Occupy Oakland was raided and demolished this morning at 5 AM by over 600 police in a multi-city response that had been rehearsed by the joint force over a year ago in preparation for the verdict on the murder of Oscar Grant.
The photos from SFGate tell the story of who was living there. The homeless of Oakland knew that they could find food, 1st aid and people who actually cared about them at Oscar Grant Plaza (as it was re-named the 1st day of Occupy); many choose to join the encampment. The difficulties of constructing the rules of a new society from scratch made it less than workable at times, but it was never unsafe.
As a political space, Occupy Oakland attempted to be "The Oakland Commune" and in the eyes of some of the anarchists who flocked there, that's what it prefigured. The political attacks on the camp had begun last week with comments from police and right wing hacks about "Lord of the Flies". The mayor of Oakland had embraced the camp when it first appeared. Over a hundred tents had sprouted next to City Hall. But she distanced herself when the camp drew a line between itself and 'politics as usual' and banned politicians from speaking to it.
The mayor, a former radical with radical advisors, was out of town when the raid occurred. Two days earlier, Occupy Oakland had marched to banks and disrupted them. A recall petition against the mayor from the right had just been filed on Monday. The president of the U.S., who had been elected with major financial and political support from the Bay area progressive scene, is scheduled to host a $7,500 a plate dinner in San Francisco today. Local media have been barred. Occupy Oakland will return.
This piece was written by Joel Olson, a member of BtR-Arizona, as a contribution to ongoing debates about the occupations taking place in the U.S.
By Joel Olson
Occupy Wall Street and the hundreds of occupations it has sparked nationwide are among the most inspiring events in the U.S. in the 21st century. The occupations have brought together people to talk, occupy, and organize in new and exciting ways. The convergence of so many people with so many concerns has naturally created tensions within the occupation movement. One of the most significant tensions has been over race. This is not unusual, given the racial history of the United States. But this tension is particularly dangerous, for unless it is confronted, we cannot build the 99%. The key obstacle to building the 99% is left colorblindness, and the key to overcoming it is to put the struggles of communities of color at the center of this movement. It is the difference between a free world and the continued dominance of the 1%.
Left colorblindess is the enemy
Left colorblindness is the belief that race is a “divisive” issue among the 99%, so we should instead focus on problems that “everyone” shares. According to this argument, the movement is for everyone, and people of color should join it rather than attack it.
Left colorblindness claims to be inclusive, but it is actually just another way to keep whites’ interests at the forefront. It tells people of color to join “our” struggle (who makes up this “our,” anyway?) but warns them not to bring their “special” concerns into it. It enables white people to decide which issues are for the 99% and which ones are “too narrow.” It’s another way for whites to expect and insist on favored treatment, even in a democratic movement.
As long as left colorblindness dominates our movement, there will be no 99%. There will instead be a handful of whites claiming to speak for everyone. When people of color have to enter a movement on white people’s terms rather than their own, that’s not the 99%. That’s white democracy.
The white democracy
Biologically speaking, there’s no such thing as race. As hard as they’ve tried, scientists have never been able to define it. That’s because race is a human creation, not a fact of nature. Like money, it only exists because people accept it as “real.” Races exist because humans invented them.
Why would people invent race? Race was created in America in the late 1600s in order to preserve the land and power of the wealthy. Rich planters in Virginia feared what might happen if indigenous tribes, slaves, and indentured servants united and overthrew them. So, they cut a deal with the poor English colonists. The planters gave the English poor certain rights and privileges denied to all persons of African and Native American descent: the right to never be enslaved, to free speech and assembly, to move about without a pass, to marry without upper-class permission, to change jobs, to acquire property, and to bear arms. In exchange, the English poor agreed to respect the property of the rich, help them seize indigenous lands, and enforce slavery.
This cross-class alliance between the rich and the English poor came to be known as the “white race.” By accepting preferential treatment in an economic system that exploited their labor, too, the white working class tied their wagon to the elite rather than the rest of humanity. This devil’s bargain has undermined freedom and democracy in the U.S. ever since.
The cross-class alliance that makes up the white race.
As this white race expanded to include other European ethnicities, the result was a very curious political system: the white democracy. The white democracy has two contradictory aspects to it. On the one hand, all whites are considered equal (even as the poor are subordinated to the rich and women are subordinated to men). On the other, every white person is considered superior to every person of color. It’s democracy for white folks, but tyranny for everyone else.
In this system, whites praised freedom, equal opportunity, and hard work, while at the same time insisting on higher wages, access to the best jobs, to be the first hired and the last fired at the workplace, full enjoyment of civil rights, the right to send their kids to the best schools, to live in the nicest neighborhoods, and to enjoy decent treatment by the police. In exchange for these “public and psychological wages,” as W.E.B. Du Bois called them, whites agreed to enforce slavery, segregation, reservation, genocide, and other forms of discrimination. The tragedy of the white democracy is that it oppressed working class whites as well as people of color, because with the working class bitterly divided, the elites could rule easily.
The following is a statement by the National Committee of Bring the Ruckus on the current wave of occupations. A previous version of this article erroneously stated that there had been a publicly-acknowledged racist attack at Occupy Boston, and has since been removed.
a statement by the National Committee of Bring the Ruckus
We welcome the Occupy movement as we welcomed the Arab Spring.
In the space of a month it has leapt past the original call for Occupy Wall Street, to become a national and international manifestation. The seizure of public space - both physical and on-line - gives a space for open discussion of the crises facing the planet.
At the same time, the differences between the Occupies across the nation illustrates the problems and potentials before us. Occupy San Francisco appears more like left-over Burning Man moved to a narrow strip in front of the Federal Reserve Bank in the barren Financial District. A short BART ride away, Occupy Oakland has taken and will hold Oscar Grant Plaza right in front of City Hall - it is at the center of public space in Oakland, both physically and politically.
One exists after negotiations with the police chief; the other exists in a space where thousands refused to negotiate with the police, and have banned public officials from speaking to the General Assembly there.
We don't expect all the Occupies to be identical. The Occupy in Maquoketa, Iowa is different from the ones in Cedar Falls, Ames, Des Moines, Iowa City, the Quad Cities, and other Iowa towns. None of these or the thousand more in the U.S. existed a month ago; most political organizations wouldn't even have worked out what their name will be in a similar time span.
Perhaps one out of a hundred of the people who have thrown their bodies and minds into Occupy can state the original political demand, or the original group, that called for it (Adbusters magazine’s original call for Occupy Wall Street in mid-summer, 2011, sought to have Obama "ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington").
The upsurge has gone far beyond the original group and the original demand. It has not yet - in any of the Occupies - figured out what it will do, what it wants and what it will become. By refusing to narrow itself to a simple list of demands, programs and leaders, it confounds modern political society. That is a strength and a weakness. A weakness, in that those who already know what they want - the Democratic Party, the AFL-CIO (which is already printing bumper stickers with an Occupy slogan), simple opportunists - are already coming at the movement with a vengeance.
The internal weaknesses of Occupy are already evident across the nation. When speakers from Occupy LA come to Oakland and point out "difficult conversations about white privilege", they're merely echoing the struggles that are occurring openly or beneath the surface in every Occupy. The white blinders range from allowing outright racist attacks in some locales (Philly, New York) and not exiling the perpetrators, to the continued and more subtle racist approach of negotiating and/or cooperation with police (Occupy Portland, L.A., Philly, ATL), to demanding that all who attend submit to the tedious and ridiculous jargon of consensus decision-making (every Occupy) and the continual problem of too many white dudes at the mic.
This new movement, like all progressive, radical and revolutionary movements in the U.S., will confront white supremacy squarely or it will fail. We welcome the organizing of People of Color caucuses and the leadership that they will bring to all Occupies, and we condemn all efforts to paint these caucuses as divisive or unproductive.
There are other problems and debates to be engaged. We are not trying to be exhaustive here, since the pace of organizing will throw up many more. Whether the Occupies can transform themselves into spaces of necessity and resistance, like the Hoovervilles of The Grapes of Wrath or the autonomous communities that have existed in many Black neighborhoods, we don't know.
No one demand, whether it is for a "Jubilee" of debt cancellation or others that we hope are raised, will necessarily unify and move us forward. We believe those demands that will confront capitalism, the state, and the police, and the strategies that arise from the struggles of those who have been struggling longest, will soon come forth.
The following is a statement made by Jamarhl Crawford, chairman of the Boston New Black Panther Party, at Occupy Boston. We offer it for its concise and rigorous critique of the race dynamics in the wave of occupations currently taking place across the U.S.
The following is a speech given at the General Assembly at Occupy Chicago, by a member of BtR-Chicago.
My name is B.
I am as excited as everyone else here about the Occupy Wall Street mobilizations.
I come before you tonight because I have two concerns and a proposal.
First, due to this country’s history of slavery, the racial oppression of black people for profit and the genocide of Native peoples we must fight against left colorblindness.
Institutional and structural racism are central to the ways this society functions in order to oppress and divide working class people. We must work to destroy white supremacy if we want to unite the working class. I do not have a proposal here, but fighting the fabric of society must be done in this country through a racial lens if we want to grow by thousands.
Second, and I do have a proposal for this.
We need a concrete political demand. Yesterday I spoke to people on the streets about the idea of canceling all debt. People in debt seemed to like the idea.
Who here is in debt? Who here has student loans? Medical bills? Credit-card debt? Who here has ever been evicted from their apartment or home?
My proposal is that Occupy Chicago take on a clear political demand. I propose that everything we do from now on is moves toward the political goal of canceling ALL debt, including mortgages, medical bills, credit-card debts, car notes and student loans. Any activity that advances abolishing debt we will support.
In ancient times there existed a tradition of periodically canceling all debts. It was known as Jubilee. In the face of the deepest crisis the country has faced in close to a century, we call for the renewal of that tradition. I have a leaflet here on Jubilee if anyone is interested in having further discussions after this please come talk to me. I propose that Jubilee or simply the letter, “J” be the symbol of our movement. We don’t just occupy, we demand the impossible.
The following is a reportback from the first four days of Occupy Portland, from a member of BtR-Portland. It was written in the hopes of beginning a discussion regarding the relationship of revolutionaries to the occupation, its limitations, and where to go from here.
This past Thursday, October 6th, a noontime march of somewhere between 5 and 10 thousand people shifted by evening to a static gathering in downtown Portland. After weeks of planning and "General Assemblies," Occupy Portland settled on a small stretch of 3 grassy city blocks in a quiet, isolated pocket of Portland's downtown, among government buildings. Slowly the realization dawned of the limitations posed by the location—chosen through an unclear, pseudo-democratic process by a body of "unofficial" leadership containing both the opportunistic and inexperienced.
The bad news (the isolation from the public eye, excepting the prisoners in the County Jail across the street, Deputies and DAs in the Multnomah County Courthouse on the other side, with the encirclement completed by the IRS building and City Hall) failed to be outweighed by the good news (it would be a very short ride from the "occupation" to our jail cells and court hearings.)
As the night's first General Assembly was called to order, around half of the remaining 500 people gathered around a fountain to debate the question of "where to go from here." At that point the march's leadership posed a crisis to the membership of the assembly: "We have been in constant communication with the police. They have told us that we can only remain here until nine o’clock tomorrow morning, at which point we will need to leave, as they have a permitted event beginning tomorrow at that time." It was learned that the same space was scheduled to host the beloved Portland Marathon some 24 hours later. Rumor soon spread that the ad hoc leadership had occupied this park at the urging of Mayor Sam Adams. Perhaps he simply forgot?
A small group of comrades around our political tendency quickly convened. We put forth multiple proposals for an immediate relocation and permanent occupation of a new site in the center of Portland's transit system, where tens of thousands of workers pass through daily on trains and buses. These proposals were summarily ignored and shut down by facilitators, despite vocal popular support in the assembly, including repeated pleas by strangers for our positions to be voted on.
Even with the undemocratic stage management of the meeting, however, we did end up winning an agreement from the crowd that this was, in fact, an occupation, and that we would tell the police and the City that we were staying. Given the unskilled facilitation and lack of democratic process, this was as much as could be accomplished at the time. The assembly broke, with the plan of figuring out how to deal with the threatened police sweep at the next morning's assembly at 7am.
Around 400 people stayed that first night, facing the prospect of police violence during the night or morning.
The small grouping then retreated to our tents for the night, debating the implications of the Marathon's need to use the same space in the coming days. We had eventually supported the proposal to stay on the grounds. We believed that, absent actually occupying a better place that same night and refusing to move from it (and thus preventing us from being publicly portrayed as having spoiled the marathon, or allowing the police to spin-doctor an attack on the camp as a defense of the Marathon), it was better to consolidate our gains in order for the occupation to successfully hold its ground during the first days. If we could set the precedent that Occupy Portland would not be bullied or led around by the City or the police, it was more likely to succeed and to draw the thousands it needs to it to survive.
This piece was written by TJ, a member of Bring the Ruckus in Atlanta.
Update: Our comrades at Gathering Forces have published a reflection on the mobilization against Troy Davis' execution, including a thoughtful engagement with the piece below.
Troy Davis is dead. He is not dead because the system failed him, he is not dead because we didn’t have enough petitions, he is not dead because we didn’t put in enough phone calls to the parole board--he is dead because he is a black man in the United states who does not stand a chance of living. Mr. Davis along with hundreds, maybe even thousands of black men are dead today. State mandated violence is a sad and true reality survived in black communities nation wide. Yet somehow in the political fervor staged by liberals and leftists alike to save the life of Mr. Davis we are blind to the realities of our country. We have put on the figurative blinders, blocking the faces of those other men and women who are dealt a physical or social death at the hands of the state. Really, what is the difference between physical death and social death? One puts you in the ground, and the other puts you in a cage. But, at this moment we don’t have names for all those people, or popular twitter tags, we see only Mr. Davis.
This is not an attempt at disgracing the life and struggles of Mr. Davis, he is a black man who is being killed by the state eerily close to the anniversary of the Scottsboro boys. And at no point is it correct to assume the authors of this statement are not heart broken over the death of Mr. Davis. In fact, the exact opposite is true, yet the obvious questions are still unavoidable. Why is their such outrage over the execution of this one black man’s life? And why do we as a community and a country continue to ignore the names and faces of black people who are killed everyday.
What does innocence really mean?
The dichotomy between innocence and guilt as being messaged by activists is trying to hold a “broken” judicial system accountable, but it is this very system that has created the false “innocent or guilty” classifications. Instead it strengthens the titles of guilty or innocent as defined by the very system they believe is broken. Thus far in the battle to save Mr. Davis’s life activists have rested their campaign on his innocence saying their is “too much doubt” to put him to death. Spouting various facts such as seven of the nine witnesses coming forward to state that there were pressured in 1989 by police officers investigating the death of Police Officer Mark MacPhail to accuse Mr. Davis, looking for a quick scapegoat for the death of one of their own. Others have come forward to say that another man, Sylvester Coles, is the actual person who killed the officer. Witnesses claim he was bragged about it at a party after Mr. Davis had been named the defendant. In the twenty-two years since the original case no DNA evidence or weapon has ever been found to prove Mr. Davis’s guilt. While all of this may be true, the question is: does it even matter?
Innocence is a subjective classification and it is the “innocence” of Mr. Davis that has propelled him to the front and center of the media. Political radicals must see through the muck and the mire of this individual claim and seek freedom and life for all of people who are dying in the prison system today.
I am Troy Davis
No one can claim they are Troy Davis unless they have experienced living in a constant state of fear of being stopped and searched because you look like a “criminal”, or have had to say good-bye to friends and loved ones to be locked up in a cage and taken away for good. The only people who can legitimately represent being Mr. Davis are the black men, women and in-between who are constantly harassed by the police and live in fear that they too will suffer death at the hands of the state--on death row, in the streets or in their homes. The individual decree by non- black peoples of the world declaring “I Am Troy Davis” unfairly places Mr. Davis as a token for white liberals and leftists, allowing for individuals to seek personal redemption for the guilt of Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the War on Drugs. The individual nature of the whole campaign, through the petitions and calls to various officials, has further emphasized the individual, leading to a sort of political impotency placing all the power in the hands of the state and the system. Let's take power instead of asking for it and break down these systems that insist upon killing black and brown bodies.
If not, what then?
Mr. Davis’s death is a continuation of legacy of slavery in this country. It is nothing more then a modern day lynching by the “mob” called the United States judicial system. Instead of focusing on the individual (Mr. Davis) who has been wronged in the eyes of the activists and the media, we should take this moment where the whole world is looking to us, and shine light on the injustices of the police and prison system of our society and insist upon true freedom.
Peace to the villages, war to the palaces! One day we will all be free!
Philadelphia’s Declaration of War on Black Youth
by George Ciccariello-Maher
But even those who recognize the roots of distant rebellions are far more hesitant about upheavals closer to home. Philadelphia is currently in the grips of a bout of mob hysteria at least as virulent and far more racist than the backlash underway in London, to which the media, the police, the city government and the public have all contributed, and yet few have dared to call it what it is.
In Philadelphia as in London, to use the term “mob” is to tar one’s opponents as dangerous, unruly, irrational, criminal, and apolitical. In most cases, it is also deeply racist. Like the term “gang,” “mob” has its roots in movement, in “mobility,” and it evokes a deep and abiding fear of the uncontrolled movement of the poor and dark-skinned. As we well know in this era of ostensible “globalization,” there are those who are authorized to move: tourists, executives, commodities, and financial flows. And then there are those who are not so authorized: the poor and largely racialized masses who find themselves ever more penned-in, confined by force and economics to the urban wastelands known as ‘slums’ that so many have, for good reason, compared to concentration camps.
Those daring or desperate enough to break through this 21st-century apartheid have been and will continue to be smeared as “gangs,” “the rabble,” and especially “mobs,” but with resistance comes the refashioning of the master’s weapons. In the U.S., this reappropriation has been carried forward most visibly in hip-hop where, from Mobb Deep to Crime Mob, from Ice Cube’s to Lil Wayne’s versions of “Steady Mobbin,” this elite slur has been taken up by its victims and resignified as an expression of popular solidarity, of resistance, and of the indomitable strength that comes in numbers (the one strength that tends to be the exclusive domain of the poor).
But if resistance breeds appropriation, it can eventually lead as well to reabsorption into the dominant culture, to which even slurs as potent as the ‘mob’ are not immune. Thus it was with the “flashmobs” that began to pop up eight years ago, whose choreographed spontaneity was quickly reduced to a purely ritualized aesthetic. Howie Mandel’s TV show Mobbed and AT&T’s most recent ad campaign are but the logical conclusion of an already empty form. But when this cleanly-picked carcass was taken up more recently by young Black people in Philadelphia and elsewhere, who injected the term “flashmob” with a spontaneity it had never enjoyed, all hell was bound to break loose.
The following piece was written by a comrade in Philadelphia.
by Iresha Picot
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life
--June Jordan (“Poem about My Rights”)
I fight on a multitude of platforms. I fight against this rotten system, that’s fucking up people’s basic necessities to live. I push back against this prison system that believes in imprisoning African life while capitalizing off of these same black bodies for means of production through a corrupted prison industrial complex. I fight for the liberation of our political prisoners, the best of our warriors for their freedom. I fight to see the African working class mobilize themselves into the vanguards that we are. Everyday I am fighting this beast of imperialism and White domination. Yet when I tell people that I am a Black Feminist, they seem to forget about all the fighting that I do.
“I hold Queen Mother Moore’s guns, breathe in Sojourner’s resilience, birth beautiful black babies like Betty, because I am a Black Feminist”
I became one, although unconscious of it at the time, in my sophomore year in college. My teacher wrote “Patriarchy” on the board and I had no idea as to what the term meant. I thought I was pretty well read up until that point (“thought” being the operative word). I came to college armored with books written by George Jackson, Malcolm X, Na’im Akbar, and Chancellor Williams. I had even read various texts by female freedom fighters such as Sister Souljah, Assata Shakur, and Shahrazad Ali. None of them (Assata gave a foundation) ever told me that my struggle for the struggle was another struggle in itself. Meaning, while I was viciously attacking racism/colonialism as a student activist, none of my (s)heroes gave name to the suppression of my womanly being. My gender.
After that class, I started to read more by Black Women writers/feminists. I read the works of Black Women who told me that everything about being a Black Woman is “good”. Its divine and its definitely supreme as any man. I was unearthing a lineage of history that I had never heard of before. Understanding that the oppression of Black Women is multiplicative—race, class, gender, and even for some sexuality. I was definitely at my own center. I was growing flowers out my mind, from Alice Walker’s garden. Reaching across tables for other Sistas hands, that Barbara Smith created and yes, I was standing tall and high on platforms that Audre Lorde built. Listening, for the first time to my suppressed voice that had been on mute for so long, that the sound of it, even scared me a little. I was now looking into mirrors that not only reflected a beautiful Blackness but rather an exquisite Black Woman. I was honoring my experiences and telling my stories. I had become a Black Feminist.
This is a slightly edited version of an article written by two comrades, which appeared in the August, 2011 issue of Contemporary Political Theory.
To Live, Love, and Work Anywhere You Please:
Arizona and the Struggle for Locomotion
By Luis Fernandez and Joel Olson
On May 4th, 2010, the Flagstaff, Arizona, City Council met to consider filing suit against Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, seeking an injunction against the now-infamous anti-immigrant law. The Council chamber was at full capacity, bursting with over 200 people. Outside the building another 300 people chanted slogans, making their opposition to 1070 so loud they could be heard from inside the chamber. Because of the large turnout, police officers lined the halls; the fire department eventually closed the building doors. Deliberations lasted until 11:00 pm, with four hours of public testimony. All but a handful of people spoke against the law and encouraged the Council to seek the injunction.
Yet what was most astounding that night was that many in the crowd were undocumented. They demanded the attention of city officials, insisting that they hear their collective voice and represent their interests and sue the state of Arizona. Many undocumented people courageously addressed the Council despite a heavy police presence. One young man in his early twenties, speaking Spanish, stated:
My name is Juan and I don’t have papers. I work at a grocery store. Every time I get my paycheck, I see that I pay taxes. I contribute to this community, to this country. I also send money back to my people in Mexico, to help them because I can no longer go there. And now they want to put me in jail for working, for helping my people.
A number of other folks that night expressed similar views. For a moment, the politics were unrecognizable, with undocumented residents making political demands on politicians who often don’t even listen to their documented voting constituency. In the end, the City Council voted unanimously to file the injunction, an action that reverberated throughout Arizona.
Politicians on both the Left and the Right typically hear such protests as a demand for U.S. citizenship. We tell a different story. This remarkable event in Flagstaff illustrates several important points. First, undocumented people are demanding mobility before citizenship. That is, the ability to move freely across borders is more important to them than is citizenship. Second, undocumented people belong to multiple political communities, and are demanding the right to participate in each. The idea of a citizenship that would give them the “right” to remain in one place does not resonate with them. “Home” is in multiple locations. Third, the mobile nature of undocumented people challenges the essential principles of the liberal state, particularly the concepts of sovereignty, territory, and citizenship.
We see the immigrant struggle in Arizona, then, as the site of an emergence of a new type of political project, one that is already producing subjectivities and demands that existing political arrangements are finding difficult to accommodate. We agree with scholars such as Saskia Sassen when she states that the undocumented are “political subjects not fully recognized as such ... but who nonetheless function ... as part of the political landscape.”