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.
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.