Occupy Oakland General Strike

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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2 Responses to Occupy Oakland General Strike

  1. be says:

    people of color who live in oppressed communities can also be anarchists. there is a vibrant history of this throughout the world… 🙂 also, anarchism is about beauty and life and radiant things for all people so if you meet someone who only wants to break things and claims to be an anarchist please remember that they are lying to you. marxism has a significantly more violent and oppressive history than anarchism…. i’m talking about being responsible for the death of millions of people… so while i understand that there are a bunch of fools in the united states running around claiming to be anarchist and acting in an way that marginalizes people let’s not be ignorant to the vibrant/positive/liberating history/present role that anarchism play in the world we live in.

    i don’t like it when non-violence is described in a way that weakens the will of non-violent peoples to rise above and bring about change in their communities in a way that makes sense to them. i also don’t like it when anarchism is reduced to the actions of a bunch of idiots in northern california.

    also, oakland, i love you. you are so fucking cool.

    • kazuhaga says:

      At the forum last night on violence, there were many people who identified themselves as anarchists who spoke out against violence, whether it came from a strategic frame or a philosophical frame. It is true that anarchists are as diverse as folks who say they are committed to nonviolence. I admit that I am not versed in anarchist philosophy or history. I do know that many who self-identify as anarchists have frustrated the hell out of me, but there are also many anarchists who I consider friends, allies, and inspirations. And there are those who self-identify as nonviolent that frustrate the hell out of me too.

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