Consider this part three of my thoughts on Occupy Oakland. Parts 1 & 2 can be found here.
As most people have heard by now, the Oakland Police Department, along with 16 other law enforcement agencies, raided Occupy Oakland at 5AM yesterday morning. In the process, they arrested close to 100 people and at least two people who were arrested sustained broken hands.
Occupy Oakland Re-emerges at Oakland Library
In response, Occupy Oakland only grew stronger. A rally was called for 4PM, and as you can see from the image the people came out. The rally led to a march through downtown, and our numbers grew and grew as we walked by office buildings, storefronts, and other businesses and folks came out and joined us. By the time it was dark, our numbers had swelled to close to 1,000.
Cars were honking in support everywhere we went, even if they were completely unable to move because there were so many people in the streets.
Here are a bunch of thoughts I’ve had since then.
One preface: I am highly critical of the city’s actions yesterday. The level of violence they used on peaceful protesters was uncalled for, though we have come to expect this from OPD. At the same time, some of my thoughts are critical of the movement as well. And it is only because I love this movement and want to see it succeed that I am being critical. We need to continue to grow and continue to learn, and if we are not able to be self-critical, we will do neither.
So here we go….
Our Streets!! Right? So why the fuck are you lighting trash cans on fire, breaking bottles in the middle of the street, and dumping trash in the middle of an intersection?
How does that help get us closer to our goal? What is the strategy behind it? What does that accomplish? Who has to clean that shit up in the morning? Do you burn trash cans in your own living room?
These are our streets. We pay for them, we use them, we live on them. So take care of them.
In defending the use of tear gas, Interim Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said that they had to use gas to stop protesters from throwing bottles. That is not true. I was right there, as this video attests.
The day began at 4PM and the cops first shot tear gas around 9. Throughout that day, I did see people throwing things at the police (more on that later). But when the police shot tear gas into the crowd, I did not see anyone throwing anything.
In fact, for about 10 minutes after the march got back to 14th & Broadway, the police kept making an announcement that if we don’t vacate, they would arrest us, that we could be “seriously injured,” and that they would use “chemical weapons.” They told us this. So they knew they were going to use the tear gas.
That was their plan; it was not a response to anything we were doing.
F***ing Tear Gas!?!?
The crowd that they fired into was not being violent, and included elders, youth, veterans and others. The police and the city has to realize that if they use tactics like that, it is inevitable that people like this woman in a wheelchair, people with asthma, people who have nothing to do with the protest will be exposed to chemical weapons.
Protesters help get a woman in a wheelchair out of the cloud of tear gas
Is this “collateral damage” worth the cost? We need to decide if we, as a society, are okay using these types of tactics on non-violent protesters.
We call ourselves a moral society. We call this a free country. We are told that we have a right to free assembly. We need to start acting like it.
Tear Gas Sucks
Trust me, it’s no fun.
But sometimes, it almost seems like some people want to be tear-gassed. If not wanting to, expecting to. Its like it’s inevitable, we all know that at some point we will be tear-gassed. The cops expects it, the crowd expects it.
There is not an attempt to think about why tear gas might be used. It seems like there is not much of an attempt to avoid it. Confronting police and dealing with violence is just part of being involved in a march in Oakland.
And thank god there are masses of people who are willing to stand up despite violent efforts to shut the people down. But it is not fair to expect everyone to be able to or to want to get tear-gassed or arrested.
We can’t do it without the majority. That’s who we say we represent. The working parents, their kids, people with jobs, people looking for jobs, people with families, undocumented immigrants, people who are ill, people with bills.
This “Fuck the Cops” mentality, this sense of misguided militancy and this desire to want a fight makes it more likely for there to be tear gas. It escalates the conflict and raises the level of tension on both sides.
It makes the movement less accessible to more people.
We have to make every effort to ensure that this movement is accessible to everybody. That absolutely, definitively, utterly and completelyneeds to be a priority.
We say we represent the 99%. Well, 99% of our country is not willing to or able to get tear-gassed. If we say we represent the 99%, then we can’t always do things that make it more likely for there to be violence.
I know many people are pissed off at the police, and more often then not they have good reason to be. But your individual desire to show your anger towards the police is not more important than ensuring that everyone can participate. Put your personal agenda aside, take a deep breath, and keep our eyes focused on the real enemy – greed, corruption, violence, injustice.
Fear and Intimidation
In Kingian Nonviolence, we talk about the need to understand both perspectives of a conflict. Even if you don’t agree with the other side, even if the other side is wrong, it’s still a part of the story. If you don’t understand the other perspective, you don’t understand the full conflict.
It was probably about 6PM when I saw the first real confrontation between the crowd and the police. There was a small line of cops blocking an intersection, and the march stopped, facing the police. Eventually, the crowd outnumbered the police so much that we overtook them and walked right past.
Police being surrounded by protesters
Someone ended up getting arrested, and all of a sudden the crowd had turned and there were 100 people surrounding the cops. People were yelling and throwing things.
I was close enough to look into the eyes of those cops, and what I saw was fear.
I don’t care who you are, if you and 7 or 8 of your people were surrounded by a mob of 100 yelling and throwing things at you, anyone would be freaked out.
Look, I am extremely upset about the police’s actions over Occupy Oakland. But if we use fear, intimidation and violence to get what we want, we will be no better then they are.
One of the things that we are fighting is an attitude that says it is okay to use violence to make the changes we want to see in the world. This attitude that says that we can use physical force, violence and intimidation to make the opponent give into our demands. Is that really the strategy that we want to be using?
We are not trying to defeat those who oppose us, we are trying to win them over.
Who’s Our Enemy?
Dr. King said that the Civil Rights movement and segregation wasn’t an issue between black people and white people, but that it was between justice and injustice.
The police are not our enemy. As an institution, they cause incredible harm on many communities. From the perspective of many poor communities, it is not an understatement to say that the police are a foreign force occupying and terrifying their neighborhoods.
If we don’t find a way to fight the injustice that the institution of police represent without attacking the individuals that are caught up in the system, we are creating new conflict at each event. We are creating more enemies. We are turning away more potential allies. We are widening the division.
A Navy veteran standing with us at OO
If you see the police as your enemy, than follow that same logic for war. This Navy veteran on the left who stood with us last night, or the veteran who was with us last night and is now in critical condition at the hospital after being hit in the head by the cops, would not have been welcome at our rally. Other veterans would be turned away from anti-war movements and other movements fighting for justice. Because they are part of an imperialist system that has caused untold harm against civilians across the globe.
Do we forgive them because the harm they inflicted was against Iraqis and Afghans and not Americans? Do we forgive them simply because we don’t see the injustice that they inflict first-hand? Do we welcome them into our movements only because it is convenient for us?
No, we forgive them and welcome them into our movements because we recognize that the individuals who serve in the military and the institution of war are two separate things. We understand that even as soldiers of war, they have a conscience and given the opportunity to speak their mind, many of them do. We need to extend the same understanding for the police.
Both sides are accountable here.
City – We understand that you had some concerns. Concerns such as how we were storing the food, fire hazards because of the hay that we laid down, loud noises at night, cleanliness. Fine. But those are all issues that could have been resolved. It did not need to come down to tear gas and mass arrests. To say you “over-reacted” would be an understatement.
Occupy Oakland – The city had some concerns. Genuine, valid concerns. People should not have been smoking cigarettes on top of dry hay. EMT’s need access to the park if someone is hurt. Again, these are all issues that could have been resolved. And while the police DEFINITELY over-reacted, who knows what would have happened had there been a genuine effort at keeping the lines of communication open.
Dialogue is how you resolve a conflict. If there is a conflict and you are not in dialogue, the conflict will keep escalating until it comes to a breaking point. And that seems to me to be part of what happened.
I know a lot of people are always going to believe that the police will have raided us regardless of what we do. And maybe they are right. But it is foolish to assume that is the case and not even make an attempt at negotiation. Remember, city officials are people too. They have a moral conscience too. They know deep down what is right and what is wrong.
We need to maintain our faith in people. Regardless of profession, we need to maintain our faith that behind the uniform and behind their titles, there is a person inside that we can communicate with. If we lose faith in that very basic, fundamental value – that all people have a moral conscience – then we are in trouble.
Tim Wise once told a story of when he lived in a house with a bunch of friends during college. They shared duties, and one person would cook dinner for everyone in the house every once in a while.
One night, one of his house-mates made a big pot of gumbo. Tim had just had dinner out, so he didn’t touch it. The next morning, he came down and no one had cleaned the pot. But because Tim didn’t eat any, he left it there. The guy that made it didn’t feel like he should clean it because he made it for everyone.
And so the pot sat there, for days until the stench was filling the kitchen. At some point, Tim said, you stop caring about who caused the situation, someone simply needed to step up and clean the pot.
Using violence against the police is similar. Whether to police incited the violence or whether it was a response to something we did, IT DOESN’T MATTER. Regardless of who started it, if we respond with more violence it will not help.
The police used tear-gas on a non-violent crowd. But that was because we were marching without a permit. But that was because the police raided Occupy Oakland. But that was because we were camping illegally. But that was because people had to take a stand. And on and on it goes.
The narrative right now is that OPD used tear gas on a peaceful crowd. And that image, a very clear picture of who is right and who is wrong, is what is helping Occupy Oakland become a national calling card for solidarity. People see those images, and they can’t help but be supportive of us. If instead, there were images of people looting, burning trash cans, and attacking the police, it would be a very different story.
We need to maintain that narrative. It doesn’t matter who made the gumbo, someone has to take the higher road and clean the pot. It doesn’t matter who instigated the violence, we as a movement need to have the higher moral ground and stay committed to nonviolence.
The Human Microphone
I love it. I’m just sayin. Mike Check!!!