The following piece, written by a comrade in Philadelphia and originally posted on CounterPunch, describes the counterinsurgency campaign currently underway against the Occupy movement in Oakland.
Coercive Attrition and the Occupy Movement
by George Ciccariello-Maher
As winter sets in, the Occupy Movement nationwide confronts a new series of challenges. Conspiring with the weather, however, is the threat of a shifting policing model currently being tested out in Oakland.
The Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci spoke of a distinction between “war of position” and “war of maneuver,” between those gradual and occasionally imperceptible political struggles that occur every day and the frontal attack on power toward which they eventually build. While this distinction is necessary, it should not be overstated, and nor can we associate the war of position too directly with ideological struggle and war of maneuver with direct military attacks on and by the coercive apparatus of the state. Recent events in Oakland and the strategy of coercive attrition directed against the Occupy Movement make perfectly clear just how insufficient such a correlation would be.
Recent weeks have seen the Occupy Movement confronted with a war of attrition nationwide: as cold weather sets in, many cities have opted to wait out the movement, allowing excitement to fade and the movement to devour itself in the petty squabbles of disempowerment. Often, though, this strategy of passive attrition operates alongside a more aggressive approach. In Philadelphia, for example, a hands-off approach to the now-decamped Occupy Philly operates in tandem with ferocity toward those who step out of line in a transparent attempt to bully radicals into submission (as with the case of two housing activists currently facing multiple felonies).
But it is in Oakland more than anywhere else that friendly weather and sustained militancy have given rise to a different approach, one similarly premised on chipping away at the movement through attrition and fatigue but doing so in a far more repressive manner. One key ingredient to this peculiar constellation of forces is the empty vessel perched atop the city government: Mayor Jean Quan. Quan was discredited long ago and from all sides, hated by the left for unleashing the near fatal attacks on Occupy Oakland in October, and by the right (represented by OPD and the City Council) for not taking a harder line. Now, having opted to vacillate rather than stand on the side of history, she will simply be hoping to serve out her term and avoid an embarrassing recall campaign.
This vacillation has been nowhere clearer than on the question of the epic Port Shutdowns on November 2nd and December 12th, the first of which catapulted Occupy Oakland to the forefront of the national movement, and the second of which demonstrated a capacity for coordinated militancy not seen in this country for decades at least. Since it was Quan who took the heat for the unrestrained actions of police in October, one could hardly blame the Mayor for hesitating to unleash OPD and other forces against those blocking the port. But when Quan suggested that the city might not be able to prevent future shutdowns of the port, her critics in City Council found powerful echo in Governor Jerry Brown. But for now at least, OPD’s hands are at least partially tied, an the full-on assaults of many an officer’s dream go unfulfilled for now.
Blocked from engaging in a brutal war of maneuver, OPD’s strategy has been a different one, and what remains of Occupy Oakland’s presence in Oscar Grant Plaza has seen small raids with a handful of arrests several times a week. While some interpret this half-heartedness by the forces of order as a sign of impotence, the frequency, the timing, and the serious charges incurred in the raids speak to a more sinister strategy.
Luis Fernandez, a comrade and associate professor at Northern Arizona University, spoke on the KPFA program "Letters and Politics" about the history and development of the police strategies being used to repress the occupy movement.
Fernandez's segment begins at 31 minutes, 15 seconds. An mp3 version of the show is available for download here.
The piece below was written by a comrade in Durham, North Carolina, and published in the November 1st edition of the Herald Sun. It challenges us to consider how we will deal with internal contradictions, harm and violence—whether in neighborhoods of color that can't trust or depend on the police, or at occupations struggling to confront fights, harrassment, and sexual assault in semi-autonomous encampments.
Last month my home was robbed. My kids — a 12-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter — were home alone when three young men kicked in our back door. They ordered my kids into one of the bedrooms, and then, later, face down onto our kitchen floor. These orders were backed by at least two guns aimed at my kids. The young men threatened to kill them, took a few items, made my kids count to 100 in the bathroom, and fled.
The items had some monetary worth, but the most valuable thing stolen that day was my children’s sense of home and safety. Right now, they would rather be anywhere but home. My son literally jumps at every noise he hears and has spent every night since trying to sleep on the floor in our bedroom.
If what you are expecting now is a father demanding justice, you are correct. But it is probably not the kind of justice you might be imagining.
What happened to us wasn’t particularly special. Robberies are fairly common in Durham, and even armed home invasions are not unheard of. I am sharing my family’s story to fight the limiting idea that we are supposed to deal with this as individuals or family units only. Justice is not just for individuals; it is for communities. The report of last weekend’s drive-by shooting on Driver Street (about a mile from my house) which left two young children and a man injured points to this ever more sharply.
My partner and I knew that any sense of safety we had was always illusory, even if we didn’t always admit it. How can people ever be safe in a society that is built upon exploitation and inequality? The three young men who robbed our home left with nothing, really — at least nothing that might liberate them — but, still, their take might have netted them close to $300 each, if the items were sold, if they split the money equally, and if they weren’t working for someone else. This, in ten minutes of “work” (it was nothing if not bold). That is exponentially more — converted to an hourly rate, 112 times more — than a working stiff like myself has ever made at even my highest-paying job. Now, compare that to what Kobe Bryant makes while taking a ten-minute shower.
And Kobe is a working stiff compared to say, the Lakers owner, or Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett. That’s income distribution in the global economy, and the so-called economic crisis is only making that squeeze worse.
As I see it, two kinds of justice prevail: street justice and the so-called criminal justice system of police, courts, and incarceration. So, what kind of justice do I — an outraged and saddened father — want? I heard this same question in reports I read about the community meeting of residents on Driver Street. Well, street justice is tempting. Don’t think that I haven’t thought about trying to track down these guys and beating them to a pulp for what they did to my kids. What they did was inexcusable. It was anti-social. But I know this form of justice does nothing to make anyone safer or build anything resembling a strong community.
The other option, though, is at least as bad as street justice and in my opinion worse, because it doesn’t build a strong community, either. I have no interest in the Durham Police Department hunting down these three young men, and no desire for them to spend some time in Durham County Jail awaiting trial, then make some kind of plea, and either spend some time in prison or not. Such ”justice” will have nothing to do with me or my kids. It will not make us feel safer, and it certainly won’t do anything to change the economic and social conditions that make armed robbery a tempting choice for some. I heard some of these same sentiments in reports from the community meeting in the Driver St. neighborhood. The police do not make us safe. And in some neighborhoods, they make folks less safe.
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.