three points that the majority of people I talk to seem to want:

  • A commitment to nonviolence, including disavowing property destruction.
  • A drug and alcohol free environment.
  • A willingness to dialogue with city officials.

While there may be large factions within those who participate in the General Assembly that do not agree with these points, the vast majority of people I talk to in Oakland seem to want the same things.

At some point, we need to take a stand.  At some point, we need to be confident in our voice.  If we can take advantage of this momentum, then this movement will still have the support the unions, local businesses, churches and the public.

I want to encourage people – plead with people – to go into your communities, workplaces, labor unions, places of worship and to your neighborhoods and begin talking about these principles.  If enough people can come out in support of these points, if enough organizations can come out publicly in support of these principles, I still have faith that this movement can be successful.

In my opinion – and this is just my opinion – the General Assembly process is flawed.  It is not accessible to people with kids, multiple jobs, health challenges, etc.  In order to influence the agenda, you have to participate in committees that largely meet during the day.  If you are not a confident public speaker, get ready because you may get booed and jeered if you speak out in support of these and similar points.  If you’re not “in the loop,” you may not know about an important agenda item until after the vote.

These are all issues that can be resolved, though I certainly don’t have all the answers.  But as it stands, I don’t believe the General Assembly properly represents the viewpoints of Oakland.

But if enough people from Oakland can come out to show support for these basic principles, it may be enough to show the world what Oakland really stand for.

Lessons from the Past
The June 20th, 1970 edition of the Black Panther newsletter stated, “Huey Newton pointed out these differences in an essay from prison on white “anarchists.”  Huey wrote that the black community, experiencing collective oppression and collective material needs, will grasp the idea of organization and discipline much more quickly than will the young alienated white person whose goal is self-expression.  Breaking out of slavery requires a personal change in black people far different from the new lifestyle of young whites.  The black is moving from dependence and powerlessness to an aggressive pride in collective power.  The young white is breaking out of the straitjacket of conformity towards a sense of personal experiment and discovery.  The young white will view organization and discipline as an infringement on free consciousness.

In other words, this is not about individual self expression, but about collective liberation.  If you want to smoke weed, fine.  Just keep it away from the movement.  If you want to break a window, do it on your own terms.

This is a complicated world we live in, and Huey’s black-white analysis is outdated.  There are anarchists that have spoken out in favor of nonviolence.  There are anarchists that are people of color, including some dear friends of mine.  There are people who are not anarchists who smashed windows.  So it’s not about anarchists as much as it’s about an attitude.

But I believe his deeper analysis still stands.  A movement needs discipline, something Occupy Oakland currently lacks.

Nonviolence & Property Destruction
As I wrote earlier, the shooting that happened the other day has everything to do with Occupy Oakland.  Street violence is one of the most direct ways that the policies of the 1% manifest in a city like Oakland.  And Oakland is in crisis from the violence it faces.

This is a very direct way Oaklanders feel the impact of economic injustice.  And for this movement to not understand that and not be able to take a strong stance against violence is incredibly concerning.

There are those who believe that property destruction is not violent, that you can’t be violent to an object.  For me, it’s not about what you do to the window as much as the impact that breaking the window has.

In Kingian Nonviolence, we define violence as “physical or emotional harm.”  If I were the owner of a business that was closed in solidarity with the strike or a local independent business owner and I had my windows smashed (both happened on November 2), I would be hurt.  If I was a young kid with my mom at Whole Foods and all of a sudden a group of young men dressed in black attacked the store, I would be freaked out.  If my actions make it more likely for the police to tear gas us, that causes harm.

Drugs & Alcohol
According to Kingian Nonviolence, nonviolence doesn’t only mean “not being violent.”  It also means taking a stand against violence.  It means speaking out against things that are harming your community.

Few would argue that drugs and alcohol is another form of violence that is prevalent throughout Oakland.  It has destroyed communities as well as social movements.  It causes great harm in our city.  It is another manifestation of unjust economic policies created by the 1%.

Those with serious addictions have challenges that Occupy Oakland right now may not have the capacity to support in a healthy way.  And those that just want to party need to check their ego.

I sometimes wonder if people realize how many people are staying away from Occupy Oakland because they smell weed smoke every time they walk through.  I have nothing against people smoking weed, and believe that marijuana should be legalized.  That does not change the fact that it is turning people away from this movement and making it less accessible.

Listen to Huey.  It’s not about your right to self-expression, it’s about our collective liberation.

In Kingian Nonviolence, we talk about how one of the goals of direct action is to give yourself leverage to negotiate.  Due to the pressure created from these Occupations, city governments are forced to address us.  And when they want to talk, we have turned them away.

If we are not willing to talk to those who we are putting pressure on, what is the point of your direct action?  Do you think they are just going to hand over the government to you if you yell loud enough and break enough windows?

Many in Occupy Oakland have also complained about nonprofits, church leaders, and others meeting with the city to discuss Occupy Oakland.  But when you refuse the meet with the city yourself, who do you think they are going to talk to?  They are going to talk to those who are willing to talk.  If the movement is concerned about how it is being represented in meetings with the city – THEN MEET WITH THE CITY YOURSELF.

I’ve heard a lot of people say things like there is no use negotiating with the city because they all work for the 1%, even though one city counsel member camped with us early on, another introduced a resolution to support Occupy Oakland, and our mayor has a long history of community activism that dates back to before many protesters were born.

Again in Kingian Nonviolence, we talk about “top-down, bottom-up” organizing.  Many folks considered to be at the “top” of society look down at those considered to be the “bottom” of society and think of us as nothing more than dangerous criminals, dirty hippies and violent anarchists.  At the same time, many people look up at the “top” and see them as nothing more than racist, capitalist imperialists.

The top criminalizes the bottom, while the bottom demonizes the top.  Neither side thinks the other is worth talking to, so dialogue never happens, and issues are never resolved.

My Plea
If you are still reading this long rant, here, again, is my plea.  Talk to everyone you know in Oakland and get as many people talking about these principles, signing onto public statements, whatever it takes to ensure that this movement continues to grow.

This is an incredible moment that we are living in, one with the potential to begin to create the radical changes we need in our world.  The window is still open, but I’m afraid that it is starting to close.  We need to take a stand for what we believe in, and we can’t apologize for it.

If you agree with anything I wrote, please share this post.  Like I said, there seems to be growing momentum for these principles, so please participate in these discussions wherever they are taking place.  And let’s make this happen.

I love you Oakland.


The Birth of Occupy Oakland, the Death of Another Young Man

November 11, 2011

Today was the one month birthday of Occupy Oakland, and there were plans to celebrate with a party.  Ironically, or perhaps symbolically, it was a death changed those plans.  Shortly after 5PM, a man was shot and killed just outside of our camp.

Candles in front of the site of the shooting

There is some debate about whether or not this shooting had anything to do with Occupy Oakland.  Critics want to blame the shooting on the movement, and most people within the movement are saying that this was unrelated, and distancing the movement from the incident.

Embrace this Moment
As a strong supporter of this movement, I want to offer a thought.  Rather than running from this, we should embrace what happened and make the claim that this has everything to do with Occupy Oakland, and with the entire Occupy Movement.

This incident of violence, and other incidents of street violence, are the result of unjust economic policies that create poverty.  These policies, written and implemented by the 1%, creates impoverished environments that are a fertile breeding ground for violence.  And cities like Oakland suffer the consequences.

This shooting, unfortunately, is not a unique incident in Oakland.  Yes, it is rare for there to be a shooting downtown in broad daylight.  But in a city where a three-year old boy can be shot and killed in broad daylight, this is life and death in Oakland.

Candles in front of City Hall

These acts of violence are something that Oaklanders have to live with on a daily basis.  At times, I have felt a disconnect between Occupy Oakland and the issues that many in Oakland have to live with.  Well, this incident brought these issues right to our front door, literally.

We cannot run from this.  This incident has everything to do with the issues we have been talking about.  This is a direct manifestation of our economic policies, this is the result of economic injustice, this is how these policies impact those who live in Oakland.

This was not about gang violence.  These types of shootings do not happen in Beverly Hills.  They happen in East Oakland, in Over the Rhine, in the South side of Chicago, in East St Louis.  This was just the most recent manifestation of the violence produced by economic injustice.

While critics of this movement is saying that this shooting proves their point that the camp has to close, we need to make the case that this shooting proves exactly why we need to stay and continue to make our case.

The Moment for Nonviolence
This is the moment that Occupy Oakland needs to take a firm stance against violence.  These are the issues that people who are from Oakland have to live with, and these killings need to stop.

There has been a heated debate at Occupy Oakland around violence, nonviolence and property destruction.  They are healthy debates (most of the time).  But at the very least, if we are unable to come together and take a firm stance against violence, I am not sure if we will continue to reach deep into the heart of Oakland.

Nonviolence does not simply mean “not being violent.”  You can be “not violent” and still be oppressive and support an unjust system.  Nonviolence means taking a stand against violence and against injustice.  This is the difference between non-violence and nonviolence.

There are so many misconceptions about what nonviolence is, that I don’t know if it is realistic for an Oakland General Assembly to pass a resolution committing to nonviolence.  But rather than fighting over our differences, let’s come together around our common principles.  Let’s come together and take a stand against violence, however one may choose to define that.

If you don’t think that property destruction is violent, I may disagree with you but for this moment, let’s let that be.  Let’s come together and agree that as a movement, we are taking a firm stance against violence and in support of compassion.  Lets come together and identify our common principles, a set of values that brings us together in unity.

Let us come together against violence.  Let us continue to move with love.

I love you all.  Happy birthday Occupy Oakland.  And Rest in Peace to all of those whose lives were taken from us too soon.

Occupy Oakland General Strike

November 4, 2011

For those that may not have heard, the Occupy Oakland General Assembly voted last week to organize a General Strike on Wednesday, November 2nd.  This is the first mass general strike in the US since 1946, back when a strike was born in Oakland.  It only seemed right that this next one came from this amazing town as well.

If you were not there in the streets with us yesterday, I think this video does a good job capturing the experience.  I just got back tonight from Occupy Oakland, where many people were saying that it was the most inspiring day of their lives.  I do not disagree.

You can also CLICK HERE to view more pictures from the day.  There are some incredible images.

And now onto my regularly (not)scheduled random thoughts:

3,000 or 100,000???
As you can see in the video, Oakland’s Interim Chief of Police Howard Jordan said that there were between 3,000 and 4,500 of us.  A blogger on the San Francisco Chronicle estimated 100,000.  The truth is somewhere in between, but that’s quite a big gap.  What I saw was much closer to the 100,000 number, 3,000 is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.

3,000? Give me a break.

As I walked to the port, I have never seen so many people in the streets of Oakland.  That includes my time spent at various festivals and other “permitted” events.  From the middle of the march, I could not see the front of it, nor could I see the end.  At one point, I sat and looked back at the crowd walking past me for a few minutes, and I still could not see the end.

See this image on the right?  That was not the march I was on.  Let me explain.  The march that I was on reached the Port of Oakland at about 5:00 PM.  About 30 minutes after we got there, I was climbing a tall structure when I looked to my right and saw the second march, which was just as big as the one I came in.  That’s what you call reinforcements.  I never saw the end of the second march either, and there was apparently a third and a fourth march.  So 3,000?  C’mon Chief Jordan.  We are used to police underestimating us, but that just makes you look foolish.

From Protest to Chaos
That was one of the headlines in the papers today, after a small group of protesters vandalized businesses, turned over trash cans, lit bonfires in the middle of the street, and retaliated against police violence with more violence.

An image from a local news network

I have said before that when the public narrative becomes “Police respond to violent protesters,” that hurts our movement.  This movement is more than people’s individual desires to express their anger at the police.

When the image on the left becomes the public narrative, as opposed to “Police attack peaceful protesters,” it polarizes the movement and loses support of the masses.  If the small percentages of people who engage in this type of behavior think that they can do this without the support of the majority, they need to check their ego.  As Dr. Lafayette always says, no revolution is possible without the sympathy, if not active support of the majority.

If we remain nonviolent, even in the face of police repression, it paints a very clear picture of who is right and who is wrong.  If the police want to use violence to shut us down, the best way for them to “pay for it” is if we turn their violence against them to strengthen our movement.

The “Peace Police?”
Apparently throughout the day, there were several incidents of marchers using violence against other marchers who were engaging in property destruction.  There are reports (unconfirmed) that people used chairs and even mace to keep people from smashing windows.

There was a public forum tonight at Occupy Oakland about the use of violence as a tactic.  There were some speakers who called out these so called “Peace Police,” accusing them of using nonviolence to divide the movement.  They said that the General Assembly agreed to respect the “diversity of tactics.”  Two things:

1 – If people really were using chairs, bats and mace as some people said, there is nothing nonviolent about that.  To equate these tactics with nonviolence is simply inaccurate.  While I do support the idea of having peace-keepers, peace marshals or whatever you want to call them, nonviolence means taking a stand against violence.  We disagree on tactics, but we have to find a way to work together or we will never win.

2 – Regarding the “diversity of tactics.”  If, for example, one of the “tactics” called for assassinations of public officials or murdering cops, that is a tactic that I will never agree to or respect.  We can agree to disagree, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere for me.  There are some principles that to me, are uncompromisable.  And I take no shame in saying that.

What is Your Goal???
It always seems to work out the same way.  A protest is largely non-violent, until it gets dark.  Then people have to start going home, while a select few choose to/have the ability to stay behind.  Some even only come out when it’s dark.  Many of them dress as if they were riot police.

The march reaches the Port of Oakland

I have a question for those folks: At that point in the day, when we have already claimed victory, what is it that you are trying to accomplish?

It seems to me that some people come out simply to antagonize the police and incite a response from them.  When you are smaller in numbers, when you yell and cuss at the police, when you light fires in the middle of the street, what do you expect will happen?  What is your goal?  What is your strategy?

Occupy Buildings
Some of the folks who were out late last night occupied an unused building.  In general, I agree with this strategy.  The winter is coming, and many Occupy Movements will have to figure out a strategy to keep people warm.  Oakland is a town that does not lack in abandoned buildings, nor do we lack in homeless people.  Occupying an unused lot to house people, to feed people, and to keep this movement going is something I will support.

I was talking to my friend Rachel about this, and she was asking why we would do it at 10:00 PM when the numbers are small, and when it is mostly people who are okay using violence?  Why not let it be part of the larger movement, take over the building when there are more people, start feeding people in it right away, and have the media see it for what we really want them to see it for?

Instead, “the radicals” took it over and immediately started writing graffiti and lighting fires.  The result is that people complained about this strategy, folks were gassed and arrested, and we lost the building.

I’m perfectly okay with people using militant tactics.  Nonviolence is not afraid of conflict and nonviolence is certainly not afraid of direct action.  But let’s be strategic.

Thank You Anarchists
Seriously, this movement would not have happened without you.  Anarchists played a huge role in starting this movement, and I am eternally greatful.

And now that this movement has taken off, I hope you do not maintain this sense of ownership and entitlement over it.  Yes, you were instrumental in starting this movement.  But these struggles have been going on in the hood since the beginning of time.  As harsh as this may sound, this movement began only when the mostly white middle class began feeling the pressure that communities of color and low-income communities have been feeling forever.

Harry Belafonte said the other day that you should not be asking why there aren’t more people of color in this movement, because people of color have been in this struggle forever.  This is nothing new to many communities.

So while I applaud “anarchists,” “militant activists” and whatever other labels society throws at you for your leadership, let’s not forget the leadership of communities who have struggled since the beginning of time.

Taking Care of Our Streets
I want to thank the people who put in work today to clean up the vandalism from last night.  In past events, I have been joined by others in putting out trash can fires and cleaning up tipped over dumpsters.

The Clean-Up Crew. Photo from Susan Quinlan

These are our streets, and we need to take care of them.  Let’s come together as a community, like many people voiced today, and clean up our city and make sure that business owners know that we are on their side.

Cost of NOT Acting
There was a special hearing tonight at Oakland City Council on the Occupy movement.  Of the speakers that I heard, the only people who were very anti-Occupy were two men from the Chamber of Commerce.

Their main concern seems to be the business the city would lose as a result of these movements.  They cited businesses that have refused to resign leases in Oakland because of the Occupation.

Here’s my question to them: What is the cost of not calling out the injustices faced by our people?  What is the cost of not acting?  What is the cost of poverty, the cost of economic injustice?

What we need in this country is radical change.  And change hurts.  There may be short term sacrifices we may need to make in order to create change.

Dr. King believed that even in the struggle against segregation, the enemy was not white people or the state but injustice and violence.  Even though he saw white business owners as part of his vision of the Beloved Community, he knew that many of those businesses would take a temporary hit during the many sit-ins and boycotts.  But those sacrifices were short term.

The long term benefits of racial equality is worth way more than any short term losses in profits.  We are all sacrificing.  We are all struggling.  And we all have to be okay with sacrificing a little more, struggling a little more so that we can attain justice and build the Beloved Community.

To be continued……


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