This is not meant to be an open condemnation of everyone who is organizing under the umbrella of “Occupy Oakland.” That’s a big umbrella, and there is a lot of work happening under it that I support (shout-outs to Occupy the Hood, Decolonize, Occupy San Quentin, the East Bay Nonviolent Action Network, and others).
But what happened in the streets of Oakland yesterday and into last night was stupid, and I no longer want to have my name associated with a “movement” that is so driven by anger at the expense of strategy (you trashed a children’s art exhibit? What was the strategy behind that?) and speaks against many of my core values and principles.
In theory, I support the idea of taking over a building and “occupying” it for the purpose of supporting this community. If I were around during the “occupation” of Alcatraz, I would have supported it. When workers at Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors occupied their factory, they were able to win back their jobs. It’s not the tactic in and of itself that I am critical of.
It’s how it’s carried out, its the energy and the spirit and the messaging behind it, it’s the consciousness (or lack thereof) around the privilege of who is carrying it out, it’s the acknowledgement (or lack thereof) about how these actions are impacting the community of Oakland, it’s the misdirected anger, it’s the lack of long term strategy, and it’s the justification of violence and the idea that a group of mostly out-of-towners can force their will on a community.
Occupy? Yeah, That Sounds About Right
A while ago, there was a big battle within “Occupy” Oakland to change the name of the movement to “Decolonize Oakland.” After a long, extremely heated General Assembly, the name change was voted down (the Decolonize proposal had 68% support, and a 90% vote is necessary for a change).
I was a strong proponent of the name change. I believe that the name change would have been a conscious recognition about the history of colonialism in this country, and a commitment to liberate our communities, not “occupy” them. The term “occupy,” to me, leaves a bad taste in my mouth as I conjure up images of foreign forces “occupying” another community without regard to those who live there. The “occupation” of Iraq, the “occupation” of Afghanistan, etc.
But after what happened in Oakland last night, I’m starting to feel that “Occupy” is actually a fitting name. The vast majority of the people who were arrested yesterday don’t live in Oakland, and that is not opinion, that is fact. Their actions are costing this city a lot of money, during a time when city employees are getting laid off. And their actions go against the wishes of most people in this community, as evidenced by the fact that the numbers for these actions dwindle every time.
And I get that the city has a responsibility to setting budgetary priorities too. I wish the city would stop paying $5 million a year in interest to Goldman Sachs and invest it in our schools, for example. I also think a chunk of the funding that goes to policing should be invested in community based practices that actually make our communities safe in the long term. But in addition to that, it is also true that Occupy Oakland is costing this city a lot of money. And those who are not from this city have a very different relationship to that.
When people that are not from a certain community come in and force their will on another community, what do you call that? Until those who are acting out in the streets invest more in listening to the concerns of real Oaklanders, swallow their ego and vanguard-ism and support the needs of Oakland, it’s perhaps fitting that they call themselves “Occupiers.”
UPDATE: As someone in the comments mentioned, I was wrong that most of the arrestees were not Oakland residents. I apologize for that, I made an assumption based on what I heard and past experience. Using incorrect information (or mis-information) is something that a lot of people do, and I do believe it’s critical that we stay away from it as a movement: and I was too quick to jump the gun.
I still stand by my point, that these actions are something that I believe the majority of Oaklanders do not want.
Much of this movement has become an excuse to target our anger at the police. We rail against police brutality every chance we get.
And anyone who knows anything about Oakland knows that police brutality is a serious issue here. But if you’re that serious about the impacts of police brutality, why isn’t this movement hitting the streets and organizing in deep East Oakland and the streets of West Oakland? Do you think that getting hit with a little bit of tear gas and being pushed around with a baton is the worst of what happens here? Do you really see yourself as the “face” of police repression and think of yourself in the same light as a young man of color and how he might get treated by the police in the streets of deep east? How much time do you spend talking about how you were tear-gassed, and how much time do you spend talking about the repression that happens every day in low-income communities?
And if you care about police repression, what is your response to when Oscar Grant’s family continuously pleads with people not to engage in property destruction in his name? Where is your respect for their wishes? What outreach have you done to Andrew Moppin’s family? Why are issues like the gang injunctions and Occupy San Quentin treated like a low-priority side project?
Our Response to Police Violence
In a movement that is not afraid to confront state injustices, police repression is going to be an issue. That’s the nature of the game. And nonviolence is not afraid of that conflict. The Civil Rights movement was not afraid to confront police, or to break laws to point out the injustices in our society. And we as a movement can’t lose that courage; that will to stand up and say enough is enough, even at the risk of arrest.
Once we understand that our actions may bring on police repression, the question then is about how we, as a movement, are going to respond to it.
Nonviolent movements often times means breaking laws. Let’s not get it twisted. But in doing so, we understand that we are standing on the side of justice, and we cannot be afraid of the consequences that our actions bring. Rather, we make a commitment to confront it face to face. To stand up to state repression and look it straight in the eye. We sacrifice our suffering, so that we can paint a very clear picture of who is right and who is wrong. We make that sacrifice so we can awaken the nation to the injustices our communities face.
In nonviolence, we don’t break windows then run. We don’t take over intersections then hide when the police come. We don’t incite tear-gas then act shocked about it like it was completely unwarranted and unexpected. We stand by our actions and whatever consequences that come with it, because we believe our actions are just. If you believe your actions to be just, there is nothing to run or hide from.
But that type of commitment and discipline takes time and training. The students that led the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins trained for a full year before they went into direct action. To me it’s irresponsible to send people into actions with a high likelihood of a police response without them having been trained, without unity around principles and strategy and without a clearly laid out understanding of how we are going to respond.
In nonviolence, we organize actions that are in line with our principles, so we have nothing to hide from. We don’t wait until it’s dark, we do it out in the open for everyone to see. If we are jailed, then we are jailed for standing up for justice and that becomes the calling card for the movement. We fight for those who are jailed, because we support their actions.
I cannot fight for those who get arrested for breaking windows in my city. I cannot fight for those who vilify other working class people. I cannot fight for those who attempt to harm other people. I cannot fight for those who are arrested purely out of anger, rather than a love for their people and a commitment to real justice for all people.
Stuck in Ideology
I feel that many people in this movement are so stuck in their own ideology (anarchism, revolution, diversity of tactics, etc.) that they fail to see the impacts of their action. They are so stuck in the idea of a violent overthrow of the government, they are so stuck in wanting revolution to happen tomorrow, that they fail to see what they are lacking in the movement. Long-term strategy. Popular support. A united message.
They are so caught up in “their” way of doing things that anything that challenges their perspective is thrown aside as an attempt to “co-opt” the movement.
I believe in standing firm on your convictions. I stand firm in m commitment to nonviolence. But if someone wants to challenge my beliefs, I welcome the opportunity to have a dialogue. I’m open to challenging myself, and I don’t see anyone who disagrees with nonviolence as “an agent of the state” or an enemy to the movement.
But any challenge to “diversity of tactics” or the “fuck the police” messaging or calls for negotiation or building more strategy before going into actions or calling out the privilege in this movement are viewed as an attack on the movement itself. And that type of fundamentalism is a very dangerous thing.
And it’s turning people off. The November 2nd General Strike was incredible, and it truly represented the diversity of Oakland. And to the anarchists and DOT advocates who played leading roles in that, you deserve all the credit in the world.
But since then, you have been losing support. How much diversity was in the streets of Oakland yesterday? Doesn’t it seem like your actions are only bringing out people of a very particular demographic? Don’t you feel some need to address this? Isn’t there some responsibility to ask why? Shouldn’t movements – especially one that proclaims to represent 99% of the country – be accountable to the needs of that community?
Where Do We Go From Here?
I don’t know. But I do know two things:
1) This movement, the much broader umbrella that includes so many communities and individuals who do not support what happened yesterday, still has incredible potential to make change. And I am still committed to that change.
2) I no longer want to have my name associated with the foolishness that went down yesterday.
The challenge is in reconciling the two. I will not walk away from the potential of this moment in history, but I honestly am starting to feel like being associated with Occupy Oakland may be more of a liability at this point.
“Diversity of Tactics” cannot be synonymous for “diversity of principles.” We cannot hide from our principles, and we can no longer have a movement with such “moral relativism,” as King called it. The ends do not always justify our means. In fact, we need to have means that are reflective of the ends that we seek.
Calling for nonviolence is not creating a division in the movement, it’s about creating unity within a common framework of social change. And we need to find that unity.
I invite others to take a firm stand for nonviolence and to commit to principles that are in line with the vision you have of the society you want to see. I invite others to join in an ongoing conversation, one that I have a feeling is about to kick up in the coming weeks, about what a nonviolent movement committed to radical change might look like. The Positive Peace Warriors Network will be hosting a series of trainings in Kingian Nonviolence over the coming months, and I invite you to attend and have this conversation with us.
Join us, and lets make sure that this thing keeps growing. Stay tuned…..