for the oakland commune

an unfinished compilation of misses and hits

(vol. I)

oakland commune
#OccupyOakland One Week Strong at Oscar Grant Plaza |
A Report on Occupy Oakland - Lana Turner Journal
Five Occupy Oakland campers speak about why they joined the
protest - Oakland North
Insurrection, Oakland Style | Viewpoint Magazine

October 25

first raid
Letter from an Anonymous Friend The Morning After the
Attack on the Oakland Commune | Anti-Capital Projects
The Razing of Occupy Oakland at Sunrise | Counterpunch

October 25 march to take back the plaza
On the Previous Few Days, And What Is to Come | BayofRage
A Report on Occupy Oakland Part 2 | Lana Turner Journal
Oakland on Strike! | Counterpunch

November 2 general strike and after
A Message to the Partisans, in Advance of the General
Strike | BayofRage
LA Review of Books Blog - Letter from Oakland Part 2
Occupy Oakland at a Crossroads | Counterpunch
The Oakland General Strike, The Days Before, The Days After
- Autonomous Struggle of the Glittertariat_
Cracks in the Glass: Belated Reflection on Nov 2nd. |

November 15 second raid
An Update and Thoughts from the Oakland Commune | BayofRage

December 12 west coast port shutdown
Occupy and Class Struggle on the Waterfront | Counterpunch
Blockading the Port Is Only The First of Many Last Resorts
| BayofRage
An Open Letter from America’s Port Truck Drivers on Occupy
the Ports
Seattle Port Shutdown - Success! |
After the Tents Fall at Occupy Oakland |Atlantic Monthly
West Coast Port Shutdown. Oakland, Part 2: Occupy Oakland’s
Unstoppable Revolution | Hyphenated-Republic

other occupations
THIS BUILDING IS OURS! Chapel Hill Anarchists Occupy
Downtown Building
Open Letter to the Administration of the University of
California Berkeley
No Cops, No Bosses | UCDavis Bicycle Barricade
From Occupied Kansas City | Lana Turner Journal
COMMUNIQUE | bmorewomentrans
A New Aggressive Movement The Founding and Defense of the
Santa Cruz Social Center | Viewpoint Magazine

When asked to give my reflections on the "occupy movement"
in about 150 words...
What Violence Isn't | HyphenatedRepublic
The New Inquiry - Not Your Friend: Dissensus and the Police
Counterpunch | For the Fracture of Good Order
No-one cares about property damage | Voyou Desoeuvre
LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - Welcome to the Occupations
The Party of Wall Street Meets its Nemesis | Verso Blog
Occupy Wall Street's Anarchist Roots | Aljazeera
Feminism, Finance and the Future of #Occupy: An interview
with Silvia Federici | Infoshop News
The Student Loan Debt Abolition Movement in the United
States | Reclamations
From Occupation to Occupy: The Israelification of American
Domestic Security | Al Akhbar English
Counterpunch | The Vacancies of Capitalism
Counterpunch | The Coming War on the Occupy Movement

communiqués, demands, points of unity
Solidarity Letter from Cairo | Anti-Capital Projects
California prison hunger strikers propose 10 core demands
for the national Occupy Wall Street Movement |
Points of Unity for a Feminist & Queer Occupation | oakland
occupy patriarchy
Communique from the Crisis Center | Anti-Capital Projects
Plaza - Riot - Commune | Bay of Rage

oakland commune
#OccupyOakland – One Week Strong at Oscar
Grant Plaza
#OccupyOakland – One Week Strong at Oscar Grant Plaza
Posted by OaklandCommune on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 · Leave a Comment
Social rebels from around Oakland have descended upon Oscar Grant Plaza and have
created a genuine, autonomous space free of police and unwelcoming to politicians.
Whereas other occupations have invited the police and politicians, or have negotiated with
them, Occupy Oakland has carved a line in the cement. That line of demarcation says: if
you pass this, if you try and break up or over shadow this autonomous space, you are well
aware, as observed over the last couple of years, what we are capable of.
This article is a report back on the first week at Occupy Oakland, a reflection on problems
we have been facing and some thoughts on moving the occupation forward; onto some
next level shit.
After much organizing, logistical coordination, joy, sweat and tears, we’ve managed to hold
down the first week of the occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza (conservatively known as Frank
Ogawa Plaza). The police have not stepped foot inside the parameter of the occupation
without an impassioned, hostile response. Likewise, the people who do enter the space
have not left without an inspired and rebellious spirit – a fever.
On the first night, there was concern about how many people would show up or if any of
them would feel empowered enough to stay the night. Despite the rain, at least 1,000
attended the rally and about two dozens tents were erected. After food was served, the first
general assembly took place in the amphitheater of City Hall. In the form of a speak-out, an
amplified sound system and an open floor made way for those in attendance to
passionately talk about why they were there – why they hate capitalism, its pigs and its
prisons. Here, people could speak their minds without the obstacles of an agenda or
Different from many other occupations in the occupation movement, organizing took place
for a week prior to the plaza takeover. On the very first day, the camp had a fully functional
kitchen, an info-tent and a supply tent. By the end of this week there was a medic tent, art
supply tent, an insurrectionary library, a free store, the Raheim Brown Free School, a
media tent, a POC tent, a Sukkah, a DJ booth, and not to mention hundreds of sleeping-
space tents. In addition, the rotating kitchen crew has been feeding everyone consistently
from 8am until midnight and throwing spontaneous BBQs. Despite a few hiccups, these
designated areas and tents have been beautifully maintained and non-exclusive –
functioning to attract new-comers, leaving little prospect for anyone to feel like a spectator.
Immediately, different logistical issues that had to be dealt with spawned various working
groups, or committees. These committees are in constant rotation. This “beauty in chaos”
allows for a loose, flexible structure. Simultaneously, people are freely organizing and
interacting with the camp however they desire. A few crucial sub-committees that the
occupation hasn’t necessitated until recently, but have since been created (and
experimented with) are: security (dealing with outside forces such as police, who from the
beginning were not welcome), mediation (dealing with internal conflicts and dynamics), a
facilitation working group (which organizes the agenda and shapes the process of the
general assembly), a POC caucus that has been meeting every day, and finally, a newly
formed anti-authoritarian/anti-capitalist caucus and a queer working group. People are no
longer spectating the increasingly rapid destruction of their everyday life, instead they are
actively participating in breaching normalized boundaries – how people relate to one
another in a way that empowers everyone involved.
The General Assemblies, or “GAs,” are
places where the people of the occupation
can get updates, have debates, plan for
actions, and decide on proposals. The GA
Facilitation Working Group came up with a
modified consensus process where a 90%
majority – instead of 100% – is sufficient to
pass a proposal. However illusory or
“democratic” this process functions, its
strategic implementation strips power away
from potentially authoritative individuals who
might hijack or otherwise sabotage our
ability to make decisions and move forward. Because there is a specific group working on
the facilitation process, the GAs operate smoothly and are usually quite exciting.
Additionally, a lot of people that speak at the GA are really fucking on point. Thus far the
general assemblies (of 200-300 people nightly) have passed decisions to never endorse
political parties or politicians, to send a solidarity statement to comrades at Occupy Wall
Street and another to those on hunger strike in the Pelican Bay state prison. This is also a
space where anti-state and anti-authority sentiments flourish, be they against the police or
the city government. As can be expected, some people say some really fucked up
racist/sexist shit, but they are usually booed off stage. With what may be a perfect ending to
the first week, a letter from the city (delivered en mass 30 minutes before the GA) was read
aloud. The city detailed specifically what must be improved or taken care of “for our own
safety” (when did the city ever care about our safety anyways?). Boldly (you could feel
tension when the idea was initiated), some began chanting, “Burn it”. Without hesitation,
someone took a lighter to the letter. Another person added lighter fluid to the burning,
single sheet of paper. The flames raged wildly for a full minute. The crowd of at least 300
cheered and hollered with an enthusiasm unprecedented at any prior GA. For some
reason, we feel that Occupy Oakland is different…
In addition to the amazing infrastructure and
the excellent facilitation that has been set
up, the organized events are extremely
diverse and most of the time explicitly
political. Each of the events throughout the
first week nurtures the overall, vengeful tone
of the occupation – performances, Hip Hop
shows, poetry slams and movie showings. In
each case, people find time away from hard
work to enjoy each other’s company. In
addition to planned events, numerous
impromptu ciphers, dance parties and
performances break out – accentuating a
generalized desire to cultivate autonomous
actions. One day a SambaFunk Band
marched their way into Oscar Grant Plaza, proceeded to play for almost an hour –
hundreds surrounding them, dancing. This beautifully unexpected addition to the
occupation, along with others like it, demonstrates a recurring spontaneity. Multiple times
throughout the day you hear people exclaim how inspired they are by this occupation and
what is possible here. In addition to the more creative and fun events, workshops take
place during the day and have been explicitly nonconformist. The workshops range from
topics such as contemporary uprisings in Greece, Chile, and Oaxaca to Occupy
Everything, which connect the student occupations to what is happening here. This
upcoming week, everyday from 1-5pm there are more of the same: specific talks
discussing particular political topics such as “Police/State/Prison” and “Oakland schools
are being shut down! What are we gonna do?” Notably, the very first demonstration out of
Occupy Oakland was an anti-capitalist march where over 200 people marched through
downtown Oakland chanting, “1, 2, 3, 4 – organize for social war!” — among other things .
This march attracted a diversity of people. Over 200 rebels chanting these radical slogans
chill you to the bone. The following night, a queer march left from the occupation and went
to Hella Gay, a queer dance party in Oakland. Upon reaching the club, marchers
demanded to be let in for free and the venue acquiesced.
Incessantly, Occupy Oakland startles and excites many with its implicit radicalism. On
Saturday, October 15th, (a “grassroots” organizational front for the democratic
party) organized a march and demonstration in conjunction with the national occupation
movement’s day of action. They attempted to exploit Occupy Oakland when they
announced that it would draw to a close in Oscar Grant Plaza with a series of speakers
including several mayors from around the Bay. Upon this announcement, a proposal was
brought to the GA: a refusal of special treatment and/or endorsement of politicians and
political parties/organizations. It passed like a maple leaf in the wind. After negotiations
with MoveOn, and based on our own policies, no politicians would be allowed to speak on
behalf of their party at that event and thereafter. Surprisingly, MoveOn eventually complied
with our demand. When someone broke the agreement (rather, they took advantage of a
loophole) and began reading a statement from Congresswomen Barbara Lee, someone
from the occupation promptly told those from MoveOn how they broke the agreement and
how the democratic party is “counter-revolutionary.” At this point those who were brought to
the occupation via MoveOn’s march begun to disperse and explore the camp (perhaps
because it was far more interesting than hearing all of the old boring democratic rhetoric
that has been said time and time before).
Over the past few years, Oakland has demonstrated its
uniqueness in social conflict and protest. This
distinctiveness isn’t anything new; rather, it has just
reemerged. To elaborate, a comrade wrote in The
Occupation Movement: On Greed, Unity & Violence:
“Oakland is currently under occupation by the
police. The form of this occupation varies; the
situation is much different in Temescal than in
deep East Oakland. We live in a militarized
space. Whether it’s police executions of Black
youth, police harassment of sex workers along
International Boulevard, or the city council’s
racist legislation in the form of anti-loitering
laws, gang injunctions or the suggested youth
curfew, this paramilitary occupation is a project
of local government to pacify and contain the
city so capitalism can go about it’s business uninterrupted.
But Oakland doesn’t just have a violent, repressive contemporary situation;
we have a vibrant history of struggle and resistance. From the 1946 General
Strike to the formation of the Black Panther party in 1966 to the anti-police
rebellion following the execution of Oscar Grant in 2009, Oakland has long
been a city full of people that refuse to sit down and shut up. Despite every
attempt by the state to kill that spirit, it lives on and will be out in full force
over the coming days.”
Occupy Oakland reflects Oakland’s radical
history. Because of this, an overwhelming
anti-police sentiment guides the
conversation about and the reaction to
police. The GA has refused to comply with
the city’s demand that we apply for permits
(which we were told would automatically be
accepted without charge). This lawlessness
has played out when police have attempted
to enter the occupation. On several
occasions, many surround the approaching
police and in unison began chanting “Pigs
go home!” and “Cops get out!” When the
police officers realize their lack of power, they have no other option but to leave. This tactic
of resisting the presence of the police started spontaneously, but has since been the usual
response. We hope that other occupations will look to this practice and realize its
Despite the brilliant infrastructure, there have been problems. Some extremely important
committees have been slow to respond to the growing need of the camp. Some of this is
due to the transient nature of the groups, where people come in and voice their
disagreements and then take off, leaving the work to the people in the committees who are
already stressing about getting things done. Although there is “beauty in the chaos,” it has
become evident that to some degree, disciplined organization is imperative. Ideally, a
harmony of chaos and composition will surface.
One of the biggest problems emerging in the camp is specific dynamics of racism, sexism
and other oppressive habits. In the first several days, excitement and festivity ruled the
commune. This slowly transitioned into over-frequent dance parties that spilled late into the
nights. Excessive drinking, unwanted sexual advances, harassment, and fights persist
daily. This behavior, it should be mentioned, also exists without the presence of alcohol,
but takes on a different form with alcohol. [NOTE: we are beginning to see reports of
delinquency, drug use and violence in the media that may begin to duplicate in other
media outlets. This could be the beginning of a campaign against the occupation. We
would like to mention that these problems exist everywhere, as this occupation is to some
extent a microcosm of Oakland, and until there is incentive to unlearn these behaviors,
“peace” cannot be actualized. Again, this is not to say that they are not serious or that they
are tolerated.] All of this has led to concern about the camp developing a Burning Man or
Woodstock environment, devoid of almost all political content (other than the politics of
culture, sub-culture and counter-culture which have a very limited potential and ultimately
alienate people from one another). What is desired is a complete transformation (or
destruction) of society, not just a cultural one. These dynamics are not unique to the
occupation, but rather happen every day in Oakland and everywhere – they are
symptomatic of a society that has broken all of us. In reaction, a mediation team has been
set up to deescalate situations and allow for dialogue between those in conflict, resulting in
much benefit. Despite all of this, Occupy Oakland is magnificently self-regulating – when a
fool’s gotta go, a fool’s gotta go. This occupation is constantly growing and expanding –
becoming more and more dissident by the day, pushing us all to our limits. Let’s see what
else this occupation movement has to offer…
Beneath the internal conflicts lies an aching
desire to externalize such wrath. Hundreds
upon hundreds of people simply talk and
mingle, discussing politics and life. You can
almost taste a collective hostility towards
each individual’s own socialization. People
are learning how to be human beings
without the mediation of capitalism and its
apparatuses. Whereas alienation and
isolation rule our every interaction, it has
been replaced by the crisis of remembering
the last 10 names of those you’ve met in the
past hour. The war on alienation and
isolation is fought through complex and
voluntary social experiments, ultimately
revealing the gaps of power relations that are facilitated, in part, by capitalism
Another pressing issue is that of expansion. The plaza now hosts somewhere around 150
tents on the grassy areas alone. Sunday night, 30 minutes before the GA, a letter from the
city was delivered en mass to people in the occupation. It detailed the city’s intolerance to
many things, among them, camping in the concrete area of the plaza. Logistically, moving
to the concrete would be the most immediate remedy to the growing population density of
the occupation. Are we to push that boundary? Already, a small encampment has
manifested in Snow Park, which is a few blocks from Oscar Grant Plaza. Almost all of the
grass is taken up at this point and if we are to push the boundaries with the city, we must
be prepared to defend the spaces we select to house us next. Expansion onto the concrete
would only be a temporary solution. If we are to expand to another location, we must
nurture the crisis of the occupation – population density – and encourage many more from
the street find a home in the occupation movement and seduce others out of their homes to
do the same. [NOTE: Those occupying Snow Park stand their ground against police who
tell them they are not allowed to be there due to a school being nearby. Since then, to
some extent, the school and its students have announced support of the occupations in OG
Plaza and Snow Park. However, Snow Park is in need of a greater occupying force. As of
tonight, we are unsure whether that extension of the occupation can be held through the
following day.].
The recent letter from the City gives light to their attempt to stifle our capacity. With good
reason, they are afraid. It is likely the occupation will attempt a diversity of expansion
strategies through the coming week. Undercover police are naive to think we haven’t
noticed their technique of dividing the occupation on already present tensions – some
COINTELPRO type shit. The camp is vulnerable – bearing wide-open entrances in almost
every direction. Do we look to barricades? Do we take the barricades into the street?
These are questions that will be answered in either a collective, intuitive and organic
response to police eviction or in much planning and preparation. One thing is certain: the
people of Occupy Oakland are well prepared to defend their new home.
Occupy Oakland (as you may have gathered at this point) is unlike any other. We begin to
appreciate this when we realize our potential and current condition – that we are a force to
be reckoned with, a danger to the capitalist functioning of Oakland. Police attack is no
more imminent than the all too likely opportunities of widespread insurgency. Strategizing
in accordance to our immediate geography’s potential as well as its weaknesses is key.
Unions, schools, libraries and more, they are already our allies, as we are theirs. An
overpowering confidence saturates the air of Oscar Grant Plaza – a threat and a promise.
Occupy Everything! Demand Nothing!
-Autonomous individuals among the liberated space known as Oscar Grant Plaza.
Filed under From
the Bay · Tagged
A Report on Occupy Oakland
Brian Ang
10 October 2011—indefinite
Oscar Grant Plaza, Oakland, California
19 October 2011
Exhilaratingly, after ten days, there is so much that can be written about Occupy Oakland
that many people could fill many volumes. I hope people do, to record a fraction of its
experiences that have exceeded all initial expectations. It is for this reason that I am
moved to attempt a necessarily partial account at this time, amid its unceasing
developments, to capture some of what has happened thus far and what might be seized
upon to continue forth.
I am focusing on the crucial first day as a center of study, because its founding character
proliferated in all subsequent developments. A tremendous amount of effort preceded and
constituted the first day. Initial organizers held frequent, open, and publicized planning
meetings in the preceding week and made numerous important decisions. The occupation
would be realized in Frank Ogawa Plaza: tactically sound, its accessible location in
Downtown Oakland (a concentrated open space) is politically significant. The site of City
Hall and of the rioting on January 7, 2009 in response to the killing of Oscar Grant by Bay
Area Rapid Transit police on New Year’s Day 2009, this space produced powerful local
anti-police violence activism in the national spotlight. Organizers decided that the plaza
would be renamed Oscar Grant Plaza on the first day of occupation, connecting the
occupation with Oscar Grant activism. They chose Indigenous People’s Day, the
reclamation of Columbus Day, October 10, as the founding day to make explicit the
occupation of the Ohlone land by the city of Oakland. The conjunction of the Oscar Grant
and Ohlone movements established that the occupation would not be confined to the
expression of any one movement and encouraged a spirit of cooperation across political
commitments. Organizers decided on one demand: that people come. Just as the
occupation was initially defined by those willing to put in the most effort in the preliminary
planning, the occupation when underway would be constituted by the heterogeneity of
efforts put into it and not be disabled by a dominating simplification of concerns.
Organizers decided on a strong anti-police stance, taking a practical lesson from the
innumerable police raids upon other occupations encouraged by relaxed or actively
collaborative relationships with the police on the part of occupations--the argument in
Oakland insists as much as possible on the occupation’s existence rather than easily cede
that power to the state. The occupation connects numerous local movements with anti-
police sentiments: the movement against Oakland’s impending gang injunctions, the
Californian prison hunger strikes for better conditions, the movements against recent Bay
Area police violence on public transit services, the anti-austerity and public education
movements that regularly clashed with police in demonstrations, as well as with
communities that experience police harassment regularly. The connections with local
movements established that the occupation would not be an imposed replication of the
Occupy trend in Oakland solely founded on the politically-indeterminate popular
abstractions such as “We are the 99%,” but would be founded with forceful politics rooted
in addressing urgent local problems.
The call went out with these characteristics and drew hundreds of people on the founding
day. A rally was convened and the preliminary organizers’ founding gestures of the
renaming of the plaza for Oscar Grant, solidarity with the Ohlone people, and its anti-police
stance were reiterated. The organizers presented frameworks for the occupation’s
infrastructure, planned in advance of the first day, including committees for security, to
materially constitute the occupation’s anti-police stance with patrols against police raids
and serve to resolve internal conflicts and reimagine the impulsive recourse to state forces;
food, essential for extended sustainability; facilitation, to run daily General Assemblies for
the occupation’s maintenance, development, and decision making; media, to aid the
dissemination and representation of the occupation’s activities, most crucially on the
occupation’s primary public front, its website; and numerous committees for the
occupation’s cultural development, including an events committee and a free school
operating as an information conduit for autonomous workshops. The Raheim Brown Free
School, named after the youth killed by Oakland police in January, further raised the
occupation’s local political signification. Organizers emphasized the permeability of all
these committees and the invitation and necessity for people to contribute and constitute
them, with planning meetings to convene immediately after the rally.
A lengthy open mic for general announcements and expressions followed the committee
announcements. People immediately took it upon themselves to organize elements that
had not been covered by the preliminary organizers, for instance, initiating plans to build
compostable toilets. As expected from an open mic, I was not in unproblematic agreement
or enthusiasm about all of the heterogeneous commitments expressed, but I was moved by
the fact of the passionate heterogeneity in that it encouraged a political sensibility capable
of understanding contradiction and messiness against the familiar overwhelming
encouragement of a willfully narrow sensibility, a simplified discourse. Furthermore, I was
amazed at the radicalism of participants I did not know so strongly and diversely existed in
Oakland, with overt anti-capitalist, even communist, and anti-police sentiments, stemming
from lived experiences, with frequent invocations of Oakland’s radical history, especially
the Black Panthers. Many people stayed around long after the rally’s end, immediately
getting involved in developing the committees and committing to maintain the occupation
by camping out and staying the night. Many expected a police confrontation on the first
night. The police did try to enter the camp that night, but those present were able to
articulate enough affective antagonism to chant the police out, and they did not persist or
return. After the founding day’s positive and forceful community expression, it would have
signified poorly for the city to have deployed the forces needed to repress the committed
On the second day, there was an exponential development of infrastructure, including food
operations being massively expanded from an influx of food and labor and the Raheim
Brown Free School being augmented with a library and organizations of workshops, as
well as plenty of people bringing their own activities to the plaza: painting and playing
music, and occupying the space with tents. The Oakland Teacher’s Union bought portable
toilets. The occupation enabled the rarest of situations in which efforts could be
contributed unalienated, unmediated through a separate authority, and made immediately
manifest in the situation’s enrichment. Immediate benefits healed people’s alienated
relations. People immediately talked and helped one another and provided the most
preferable environment available to many without the privilege of better situations,
including providing excellent meals to the homeless and anyone else in need. The anti-
police founding stance set the terms for intense and enriching debates, but the practical
insistences by anti-police proponents seem to have established the occupation’s culture
against the abstractly moralistic police sympathizers. The occupation’s empowering
structure was quickly developed upon by the massive and heterogeneous efforts of diverse
individuals and groups, which have continued unceasingly in the subsequent days
including a total filling of the plaza’s space with over 200 tents.
The second day also saw the first General Assembly, which founded a process conducive
to the occupation’s community-controlled, unalienated development. General Assemblies
would consist of report backs from committees about autonomous projects seeking
participation, a forum for the expression and cultivation of concerns, and the site for making
Occupy Oakland-endorsed proposals requiring 90% consensus of participants present.
The high percentage consensus requirement encouraged that only the most thoughtful and
important proposals would be endorsed, disallowing imposed ideological takeovers, and
empowered the importance of the occupation’s cultural cultivation toward both passing
endorsements and formulating autonomous actions. The first several General Assemblies
were difficult experiences, refining in an ad hoc manner an initially messier set of
procedures, but essential elements were present from the start. The facilitators’ committee
encouraged perpetual permeability to empower anyone moved to contribute to shaping the
General Assembly’s process. Important proposals that passed through this process
include a statement of solidarity with Occupy Wall Street against the police violence on
October 14, solidarity with the California hunger strike, solidarity with all California workers’
strikes, and the first collectively endorsed anti-capitalist march to occur on Saturday,
October 22. Autonomously, several hundred dollars were raised to aid the arrested at
Occupy Wall Street on October 14, and a powerful anti-capitalist march was executed on
October 13, flexing the occupation’s power in the face of the state rather than simply
waiting to be acted upon.
In the unceasing recomposition of the occupation’s heterogeneous culture enabling radical
concentrations executed both autonomously and through endorsement, participants need
to continue to insist affectively and materially on autonomy from the state to continue the
occupation’s unalienated efforts, unmediated through state permission. Internal concerns
need to be solved through community power while resisting the tempting recourse of
replicating authoritative law. The occupation’s character will continue to be what
participants constitute it as: it’s a radical fidelity worth fighting for.
"Endism Road," one of the makeshift wooden walkways at the Occupy Oakland camp that has
been putting down roots over the past two weeks in the downtown Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.
By: Brittany Schell and Jessie Schiewe| October 24, 2011 – 10:09 am |Filed Under:
Community, Culture, Front, Occupy Oakland, Politics, Topics
There used to be grass here, but it didn’t last long!not after the bodies started multiplying
and the make-shift community started growing. Now the space is covered in mud and
heaps of hay. And a runaway pancake that slid off of someone’s blue-plastic plate. And a
stray sock, and a boardwalk of planks. And feet. Hundreds of feet. This used to be Frank H.
Ogawa Plaza, but not any more. Welcome to Occupy Oakland.
The camp has been occupying the plaza in front of Oakland’s city hall since October 10,
when a group of protesters decided to replicate the Occupy Wall Street movement that
began last month in New York City. The demands of the movement are broad, but focus
largely on economic inequality: one of the mantras chanted often by protesters is, “We are
the 99 percent,” implying that the nation’s wealth is concentrated among one percent of
Charmz Valentino is living at Occupy Oakland
with her puppy Tucker, a favorite among fellow
The entrance to the campsite is littered with signs that read: “Let’s end a system prone to
corruption and try again,” and “Bail out the people, not the banks.” Visitors walk by a
community garden box growing chard and rosemary, then squeeze past the cluttered dish-
washing station and a noisy line of campers waiting for a free meal before winding their
way into the depths of the tent city on improvised wooden walkways with names like
“Endism Road.”
On a hot Sunday afternoon, in and around a sea of tents in varying sizes and colors, there
are snowy-haired elderly women, hippies with dreadlocks, street kids in baggy pants,
optimistic college students and a few children running around. Here are excerpts of
conversations with five of them.
Living in an urban public plaza is no longer
new to 26 year-old Charmz Valentino, from
Seattle. A week and a half ago she was
camping on Market Street in downtown San
Francisco before police came and moved
the protesters out. “You bring what you
need,” said Valentino, who described
herself as currently unemployed by choice.
“And you take care of one another.”
Last month, after breaking up with her
girlfriend, Valentino decided to move from
Seattle to the Bay Area, in the process
quitting her job as an on-the-phone tech
and billing support technician for Verizon
Wireless. When she arrived, Valentino
immediately joined up with San Francisco’s
Occupy 99 effort. Growing up in a household with a severely disabled mother who
received less than $850 a month, she said, is one reason Valentino feels passionate about
the movement.
“People all over America are losing their homes, and there’s corrupt banks that are giving
high-risk loans to people and taking their houses,” she said. “So there’s a number of
different reasons why I’m here. But I’m here for my family that is struggling.”
As Valentino sat in her tent in front of Oakland’s city hall, playing with her 9-week-old
puppy Tucker, it was unclear exactly what she believes this protest will change. This is a
strong group of people, she said, who will stand together if the police come. Their
encampment demonstrates to city officials that they are banded together. The tents all
around this “neighborhood,” she said, gesturing to the tents set up in her area, were
refugees from Occupy San Francisco—those protesters who left when the movement
across the bay started clashing with police. Valentino said the Oakland camp feels more
like a community.
Taxing the rich and ending the nation’s overseas wars are two means of starting the
healing process, she said, as this would enable the government to save billions, perhaps
Torricka Wilson with her daughters Toristine
and Toriawn in their tent, given to them by
Occupy Oakland organizers.
dedicating some of that money to solving the housing crisis. “But it goes much deeper than
that,” she said. She has Occupy travel plans now and wants to hitchhike up the coast to
Occupy Portland and Occupy Seattle to see how those movements are doing. “Even going
from San Francisco to here, there’s a whole bunch of differences and it’s cool to see the
way different communities work together,” she said. “It would be awesome if all the cities
could nationally and internationally have communication and set up international marches
and things like that to happen across the world.”
Until then, she said, she’s content to travel across the country from one Occupy 99
encampment to another, with just her 70-pound backpack, Tucker, and the phone number
for the National Lawyers Guild written in marker on the inside of her forearm.
Torricka Wilson is a 31-year-old single
mother of four—unemployed, she said, and
living on $518 a month from social services
to support herself and her young children.
On a Sunday afternoon at the Occupy
Oakland communal kitchen, she made
ground turkey tacos and smothered
potatoes for the campers.
“I’ve got four hungry kids,” said Wilson. “I
know how to cook!”
Wilson and her kids! daughters Toriawn,
Torrin and Toristine, and her son Toriano,
who range in age from 3 to 9!all camped
at Occupy Oakland this past weekend.
Wilson has been coming every day since
the camp started on the evening of October
10 to work preparing food, washing dishes and helping lay down the hay that now covers
Frank Ogawa Plaza.
Wilson watched the encampment grow over the last two weeks. “When I first came here,
there were only about 30 tents,” she said. “I came back the next day and the tents were all
the way up near the doorsteps of Oakland’s city hall. It looks like well over a hundred tents
to me now.”
She camps with her kids on the weekend, and returns on weeknights to their 18th Street
townhouse two blocks away!$87 a month of subsidized rent– so the kids can go to
school each morning.
Their tent, which was given to them by the Occupy organizers after it was donated, is set
up beside the arts and crafts station. This way, her kids can go right out in the morning and
paint, said Wilson. She doesn’t worry about their safety, even when she is on kitchen duty
and they are running around the campsite.
“Everybody in here knows them,” Wilson said. “I’m here every day. It’s like one big
Daniel Kaiya rotates nights spent at the
campsite with his roommates.
community up in here.”
Wilson has been unemployed for two years now, she said, and the money she receives
from social services is not enough to live on with four kids, whose father is in jail. Before
the economic downturn, Wilson made a living doing in-home care, she said, going to
people’s houses in Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond and as far away as Sacramento or
“We are down here struggling and living poor,” said Wilson. “We are at the bottom of the
food chain, and y’all get”—she was referring to the wealthiest group of Americans that the
99 percent movement is protesting—”whatever y’all want,” she said. “If you take the
$100,000 you make in a year and you split it with five or six people out here, trust me, we
could all be living comfortably,” she said.
As she carried a roll of paper towels to her tent to wipe up spilled paint on the tent floor,
Wilson said her kids, who have never been camping, understand why they are here and
the motivation behind Occupy Oakland.
“They know it all,” Wilson said. “If I ain’t told it to them, there are so many people here who
Twelve years ago, Daniel Kaiya said, he
had a corner office and made more than
$50,000 a year. He could have easily
continued living this way for the rest of his
life, but he chose not to. “I had a decision to
make,” he said, referring to his job as the
assistant administrator for the New York
office of Studio Archetype, a visual design
firm. “I had a great salary, stock options, and
I was set. But my heart was dying. I had
everything I wanted but I didn’t want it
So he quit.
Today, he earns money in any way that he
can—dancing, teaching yoga, organizing
peyote circles—and has been part of the Occupy Oakland movement since October 12.
Kaiya, who uses his spiritual name instead of his birth name, lives in East Oakland and
switches off sleeping in a tent at the campsite with his girlfriend and other friends, he said,
so that they “can help keep the numbers up.”
It is important, he said, for people to support the movement and help instigate a change in
society. “I really think this society is criminally insane,” he said, citing the government’s
policies on healthcare, incarceration, social services, and basic human rights. “We’ve been
living under the fallacy that somehow the American Dream works for everyone, but
obviously it does not.”
Kaiya is camping at Occupy Oakland with his
dog Yogi Spicoli.
Gregory Henderson comes to the camp for
free meals and medical care. He is temporarily
in a wheelchair because of an infected blister
on his heel.
Although he has not been living at the campsite on a consecutive, day-to-day basis, he
said he is very involved with the community,
helping out with multiple tasks and chores
such as cooking, cleaning, and donating
“This is not a protest, but a parallel of how
things should be,” he said. “We’ve blocked
out all the rules and we’re creating
whatever feels right. Rather than building a
cage, we’re building a lattice.”
Since quitting his corporate job, Kaiya said
he had many opportunities to suit up and
enter the workforce again, but he didn’t take
them. “The people who have always treated
me the best were those with the least,” he
said, which is why he feels that supporting
Occupy Oakland and the entire Occupy 99 movement is so important. There are so many
problems today that he feels the solution can not be left solely in the hands of the
Even if local, state or federal governments were to address some of the concerns being
voiced by the Occupy 99 movement, Kaiya said he is not ready to leave his campsite. “Not
until it turns into a village. It keeps getting better and better, nicer and nicer. It’s attracting
people who come from around the world who have the same opinions on what comes next.

“I’m not a Marxist, I’m not a Socialist, and
I’m not a communist,” said Gregory
Henderson, as he ate his free, locally-
raised scrambled eggs and chorizo
breakfast at the Occupy Oakland campsite.
“Some of the stuff they talk about I don’t
agree with. But I do believe that there’s too
much power to the banks and to much
power to the corporations.”
Since the very first day of its inception,
Henderson has been living at the campsite,
an easy move for a homeless man such as
himself, he said, because all he brought
with him was his sleeping bag.
“I move around and I survive,” he said. “I’m
homeless so I was doing this same thing
before I came here.”
M.J. Delacruz chats with his neighbors in front
of his "revolutionary spooner" tent at the
Occupy Oakland camp.
During the day, Henderson, who said he is a veteran of the Navy and looked to be in his
fifties, panhandles within the vicinity of the Paramount Theater and Jack London Square.
He used to sleep on the stairwell of a building on 2nd Street, but since October 10 has
settled into a donated tent at the Occupy campsite. He now returns to the campsite for hot
meals and medical care for his infected heel when he is not panhandling. The area that the
campsite stands on was populated by homeless before, he said, and will continue to be
populated by them afterwards, regardless of what happens with the movement. “There’s
not much you can do about the camp,” he said.
However, there is something that can be done to change the way society operates, he said.
“You need a complete change, not necessarily with the government, but with how they
govern,” he said. Special interests have to go, he said. Politicians need to start talking
about what is good for the people instead of what will get them re-elected. “People need
food, shelter, a job—simple things. People need to be able to feel like they are worth
Henderson plans to stay at the campsite for as long as it is up, but said he will not be
emotionally affected if police force the camp to break up. “I’ll just go back to the streets,” he
said. “Life goes on.”
“Wal-Mart says this is a four-person tent,”
said M.J. Delacruz, gesturing to his white
and orange tent set up in front of the steps
leading to Oakland’s city hall. Across the
top, he has written “Revolutionary Spooner”
in black marker. “In a revolution,” he
clarified, “this is a ten-person tent. Although
spooning is not required, it is absolutely
necessary at times.”
Pushing back his dark hair, Delacruz
shouted hello to a couple camping
neighbors who had also pitched their tents
close to the large, historic oak tree in the
public plaza.
M.J. Delacruz, 24, said he works 60 hours a
week at the American Canyon Wal-Mart in
Napa County, and another 30 hours a week at a Target in Marin. Saturday night was his
first time sleeping at the Oakland campsite, where he plans to volunteer on the weekends
until a separate encampment is formed under the banner of Occupy Marin, closer to his
“In Marin county we live among the one percent,” said Delacruz, who characterized his
biological family, as he called it, as part of this wealthy upper class. He specified
“biological,” he said, because he has not been in touch with his family since he left home at
the age of 16. For eight years he traveled in South America as an English teacher before
returning to northern California.
Delacruz now lives in Vallejo, where over half the houses are vacant due to foreclosure, he
said. A livable minimum wage is his first priority. That amount would vary from community
to community; in Vallejo it would be $12 an hour for a single parent with two children, he
said. He is paid $8 an hour at both of his jobs, where he has been working for the past
three months after returning from his travels. Although he works overtime, he struggles to
make ends meet after paying for medication—for bipolar disorder and a herniated disk
caused by a car accident—out of his own pocket, since he doesn’t have health insurance.
He arrived Saturday night at the Oakland camp, and has pitched in where he is
needed!making coffee, cleaning the kitchen area and buying groceries with his own
money to cook tonight’s camp dinner of chicken or tofu fried rice.
“When I pitched my tent, I felt like these were my neighbors, this is my street,” he said,
gesturing to the sea of tents gathered in front of Oakland’s city hall.
Delacruz said he and others in the camp were opening up their “homes”!referring to the
tents!to protesters who need a place to sleep. People have also been donating tents,
food, dishes and other items to the camp, and the Oakland Teachers’ Union provided the
row of portable toilets and outdoor sinks for the camp.
“I don’t expect that Occupy Oakland or Occupy San Francisco or Occupy Marin will be
completely shut down to where it’s never rebuilt,” he said. “Someday, when I have a kid or
kids, I am going to drive by here and say, ‘That’s where the revolution started. This is
where the tents were. That’s where people gathered so you could have this life.’”
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.
Connect with Oakland North on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.
This entry was written by Brittany Schell, posted on at 10:09 am, filed under Community,
Culture, Front, Occupy Oakland, Politics, Topics and tagged #occupyoakland, City Hall,
Oakland city hall, Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Wall Street. Bookmark
the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. or leave a
trackback: Trackback URL.
Insurrection, Oakland Style « Viewpoint Magazine
A History
By Matthew Edwards
This is an unfinished work – a snapshot of history as it occurred, experienced by me,
reported on social media, or retold by trusted comrades. It will lack the finality of hindsight.
Contained within is my account of the Oakland Insurrection, as it has unfolded over the
past days and weeks. Both the insurrection and this essay are works of hope. I hope that
we push forward on the streets of Oakland, the Bay Area, and everywhere else, to the limit
of what is possible – beyond occupation and the proposed general strike to “total freedom”
for us all.
Inspired by the uprisings across the world and fueled by the increasingly precarious
economic conditions across the United States, a callout was made for an occupation of
Wall Street. On September 17, 1000 people occupied the financial hub of the United
States and arguably global capitalism. Within days, dozens of towns and cities had their
own version of the #Occupy movement – with varying degrees of encampment, protest,
and organizing space; within weeks, hundreds of cities were occupied; within a month,
over a thousand worldwide.
Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza, renamed Oscar Grant Plaza by many Bay Area residents,
was occupied on October 10. Logistical planning started a week before the occupation
date, with #OccupyOakland fielding a fully functional canteen, childcare, medic, sound,
and general assembly area on day one, with person of color (POC), gender, and queer
safe spaces soon to follow. #OccupyOakland had the same populist rhetoric regarding the
problematic “homogeneous” nature of “#Occupy…”, but pushed the “99%” critique in a
decidedly anti-capitalist direction. Coupled with this was a distinctly anti-police and anti-
state tone that also translated into anti-oppression organizational forms.
On October 21 the city of Oakland presented the general assembly, the official organizing
body of #OccupyOakland, with a letter of eviction, citing “public safety.” The words of
OaklandCommune, posted October 19 on the Bay of Rage website, beautifully foreshadow
what transpired on October 25 and 26when the police made good on their threats:
Social rebels from around Oakland have descended upon Oscar Grant
Plaza and have created a genuine, autonomous space free of police and
unwelcoming to politicians. Whereas other occupations have invited the
police and politicians, or have negotiated with them, Occupy Oakland has
carved a line in the cement. That line of demarcation says: if you pass this,
if you try and break up or over shadow this autonomous space, you are well
aware, as observed over the last couple of years, what we are capable of.
The Bay Area’s history of social resistance is well documented, and it’s important to
remember the context behind the militancy seen around #OccupyOakland. The general
events these social rebels are referring to are the uprisings and demonstrations that have
occurred over the past three years in the Bay Area, responding to police violence and
To understand the events of the past week, one must understand the
atmosphere in which these actions took place. The most relevant of these demonstrations
revolve around three sets of riots that followed the murder of Oscar Grant III on January 1,
One week after Oscar’s murder by police, January 7, 2009, a rally at the Fruitvale BART
station transitioned into a march that eventually evolved into a riot, with running street
fights against police. The action resulted in 100 arrests and hundreds of thousands in
policing costs and property destruction. Johannes Mehserle, the officer who killed Grant,
was arrested one week later – a day before thousands marched through Oakland, serving
notice to the police that their actions had consequences.
A series of low and mid-intensity direct actions and marches occurred over the next 18
months until the verdict day, July 8, 2010, when Mehserle was ostensibly acquitted for
murder and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for shooting an unarmed and prone
Oscar Grant in the back. Police preparations, dubbed “Operation Verdict,” were one of the
largest local buildups of state and federal police forces in recent history.
The buildup
actually seemed to intensify popular opinion against the police. Operation Verdict not only
failed to stop another riot, where hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property was
destroyed, but also failed to arrest as many demonstrators as the riots of a year before.
Sentencing day, November 5. 2010, saw an evolution of police tactics that stopped the
march before it morphed into something greater. The march was kettled and everyone was
arrested in mass, all later to be released without charges.
Oscar Grant’s Legacy
I would like to recognize that Oscar Grant was a real person; with a daughter, family, and
friends. I would like to recognize this because the human element can get lost when we
make martyrs out of casualties. The actions around his death were living laboratories for
many Bay Area residents, specifically youth and political radicals – anarchists, anti-
authoritarians, and anti-capitalists. For some, this was the first time they had tasted tear
gas or felt the sting of a rubber bullet. The January 7 riot was a hurried affair, with people
quickly learning how to stay together, erect makeshift barricades, or set fires to necessitate
July 8 saw the forces of the state prepared and still unable to stop scores of “crews”
smashing shop windows.
Communication and coordination appeared to improve between
the various demonstration participants. Masks were worn and code names used. It was
apparent that even just a few “battle hours” dramatically increased a collectivity’s “street”
effectiveness, i.e. the ability to create social unrest and get away with it. Through these
events, it was revealed that street demonstrations, with riots in particular, did have an effect
on, if not public policy, then at least civic discourse.
There were failures as well. Media and state forces conspired to create the concept of the
“outside agitator” – the anarchist from afar whose only purpose was to smash. The actions
of property destruction seemed to overshadow the context in which they were used. The
tactic itself was the perfect expression of the powerlessness that people felt in demanding,
from an unjust state, some sort of “justice.” It was an action of tantrum, saying, “in this
protest zone, in this space of social rupture, I only have the ability to destroy.” A statement
like that, while unifying for the participants within that instant of “social rupture,” has little to
no organizing potential. And so the movement went from active conflict to history. Its steam
and momentum were lost. However, with its passing came a time of tactical and strategic
reflection, the results of which were practiced on the streets of Oakland under the banner of
#Occupy only a week ago.
The efforts and effects of the anarchist tradition in the Bay Area cannot be ignored, neither
in the case of Oscar Grant nor #OccupyOakland. There are hundreds of anarchists active
in “street level” actions; hundreds more working in various corporate, non-profit, alternative,
and other industries that bring money, logistical support, and experience when needed;
and hundreds still who are engaged in their own projects, communities, and building
The presence of such a high concentration of anarchists at radical or potentially explosive
demonstrations has influenced how people protest. To be sure, not every person at a demo
is an anarchist, far from it, but many have adopted anarchist practice. Masking up, wearing
black, and working in teams has created a safer and more disciplined force. The
attendance of anarchist street medics, propagandists, and experienced street fighters adds
a level of infrastructural and logistical support that makes actions on the streets feel
supported and emboldened. Traditionally organizing on egalitarian and non-hierarchical
planes, as well as a familiarity with consensus process, have facilitated the creation of a
strong general assembly. The creation of solidarity groups for those arrested at actions,
and access to the legal network that years of Bay Area activism created has been key in
movement progress. In both social movements the anarchist presence has been an
important, though by far not the only, element to any success.
This is not to say that an anarchist presence in the Bay Area has not had its troubles in
recent years. The attempt by the state to brand anarchists as “outsiders” failed in the
buildup of Operation Verdict, but did highlight racial and class issues that people are still
confronting. Furthermore there was a successful attempt to brand anarchists has violent,
although this was just one more step in a process dating back hundreds of years to
redefine “anarchism” in the negative. Still, the only contact that many people have had with
anarchists is the images presented by the media of “black-clad hooligans destroying
things.” The insurrectionary anarchist current that is alive within the Bay has showed itself
as a trend of attack, security culture, and tightknit networks. In the past it was inward
focusing and only surfaced in times of action, although the presence of many
insurrectionists at the general assemblies and their use of violence in a form different from
that of property destruction does give credence to the idea that this trend is maturing.
Insurrection and Strike
Throughout the week, preparations were made within the #OccupyOakland space for
arrival of police enforcing the eviction notices. The plan was to construct and defend
barricades to keep the Oakland Police Department (OPD) out for as long as possible. Over
the past two weeks, the police made only a handful of incursions into the autonomous
space. The response by those camped was always forceful yet disciplined, with the
distilled message being: “get out!” As a result there was little worry about the question of
“when” “they” would come. “They will come when they do,” one camper told me with a
shrug the night before the eviction. On Tuesday October 25, at 4:30 AM, hundreds of riot
police from over a dozen different agencies descended upon the camp. After calling a
dispersal order, police waited for five minutes before throwing concussion grenades,
launching tear gas, firing pepper and rubber bullets, and hitting people with batons. The
night concluded with around 80 arrests and some serious injuries.
A call out was made for 4 PM the same day to meet at the Oakland Library for a march to
Oscar Grant (OG) Plaza. A diverse crowd of over 1500 people arrived. They marched
around Oakland, swelling in numbers as people came into the streets. The police attacked
with gas, less-than-lethal rounds, and batons. Demonstrators responded with bottles and
paint balloons. Police snatch squads grabbed and beat protestors in full view of the crowd,
with a handful having to be taken to the emergency room.
The march continued to OG
Plaza where lines of riot police stood behind metal barricades blocking all possible
entrances. A standoff ensued.
At roughly 8:30 PM a crowd of 500 assembled at 14 and Broadway. After repeated
warnings the police attacked. The gas attack was the worst of the day. Injured protesters
littered the intersection, including Scott Olson, two-tour Marine veteran, who took a teargas
canister to the head. Others were blinded and choking on the gas. Numerous burn victims
from the gas canisters ran for cover; at least one of them needed plastic surgery on her
foot. The crowd recomposed within minutes, playing cat and mouse with the police,
rallying and taking the streets outside the barricades, fleeing from police attacks only to
form again.
The chatter of excitement and anger was easy to understand. Groups of people were
swapping stories from the days events. The gas was loosing its fear effect; these crowds
were not dispersing. Teenagers were laughing at each other’s snot and tear-soaked faces.
Older people were talking about the 1960s; “gas nowadays seems more potent,” they said.
Anarchist and other radical medics were helping gas victims. By about 10 PM it was
obvious that even though the group had failed to retake the plaza, they had in fact won two
important victories. #OccupyOakland was effectively in control of all of downtown Oakland
save OG Plaza. Or, to put it differently, the police had lost the initiative: they had lost their
mobility and the ability to dictate terms outside the range of their weapons. By controlling
the plaza they abdicated control of the rest of downtown Oakland to the occupiers.
Declaring victory on the ground, the hundreds of occupiers began to disperse to ready
themselves for the next day.
The second victory was not seen until the next day, when media outlets had no choice but
to broadcast images of the night’s insurrection. Grabbing the media’s attention as well was
the grievous injury to Scott Olson. Surviving two tours in Iraq to come home and be shot by
OPD sealed the police’s fate in the realm of public opinion. Not only had #OccupyOakland
succeeded in controlling the streets, they had also won over hearts and minds. As of this
writing it looks as though Scott will recover and not become a martyr for any cause, just
another victim of police brutality.
A general assembly was called for 6 PM on October 26. The police were nowhere in sight,
but some reported that they were massing at a nearby parking garage. They were never to
mobilize in any show of force. Bike patrols were passing back information, and a general
feeling of safety permeated the camp. The metal fence that had been set up by the city was
taken down, and once again the plaza was in the hands of #OccupyOakland. A proposal
was submitted for a general strike in Oakland on November 2. The proposal passed by
96.9%; 1484 votes for to 77 against, with 47 abstentions, more than enough in Oakland’s
modified consensus of 90% for the proposal to pass.
After the vote, 2000 people attempted to march for the downtown Oakland BART station to
travel to San Francisco, where it was reported that the SF occupation was to be attacked
by SFPD. The station was closed by BART officials, so the 2000-strong group marched
through Oakland, stopping once at the OPD headquarters to yell at the police, once at the
Oakland jail chanting in support of those incarcerated, and once under a freeway
overpass, to discuss whether the group should cross the Oakland/Bay bridge to support
#OccupySF. The march decided to retake OG Plaza instead.
A truly startling realization emerged among many of the anarchists present at the general
assembly. As thousands of people discussed the general strike proposal, others were
circulating and intermingling, talking about the victory of the night before. A major theme of
the discussion was the fact that so much had been gained without resorting to property
destruction. A tacit understanding developed amongst many of the radicals that no one
was going to physically stop any of the “wrecking crews” from smashing windows, but
people understood that much of the previous night’s victory could be attributed to the
images of police violence against protestors and the counter-violence of protestors against
the police. If there is an insurrectionary imperative to attack the state, that idea seemed to
gain support, at least among those in the general public who watched the live stream. The
march on October 25 showed how the protestors had done due diligence in their attempt to
remain “peaceful”; they responded to police violence with defensive force, instead of the
less understood (and less direct) tactic of attacking property. A violence of low-intensity
self-defense actually gained #OccupyOakland international support.
Lessons Learned
In the OG Plaza riots, the impotent violence that resulted in Mehserle’s arrest also doomed
the movement to remain marginal. People have many unresolved issues with property
destruction. It is my presumption that those in command of the police forces on the night of
the October 25 expected to see protester-initiated property destruction. Broken windows
have the power to retroactively rationalize the use of police violence. The destruction of the
camp and the attack on the march would suddenly seem understandable once the nightly
news flashed images of broken glass. Unfortunately for police command, the radical and
urban #OccupyOaklanders did not fall into their trap. There was no need; confronting OPD
and Alameda Sheriff’s Department was enough.
There was a very real feeling that if the OPD had changed its tactics on the night of
October 25, and – instead of holding positions and gassing protestors – went in for arrests,
the police might have started a fight that they were not prepared to win. There were roughly
equal number of police and #OccupyOaklanders, around 500 each, but the police were
spread out, covering the perimeter of OG Plaza, while the demonstrators were able to
focus all their numbers in one location. Even more impressive is that on the night of
October 26, with the police lacking the authority to act in response to #OccupyOakland’s
retaking of OG Plaza, the occupiers were able to push the police out of their autonomous
zone and defend it. This cohesion and the strength of will it produced is a direct result of
the reflections, lessons, and tactical considerations that grew from the OG riots. Those
initiating confrontations with police did so with discipline, and, dare I say it, style.
There has been a lot of talk about a lack of demands as a weakness of the #Occupy
movements. I hear their demands loud and clear. The critique of capitalism, opposition to
state power, clear revulsion towards the police, redefinition of social and power relations,
independent organization, cooperation, and the attempt to reconfigure our existing world
into one that is healthy for all; these are demands that are being made by those occupying.
The idea from the beginning was to create. In acts of creation power is returned. We have
held our ground, defended a space that is our own. Now we are organizing not just for
ourselves but also for others. A general strike will occur. The next question is clear: what
other cities will follow?
See you in the streets.
Matthew Edwards is a graduate student at UC-Santa Cruz, and an organizer in the Bay
Area. A native Californian, he has been involved in radical politics since refusing
deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002. Comments can be sent to anewhope AT
1. This phrase appeared on a massive banner by a contingent of Greek anarchists at the
2009 G-20 in Germany. While not explicitly Insurrectionist, the Greek anarchist tendency of
spectacular street battles has become synonymous with the Insurrectionary Anarchist
milieu that has dominated North American discourse in recent years.
2. For an amazing collection of news stories dating back over 10 years, see
3. The first murder of 2009 was committed by a police officer against an unarmed person of
4. It is also important to note that the National Guard was mobilized.
5. One could also use the term “affinity group,” but an affinity group is an expressly political
form of self organization that may not necessarily apply to all those who ran together that
6. It is important to point out that the police were not the only perpetrators of violence that
evening. One arrestee was punched, elbowed and pushed to the ground by an Oakland
fire department member who also made derogatory sexual and racial comments towards
him. Later in sheriff custody at the county jail he was beaten by at least four correctional
reports from the Bay Area, before and after the general strike.
Photo: David Lau
PART 1: Impressions on October 30, 2011
Occupy Everything, Liberate Oakland!
Late last Tuesday night, October 25th, social media feeds buzzed with the story of a two-
tour Marine veteran of Iraq, Scott Olsen, struck by a police projectile fired at close range
and left unconscious with a fractured skull. By Wednesday morning it was the lead story on
Berkeley’s Pacifica radio. A member of both Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against
the War, the twenty-four-year-old Olsen had been on the front lines of the downtown
Oakland march, protesting the dawn eviction of Occupy Oakland. Police from seventeen
different cities and from as far away as Gilroy exercised their right to assemble long-
coordinated strategies of repression on Tuesday night, shooting teargas and “fin-stabilized”
rubber bullets at the crowd from behind shields and body armor (all courtesy of last
decade’s Homeland Security grants). The cops even lobbed a “flash bang” grenade at the
group of protestors who attempted to pick up the injured Olsen, who now languishes,
finally conscious though unable to speak, in Highland Hospital.
Hearing the news, I thought of Rubén Salazar, struck in the head by a LAPD teargas
canister inside the Silver Dollar bar in the aftermath of the East LA anti-Vietnam
demonstration known as the Chicano Moratorium, in 1970. I thought of the several strikers
shot and killed by Bay Area police in the 1934 Maritime strike. The workers’ answer to
police murder in 1934 was to call a general strike in San Francisco.
The past ten days have been heady ones for the self-styled Oakland Commune. After
almost two weeks of being camped out downtown, an eviction order for the occupation
came on Thursday of last week. The exceptional situation in Oakland — exceptional even
in this surprising moment, with something like the left now occupying plazas and streets
nationwide — was suddenly under immediate threat. On Saturday, October 22nd, a joyous
march (featuring two bands as well as the infamous Book Bloc) made its way from Frank
Ogawa Plaza (now called Oscar Grant Plaza by the communards) to the Oakland farmers
market, where the marchers’ roar was aided by the amplification of the freeway they
paused below. From there they marched into a Chase branch, shutting it down, before
circling all the way around Lake Merritt and back up 14th street to the Plaza. The 3 plus
hours were captivating and exhausting, especially for those carrying the largest sign: a
sail-like black banner with the slogan “Revolt for a life worth living” emblazoned on it.
Two days later, on Monday afternoon, activist listservs filled with chatter about a possible
police eviction late Monday night. That eviction did come in the early hours on Tuesday,
and, even with a planned retreat in place, over 110 people got “popped,” with many
additional arrests later in the morning as occupiers attempted to claim their belongings
from the site. The charges the occupiers face are the familiar ones, trumped up and
unlikely to hold. In the current atmosphere, arrests, attacks, and repression only seem to
accelerate the movement’s development on a now-global media stage.
By mid-morning Tuesday plans were in place for a meet-up and march from the main
public library back to the occupation and commune site. The cops broke the peaceful
standoff at the corner of 14th and Broadway unceremoniously — harsh repression the
eight PM order of the night. The atmosphere for a crackdown had been steadily stoked by
those “who direct current economic production and the power of communication with which
it is armed” (to quote Guy Debord). Claims about an occupation full of rats, sexual assault,
drug use, defecation, urination, and violence saturated radio and TV. Oakland Mayor Jean
Quan even had the audacity to repeat some of these fallacious rumors in public
According to accounts, tear gas filled the air, and activists and protestors retreated a block.
Upon hearing of an injured person, though, several returned to the scene of the initial
confrontation, braving the chemical agents and projectiles. The tense standoff continued
throughout the night, with snake marches creeping back toward the plaza before new
rounds of tear gas were fired. Undeterred, reinforcements arrived (although there was
some attrition), and the marchers dictated the confrontations, with the police now seeming
more like “outside agitators.” Though the plaza was not retaken, and those arrested on
Tuesday night faced tougher charges and higher bail for being at the scene of a riot, the
momentum clearly seemed to be on the side of the Commune.
So You Want to Be a Real Revolutionary?
Occupy Oakland represents something of an “experimental field” for a variety of left
tendencies thriving, subsisting, or languishing in the Bay Area today. Wednesday night
saw the first nightly general assembly at Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza since the
occupation’s eviction. I arrived at six with Aaron Benanav (we roared up the 17 and 880
Mehserle.) What will the transit unions do? On the same day police repression cost the city
precious dollars, the Oakland School Board announced the closure of five elementary
schools. The teachers union in Oakland (OEA), a central mediator for the struggle in
neighborhoods and active in the March Fourth Day of Action in 2010, may be crucial; the
union provides a key channel for the anger of parents and students. Planned actions for
education in California are set for November 9th and 16th.
At the strike meeting last night (October 29th), it became clear that the unions would not
call for a strike, though they will encourage members to support the call in other ways.
(Take a “personal” day!) Bus drivers will allow leaflets to be passed out on their lines. A
motion was passed to picket jobs sites that retaliate against workers for not coming in.
Public sector unions generally have no strike clauses in their contracts, making strikes
possible only in expired contract situations. Boxed-in union leadership need not call a
wildcat action. As the case of the New York transit strike showed in 2005, right-wing judges
will treat the leadership very harshly even in situations where the union has cause and
public support. The ILWU, however, does not have to cross a picket line, and Friday’s strike
meeting saw the passage of a resolution to march to the ports and attempt to create the
conditions for ILWU members to leave the workplace. If neighborhoods mobilize, then
many things are possible. The whole day may culminate in an enormous rally downtown,
around quitting time.
And now the endless blur of weeks slows down. The days shift shapes, shed their
regularity, and “imitate nature, which is changeable” (Machiavelli). Unprecedented
horizons emerge by the late afternoon. At midnight the sun blazes. We have been in effect
subject to a permanent state of economic emergency these past four years. The November
2nd general strike will offer a historic demonstration against the crisis. It’s going to be an
interesting month.
PART 2: Impressions from November 8, 2011
Only One Side Is Armed
The fine tooth combs continue to run over Occupy Oakland’s general strike on Wednesday,
November 2nd, its sequence of marches, port shutdown, and building occupation. News,
however, is just now trickling out about military veteran Kayvan Sabehgi (two tours in Iraq
and one in Afghanistan), currently recovering from surgery for a spleen lacerated by a
beating police administered during his arrest early Thursday morning, November 3rd, near
the occupied Traveler’s Aid building on 16th in downtown Oakland. As opposed to the
case of Scott Olsen, which immediately surged to the attention of the nation, Sabehgi’s
story is emerging by way of international sources. The repetition of events marks out a
decisive contrast in their coverage: first a tragedy, then a farce.
According to his own account, 32-year-old Sabehgi was surrounded by a group of cops —
he was then struck, forced down, and struck repeatedly with batons. In severe pain, he
arrived at jail where the “nurse” suggested a suppository for his vomiting and diarrhea.
When he was finally bailed out the following afternoon, he was too weak to leave his cell.
His jailers shut the door; eventually an ambulance rushed him to treatment. While
corporate media outlets busily reported on the “violent” window breaking and graffiti from
Wednesday, the real violence the thousands on the ground saw was, as usual,
concentrated in the hands of the state.
freeways from Santa Cruz) to find a crowd of at least two thousand posted up around the
temporarily fenced-off plaza park grounds. Instead of the previous night’s enormous police
presence, activists and folks of every sensible stripe were there: unionists,
environmentalists, parents with kids, older couples, brothers and sisters from the hood,
folks from the barrio. Some big exhalations of I-grade Oaksterdam weed filled the air. I
counted at least four helicopters circling overhead.
But rather than luxuriate in the festival, the general assembly got down to business. As we
circled around to the PA, the open microphone part of the affair gave way to the proposals
portion of the meeting. There was only one: a general strike for November 2nd in the city of
Oakland, including walkouts at local schools, with a general mass convergence
downtown. Oakland, as several speakers reminded us, was the site of the last US general
strike, in 1946. The sheer size of this general assembly tested the limits of consensus-
based organizing as participants voiced several concerns: What we would do if the
National Guard were called up? Are we thinking of what a strike at a hospital means?
Have unions and community organizations been contacted?
Concerns of this sort were beyond the scope of the initial proposal format. Groups of 20
formed out of the GA for discussion. A comments period then ensued. The Coup’s Boots
Riley spoke for many in the crowd when he argued for the strike as a way to build on the
sustained momentum of the Occupy movement: a movement composed from a wide
spectrum of the left, with participants from recent anti-police brutality campaigns, 2009’s
anti-austerity campus struggles, as well as from the 2003 antiwar movement.
Friedrich Hölderlin wrote: “Where the danger is / Find the saving power.” Risking more
than ever, the movement was finding its latent coordination suddenly activated. When the
comments period ended people voted in groups of twenty. The count had almost 1500 in
favor and fewer than 150 abstaining or opposed. With restrained police presence all night,
Mayor Quan’s office seemed to be doubling back. As of this writing, the mayor is suffering
some serious political wounds.
From Occupation to General Strike
Next Wednesday, November 2nd, it was decided, a species of what we might call a
“postmodern general strike” will come lumbering out of the revolutionary textbook. This
transmutation of the mass strike form, glimpsed on Paris streets in ‘68, at a time when
tactics and strategic developments were adopted from guerrilla wars of decolonization,
raised its head once more. As a recent Forbes article points out, there has not been a
general strike in the United States in over 60 years. Deemed artificial by earlier Marxists,
and then of historical consequence by Rosa Luxemburg in the aftermath of the 1905
Russian Revolution, the mass strike now seems to be both artificial and historically
consequential simultaneously. Living with the absence of both a radical proletarian
movement and an organized party to offered it meaningful coordination, some at the
Wednesday night meeting puzzled over how the strike could be effectively realized. Would
unions be involved? Will we persuade corporate workers to sick out? What about the small
or progressive business owners? Some people have to go to work, right? We’ll see.
Certainly the catalytic element of the movement will have to force this beautiful monster
into being with some blend of a “flying picket,” a march, a street battle, or a blockade; a
strong presence at the ports will be needed. (The tough-minded ILWU Local 10 shut down
the port a year ago in the run up to the final sentencing of Oscar Grant’s killer Johannes
The mainstream media has now entered a second phase of its campaign against the
Oakland Commune, with talk of “emergency” as backdrop to fabricated reports. In one
instance, NPR and the San Francisco Chronicle blankly repeated police chief Howard
Jordan’s screwball estimate of 7,000 people at the port shutdown (other mediatized
estimates were as low as 4,000). A correction was later issued. The two successive,
massive waves of marchers from Oscar Grant Plaza amounted to at least 100,000 people.
This was the strike the Wall Street Journal claimed (with lame diction) had “largely fizzled.”
Given the limited rights of workers in our private sector, the limited contracts of the
unionized public sector, the many people who live paycheck to paycheck barely making
ends meet, and the fracturing of the Bay Area left in recent years (and since the advent of
the crisis), the numbers and size of the coordinated demonstration seem that much more
To begin at the end: the building occupation fell in a hail of tear gas, non-lethal “force,” and
arrest. The Traveler’s Aid building, what some were calling the Raheim Brown Community
Center, (temporarily?) closed down once again. The building had been strategically
entered earlier that evening (not “just before midnight”), and with heavy rains across the
Bay Area, access to buildings seems all the more necessary to the occupation,
symbolically as well as practically. As the housing crisis for many continues to deepen
(devaluation, eviction, foreclosure), protecting the vulnerable by reclaiming abandoned
buildings and residences seems a prescient, path-blazing move. At its most radical,
occupying buildings contests the idea of private property; in California we feel the
contradiction acutely, with so many homeless and so many vacant properties and homes.
The media’s attempt to normalize the police violence establishes pacifism as the only
“acceptable” form of Occupy politics. The diversity of tactics and general inclusivity of the
rest of the Oakland Commune is demonized or ignored.
Big Wednesday
The general strike rolled out with morning “flying pickets” aimed at Wells Fargo, Chase,
and Bank of America — all of which refused to close their doors. Marchers chanted and
sang, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” When Specialty Bakery threatened their
workers to prevent them from striking, the picket flew over. An early estimate had pre-
noontime crowds on the street at 5,000. I arrived from Santa Cruz around 1 PM with a
group of friends; our preparations included creating medic kits with a liquid mix of antacid
for teargas; a back-pocket pair of toenail clippers in case of zip cuffing; and plenty of water
and sandwiches. We walked up Franklin and encountered one of the many flying pickets,
this one shutting down the University of California Office of the President.
We had arrived in time for the Anti-Capitalist March. Think Seattle 1999, Greece 2008. A
black banner with the slogan “Death to Capitalism” hung at the 14th and Telegraph
intersection. At the front of the march another black banner read “If We Cannot Live We
Will Not Work,” yet another, “Long Live the Do-It-Yourself Revolution” with accompanying
Arabic translation. A group of black-clad, masked, and fast-moving demonstrators
(sometimes called the “Black Bloc”) tore through ordinary matter like a quantum particle at
the front of the crowd. They smashed up windows of a Chase Bank in broad daylight, and
would later do the same to a Bank of America. These anarcho-communists and ultra-
leftists were aware of being raised to the level of big capital’s spectacular montage as they
chanted: “Fuck the property of the one percent.” (Those wanting everyone to show their
face should remember the lesson of campus struggles two years ago, the site of
occupation movement’s origins: avoid detection, avoid punishment. Any actual political
resistance will have its rendezvous with domestic intelligence services.) Whether stunned
or ready for the rowdiness, the large march trailing them kept on.
Their next target: Whole Foods. New at the checkout line alongside the rare chocolate and
digestible good conscience: a left-wing action against liberal PC consumerism. With a mix
of white spray paint and paint balloons, the groupuscule hit up the front of supermarket with
an enormous graffito: strike. They made their way to the large side windows of the store
and after repeated attempts at bringing the window down, the “peace police” began
chanting “peaceful protest” and did so threateningly enough to force the “Black Bloc” on to
their next target. “Union busting is disgusting!” their supporters chanted back.
The current hegemony of “peaceful protest” has kept property destruction contained, but
the growing sentiment on the march seemed to be: Fuck it. Give me a rock, or better yet a
dense D battery. “Though we wanted to pave the way for friendliness, we could not
ourselves be friendly,” wrote Brecht. The rightist argument also goes that building
occupations, property damage, and other radical tactics will only attract the cops and
provoke an attack on the broader movement, necessarily limiting participation. First
proviso: don’t misapprehend the police, an active rather then merely reactive force. They
will come to building occupations and other attempts at expropriation in the middle of the
night, when the crowd thins or tires, when they can maximize their comparative advantage
in weaponry and discipline. In deep-blue-state California, repression is well organized.
Second proviso: don’t forget the actual history of struggles, remembering only Martin
Luther King Jr., while forgetting both Malcolm X and Robert Williams. Thus the left-
adventurist subject — the product of conscious revolutionary study and mobilization —
reared up in the crowd.
Barbeques Every Day
Back at Oscar Grant Plaza, we found a great restless festival. Buses arrived to take folks
down to the port. Some unionists cooked out on enormous grills. And the four o’clock
march to the port was something else — red flags, black flags, posters, pickets, marching
bands, bikes galore, crust punks, militants, burners. I saw poets, former students, old
friends, even two of my literary mentors, amid a vast current of strangers.
I was shooting footage on the march and kept on getting ahead and behind a certain group
of friends before losing them altogether. I encountered other friends then moved off by
myself. At one point I had to stop and put a new memory card in my camera. I kneeled
down and struggled with the package for a few minutes. As I stood up again and looked
around, I found myself in another dimension of the several-mile-long and very dense
march. The cramped valley of corporate buildings could hardly accommodate the
mobilization. Mostly assembled since the 80s, with the Los Angeles Men’s County Jail and
Gehry’s Disney Hall as the two sides of their aesthetic ideal, these “junk space” columns of
glass, air-conditioning, and steel are the “great” architectural measure of corporate
globalization. Without a central square plus enormous amplification (à la Mexico City’s
Zocalo), a crowd this size can neither be easily spoken to nor coordinated. Regardless,
this crowd was going somewhere.
Entering one of the ports of today’s global capitalism, one has the feeling of entering into
some parallel universe. Marx pointed out that large-scale machinery develops in a combat
with workers, and this battlefield has almost entirely wiped them out. Dirty with diesel and
truck tire particulate, these enormous spaces subdivide into berths and terminals for the
world’s shippers: Evergreen, TKY Logistics, China Shipping. I had spent some time filming
at the port of Long Beach one lonely Saturday some years ago with my friend Cooper
Brislain, and this was different — dramatic and exhilarating. Before the final bridge to the
port the march hit a freeway overpass. The stalled truckers honked and the exuberant
crowd roared as did the several groups that moved under the pass. And from the final
bridge one got a good look at the port’s scale. I stalled out at the bridge for long enough to
see the 5 PM wave of marchers come through, even bigger than the earlier march.
Suddenly my phone blew up with texts and calls. The front of the march had reached the
crucial berth 22 some three miles into the port. Riot cops formed a visible line. I
remembered the 2003 antiwar demonstration at the port of Oakland in which gas and non-
lethal rounds were deployed against the demonstrators. The circling picket, a couple
thousand strong, was actually preventing the port from operating. Police helicopters trained
spotlights on people from overhead. An arbitrator was called in to decide whether the port
should shut down because of unsafe working conditions. I walked Maritime Avenue for
miles to catch up. The old saying is true: If you go far enough on any California street,
eventually you find a taco truck. There were two along the route, both nearly sold out. By
the time I got there the cops had split.
At the picket, several friends were talking to an ILWU member named Charles. He was
explaining many of the particulars of a port shutdown. The ILWU itself is involved in a
continual low-intensity conflict with its employers. Partial shutdowns and continual
slowdowns are among their normal tactics. Charles told us that if the picket stayed, any
attempt to restart the port’s operation (at 3 AM and 6 AM) would be thwarted. The choke
point of just-in-time production would cut big capital’s airflow a full 24 hours.
At one point, Charles asked a disarming question: “Who are all these people?”
I told him that the five of us in front of him were in teachers and teaching assistant unions
(UC-AFT, UAW local 2865), and that the broader movement was composed of folks from
the Justice for Oscar Grant struggle, the antiwar movement, environmentalists…
“Oh, OK, so everybody,” he replied. “Well, we’re with you.” (In the anticipatory words of
James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: “here comes everybuddy.”)
The strike call had been a strange one for the union brothers. Charles heard about it on TV
and then he and other workers discussed it in the ILWU union hall. In the ordinary
conditions of these depoliticized decades, the proximate cause of a strike is usually a
specific contract negotiation or grievance, like one against shippers fighting any
compensation for a worker who had lost her legs in a port accident. But these were
increasingly extraordinary times, and this was far from a normal strike call.
As 8 PM approached, Boots Riley got on the bullhorn to announce that the port was shut
down. We would be the lead group spearheading a march back downtown. Four or five of
us left a bit before everyone else. A mile on, back at 7th and Maritime, we found another
large crowd. There were four different human microphones going simultaneously in a
frantic attempt to communicate. Things finally coalesced around preventing a news van
from passing through the intersection. The driver was told to walk home and chants of
“Fuck the corporate media” resounded in the chopper blade air. The first attempt at
coordinating such a sizable crowd was breaking down before our eyes. The numbers
necessary to defend the building occupation downtown might not be able to make it back.
Famished, we left for pizza at a friend’s nearby West Oakland apartment, before making
our way back downtown to the occupied building on 16th street. Another Brecht line
echoed in my head, “Our goal lay far in the distance, it was clearly visible.”
The Sun at Night
With the financial crisis beginning a new round of intensification this fall, the occupation
movement across the U.S. will need to expropriate buildings, workplaces, and schools
across the country in order to survive and thrive this winter and beyond. It will need
permanent architecture, alongside enduring encampment with the country’s homeless and
poorest people. But, on this Wednesday night, a single building would have to do. We
walked down Broadway to 16th street and encountered minimal police presence just after
10 PM. Two helicopters circled over downtown. A makeshift trash barricade cut 16th off
from Telegraph. Down 16th, a large, energetic, but also nervous crowd surrounded the
building. An “Occupy Everything” poster faced out from the second story window.
Statements were being read over bullhorn while dance music played. Inside a library was
already set up.
A hurried conversation with one group of comrades shifted to reports of police advancing in
two directions. (A local homeless man later told me he had seen 30 vans of cops coming
down Broadway.) A protestor line formed on 16th. Protestor gas masks, goggles, helmets,
painters masks all came out. The black flag went up over the action. The police formed a
line across Broadway as they slowly crept toward us, before fanning out over Telegraph.
Eventually they appeared along the main thoroughfare north of the plaza. As hostilities
commenced with a police charge, the barricade along sixteenth exploded in flames for a
few minutes. The cops fired volleys of tear gas, flash bang grenades (with “Made in
Wyoming” labels), and rubber bullets. The protestor line was forced back toward 15th
Street. The air was thick with the acidic particulates. Bottles, bricks and projectiles were
hurled at the cops. Flames leapt into the air. There were reports of a primitive m80 cannon.
I recalled the means Argentina’s Zanon factory occupation used to keep police at bay in
2002 during some of their pitched struggles to defend their worker-controlled factory:
marbles and slingshots.
Some of us fell back to the Oscar Grant Plaza before being successively rallied back up to
the line. There were reports of beatings and mass arrests on 16th. Here was resistance in
the age of Obama. We consoled one young woman who was weeping for her suffering
comrades. I tried to sooth the nerves of two young men disconcerted by protestors throwing
bottles and other projectiles.
The tense standoff continued until nearly 4 AM, by which point the building was firmly back
in state hands. Some thought the police would attempt to dismantle the plaza encampment
again. They appeared, however, still politically hampered by their last plaza incursion. If
buildings can be occupied downtown in Oakland in the coming weeks and months (and
this seems something of a necessity), the failure to “hold the space” Wednesday night may
be seen in a new and brighter light. The abandoned Traveler’s Aid building remains ripe
for the picking.
The General Assembly the previous Friday night, November 4th, had revealed some splits
and divisions among the participants. The proposal format requires a high level of
consensus (80-90%) for any actionable results. A member of a GA subcommittee reported
hearing talk of violence directed against the “anarchists” in the camp by a vocal but hostile
and threatening minority, seen by the majority as a “rightist deviation,” likely no more than
20% of regular participants. Brian explained that the sound system he has operated since
the first day was off for the night in protest; he and others identified as anarchists felt
physically threatened. The labor subcommittee reported some complaints from union
leadership about the unspeakable “violence” done to some bank windows on Wednesday.
IWW carpenter John Reimann forcefully defended the anarcho-communist wing of Occupy
Oakland, pointing out their absolutely essential presence in the movement, one from which
he had learned a great deal.
The comments period began. A city worker from SEIU local 1021 explained that he and
other plaza building workers wanted to coordinate closely with the occupation by forming a
subcommittee to do so. An immigration activist talked about how to bring more vulnerable
workers into the struggle. Someone criticized Wednesday’s direct action by quoting Mao
Zedong’s old line: “The contradictions among the people regarding revolutionary tactics
are not the same as the contradictions among the people and its enemy.” Despite the
presence of a vocal “peace police” minority, the night’s solidaristic vibe dominated
The General Assembly on Friday proposed the formation of neighborhood assemblies.
These assemblies would mobilize around a ballot initiative to give them, not city
bureaucrats, some power over a budget process that currently sees some 50% of its
money go toward policing. The comments period of the GA saw suggestions circulate
around three crucial concerns: the defense of Oakland residents facing eviction or
foreclosure; the occupation of foreclosed or vacant properties; the defense and occupation
of schools in the growing education crisis in California. The mediating power of
neighborhood assemblies with respect to expanding the coordination of the movement
could prove tremendous even if a ballot initiative goes down to electoral defeat.
The weather has changed and the mood in Oakland is now colored by deeper
experiences, trials in flame and storm. The movement finds itself more developed than
anyone could have foreseen even a few weeks ago. Much remains to be done, and much
concerted pressure remains to be applied, in the shadows of an intermittent sun.
David Lau is the author of the book of poems Virgil and the Mountain Cat (University of
California Press). He co-edits Lana Turner: a Journal of Poetry and Opinion and teaches
writing at UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College.
Image: David Lau
We welcome letters to the editors, on this or any other subject, at

October 25

first raid
The Morning After the Attack on the Oakland
Commune « Anti-Capital Projects
We knew that it would happen.
If you live with others in a public space in a city, if you set up shelters in which people can
live without owning or renting property, if you set up an outdoor kitchen with which to feed
anyone who wants food, if you establish a free school at which anyone can read and learn,
if you set up bathroom facilities provided by organizations supporting your activities, if you
show solidarity with struggles against police killings and police violence against people of
color, against the poor, against women, against queers and transpeople, if you state your
determination to defend the space you have created against the threat of eviction, in short
—if you work toward organizing ways of living and relating to one another that might
challenge those mandated by capitalism, your efforts will eventually be crushed by the
We know this because we know that the question is not whether the police are “part of the
99%,” on the basis of their salary. What is called the 99% is ruptured by many divisions.
Among these is the dividing line that runs between those who want to change the world
and those who uphold the status quo, between those who work to undermine the brutal
order of property and those who work to enforce it. For those who transform the world by
challenging capitalist economic and social relations, working to displace and overturn
them, the police are one among many enemies. We know it is their job to destroy what we
create, and it is no surprise when they do that.
At 4:30 am on October 25, Occupy Oakland was raided by more than 500 police from
multiple counties. From a comrade who was there:
At the time of this writing I am filled with rage. Occupy Oakland, on its
second week, was raided by an overwhelming force of approximately 800
police in riot gear. I was there, ready to defend when police from all
entrances to Oscar Grant Plaza rushed in with sticks and began beating
people. Their tactics were simple but effective: rush in with overwhelming
numbers and push out those that intended to stay for a fight, slowly crush
resilience of those who took up the tactic of civil disobedience by linking
arms and protecting the camp. They beat people with sticks, shot people
with rubber bullets, obliterated ear-drums with flash-bang grenades, and
choked them with tear gas.
What wrenches on these mornings (so many, for so many of us), what presses out on our
temples, constricts our chests, fills our throats so that it can’t be properly spoken is a
contradiction: we knew that this would happen; we can’t accept that it has happened. We
know, insofar as we struggle, that our struggle will be repressed. But no amount of knowing
can fortify against the sickness that we feel every time an army of cops rolls in to brutalize
and arrest our friends and comrades.
All the tents are down, pots are strewn everywhere, the library scattered, the garden
stomped, the Commune is in ruins. “Though it fed thousands for free and welcomed the
city’s desperately poor homeless population, this public park can hopefully now return to its
natural state of being completely empty.” Dozens of smug assholes and their batons
surround the emptiness they prefer to the fragile possibilities that were created, getting
paid overtime to chat across their barricades with idiots who think the cops are on the
same side as those they just attacked and threw in jail, while others hurl insults against
dead ears.
The Oakland Commune matters not because it could have lasted any longer than it did
and not because of how many cops it took to tear it down. It matters because for as long as
it was there it was evidence that the impossible resides in the heart of our cities, amongst
those who already live together on the streets, amongst those willing to live with them. It
isn’t that this is “Round One” of a longer fight. It isn’t that those who lived and worked there
all day and all night “will be back.” It isn’t that this is “just the beginning.” It isn’t just the
beginning because it’s been going on for a long time, because the history of struggle is the
history of capitalism. Because the history of capitalism, in its unfolding, in the movement of
its contradiction with itself, is the coming into being of communism. If we won’t be back in
Oscar Grant Plaza, if the Oakland Commune won’t be there as it was for two weeks, that is
because we are everywhere, and the substance of history articulates itself unceasingly
across the movement of what it creates. That is not an abstraction; it’s a letter of solidarity
from Cairo, arriving the afternoon before the tents are torn down: “An entire generation
across the globe has grown up realizing, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future
in the current order of things….So we stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down
the old but to experiment with the new.” Our true loves are everywhere, a friend replies. We
won’t be back because we’re not going anywhere.
For a long time we have dreamed the end of capitalism. The twenty-first century is the time
in which that dream will come true. We are waking up, and we are learning again, among
one another, how to use our tired bodies. This is what it feels like to wake in a tent on the
grass of Oscar Grant Plaza. Comrades in Baltimore write, “this occupation is inevitable, but
we have to make it.” Nothing of that dialectic can be displaced by the police.
“The revolution” does not exist. It is not a horizon to be struggled toward, and no movement
in the history of struggles has “failed.” The real movement is the movement of bodies,
working on what exists. If the occupation is inevitable, it is because it is what is happening
everywhere, now. If we have to make it, it is because our bodies are the material collective
that it is. If it is repressed, its inevitability remains. The twenty-first century is the time of that
inevitability, because the limit it surges against, repression, is also the dynamic of its
movement: in its death throes, the openly repressive forces of capital are the manifestation
of its own weakness, returning people to the destitution from which they revolt. “This
occupation is inevitable, but we have to make it,” because in a time of mass debt, of mass
foreclosures, of ruthless austerity, of sprawling slums, there will be no alternative to the
material necessity of taking what we need and using it amongst ourselves.
None of this makes a difference this morning, while the enemy guards its ruins and our
comrades are in jail. But if we knew this morning would come, we also know that the
clocks have already stopped, that the real movement continues, and that time is on our
You’re currently reading “Letter from an Anonymous Friend: The Morning After the Attack
on the Oakland Commune,” an entry on Anti-Capital Projects
October 25, 2011 / 10:44 pm
This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.
OCTOBER 26, 2011
1000 Strong March at Sunset
The Razing of Occupy Oakland at
In the early morning on Tuesday, starting before 5 am, the police temporarily
destroyed Occupy Oakland, sending in a riot squad of over 500 that outnumbered
protesters almost 3 to 1. Oscar Grant Plaza (officially Frank Ogawa Plaza) was too
geographically large and open to be adequately defended against the armed tactical
operation. Despite swallowing a lot of pride in watching the space get torn apart and
dozens submit to arrest, Occupy Oakland made big strategic steps by picking our
fights, beginning to define the terms of our struggle, preserving our forces, and
maintaining the moral high-ground against a ‘Socialist’ mayor who is now wedded,
however abusively, to the Oakland Police Department. Twelve hours later 1000
people marched against the police as stuck commuters cheered them on. Whatever
the former communist Mayor once knew about dialectics, she apparently quickly
forgot when she took office.
The formerly leftist Mayor succumbed to OPD pressure by raiding Oscar Grant Plaza
and signing on to support a youth curfew in the last few days, after Police Chief Batts
stepped down two weeks ago due to tensions with the mayor. The City Attorney left
for similar reasons earlier in the year. In a progressive town with a vibrant history of
resistance, where Occupy Oakland has broad support, the Mayor has succumbed,
without much visible struggle, to the forces that truly run this town – the police, the
fear-mongering media that thinks ‘Oakland’ is simply a synonym for ‘murder,’ and
the wealthy and upper-middle class that clamor for more and more law and order.
The ruling class and political establishment do not much care that the cost of that law
and order is the gutting, not only of peoples’ rights, but also schools, libraries, health
clinics, jobs programs, after-school programs and more that the ruling strata don’t
personally need to survive, unlike a large and growing number of people who are
slipping from struggling to desperation.
The fact that a Mayor who is seen as ‘ultra-Left’ could preside over such a budget, one
that cedes roughly 2/3
of total city funds to the police, and then bend to the police
when they ask for full control of the city, tells us a number of things. The real
enemies of the majority of the city’s residents – the working class, working poor and
dispossessed – are the people who run the city. Electing more ‘radical’ politicians is
an utter waste of time. When the State destroys our occupation, or smears us, or
race-baits white radicals, or sends undercover cops into our space, or tries to
intimidate us, they draw lines that they cannot erase in the minds of the Occupiers. A
chant of ‘shame’ directed at police who beat and arrested a man simply for taking
video quickly turned to a resounding ‘Fuck the Police.’ They are the enemy, they
made that point clear to everyone who didn’t already know. Now what?
“Every hour, every day, occupation is here to stay!”
As the sun was coming up in downtown Oakland Tuesday morning, many of the
evicted Occupiers snake marched through downtown, out-maneuvering the police, as
workers made their way to their jobs honking and yelling their support. One of us
apologized to a white working-class man, in his 30s, in worn overalls whose old pick-
up was blocked by our presence in the street; as he hooked a u-turn, he said with a
smile that there was no need to apologize and that we should keep fighting. There
was a controlled anger and an overwhelmingly clear look of determination in the eyes
of the evicted that we would come back stronger. Not next week, but in a few hours.
And we did.
A 4 pm re-convergence was called that became a march of over 1000. I believe that is
the biggest number of people to come out at one time over the whole vibrant two
weeks at Occupy Oakland. Early, after the main raid Tuesday morning, the Occupy
movement re-took a smaller park in Oakland, Snow Park near Lake Merritt, that had
also been held and was lost in a police raid earlier Tuesday morning. There are no
public plans, but several Occupiers expressed a strong desire to re-occupy Oscar
Grant Plaza. A few people I spoke with said the police would need to put up a fence,
barbed wire and have 24-hour patrols to keep us out – at which point we would
occupy something bigger and better. Tuesday morning was the end of the beginning.
Tuesday night is shaping up to be the beginning of something more as police fire tear
gas amidst their own periodic retreat.
Who Occupies Oakland?
The order of the day is to decolonize, transform, and liberate Oakland. This means
being real about who actually occupies Oakland. Politically, economically,
discursively, militarily – the Oakland police run this town. At one point Tuesday
morning a phalanx of riot cops blocked us from the scores of other cops tearing down
free schools, medical clinics, a kitchen, dozens of tents, our abandoned barricades – a
whole mini-township and community that had been built over the last two weeks. A
young protester yelled at the police line that they had brought a ‘fascist police state’
to the city. The truth is that all that happened was a geographical redeployment of an
already existing militarized police force from the Deep East, Fruitvale, and West
Oakland into downtown for the night. What the racially and politically diverse
Occupy Oakland encampment faced in the early hours of the morning was a glimmer
of the daily, lived experience of black and brown working class people in this city.
From racial profiling gang injunctions to recently fast-tracked curfews, and ongoing
killings of unarmed black men, there has been a police state here for many years –
that means more than evictions, but life and death.
Oakland has long been occupied by a police force that lives largely elsewhere, in
comfortable suburban homes bought and furnished by exorbitant salaries that start
at $90,000 per year, for rookies, before overtime. The police are not part of the 99%
– that goes without saying. They are obviously not in the top 1% of earners either, no
matter how hard their Chief and union have been trying to get them there.
Furthermore, the whole ‘99%’ language glosses over contradictions, erases
oppression and paralyzes us, in a similar sense that consensus does. While we
shouldn’t shun populism, we erase and reproduce a whole lot of inequality by using
this frame. While the percentage may not be 99%, most of the people who live in this
city not only want change – they need it. The first part of destroying inequality is
shedding light on it. The first step to undermining it is recognizing privilege and
oppression in a way that builds solidarity and trust through engaged political work
all over the city. That work has begun and will continue.
From Speaking Truth to Power, to Becoming Our Own Power
We are in the initial stages of what will be a long series of struggles. We shouldn’t be
wedded to any static plan or draw from outdated blueprints or de-contextualized (or
unintelligible) theories. The inequalities we seek to destroy are primarily political –
about power and self-determination – or the lack thereof. The general sentiment of
the Occupy movement is about transcending existing political institutions, about
ridding ourselves of politicians, not replacing them. I think that those of us who
hadn’t come to the conclusion already are beginning to see that speaking truth to
power is not a strategy, or even a logical impulse.
The movement from the occupation of public parks to the occupation of private
property, workplaces, universities, shuttered public schools in many cities, foreclosed
homes, etc. is a likely scenario in the coming months. Tactical escalation will
necessitate political and organizational development to broaden our bases and begin
to gain the active and engaged support of larger and larger segments of the broader
society. The movement needs to align itself with the struggles of the most oppressed
– making issues like police brutality and occupation in communities of color,
persecution of immigrants and acute joblessness central – while also linking with
university student struggles over fees, student loans, and cuts, and with workers
inside and outside of workplaces. The State’s biggest fear is the coalescing of these
populations and the existing movements around these issues. We saw this in the
non-profit/police/media/politician mantra of outside agitators when anarchists
joined the Oscar Grant struggle. Their biggest fear is in our solidarity, in our
collaboration and potential cohesion. We need to figure a way to be their waking,
spreading, ever-present nightmare.
The idea that 99% of the population in this country is going to support a just social
order, here and now, is more than a little naive, but believing that simple protest and
activism alone will transform this society is even more naive. We need to build our
own political structures and our own politics, rooted in participatory and accountable
democratic processes at the local level.
I am not proposing a vanguard party or even a platform. I am simply trying to push
the conversation. We shouldn’t misread the Zapatista call to ‘make the road by
walking it’ as being synonymous with the old deadhead slogan ‘Not all who wander
are lost.’ We don’t have to march in line, but we don’t have time to wander.
If we, in fact, ‘want everything,’ lets figure out how to get it. And then get on with
getting it.
Mike King is a PhD candidate at UC–Santa Cruz and East Bay activist. He can be
reached at mking(at)

October 25
march to take back plaza
On the Previous Few Days, And What Is to
On the Previous Few Days, And What Is to Come…
Posted by OaklandCommune on Thursday, October 27, 2011 · Leave a Comment
Oakland Takes Out The Trash.
Tuesday, 3am – 7am
On Monday, October 24th the second weekend of #OccupyOakland had come and gone;
charisma from Saturday’s march [link] had passed and a police raid was imminent. Beyond
popular speculation that the city and the police were planning the destruction of Oscar
Grant Plaza, there were a few obvious clues that Monday night would be the night. For
one, the city had issued letters to select businesses around the plaza suggesting that there
would be police activities sometime in the coming day. In addition, the city seems to have
forced the Fire Marshall to come to the occupation to “remove” the propane tanks (and thus
restricting us from cooking on site).
Before the rubber bullets and concussion grenades, the hundred or so arrests and
unrelenting spider mobs that saturated downtown Oakland, there was joyous, eager
barricading. It was trash night. The already desolate streets surrounding Oscar Grant Plaza
were quickly cleared of whatever debris could act (symbolically and/or effectively) as an
impediment to the police. Locked in an alley of City Hall were nearly one hundred metal
police barricades. They were quickly liberated from their cage and placed strategically
around the encampment. Reports trickled in slowly: several police units, from many
agencies all the way out to Vacaville, were mobilizing and traveling to the plaza via
motorcade or BART. Arguments broke out at the occupation – some called for a united
strategy of defense, while many continued building barricades, spray painting and
hammering away at the cobblestone floor. Eventually, around 4am, the distant sirens
quickly turned into dozens of police units in formation, giving dispersal orders before
attacking the encampment.
There was hopeful but little supposition that these people and barricades could deter the
police, let alone defend the camp. When the spotlights from police helicopters began
indiscriminately scanning the plaza, a panic fevered the already frantic people. It took only
moments to realize that to stay inside the plaza was hopeless. Those intent on posturing
and symbolically “standing their ground”, were subject to projectiles, batons and ultimately
arrest. The scene was panicked, oppressive and defeating. For now, the fight for the plaza
had been lost and most everyone inside dispersed.
Outside police lines, many looked to reconvene, others arrived responding to the
emergency text messages and phone calls they’d received from others – they found each
other at 14th and Franklin, one block east of the plaza. To the police it was clear that this
massing crowd would not be reduced to impotent spectators. Moving away from the
sidewalks into the street, what was now the morning traffic detour route, the intersection
filled with hateful slogans directed at the police. There was a startling impatience and lust
for revenge. It had grown to nearly 200 people when a police motorcade was ordered to
intimidate and disperse the crowd. Shape shifting and turning over trash cans, the group
headed in the opposite direction. Shouts of excitement, more seething remarks toward the
police and a medley of thudding and crashing filled the streets. The police came prepared
to assault the plaza, not to be met with the consequences of doing so. From 5am to 6am
the streets east of the plaza held a familiarity to some and an unprecedented emotion for
An offensive decision by the city and its allies brought opportunity to those subject to their
increasingly irrelevant authority. Tuesday morning, the city took to actively discouraging
people from going to work in the downtown area. Despite this official suggestion, one
could overhear security guards, baristas and other service workers phoning into work
announcing their absence on their own initiative. Someone initiated a campaign to eject
Jean Quan from her position as mayor. Tweets and texts exploded with announcements to
rally at the downtown Oakland Library at 4pm. The Alameda County Labor Council among
other local unions had publicly denounced the actions of the police and the city.
Yet to take shape as either a spectacle or rebellion, The Town, once again, opened itself to
the freedoms found in possibilities.
Library. Riot. Continued.
Tuesday, 4pm – Midnight
12 hours later, the contingency plan approved by the GA in case of a raid, was put into
place. At 4pm, close to 1000 people gathered at the main Oakland Library to listen to
inspirational speeches and condemnations against the police. One could not avoid the
general feeling of animosity towards those responsible for what happened last night.
Something spectacular was going to happen tonight.
After the speeches, people marched to the Downtown jail to show support for those
arrested the previous night. Along the way, the march passed through two separate lines of
police, but on the third one, as the march was a block away from the jail, the police pushed
back. They grabbed two people from the front of the march and threw them to the ground.
Seeing this, the crowd immediately surrounded the cops yelling at them, trying to grab the
comrades and free them. People pushed and paint was thrown. As the tension continued
to escalate, the police knew they were fighting a losing battle, so they brought in
reinforcements with tear gas and flash grenades to disperse the crowd. Those being
arrested initially, amongst the chaos, were secured by the pigs and loaded into a van. One
of the arrestees was fucked with while in jail, called racist slurs and physically harassed.
How could we not hate the police?
the arrests of
resistance, we
solidarity with
the state’s
hostages in a
multitude of
The march
regrouped and
past the jail
making noise
and letting
those inside –
every single one of them – aware that the march was here for them in total solidarity. A
comrade who has been released from jail, arrested the previous night, said that it was one
of the most beautiful and powerful things they have ever seen. To hear and see 1000
people outside making noise, making their solidarity known to those on the inside.
Solidarity means attack.
The march returned to Oscar Grant Plaza where the group proceeded to try and retake the
plaza. After 20 minutes of confronting the police at 14th and Broadway, rounds of tear gas
and flash grenades were used once again (there would be somewhere around seven
different instances of the police using tear gas and flash grenades in an attempt to disperse
the crowd. The crowd did not deteriorate this time nor any other).
This was only the beginning…
This first major tear gassing was also the incident were a veteran was hit in the head with a
tear gas canister and either knocking him out or causing his system to go in shock – he
was on the ground in front of the police with eyes open, not moving and not responding to
anything. People immediately ran up to him and tried to get him out of the way, which is
when the police throw another flash grenade directly on top of him and near those who
responded in aid. This bears repeating: the police throw a flash grenade directly on
someone that was lying motionless on the ground, dispersing the crowd that was trying to
take him out of the warzone. The injured protester was eventually removed and taken to
the hospital with a skull fracture and is currently in critical condition and undergoing
surgery. Many were injured. Not everyone has reported their injuries for obvious reasons.
By this point, the march had doubled to more than 2000 people. The group marched to
Snow Park to gather, but it wasn’t long until people marched back on the plaza again. In
what became the standard of the night, the march confronted the militarized area formerly
known as Oscar Grant Plaza and was met with tear gas and flash grenades causing
people to faint and throw up. But this didn’t stop anyone; it only galvanized the crowd and
incited many at home to head downtown and join the resistance.
The march
started at 5
and lasted
until late into
the night with
over 6 hours of
marches and
with the police
Towards the
end of the
night, people
began to worry
about being
kettled, so
some people took it upon themselves to set up barricades around the surrounding
intersections. This action would allow people to respond before being trapped, by either
getting away or fighting back. The barricades included the city’s own barricades that were
established throughout the area, dumpsters and trash cans (some of these were set aflame
to relieve the lingering tear gas present throughout all of the downtown and to cause more
trouble for the police if they dared to intimidate or assault crowd).
As the night went on, the group slowly dissipated, confident that this fight was not close to
The Retaking of Oscar Grant Plaza.
Wednesday, 6pm – Midnight
It was obvious
to everyone
the previous
night that
people were
heading back
to Oscar Grant
Plaza. By this
time, police
were nowhere
to be seen
around the
plaza. The
only thing that
was there was
a metal fence
around the
spot of the
Well, it only
lasted a little while. Before the General Assembly even started, people spontaneously
began to tear down the fence. Initially, some “peace police,” spouting something about
non-violence were trying to get them to stop – that was of course to no avail as the fence
quickly was torn down.
The GA that happened that night was the largest one yet for #OccupyOakland, with over
2000 people participating. Since it was such a large GA, everything took more time, but the
one proposal that was passed was worth it all. Following announcements that various
occupations around the US were participating in solidarity marches, and that people in
Cairo are going to march on Tahrir square this Friday saying that “Cairo and Oakland are
one hand,” the proposal to call for a General Strike this Wednesday, November 2nd was
passed with overwhelming majority (97%). Get ready Oakland, shits about to get real….
Following the GA, people announced that OccupySF was under threat of eviction. People
made a call out for people to go to San Francisco and make their solidarity physical. But
this wouldn’t happen. Before people could even make it into BART, the station was closed.
Pissed, the small group that was heading to SF instead took to the streets in Oakland
where the rest of the GA, who was still around, joined them. The march immediately
headed towards the jail to show solidarity with those still inside. Everyone could see the
inmates hands on the windows and the flickering of their cell lights, letting us know that
they see us.
Over the next couple of hours, the group marched around downtown Oakland with no
police interference. There were reports of police staging close by, but they never made
themselves visible more than a few cars in front and back. After the previous night, they
realized how badly they fucked up. Tonight, we controlled the streets. It finally ended in
Oscar Grant Plaza, with people just chilling, standing and sitting in the middle of 14th and
Broadway (the main downtown intersection), with no attempt by the cops to disperse the
As the proposed General Strike is just but a week away, there is a lot of work that needs to
be done and a lot of connections to be established and strengthened. Some people began
to set up camp again at Oscar Grant Plaza, but others are merely taking this time to rest, to
regroup, to gather themselves for what is to come.
Get some rest
comrade. We
have yet to
see what’s
around the
Filed under
From the Bay ·
Tagged with
A Report on Occupy Oakland: Part 2
Brian Ang
1 November 2011
Since my first report, Occupy Oakland has decisively moved into a new phase by October
25th’s 5am police raid and the evening’s resistant response. In the several days leading
up to the raid, the City of Oakland made it apparent that a police raid was imminent by
increasingly threatening letters and sending in the fire marshal to confiscate the occupation
kitchen’s propane tanks, hindering food production. Clearly recognizing the antagonistic
relation with the State and its inevitable repression, the occupation affectively and
materially reinforced its resolve, maintaining its stance of noncooperation with the State
and its autonomy for radical actions, encouraging the presence of a constant density of
bodies, building barricades around the perimeter, and establishing a text messaging action
network for supporters to converge on the plaza when the raid did happen.
The police raid manifested over 500 police in riot gear from cities all over central California
attacking the peaceful camp with flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets, arresting
over 70 people, and completely destroying, confiscating, and securing the camp. The
immensity and inevitability of the raid was the result of the contradiction between the
occupation’s uncompromising defiance and the State’s injunctions: by the State’s logic, the
occupation could not be permitted to continue to exist. The repression was intensified by
the Oakland Police Department’s historical character of brutality and its separation from
Mayor’s office through recent political quarrels, further unbridling the police’s power.
The text messaging action network was utilized and immediately drew supporters to the
plaza even as the raid was happening, and people maintained a confrontational and
substantial presence to the police securing the plaza for the rest of the day. The Mayor’s
statement commended the police raid as a “peaceful resolution,” expressing the State’s
logic in protecting itself. The text network and the occupation’s public digital
communications were utilized to call for an emergency rally at 4pm at the steps of the
Oakland Public Library several blocks from the police-secured plaza.
The immensity of the attack at the most vulnerable hour fully revealing the occupation’s
antagonistic relationship with the State combined with the occupation’s communications
infrastructure produced a militant crowd of several hundred people at the rally. There were
numerous inspirational speakers and organizers called for gatherings every day at the
plaza’s intersection at 6pm to maintain a confrontational presence to the police. At 5pm,
organizers launched a march to retake the plaza.
The first significant confrontation with the police occurred en route to the plaza. Six police
officers had arrested and secured two people, which prompted dozens of people in
proximity to surround the situation and yell at and tussle with the police to let the arrested
people go. The police by their logic did not and approximately fifteen minutes later a
column of riot police charged through to the situation exercising batons, flash grenades,
tear gas, and rubber bullets and extracted the six police officers and their arrestees.
This situation bears reflection: the ability of six police officers to resist dozens of
confrontational people cannot be solely ascribed to the threat of batons. The specter of the
law augmenting the police successfully atomized the crowd into individuals unable to
collectively act to defeat the police and free the arrestees. The destruction of that invasive
specter must be cultivated toward individually and culturally collectively to make defeating
the police possible, as this scenario will undoubtedly repeat itself, and its implications
extend to larger confrontations, for instance a hundred police officers confronting several
thousand people. The material conditions were present for the crowd to potentially and
righteously free the arrestees.
The march continued to the police-secured plaza. The police declared an unlawful
assembly and issued a dispersal order. The crowd strategically decided to continue
marching and eventually wound back around to the plaza’s intersection around 8pm. The
police declared its dispersal order again but the crowd stayed fast. Again, the police’s
logic could not accept the contradiction between its injunction and the crowd’s
uncompromising defiance, and through its particularly brutal character produced another
immense attack of flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets.
The crowd retreated but kept defiantly regrouping at the plaza’s intersection, aided by the
numerous street medics trained from the occupation’s last two weeks. The cycle of the
police’s dispersal order and attack and the crowd’s retreat and regroup repeated itself over
a half dozen times deep into the night and produced numerous injuries including, most
severely, the critical head injury of Iraq War Marine veteran Scott Olsen.
The immense police attacks upon peaceful protesters resulting in the severe injury of
Olsen forced reportage through the logic of the mass media and dramatic on-the-ground
footage was widely disseminated through occupation’s public digital communications,
producing global interest strongly favorable to the occupation and unfavorable to the
State. The next day, the support for the occupation and disfavor for the State drew
thousands of supporters to the plaza and prompted the Mayor’s withdrawal of the police.
The extensive global support and intensive local support created the opportunity for raising
the stakes by successfully passing a proposal for a city-wide general strike on November
2. This dramatic act was able to irrupt and inspire solidarity actions globally by the
previous day’s events’ production of support for Occupy Oakland. Since the endorsing of
the general strike, there have been immense organizing efforts including outreach, forming
alliances with unions, organizing to picket or occupy any business or school which
disciplines employees or students for striking, formulating the plan to march on and shut
down the Port of Oakland to most severely blockade the flow of capital, and a march
against police brutality to strengthen resolve. The Mayor issued an apology about the
immense police repression but maintained demands declaring that the occupation cannot
exist at the plaza: the logic of the State still cannot accept the occupation’s defiant
existence even as disfavor has temporarily discouraged the State’s repression.
Tomorrow is the general strike and no one knows exactly what will happen. People will
improvise consciously and instinctively. The State’s logic as such is in a certain sense
limited and its responses automated to certain stimuli, such as intolerance of defiance to its
injunctions yet sensitive to disfavor. It seems apparent that the particulars of the
occupation’s defiance resulting in the police raid and the people’s resistance to rounds of
flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets produced potent new conditions that were
developed upon favorably by the occupation. The methods of engaging the police, from
attempting to defeat them to maintaining restraint, need to be deployed based on
producing more favorable conditions. This stance encourages an imagination exceeding
the contracted abstractions of “non-violence” and “violence,” and an agency to draw from
either in situations to stimulate desired responses from the State.
This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.
OCTOBER 27, 2011
For a Radically Democratic Oakland without Cops, Politicians, or Bosses!
Oakland on Strike!
[Mike is reporting from the ground in Oakland, former Oakland resident George
contributed political analysis]
A major victory has been won. For only the second time in Oakland’s recent political
history, mass action in the street has forced the hand of city government. If last time
it was the rebellions that greeted the state murder of Oscar Grant that forced city and
state officials to switch tack, arresting the shooter Johannes Mehserle and putting
him on trial, the stakes have now changed and generalized in the local and national
swirl of the Occupy Movement. Now, building on that history of resistance, but not
without significant barriers in the near future, Oakland and the Bay Area is poised for
a General Strike on the level of 1946. Or beyond.
“Citizen’s Arrest”
However, things didn’t look so good Tuesday night. As one of us stood in the
increasingly desolate streets of Oakland at the intersection of 14th and Broadway,
ignition point for rebellions past, the debates that emerged amid the hours of
swirling tear gas from the OPD and 17 cooperating police agencies seemed to have
moved backward since 2009, not forward.
A peculiar dialectic emerged, in which black youth out for a good time at the expense
of police, had that fun doubled. When they would throw plastic bottles at the police in
full riot gear, the young and mostly white liberals and peaceniks, in the street to
support the displaced Occupy Oakland camp with little more than a peace sign, would
preemptively and rapidly retreat in anticipation of another round of tear gas – before
the police line had so much as shrugged. This must have been immensely fun to
watch on one level.
At this point, an older white man with a mega-phone, whose face was not a familiar
one in local organizing or at the Occupy encampment of the past two weeks, began
saying, “This is a peaceful movement. Violent people are not part of this movement.”
He was pointing out the direction from which the plastic bottle had come and where,
at this point, the only people of color in the intersection were standing. The race and
class dynamics of this, as well as the absurdity that someone was making this
argument 30 feet from where a young Marine had been critically wounded by this
same specific group of cops, was far more distasteful than the dozens of cans of
chemical gas I can still taste writing this 36 hours later. I walked up and, shouting
down the man with the mega-phone, told him that he was doing the cops work and
was dividing the movement. I also told him that, while in the context of the moment
I would agree that throwing bottles was counter productive, I would never play good
protester / bad protester and point people out to cops, let alone show up here for the
first time that night and appoint oneself king. We don’t need cops and we don’t need
any “Yurtle the Turtle” of unprincipled pacifism.
After shouting down the man with the bullhorn and an 18 year old kid who tried to
shout me down, I was confronted by a young, white man who told me: “We are
making a citizen’s arrest.” As he and a group encircling me and attempted to grab my
wrists and arms I pulled free and walked away – to a mix of boos from that group and
shouts of encouragement from other sections of the protest. I had committed no
crime and nothing anyone could construe as “violence”, aside from deviating from the
worst of US pacifist history. Far from the Civil Rights sit-ins or the work of the
Catholic Workers, people who took risks for social justice that disrupted the existing
order, this broader and more prevalent pacifism is not about “principled tactics.” It is
about creating a false moralism built around comfort and privilege in which those
who know all too well what real violence looks like are silenced, and those who act on
a critical analysis of the existing social order are “criminalized” and discursively
expelled from the presumptive liberal “we” of the movement.
It is baffling that people who take hours of rubber bullets, concussion grenades, and
assorted chemical weapons still come back to the same exact police line that has been
bombarding us with chants that they too are the 99% in an attempt to “win them
over.” It is even more so when they turn around and form a liberal peoples’ militia
for the police State. We all need to be clear on one thing: these cops are not your
friends and even though we will disagree, our most basic strength is in solidarity. At
many other points in the last few days, that solidarity has started to grow and crowd
out these tensions and disagreements among us. We must build this solidarity to the
point where it like a natural reflex in the movement. All cops of the existing order
out of Oakland! Including the ones in our heads.
Who’s Gonna Run The Town Tonight?
Just weeks ago, police chief Anthony Batts, the subject of a heavily trumpeted
national search in 2009, resigned to protest the limitations the mayor’s office was
placing on his leadership and attempts to reform the notoriously corrupt and violent
agency. But it was not until another pro-police grouping, partly enraged by Batts’
departure, set into motion an effort to recall Quan from office that the Mayor acted,
clearing the Occupy camp with the brutal force of 800 officers in the misty darkness
of Tuesday morning. The tables appear to have turned.
By cowing so unhesitatingly and obviously to the demands of the police lobby, Mayor
Quan did a massive service to the movement, showing in the brightest light of day
what many of us have known for years: that OPD runs Oakland. A parasitical and
colonial force which draws its members predominantly from outside Oakland, the
OPD nevertheless demands the lion’s share of the budget and political control of the
city, and this is what Batts’ resignation meant more than anything: this still is not
enough, we want more.
Perhaps Quan’s biggest error was to trust the OPD, a body that was already calling
for her ouster in all but open terms. The military barrage they unleashed on the
protesters will also mark a turning point in Quan’s legitimacy, in part because of
Scott Olson, a 2-tour Iraq War veteran who returned unscathed from war only to be
shot in the head by a tear gas canister by OPD. When other protesters attempted to
rescue the injured Olson, video showed OPD coolly and callously tossing more flash-
bang grenades to disperse the rescuers. At last notice, Olson had entered into brain
surgery at Highland Hospital in an attempt to repair the damage. Without
minimizing Olson’s suffering, however, it’s worth noting that his injury came in an
attempt to reclaim Oscar Grant Plaza. Both shootings – Olson’s and Oscar Grant’s –
were caught on video, and much could be learned from the intertwining of these two
events in Oakland’s history.
It seemed as though some did not get the message, and still believing that Occupy
Oakland can only exist with the grace of the state began to again do the work of that
state. When the crowds began to re-converge at 6pm Wednesday, Oscar Grant Plaza
was a maze of tall fencing: Quan would make one last effort, albeit a weak one, to
maintain order and her own dignity. Not knowing their own power, many simply
followed these tangible, man-made orders in their midst, refusing to touch and some
even actively protecting the fences. There was not a police officer in sight, and yet the
police in the heads of many remained.
Drive the OPD out of Oakland by “Offing the Pig” in your own head
As 3000 people began to crowd the fenced-in park, the only open space was the
concrete amphitheater directly in front of City Hall. More than half of the Occupiers
were cut off from the General Assembly that was about to start, forced down the
sidewalks a block away. Tearing down the gates would allow for a democratic mass
meeting, not to mention the fact that there was no risk of arrest and it is a public
park. Beyond that, it is our park – whether they put a sign up to the contrary or put
2000 cops in it. This should not be a contentious proposition. But it was.
A small group of us simply ripped open the fence and opened up a 50 foot hole. Three
times as many protesters grabbed the fence away from us and closed it back up, as a
large crowd of people looked on. Those of us who had come into the grassy part of
the park were yelled at, called “vanguardist” and “agent provocateurs” for re-
occupying a public park with a group of people who were here, ostensibly, to do one
thing – occupy that same park. The General Assembly met for a full hour, with well
over 1000 people cut off from participation and over 100 feet out of earshot, unable
to hear announcements and proposals, because on this moment we had more respect
for a metal fence than for democratic assembly.
All of this filled me with an intense and contradictory mix of sadness and anger, but
also hope. Sadness, for the obviously large amount of growth we all need to go
through to overcome our own limitations and lack of experience. When we force the
police to fully retreat, come back to the park with 3 times the numbers who have
been there in the last weeks, and we stare blankly at a little fence and hurl insults at
people who try to take it down, one wonders what our capacities are. On the other
hand, I was filled with immense hope. The cops overplayed their hand and lost this
round. The park was ours, our numbers had doubled again, we would soon get 97%
approval for a general strike, and I think we will actually win.
After a generation of free market class war, wars on the black and brown
communities (a.k.a. the war on drugs and gangs), imperial wars and social
atomization – we need to find the ability to imagine a better word and have the
courage to make it real. We have to harness those instincts to tear down every
“fence” that we see along the way.
Yesterday’s fence was eventually torn down and carefully stacked in one section of the
park. The General Assembly allowed itself to actually become a General Assembly
and we came together to put forward and approve a call for a General Strike on
Wednesday November 2
– no work, no school, shut it all down. A mass speak-out
against police brutality in Oakland’s communities of color has been autonomously
called for 6 pm Saturday at 14
and Broadway to make central the long-ignored, and
everyday, violences in Oakland and to build for Wednesday’s mass action. I am
confident there will be tens of thousands of people in the streets and actions in every
section of the city next Wednesday. Oakland is home to the last General Strike in the
US, which took place in 1946. It will be home to the next. From the immediate
support we received from the around the country and world last night – from NYC to
Egypt – it will not be the only one either.
This strike vote could be a Pyrrhic victory if we allow ourselves to divide ourselves.
If we allow non-profits to become the “soft power” of the police and mayor (as they
were during the Oscar Grant movement) and shepherd us into irrelevancy we will
have no one to blame but ourselves. If we allow the mayor to appear to come back to
the right side of history only to sell us out to the police one more time, we will have
blown one of the biggest radical political opportunities in modern US history. We
are smarter than that and this is our time.
After the General Assembly, well over 1000 protesters boisterously chanted
throughout downtown Wednesday night, chasing off small groupings of police with
our mere presence. We were able to stop once and debate taking the Bay Bridge or
marching down West Grand. We never reached an official consensus, but after
discussion we organically decided that the bridge would be a trap and had no
strategic value at that point. This was a powerful moment. But it was a luxury
created by retreated police force. We should not always expect to have such time or
space. We can however develop a working “diversity of tactics” based on solidarity
and knowing our real enemies.
Whether from the police or the mayor, or reactionary non-profits or union
bureaucrats, forces will conspire to shorten our reaction time and force us to hone
our emerging, radical reflexes, and attempt to play on old divisions. They will
undoubtedly attempt to co-opt our marches or message, divide us, or simply hang
their dead weight on our evolving, organic and radically democratic strength. History
teaches us that movements and pivotal moments in history transform “regular
people” who grow those movements to transform society and themselves.
The time has come to shut “their” city down for good and realize the vision of the
Black Panther Party that was born in this town 45 years ago. For the creation of a
radically democratic and self-determined communities – in a vibrant movement that
involves people from every race and class – in the conscious pursuit of the
destruction of the existing social structures of race and class, as well as every other
axis of oppression, that divide and oppress in this society – “All power to all of the
Liberate, Decolonize, and Transform Oakland!
Mike King is a PhD candidate at UC–Santa Cruz and East Bay activist. He can be
reached at mking(at)
George Ciccariello-Maher is an exiled Oaklander who teaches political theory at
Drexel University, and can be reached at gjcm(at)

November 2
general strike and after
A Message to the Partisans, in Advance of the
General Strike
A Message to the Partisans, in Advance of the General Strike
Posted by OaklandCommune on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 · Leave a Comment
from Indybay
We are the consequence. Thus reads the
poetry of the moment, spraypainted on the
side of a dumpster-barricade outside of
Occupy Oakland in the hours before it was
besieged by hundreds of cops and
destroyed. A threat, a promise, but more than
that the phrase means that what is
happening here in Oakland is not just a
ephemeral explosion, not just another one of
the twice-yearly riots that passes through the
city like a comet. No, it is part of a sequence.
There are consequences to the things we
do. Our days are no longer a collection of
mere happenstance and triviality, no longer a random distribution of inconsequential
moments. Finally, what happens happens for a reason, even if from the perspective of the
dominant order this reason appears as purest irrationality. Finally, what happens is what
must happen, even if from the perspective of the dominant order this necessity appears as
pure contingency. There are consequences. We are those consequences. We are the pure
products of a political and economic system that can no longer guarantee for us even the
mere survival upon which its own survival depends, that can’t even provide us with the
unbearable jobs and mind-numbing schoooling of decades past. Nor can the American
state any longer guarantee social peace – not even if it could afford to imprison another 2
million people. The consequences have arrived. After orbiting the world as riots and
general strikes, massive urban encampments and near-revolutions, those consequences
have finally come home to the decaying US cities from which the crisis first emerged.
But we are more than simple symptoms of capitalism’s collapse. We are also the agents of
consequence. We are the hinge between if and then. We are what makes what must
happen happen. If we were driven to occupy Oscar Grant Plaza by the nature of the
conditions, then it is also true that we did so intentionally, with clarity about our purposes,
and with minimal equivocation. We established a space premised upon free giving and
receiving rather than exchange, a space where anyone could find a meal or a tent, attend a
workshop or political conversation, and, if they wanted, participate in the maintenance of
theorization and practical elaboration which have pointed now, finally, to the centers of all
our cities. The slogan Occupy Everything, once absurd, is now banal. Though occupation
has up until now remained bound by semi-public property – university buildings and parks
– the general strike now looming promises the possibility of taking occupation to private
property itself. We can start taking the things we really want and need: the buildings we will
need to survive the winter months, for example. There will be consequences to what we do
on the November 2. Let’s make them as brutal and beautiful as possible.
–The Society of Enemies
Filed under From the Bay · Tagged with
LA Review of Books Blog: Letter from Oakland:
Part 2
The second installment of David Lau's Letter from Oakland.
Only One Side Is Armed
The fine tooth combs continue
to run over Occupy Oakland’s
general strike on Wednesday,
November 2
, its sequence of
marches, port shutdown, and
building occupation. News,
however, is just now trickling
out about military veteran
Kayvan Sabehgi (two tours in
Iraq and one in Afghanistan),
currently recovering from
surgery for a spleen lacerated
by a beating police
administered during his arrest early Thursday morning, November 3
, near the occupied
Traveler’s Aid building on 16
in downtown Oakland. As opposed to the case of Scott
Olsen, which immediately surged to the attention of the nation, Sabehgi’s story is emerging
by way of international sources. The repetition of events marks out a decisive contrast in
their coverage: first a tragedy, then a farce.
According to his own account, 32-year-old Sabehgi was surrounded by a group of cops —
he was then struck, forced down, and struck repeatedly with batons. In severe pain, he
arrived at jail where the “nurse” suggested a suppository for his vomiting and diarrhea.
When he was finally bailed out the following afternoon, he was too weak to leave his cell.
His jailers shut the door; eventually an ambulance rushed him to treatment. While
corporate media outlets busily reported on the “violent” window breaking and graffiti from
Wednesday, the real violence the thousands on the ground saw was, as usual,
concentrated in the hands of the state.
The mainstream media has now entered a second phase of its campaign against the
Oakland Commune, with talk of “emergency” as backdrop to incredibly fallacious reports.
In one instance, NPR and the San Francisco Chronicle blankly repeated police chief
Howard Jordan’s screwball estimate of 7,000 people at the port shutdown (other
mediatized estimates were as low as 4,000). A correction was later issued. The two
successive, massive waves of marchers from Oscar Grant Plaza amounted to at least
100,000 people by any reasonable estimate. This was the strike the Wall Street Journal
claimed (with lame diction) had “largely fizzled.”
Given the limited rights of workers in our private sector, the limited contracts of the
unionized public sector, the many people who live paycheck to paycheck barely making
ends meet, and the fracturing of the Bay Area left in recent years (and since the advent of
the crisis) — the numbers and size of the coordinated demonstration seem that much more
To begin at the end: the building occupation fell in a hail of tear gas, non-lethal “force,” and
arrest. The Traveler’s Aid building, what some were calling the Raheim Brown Community
Center, (temporarily?) closed down once again. The building had been strategically
entered earlier that evening (not “just before midnight”), and with heavy rains across the
Bay Area this weekend, access to buildings seems all the more necessary to the
occupation. Symbolically as well as practically: As the housing crisis for many continues to
deepen (devaluation, eviction, foreclosure) and a turn both to protecting the vulnerable as
well as to reclaiming abandoned buildings and residences seems a prescient, path-
blazing move. At its radical edge, building occupations contest the relations of private
property, and the artificiality of its conventions; in California we feel acutely this
contradiction, with so many homeless and so many vacant properties and homes. The
media’s attempt to normalize the police violence establishes pacifism as the only
“acceptable” form of Occupy politics. The diversity of tactics and general inclusivity of the
rest of the Oakland Commune is demonized or ignored.
Big Wednesday
The general strike rolled out
with morning “flying pickets”
aimed at Wells Fargo, Chase,
Bank of America — all of
which refused to close their
doors. Marchers chanted and
sang, “Banks got bailed out,
we got sold out.” When
Specialty Bakery threatened
their workers to prevent them
from striking, the picket flew
over. An early estimate had
pre-noontime crowds on the
street at 5,000. I arrived from Santa Cruz around 1 PM with a group including Gopal
Balakrishnan; our group’s preparations included creating medic kits with a liquid mix of
antacid for teargas; a back-pocket pair of toenail clippers in case of zip cuffing; and plenty
of water and sandwiches. We walked up Franklin and encountered one of the many flying
pickets, this one shutting down the University of California Office of the President.
We had arrived in time for the Anti-Capitalist March. Think Seattle 1999, Greece 2008. A
black banner with the slogan “Death to Capitalism” hung at the 14
and Telegraph
intersection. At the front of the march another black banner read “If We Cannot Live We
Will Not Work,” yet another, “Long Live the Do-It-Yourself Revolution” with accompanying
Arabic translation. A group of black-clad, masked, and fast-moving demonstrators
(sometimes called the “Black Bloc”) tore through ordinary matter like a quantum particle at
the front of the crowd. They smashed up windows of a Chase Bank in broad daylight, and
would later do the same to a Bank of America. These anarcho-communists and ultra-
leftists were aware of being raised to the level of big capital’s spectacular montage as they
chanted: “Fuck the property of the one percent.” (Those wanting everyone to show their
face should remember the lesson of campus struggles two years ago, the site of
occupation movement’s origins: avoid detection, avoid punishment. Any actual political
resistance will have its rendezvous with domestic intelligence services.) Whether stunned
or ready for the rowdiness, the large march trailing them kept on.
Their next target: Whole Foods. New at the checkout line alongside the rare chocolate and
digestible good conscience: a left-wing action against liberal PC consumerism. With a mix
of white spray paint and paint balloons, the groupuscule hit up the front of supermarket with
an enormous graffito: strike. They made their way to the large side windows of the store
and after repeated attempts at bringing the window down, the right deviation’s “peace
police” began chanting “peaceful protest” and did so threateningly enough to force the
“Black Bloc” on to their next target. “Union busting is disgusting,” the left-wing
demonstrators chanted back to them.
The current hegemony of “peaceful protest” has kept property destruction contained, but
the growing sentiment on the march seemed to be: Fuck it. Give me a rock, or better yet a
dense D battery. “Though we wanted to pave the way for friendliness, we could not
ourselves be friendly,” wrote Brecht. The rightist argument also goes that building
occupations, property damage, and other radical tactics will only attract the cops and
provoke an attack on the broader movement, necessarily limiting participation. First
proviso: don’t misapprehend the police, an active rather then merely reactive force. They
will come to building occupations and other attempts at expropriation in the middle of the
night, when the crowd thins or tires, when they can maximize their comparative advantage
in weaponry and discipline. In deep-blue-state California, repression is well organized.
Second proviso: don’t forget the actual history of struggles, remembering only Martin
Luther King Jr., while forgetting both Malcolm X and Robert Williams. Thus the left-
adventurist subject — the product of conscious revolutionary study and mobilization —
reared up in the crowd.
Barbeques Every Day
Back at Oscar Grant Plaza, we
found a great restless festival.
Buses arrived to take folks
down to the port. Some
unionists cooked out on
enormous grills. And the four
o’clock march to the port was
something else — red flags,
black flags, posters, pickets,
marching bands, bikes galore,
crust punks, militants, burners.
I saw poets, former students,
old friends, even two of my
literary mentors, amid a vast current of strangers.
I was shooting footage on the march and kept on getting ahead and behind a certain group
of friends before losing them altogether. I encountered other friends then moved off by
myself. At one point I had to stop and put a new memory card in my camera. I kneeled
down and struggled with the package for a few minutes. As I stood up again and looked
around, I found myself in another dimension of the several mile long and very dense
march. The cramped valley of corporate buildings could hardly accommodate the
mobilization. Mostly assembled since the 80s, with the Los Angeles Men’s County Jail and
Gehry’s Disney Hall as the two sides of their aesthetic ideal, these “junk space” columns of
glass, air-conditioning, and steel are the “great” architectural measure of corporate
globalization. Without a central square plus enormous amplification (à la Mexico City’s
Zocalo), a crowd this size can neither be easily spoken to nor coordinated. Regardless,
this crowd was going somewhere.
Entering one of the ports of today’s global capitalism, one has the feeling of entering into
some parallel universe. Marx pointed out that large-scale machinery develops in a combat
with workers, and this battlefield has almost entirely wiped them out. Dirty with diesel and
truck tire particulate, these enormous spaces subdivide up into berths and terminals of the
various world shippers: Evergreen, TKY Logistics, China Shipping, etc. I had spent some
time filming at the port of Long Beach one lonely Saturday some years ago with my friend
Cooper Brislain, and this experience contrasted immensely with that previous port visit.
The walk in was dramatic and exhilarating. Before the final bridge to the port the march hit
a freeway over pass. The stalled truckers honked and the exuberant crowd roared as did
the several bands that moved under the pass. And from the final bridge one got a good
look at the port’s scale. I stalled out at the bridge for long enough to see the 5 PM wave of
marchers come through, even bigger than the earlier march.
Suddenly my phone blew up with texts and calls. The front of the march had reached the
crucial berth 22 some three miles into the port. Riot cops formed a visible line. I
remembered the 2003 antiwar demonstration at the port of Oakland in which gas and non-
lethal rounds were deployed against the demonstrators. The circling picket, a couple
thousand strong, was actually preventing the port from operating. Police helicopters trained
spotlights on people from overhead. An arbitrator was on the way out to decide on whether
or not the port would shut down because of unsafe working conditions. I walked Maritime
Avenue for miles to catch up. The old saying is true: If you go far enough on any California
street, eventually you find a taco truck. There were two along the route, both nearly sold out
of food. By the time I got there the cops had split.
At the picket, several friends were talking to an ILWU member named Charles. He was
explaining many of the particulars of a port shutdown. The ILWU itself is involved in a
continual low-intensity conflict with its employers. Partial shutdowns and continual
slowdowns are among their normal tactics. Charles made it known that if the picket stayed
then any attempts to restart the port’s operation (at 3 AM and 6 AM) would be thwarted. The
choke point of just-in-time production would cut big capital’s airflow a full 24 hours.
At one point, Charles asked a disarming question: “Who are all these people?”
I told him that the five of us in front of him were in teachers and teaching assistant unions
(UC-AFT, UAW local 2865), and that the broader movement was composed of folks from
the Justice for Oscar Grant struggle, the antiwar movement, environmentalists…
“Oh, OK, so everybody,” he replied. “Well, we’re with you.” (In the anticipatory words of
James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: “here comes everybuddy.”)
The strike call had been a strange one for the union brothers. Charles heard about it on TV
and then he and other workers discussed it in the ILWU union hall. In the ordinary
conditions of these recent depoliticized decades, unions call the strikes — the proximate
cause usually being specific contract negotiations or grievances. Indeed, Charles talked
about a co-worker who had lost her legs in a port accident. The shippers were fighting any
compensation for her. These being increasingly extraordinary times, this was far from a
normal strike call.
As 8 PM approached, Boots Riley got on the bullhorn to announce that the port was shut
down. We would be the lead group spearheading a march back downtown. Four or five of
us left a bit before everyone else. A mile on, back at 7
and Maritime, we found another
large crowd. There were four different human microphones going simultaneously in a
frantic attempt to communicate. Things finally coalesced around preventing a news van
from passing through the intersection. The driver was told to walk home and chants of
“Fuck the corporate media” resounded in the chopper blade air. The first attempt at
coordinating such a sizable crowd was breaking down before our eyes. The numbers
necessary to defend the building occupation downtown might not be able to make it back.
Famished, we left for pizza at a friend’s nearby West Oakland apartment, before making
our way back downtown to the occupied building on 16
street. Another Brecht line
echoed in my head, “Our goal lay far in the distance, it was clearly visible.”
The Sun at Night
With the financial crisis
beginning a new round of
intensification this fall, the
occupation movement across
the U.S. will need to
expropriate buildings,
workplaces, and schools
across the country in order to
survive and thrive this winter
and beyond. It will need
permanent architecture,
alongside enduring
encampment with the
country’s homeless and poorest people. But, last Wednesday night, a single building
would have to do. We walked down Broadway to 16
street and encountered minimal
police presence just after 10 PM. Two helicopters circled over downtown. A makeshift trash
barricade cut 16
off from Telegraph. Down 16
, a large, energetic, but also nervous
crowd surrounded the building. An “Occupy Everything” poster faced out from the second
story window. Statements were being read over bullhorn while dance music played. Inside
a library was already set up.
A hurried conversation with one group of comrades shifted to reports of police advancing in
two directions. (A local homeless man later told me he had seen 30 vans of cops coming
down Broadway.) A protestor line formed on 16
. Protestor gas masks, goggles, helmets,
painters masks all came out. The black flag went up over the action. The police formed a
line across Broadway as they slowly crept toward us, before fanning out over Telegraph.
Eventually they appeared along the main thoroughfare north of the plaza. As hostilities
commenced with a police charge, the barricade along sixteenth exploded in flames for a
few minutes. The cops fired volleys of tear gas, flash bang grenades (with “Made in
Wyoming” labels), and rubber bullets. The protestor line was forced back toward 15
Street. The air was thick with the acidic particulates. Bottles, bricks and projectiles were
hurled at the cops. Flames leapt into the air. There were reports of a primitive m80 cannon.
I recalled the means Argentina’s Zanon factory occupation used to keep police at bay in
2002 during some of their pitched struggles to defend their worker-controlled factory:
marbles and slingshots.
Some of us fell back to the Oscar Grant Plaza before being successively rallied back up to
the line. There were reports of beatings and mass arrests on 16
. Here was resistance in
the age of Obama. We consoled one young woman who was weeping for her suffering
comrades. I tried to sooth the nerves of two young men disconcerted by protestors throwing
bottles and other projectiles.
The tense standoff continued until nearly 4 AM, by which point the building was firmly back
in state hands. Some thought the police would attempt to dismantle the plaza encampment
again. They appeared, however, still politically hampered by their last plaza incursion. If
buildings can be occupied downtown in Oakland in the coming weeks and months (and
this seems something of a necessity), the failure to “hold the space” Wednesday night may
be seen in a new and brighter light. The abandoned Traveler’s Aid building remains ripe
for the picking.
The General Assembly Friday night, November 4
, revealed some splits and divisions
among the participants. The right deviation at the camp remains a vocal but hostile and
threatening minority, likely no more than 20% of regular participants. The proposal format
requires a high level of consensus (80-90%) for any actionable results. In the
subcommittee report back portion of the GA, a sound subcommittee member reported
hearing talk of violence directed against the “anarchists” in the camp. Brian explained that
the sound system he has operated since the first day was off for the night in protest; he and
others identified as anarchists felt physically threatened. The labor subcommittee reported
some complaints from union leadership about the unspeakable “violence” done to some
bank windows on Wednesday. IWW carpenter John Reimann forcefully defended the
anarcho-communist wing of Occupy Oakland, pointing out their absolutely essential
presence in the movement, one from which he had learned a great deal.
The comments period began. A city worker from SEIU local 1021 explained that he and
other plaza building workers wanted to coordinate closely with the occupation by forming a
subcommittee to do so. An immigration activist talked about how to bring more vulnerable
workers into the struggle. Someone criticized Wednesday’s direct action by quoting Mao
Zedong’s old line: “The contradictions among the people regarding revolutionary tactics
are not the same as the contradictions among the people and its enemy.” Despite the
presence of a vocal “peace police” minority, the night’s solidaristic vibe dominated
The General Assembly on Friday proposed the formation of neighborhood assemblies.
These assemblies would mobilize around a ballot initiative to give them, not city
bureaucrats, some power over a budget process that currently sees some 50% of its
money go toward policing. The comments period of the GA saw suggestions circulate
around three crucial concerns: the defense of Oakland residents facing eviction or
foreclosure; the occupation of foreclosed or vacant properties; the defense and occupation
of schools in the growing education crisis in California. The mediating power of
neighborhood assemblies with respect to expanding the coordination of the movement
could prove tremendous even if a ballot initiative goes down to electoral defeat.
The weather has changed and the mood in Oakland is now colored by deeper
experiences, trials in flame and storm. The movement finds itself more developed than
anyone could have foreseen even a few weeks ago. Much remains to be done, and much
concerted pressure remains to be applied, in the shadows of an intermittent sun.
David Lau is the author of the book of poems Virgil and the Mountain Cat (University of
California Press). He co-edits Lana Turner: a Journal of Poetry and Opinion and teaches
writing at UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College.
All photos: David Lau
This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.
NOVEMBER 07, 2011
What's Next?
Occupy Oakland at a Crossroads
The historic and diverse protests that took place all day and into the night in Oakland
on November 2
marked a clear advancement of the Occupy movement. Though it
was not a full general strike, it took advantage of overlapping political opportunities
to broaden and deepen a struggle that is evolving and expanding by the day. The
movement is organically evolving in stages that are taking place so quickly that it is
difficult to fully capture. One thing is clear: Oakland was a different place on
Thursday morning than it was when people got ready to hit the streets on
Cynical or duplicitous evaluations tend to complain that the movement has no
demands, or that it has too many demands, or that the demands are unreasonable. It
is not so much a matter of demands on the existing social relations and institutions;
it is about abolishing some structures, transforming others, and creating new ones.
The fact that 20,000 people responded to an organic call to shut down the city that
was unapologetically and unambiguously anti-capitalist is an honest indication of the
overall politics of the movement. Today’s question is: “What’s next?” As
Wednesday’s multiple and diverse actions demonstrated clearly, there is no lack of
good responses or collective energy. Because of the context, good ideas are becoming
practical solutions. Occupy Oakland is not done. Looking at the solidarity actions in
various US cities and around the world, the broader movement is not done either.
The crisis is more powerful than the forces trying to manage it
Wednesday’s actions, highlighted by the complete shut-down of one of the biggest
ports on the West Coast, pushed the local movement from public occupation to mass
movement. It also broadened what “occupation” means in Oakland and
foreshadowed a likely future of more occupations of empty properties. The 9pm
occupation of an abandoned center for the homeless was both symbolic and
strategically minded, although the resulting skirmishes that resulted have been hotly,
if not always strategically or contextually, debated. The whole day of action was a
pivotal moment in the Occupy movement, one that expanded the limits of what is
politically feasible and inspired hope in others to push harder wherever they are.
Pivotal moments are generally a coming together of revolt and solidarity from below
and contradictions and crisis above. Oakland has found itself blessed with both in the
same moment, with the former helping to exacerbate the latter.
Former Oakland Police Chief Batts stepped down in recent weeks due to a stated lack
of autonomy and resources in a city where police murders of unarmed men of color
are common, officers are unaccountable, and the OPD controls 2/3rds of the city
budget. The OPD wanted to have a free hand to destroy the occupation, which they
would not get until after Batts resigned, which helped create an immediate stir for a
mayoral recall campaign. The picture is more complicated, as Homeland Security,
other federal forces, 17 agencies of state police and local police forces coordinate in
the Bay Area as an ongoing reality, geared to quickly respond to mass protests, as
they did in the movement that grew out of the police killing of Oscar Grant. The
exact political reasoning and bureaucratic dynamics of the overall lack of aggression
during the day Wednesday by police has yet to be fully examined. The basic reality is
that a gap between the Mayor and police forces, whatever its nature and however big
it is (or was), created a political opening. The lack of a sitting police chief, public
backlash to the eviction of the occupation on the morning of October 25
, the
(possibly deliberate) shooting of Marine veteran Scott Olsen that night, the re-
occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza and overwhelming public participation the next
night calling for a general strike, and the international visibility of the day of action
all played a role in widening the political opening. We forced the door open and have
walked through it. Now what?
The new face beneath the mask: wolves in sheep’s clothing
While the State could not manage its opposition or it’s own internal contradictions,
the movement proved itself capable of gaining a much stronger footing by
overcoming enough of its own contradictions on Wednesday. We should not grow
too comfortable that either of these two realities will remain true as we move
forward and the stakes increase for both sides. Whatever our temporary victories
have been, numerous and complex tensions are arising, starting with debate over a
police attack of the building occupation Wednesday night. A messy public debate has
arisen within and outside the movement over militant tactics. The exacerbation of
this tension could likely result in the imploding of this movement, a situation that
would be greeted as a blessing by both the Mayor and police locally, as well as the
federal government, banks, and the 1%.
Publicly invisible as well as more overt counter-insurgency from multiple sources is
underway that may destroy a popular movement through various forms of disruption,
division and misinformation. What may or may not be liberal “protest police” have
tried to make citizen’s arrests, and groups of young people with bandanas over their
own faces went through the anti-capitalist march on Wednesday and took pictures of
people’s faces and initiated actual violence against anarchists attempting to destroy
property. Others are calling for a ban on any type of mask.
A media disinformation campaign was intensified on Thursday and has attempted to
supplant our victory by playing up internal tensions and manufacturing a crisis of
“violence” – with various forces stoking fires and anticipating our demise.
Wednesday a veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan was viciously beaten by a
group of cops, whom the Guardian reports that he did not provoke. Although he was
injured to such an extent that he needed surgery on his spleen, all anyone wants to
talk about is anarchists reacting to police violence. A section of the movement that
calls property destruction violence, and doesn’t raise an eyebrow when “peaceful
protesters” like themselves are viciously beaten and left in agony in a jail cell without
medical attention for hours, is not in a position of moral authority to be dictating
terms or holding people accountable. Or maybe they have the excuse that the
corporate media feeding them this 100-year-old “violent anarchist” trope was not
aware that the second veteran in a week from Occupy Oakland was undergoing major
surgery after being viciously assaulted by police that same day. Whether they did or
didn’t know about the police beating of Kayvan Sabehgi, something tells me it would
not sway them in their attempts to redefine and exaggerate the actions of their fellow
protesters and to rationalize or excuse the actions of the police.
The Occupy movement is the biggest social movement in the US in at least several
years that is democratically initiated, self-led, and making clear, radical demands that
connect with people outside the tradition Left. As Wednesday’s crowd clearly
showed, this movement had a tremendous victory, but that victory is deliberately
getting lost in public discussion. We have quickly found ourselves in rough waters,
rehashing old debates that have frustrated every social movement in modern US
history, but with uncommon dynamics. Historically, radicals usually try to transform
reformist movements into transformative ones. What we are seeing looks like the
Any type of tactic or strategy needs to be understood in its social and political
context. Evaluations of the usefulness of tactics should be partly based on how our
opponents respond, and the costs and benefits of likely outcomes. This applies to
both anarchists and those condemning them. If people want to engage in a better way
to occupy buildings – property occupations were something that was called for in a
democratic vote at the General Assembly – or do something completely different,
they can do that. People will eventually gravitate to what works. Instead of engaging
in strategic action of any nature or going through the democratic channels that have
been created at Occupy Oakland – many are deliberately trying to bait radicals and
divide the movement. I have heard nothing in their argument that proposes effective
alternatives or strategies, or even has an honest discussion of violence in our society.
Movement tactics can and should be debated, but police tactics within the movement
are not debatable no matter where they come from or what their intent. The lessons
of COINTELPRO show us we shouldn’t loosely throw around accusations of
“provocateur” because we do not like people, or uncritically accept media accounts of
our movement; but we also should not create a culture that lets these tendencies
grow, nor should we seek false safety by turning inward. No one said that this would
be easy.
The media and some currents of the movement are preoccupied with an effort to bait
the radicals at the center of creating this whole movement as “violent” for destroying
property and defending themselves against the police. The morning Occupy Oakland
was evicted a snake march with more than a few anarchists wove through the city for
hours and destroyed nothing, despite plenty of justified anger and police
provocation. Later that night, when Scott Olsen was shot in the head from close
range with a “less than lethal” weapon that almost killed him, and police ruthlessly
attacked a crowd with a variety of similar weapons for hours, nothing was destroyed
and the worst the cops got was some water and paint thrown at them. People have
shown up trying to make citizen’s arrests, trying to start chants that cops are the 99%
(that get quickly shouted down by a large majority) or posing for pictures with
uniformed police. These same segments don’t understand the function of the police.
In a purely objective sense, the police are there to maintain the exiting order. This
means evicting protesters and shooting, arresting or beating peaceful protesters that
do not disperse as they have done numerous times in Oakland. A successful
movement can debate tactics and how they fit into contexts or strategies, but a
successful movement does not debate basic social facts or delude oneself about the
nature of those who are paid and trained to stop us from creating a just society.
These tendencies normalize the role of the police in suppressing dissent, have no
solidarity with the movement when it is attacked, and purposely or inadvertently
extend police attempts to manage, divide or destroy the movement without offering
alternative strategies. A debate over a diversity of tactics necessitates that we share
the same objectives – transforming social relations. The fact that these shared goals
of radical change are likely not universal makes this a red herring.
The variety of forces that are at play here either want to drive the anarchists and
radicals out of the front of the movement and let something more palatable replace
them or to sow such a division in the movement that the potential course of that
(ostensibly) intra-movement conflict scares people who are not radical or militant
away. Those are the two traps that lie in front of us. If we close our eyes and move
forward we will find ourselves in one of them. If we are smart we can walk around
them with an ever-increasing number of people.
Evolving praxis
Shortly before I moved to the west coast almost 10 years ago I was having a
conversation with a Bay Area radical who had lived here for a while. I was young and
excited to be moving somewhere with such a great and diverse radical history and a
persistent hub of radicalism. He basically told me the radical scene was good but it
was less than the sum of its parts. I soon came to agree. There are a lot of incredible
people, a vibrant radical culture, and great political projects from almost every facet
of the radical Left that is truly unique and often amazing. However, there are
longstanding and prevalent norms of insularity, ultra-sectarianism, non-strategic
activism (in a pejorative sense), and a lack of organization or political work that
reaches beyond the pre-established Left, in a more heightened way than most places.
In short, a bubble. This analysis is usually dismissed as sectarian itself.
Despite the fact that I will also be denounced as a charlatan for saying this out loud –
I think the bubble is bursting. A broad swath of the radical milieu have built a
radical, democratic and non-sectarian project that everyone is watching, working
together with the same objective, seeing commonality instead of difference, and
making a push to transform the world rather than simply “transforming ourselves” or
the Left. Furthermore we have created a space that is both non-sectarian and where
radical democracy intrinsically marginalizes the folks who think the revolution is in
their newspaper. For once the revolution is an open meeting, it has an organic
direction and it is showing few signs of ending. We should collectively step back and
appreciate the significance of this historical opportunity. We are delving into a
discussion based more on media-driven emotion than fact, that is intended to chase
us back into our respective holes.
In many places at many times, radicals devolve into sectarianism, navel-gazing theory
excursions to nowhere, or sometimes engaging in projects more to justify calling
oneself or one’s scene “political” than to actually effect change. We often sit within a
dialectic of political hopelessness and lack of obvious political openings that never
substantially evolves. Like Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot,
the best of us find ourselves waiting around for an ill-defined change to arrive that
never does without ever figuring out why. Oakland has broken out of that cycle,
hopefully for good. This scares the hell out of those in power – as well it should.
Solidarity must drive movement progression
The multiple weaknesses of the existing social order often open up the political space
for the creation of a new one. The Occupy movement has grown out of both the
chasms between the rich and poor and the expanding gaps between the needs of the
people and policies of existing institutions. The retreat of the welfare state’s
mitigating effect on the contradictions of capitalism has steadily increased economic
pain and political disempowerment across the bottom 8o% of the economy, obvious
felt hardest by the growing number of unemployed, homeless and uninsured sick.
The brazenness of those in power and their obvious miscalculation of people’s ability
to understand the society they live in have created a crisis of legitimacy in terms of
government and capitalism. From my perspective, the Occupy movement is
increasingly occupying that space of legitimacy in the minds of millions of people.
The next step seems to be to fuse mutual aid and counter-power to engage the
contradictions in our society, not to mitigate them, but to build a new society.
Occupy Oakland has always had a kitchen with plenty of hot food, a library, children’s
area, free bike repair, and a well-staffed medical clinic. There was a children’s march
on Halloween with dozens of kids and a piñata that, after much struggle, succumbed
to the inevitable forces of history – and candy loving kids. I think half the town
probably has at least one of the multiple designs of the incredible “Occupy Oakland”
posters that are almost constantly being screen-printed. The same “violent
anarchists” getting dragged through the mud, self-organized most of this.
The movement is not an intentional community or intended to be a home, though it is
a home for many people who don’t have a house to live in. Wednesday night’s
occupation of a former homeless clinic that surely wasn’t closed for lack of need,
located around the corner from Oscar Grant Plaza, is likely the first of many
occupations in Oakland. The General Assembly passed a proposal that calls for the
occupation of vacant housing and buildings. This country is full of foreclosed homes
with people living in the streets or in their family members’ basements or on a
friend’s couch; closed schools or under-funded schools and kids without hope; and
empty factories whose disconnected workers are on the streets or in a cell. The
public outcry for radical social change is no longer just a want but a need. It is no
longer held by the few, but by the many. This many is steadily expanding what seems
possible. The ascending nature of the movement and the fact that its ambitions have
always been explicitly radical provides hope that it will overcome internal divisions
and attempts to sow confusion and contention. Wednesday’s actions were a success.
We have a choice to either overcome the differences that have arisen in this moment
through even-handed debate, collective action and solidarity or we can let those
differences divide and destroy us. I suggest building on our victories rather than
disingenuously fighting over the tactics we used to achieve them.
Mike King is a PhD candidate at UC–Santa Cruz and an East Bay activist. He can
be reached at mking(at)
The Oakland General Strike, The Days Before,
The Days After
What follows is my personal account of the events that led up to the Oakland General
Strike of the 2nd of November, 2011. This takes the form of much personal narrative mixed
with analysis, while I'm still analyzing and thinking through the events, and while the
longer term effects are unknown, to get these experiences in writing while they are still
fresh. I apologize in advance for any rambling or roughness in the narrative.
The Days Before
After the eviction and severe police repression, two things occurred: a massive influx of
people and energy,and a shift from mostly symbolic holding of a plaza to a need to push
out and directly attack capital relations, with the call for a general strike.
The week between the call for the General Strike and the General Strike itself was bustling
with activity. Just like multiple formal organizations and informal groupings pushed hard for
a general strike in the first place, many groupings agitated and organized hard for it.
In the IWW, we couldn't help but have conversations with people, and we couldn't keep
flyers and posters in our hands - giving out thousands upon thousands. Fellow Workers
had been playing a key role in Occupy Oakland both at Oscar Grant Plaza and outside of
The General Assembly passed several key motions leading up to the General Strike - a
motion supporting autonomous actions that occupied buildings for the purpose of
expropriating them, a motion that reprisal pickets would be sent out where requested
against schools and businesses that disciplined their students or workers for participating
in the general strike, and that health and safety pickets would be sent out early where
requested, so that workers would have a picket line to refuse to cross.
Personally, I had some of the easiest agitating in my life. A class on Monday started with
the instructor talking about how he wasn't sure what was going on, but since getting to
Alameda pretty much requires going through downtown Oakland, he was cancelling class
on Wednesday. Then he goes on about how all the community college instructors are
looking forward to this, because most of them are getting hours cut or losing their jobs.
Then I said, "oh, I have flyers with more info, a lot of unions are endorsing this, it's going to
be big, everything is going to shut down for the day" and everyone took at least one flyer -
quite a few people took a few, one student took ten Spanish flyers for his coworkers so
they'd know what's up.
By Tuesday, the community colleges had large, public walkouts planned, most instructors
had cancelled classes, and it all just seemed to arise out of the air, as the organizers and
agitators had become a critical mass - nearly every person who heard about the General
Strike became another agitator.
The idea of shutting everything down for a day had become completely reasonable to the
average working class person in the East Bay.
The Oakland General Strike
I had stayed up until the wee hours of the morning the night before, checking my medic kit
and with anticipation, and tried to make sure to get rested up for the day. So my day started
with the early morning word, as I was heading out the door, that the longshore workers had
already shut down the port. The truth of the matter was that many of them had called out
and it was running at a greatly diminished capacity, and we still needed to shut the port
down. The longshore workers could not just strike and join us, but would have an arbitrator
come out and declare any picket line as "unsafe to cross" and they would be able to go
I headed downtown, arriving shortly after 10 am, and it was already far more people than I
had expected. I checked in at various places, found my medic buddy, and we started going
on small marches to shut down banks. Many banks and businesses were shutdown that
morning - generally easily. Every shutdown turned into a party. Meanwhile, thousands
would come to Oscar Grant plaza with each feeder march during the day.
My medic buddy and I decided to rest our feet a little during the anti-capitalist march, as we
expected that the situation at the port might get really intense, despite the fact the police
had been thus far absent. We were sitting, listening to Unwoman play with some street
perfomers, keeping an eye on 14th and Broadway, when someone ran up, interrupted the
show, and stated that anarchists were smashing windows and were intending to bring the
police down on us all. He tried to people's mic it, and while he did get plenty of chants of
peaceful protest, he didn't get many people to echo his desire to stand against anarchists
and forcibly stop them.
My medic buddy and I then went back to moving around the plaza and the area around it,
worried about tensions developing and bursting out into some sort of confrontation, but,
that did not seem to occur. Our numbers, however, were swelling rapidly. Two marches
would leave for the port, at 4 and 5 pm, the first, from reliable estimates consisting of at
least 10,000 people, the second consisting of 15-20k people. Plus many more people went
to the port from elsewhere. The best estimates I have seen for the numbers at the port were
35-50,000, which I can easily believe. My medic buddy and I marched with the feminist
block in the 5 pm march.
The march to the port was the first time we saw cops, but the largest gathering of cops we
saw was nine CHP officers on motorcycles setting up to direct traffic away from the march.
We arrived at the port to an atmosphere even more festive than the rest of the day, with a
sea of people that, like every other event that day, was as diverse as Oakland. The
Oakland port complex was literally fully of people, which, for anyone who knows how big a
port Oakland is, is very impressive.
We wandered around the port for a couple of hours, running into comrade after comrade; I
also ran into many classmates from the community colleges. This is remarkable as my
classmates are much like me - not traditional student aged, working at least one job, all
going back to school to become nurses, physician's assistants, optometrists, physical
therapists, nurse practitioners, and the like.
I was also surprised at how friendly people were at the port, and eager to talk - I'm used to
getting approached and thanked for medicing by obvious radicals, but, I had countless
people who don't normally ever go out to a protest thank me, including a Marine who gave
me really heartfelt thanks for being a medic, and being out there (this being really
significant with the traumatic injury Marine veteran Scott Olsen suffered from the police
hitting him with a tear gas canister in the police riots that led up to the call for the General
My medic buddy, having obligations in the city, and my body reminding me that my health
is not good and that eleven hours on my feet is quite enough, decided to walk out of the
port to a comrade's car, to get a quick ride home. I observed that crowds of people were
happily wandering all over West Oakland, the cops having gone back into hiding after their
incredibly sparse presence during the march on the port. The night, however, would
change character later...
The Black Bloc and the Peace Police
It should be obvious, from any veteran of mass movements that had heavy anarchist/anti-
capitalist participation, that the Black Bloc's actions during the anti-capitalist march would
turn controversial. They were very targeted - attacking only the Wells Fargo, the Bank of
America, and Whole Foods. The banks were an obvious target; the Whole Foods was
targeted because word went out that they threatened to fire any employee who participated
in the General Strike.
Of course, the only actual violence during the march (as the police were not even present),
was from self-appointed peace police, who, after screaming peaceful protest, tried to tackle
and restrain members of the Black Bloc, proving that once again, to the American pacifist,
the prevention of broken windows and graffiti are far more important that the physical well-
being of other people. In the days since, this has brought about numerous calls to kick all
the anarchists out of Occupy Oakland, that Occupy Oakland needs to be protected from
being radicalized, forgetting that anarchists and Marxists have been a major driving force
behind Occupy Oakland since the beginning, and that Occupy Oakland has already taken
it upon itself to successfully shut down the Port of Oakland, causing millions and millions of
dollars of economic damage. There has been talk of forming roving squads to forcibly
restrain and turn over to the police Black Bloc or anyone engaged in property destruction,
and to kick out suspected radicals. The level of redbaiting, since Wednesday, in Occupy
Oakland, has become exceptionally high.
While we can certainly criticize certain acts of property destruction as unstrategic, we must
always be sure to emphasize that smashing a window is qualitatively different than
tackling a person, and that we (as communists, anarchists, and other revolutionaries) need
to, without exception, stand together against those who would do capital and its hired
thugs, the police's, work for them. Now is not the time to decide what acts of property
destruction we'll stand behind or approve of, but to stand up against physical violence
against and social isolation of other revolutionaries. We've been through this debate many
times in the last 12 years - while it may be repeating as farce for us, there is certainly a
dedicated minority who are perfectly willing to act as the police and to crush the potential of
Occupy Oakland.
Red Flag Waving Against Red Flag
The past revolutions show us only too well: “the red flag can be waved against the red flag”
until the freikorps arrive - Theorie Communiste
...the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. - Karl Marx
The greatest source of infighting amongst all the anarchists, communists, socialists, and
other radicals (self-proclaimed or otherwise) would be around the failed building
occupation late that night. As they explain in their statement, a group entered the building
that had been the former location of the Traveler's Aid Society, and attempted to
expropriate it so that it could become a community center. Several hundred people took
part in this action, again, a crowd as diverse as Oakland.
They were clearly unprepared for the magnitude of the police response. Line after line of
riot cops came in, swinging batons, launching containers of tear gas, throwing flashbangs,
and shooting rubber bullets. While attempts to set up barricades were made, the crowd of
people could not defend them.
A miscalculation was made about the ferociousness of the response; I think many of us
would have made the same miscalculation. Before what occurred, I would have said that
the police were on such a tight leash, that if numbers at the building could be kept high for
a bit, that they could have made the Mayor's office look horrible again when the police
finally busted down the doors.
However, even from supposed "radicals" and "anarchists", lies are being told, or at least
spread - that the occupation was solely white kids, the occupiers were outside agitators,
that police were massed up and ready to go before the occupation started, that property
destruction or violence began occurring before the police attacked, or that the police were
antagonized. Based on video footage and conversations and other communications from
several trusted comrades, none of these things are true. While we can certainly wish for a
different outcome, we have reformist elements within Occupy Oakland screaming for blood
over the threat to private property, and criticisms being made are overly harsh, spiteful, and
moralistic, implying that the building occupiers are to blame for their own wounds. We do
not need to do the work of the co-opting elements for them, and we need to realize that two
very important events for the future of the mass movement that has been occurring
happened on Wednesday: the shutting down of the port and the attempted expropriation of
the building.
If the Oakland Commune does not continue to accelerate the process of communization, it
will fall back into either pure symbolism, or assume the counterrevolutionary form of
reformism (two processes already in progress). The building was the next logical step, and
the moment taken seemed to be the likeliest and also the safest for large numbers of
people not involved, as the cops had not been seen in numbers at any point, until they
appeared and massed up to put down the already accomplished building occupation. Had
the same events occurred during the day, the disruption to the General Strike would have
been much greater.
Other criticisms to be addressed, that are much more concerning, revolve around the
"undemocratic" or "substitutionist" nature of the occupation or around the need to convince
the populace of the morality of our position, and that the police will relent through moral
"struggle", that we can change things just by becoming "better people". Morality is a bad
joke; a capitalism of angels would be just as exploitative, just as oppressive. Police officers
will never lay down their arms en masse; they are the hired thugs of capital, and unlike the
risk of mutiny that capital takes when it deploys the military against its own population, the
entire training of the police molds them into a force that's very purpose is to repress their
own populace. Morality has no place in communist struggle, what matters is our ability to
out organize, out manuver, and out fight capital.
As to the "undemocratic" nature of the occupation, if one really thinks the General
Assembly should be required to approve of things that occur outside of Oscar Grant Plaza,
they approved a motion that supported autonomous actions to occupy buildings. To
anyone who thinks that the General Assembly should have approved a motion to occupy
that particular building at that particular time, that would have only succeeded at, at best,
leading to a wall of riot cops around the building keeping people out at the appointed time,
or, at worst, another eviction of Occupy Oakland.
Beyond the impracticality and the existing resolution, we must be cautious of fetishizing
democracy. The majority do not want communism at this moment, and we will never
convince them through debate (ask the Socialist Party of Great Britain how successful their
strategy has been); in general, struggle precedes consciousness. People and groups must
be brought into the struggle, and through struggle, their consciousness will be elevated.
And, for the events of that day all over Oakland, why is the General Assembly to be seen
as having an authoritative voice? Far more people participated in the Oakland General
Strike than have ever attended a General Assembly. What is the good in seeing the
General Assembly as having any authority outside the bounds of time and space which it
inhabits - in other words, do we wish to see the General Assembly of those who have the
motivation and ability to get to it when it convenes to be binding outside those times and
outside that place? Or do we see it as being an advisory body and one that can promise a
certain capacity of support, that varies over time?
As for the "substitutionist" complaint, generally substitutionism involves the belief that a
smaller group authoritatively acts for a large group, rather than taking action and then
attempting to expropriate the results. There will always be a militant minority as an informal
vanguard in struggle (Bordiga's "material party"), expecting it to wait for a unitary proletariat
to emerge will have us waiting forever.
Was It A General Strike?
It was clearly not a General Strike in the traditional sense; many businesses outside of
downtown kept running, even though massive economic damage was done, and business
as usual certainly did not occur downtown. It may be more useful to think of it as a Social
Strike, where in addition to the social relations in workplaces being disrupted, the totality of
social relations in downtown Oakland were completely altered.
Furthermore, should we necessarily expect a General Strike in 2011 to look like one in
1946? The composition of the proletariat has changed greatly, and the way in which work
is imposed as a disciplinary measure has been greatly changed. The increasing
imposition of debt (which can only be seen as selling one's future, rather than present,
labor power) as both a disciplinary measure on the proletariat and as a way to ensure its
reproduction has likely changed what a mass refusal of work looks like; as struggles
continue to heat up, it will be interesting to see what new forms these struggles take as we
adjust our strategies and tactics to the new terrain of struggle.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It is clear that many of the communist, anarchist, and otherwise revolutionary elements in
the Bay have pushed themselves past their capacity to make the General Strike happen.
Part of the cooling off, the difficulty in providing a unified, strong response to redbaiting,
and the infighting may be due to everyone's exhaustion, and the collective let down we felt
when we woke up Thursday and it was far more like Tuesday than it was like Wednesday.
There are several important directions that Occupy Oakland needs to go. A way to
accomplish the expropriation of buildings needs to occur, as it is not only both one of the
most likely path to speed up the process of communization, but, the logical action to take
as the rainy season sets in. The Travelers' Aid Society occupiers certainly had the right
idea, even if they were unable to defend their gains against a police response of
unforeseen magnitude.
While the majority feel of the participants during the General Strike was that capitalism is
broken, the start of recuperation is already there - into a recall campaign against Mayor
Quan, and into making other reformist demands. We need to learn from Madison and other
struggles how this recuperation occurs and to struggle against it.
Occupy Oakland needs to better address issues around race and gender. While the camp
is exceptionally diverse, the General Assembly too often centers the voices and concerns
of white men, and then, following that, men in general. The Feminist Bloc grew out of a
Women and Trans and Queer group, and hopefully from there, we can broaden the
discourse to include reproductive labor, sex work, and domestic work, as well as the
hyperexploitation and oppression of queers and trans people under capitalism.
We need to avoid aiming for a unified message or cohesion. The main strength of the
Oakland General Strike was that it was the Multitude coming together and struggling in
common, individuals and groups with their own experiences and their own personal
position realizing common needs and goals. Trying to form a unified vision or demands for
Occupy Oakland, rather than the fulfillment of its members' needs and wants by
expropriation and direct conflict with capital will doom it to both a counterrevolutionary
character and to fail to ever regain anything resembling the energy of November 2nd.
- Gayge Operaista
IWW, Common Struggle, personal capacity
Cracks in the Glass – Belated Reflection on Nov
Cracks in the Glass – Belated Reflection on Nov 2nd.
Posted by OaklandCommune on Monday, December 5, 2011 · Leave a Comment
“A part of this bank belongs to me too, so this is a little piece that belongs to me and my
family, and my people here. That’s why I want to keep this as a memory of today when the
people of Oakland stood up against the banks”
Geraldo Dominguez uttered these words during the November 2nd Oakland General Strike
in the foreground of a city in revolt. With his child near him an ABC 7 cameraperson
managed to catch Mr. Dominguez collecting shards of broken glass in front of a recently
destroyed Wells Fargo. In his hands he held the material memory of a day of intense and
direct struggle. A day when thousands of people converged on downtown Oakland, snake
marches shut down banks and business all over the city, thousands marched to one of the
busiest ports in North America to shut it down, thousands celebrated the short lived
occupation of a foreclosed building and downtown was imbued with a spirit of resistance
well into the early hours of the next morning.
By now the events of November 2nd have been analyzed and reflected upon by many.
However, it is important to understand these events in the most honest terms, reflecting on
the real content of the activity and the political configurations of Occupy Oakland that
produced them. There is no better place to begin formulating this understanding than with
the Occupy Oakland General Assemblies.
From the very beginning the General Assembly of Occupy Oakland has been contentious
political and logistical ground. As the main coordinating body of a decentralized and
leaderless movement, the General Assembly has often acted to help facilitate logistical
questions of the camp that are necessary to reproduce the space its self (i.e. the
coordination of various internal committees, security, etc). There has never been one
concrete political line for the whole of the Occupation. For this reason there have only been
a few actions done in the name of Occupy Oakland but many done in relation to it. This
formula has existed to constantly encourage autonomous actions within and outside of the
camp that do not require consensus from the General Assembly. This has allowed for both
infrastructure within the camp and political activity surrounding the occupation to take a life
of its own, be completely decentralized, prevent cooption by small groups and breathe as
many voices and actions into the movement as possible. Without the encouragement of
autonomous activity and initiative not only would the camp its self not be so vibrant and
politically relevant but November 2nd would not have been as successful as it was. The
basic outline of November 2nd was coordinated through the General Assembly as was the
call to march on the Port of Oakland in solidarity with the ILWU and their struggle against
EGT. However the snake marches through out the day, bank shutdowns, speakers, mini-
rallies, the nighttime building occupation and other activity were not. It is both due to the
impracticality of coordinating everything in a large General Assembly and also a reflection
of a common understanding and sentiment that has been central to Occupy Oakland from
the beginning: autonomous activity, actions and initiative are not only welcomed and
encouraged but absolutely essential to the proper functioning, expansion and relevance of
Occupy Oakland.
The centrality of autonomous activity has been reflected in the variety of positions,
sentiments and forms of activity that have circulated through the Occupy Oakland
encampment since it’s beginning. These various sentiments and forms have influenced the
direction of the camp as a whole in different ways. Since the beginning many anti-
capitalist, anarchist and other militant ideas have been integral in all areas of the camp.
This has separated Occupy Oakland from other occupations around the country. For
example, where as in Zucotti Park at Occupy Wall Street the police presence is constant
around the periphery, at Oscar Grant Plaza from day one the police were not allowed
anywhere near the camp. Multiple times since the camp’s inception police have attempted
to come into the camp and solidify a presence to control and monitor the situation. Every
single time this happened groups of anywhere from 20 to 100 people virulently and
bombastically forced the police to leave. It was quickly understood that the police were not
welcome at any time and their presence would produce a response from the camp. During
one of the first general assemblies it was officially decided that no politicians or political
parties were allowed in the camp nor would they be supported or endorsed by Occupy
Oakland. Weeks before the Occupation began Democratic Party front group
organized a labor rally and march in the plaza. They had scheduled the mayors of
Berkeley and Richmond to speak. Upon learning this information the General Assembly
immediately decided that it would not allow these politicians to speak at the rally and
forced Moveon .org to relocate their speeches elsewhere. In another situation the City of
Oakland attempted to subvert the aims of the camp by criticizing the Occupation on many
fronts. Everything from tents to the kitchen became points of criticism and used to justify the
immediate termination of the camp. When a letter from the city expressed this it was set
aflame on stage during a General Assembly. In another situation a few days after the
militaristic police raid on Oscar Grant Plaza Jean Quan herself tried to speak at a General
Assembly after the initial time for speakers was over. She was immediately booed off the
stage and chased back into City Hall. With all of these actions and others alongside the
brutal actions of the police, Occupy Oakland became the frontrunner of the entire Occupy
movement pushing it in ever more radical directions eventually resulting in the call for a
General Strike on Nov. 2nd.
During the General Strike an anti-capitalist march was called for to meet at Telegraph and
Broadway at 2pm. This march was attended by over two thousand people and was a
product of autonomous initiative. While it was not called for by the General Assembly it
was attended en masse and was intended to be in solidarity with Occupy Oakland, against
the police, and demonstrate a political will antagonistic to capitalism its self and taking
inspiration from the political culture brewing in Occupy Oakland. During this march
individuals took it upon themselves to directly attack banks and the Oakland Whole Foods.
The banks have been on the receiving end of criticism and one of the main targets of
discontent for the entire Occupy movement. Whole Foods is a product of gentrification in
Oakland, a symbol of pacifying green-capitalist consumer politics and also, it was reported,
planned on taking punitive action against any workers who attended the strike. It was
during this march that differing tactical positions were explored than had been at snake
marches and bank shut downs earlier in the day. These tactics included sabotage and
property destruction. Certain tactical choices made on a march autonomously called for
outside of the General Assembly were decisions made by participants in a specific
situation. This is no deviation away from the basic formula for how tactical decisions had
been made in the past – those present in the situation decided to act how they felt it would
be appropriate to act. Those people in the march who attempted to physically restrain
others tactical decisions acted as authoritarian as the police themselves. Those who
engaged in direct attacks on the banks and Whole Foods were not a “fringe element” or
acting in contradiction to the motives and aims of Occupy Oakland. They were as much a
part of it as those who sit in front of the police upon their encroachment or those wanting
permits for demonstrations. They are not on the periphery of another wise “peaceful
movement” – they are an integral component tactically, strategically and politically. During
the march it was not uncommon to hear cheers and see jubilant smiles by many at the
sound of a bank being destroyed. It was as though those in attendance saw the impossible
before their eyes – people actually fighting back. To say that this activity was a deviation
forgets the principles and logic upon which tactical and strategic decisions through out
Occupy Oakland had been made – autonomously.
Another autonomous act that took place on the 2nd was the occupation of a foreclosed
building on 16th street in the evening hours. By the time the march from the Port had
returned people had taken it upon themselves to occupy a building that once housed a
myriad of social services. While this act its self was not (and did not have to be) passed by
the General Assembly it came in the wake of an initiative passed by the General Assembly
a few days prior. This resolution committed to materially and politically supporting any
occupations that were to occur in Oakland and beyond. This lends a certain political
continuity between the General Assembly and the building occupation – those who acted
were acting both autonomously and in direct line with the political content of the
Occupation its self. This occupation also expanded Occupy Oakland from being held just
within the parameters of a plaza into other locations of social life thus increasing the
contentious political and strategic content of the movement its self. The space was
intended to house workshops, a library and more occupiers. It also was supposed to
undermine the authoritarian social relations of capitalism predicated on private property
and the state. The state becomes irrelevant when people in large numbers provide for one
another and do not allow any room for the state to promise their own services. By taking
over this building people collectively bit the hand that feeds because that with enough
initiative at the right moment the state and capital fade into irrelevance. It is with this
material acknowledgement that those in the building intended to stage and continue with
political attacks. Realizing this the police began to assemble and move in to both quell and
stop the situation before it continued. It must be reiterated that this action was
autonomously organized and in line with a resolution passed by the General Assembly
and was not a deviation from other escalatory autonomous activity through out November
Upon learning that the police were advancing, barricades made of garbage bins, tires,
pallets and other debris were quickly erected on both sides of 16th. The intention of the
police operation was to prevent the expansion of the Occupation outside of the plaza. The
intention of the barricades was to defend the newly acquired space and make police
advancement more difficult. As they moved forward scuffles began between those in the
streets and the police. As a form of self-defense a barricade at 16th and Telegraph was lit
aflame. The police attacked people, injuring and arresting many. The space was lost
however the struggle in the street showed that it would not be taken away without a fight.
After the police solidified their lines at each of the barricades and forced people out of the
newly acquired social space a large and diverse crowd retaliated in downtown Oakland.
Various businesses were looted, covered in spray paint or attacked. This was not random
but the product of a direct police advancement and threat. 14th and Broadway became the
epicenter of an earthquake, with redecorated walls, and shattered glass all under a banner
that read “Death to Capitalism”. These acts were not merely acts of naïve destruction for its
own sake. They were expressions of anger and resistance that cannot be contained within
the formula of a march and three word chants. They were an explosive reaction against
this society in an attempt to reclaim and recreate everything that has been stolen. Through
material destruction and the fire of burning barricades the ashes and debris of this society
began to, if even for just a night, reconstruct the world anew.
November 2nd showed the world what is coming. The terrain of unemployment, gang
injunctions, school and library closures, a murderous police force and poverty gave birth to
the radical essence of Occupy Oakland. Building occupations alongside struggles with the
police will not be unique to Oakland for long – they are the beginning of what is to come. It
is because this society cannot provide that these measures are not merely coming from a
political consciousness but out of direct material necessity. It is this necessity, so apparent
here in Oakland, for housing, food and protection from the police that has made Occupy
Oakland everything it is. As these conditions continue to spread in ways as of now unseen,
so too will resistance to them. Buildings will be occupied. Police will be fought. Banks will
be attacked. From broken glass to abandoned buildings everything will be reclaimed.
Geraldo Dominguez held in his hands the broken pieces of a world stolen from all of us, of
a broken society constituting the foundation for something else. A society of profits, value
and property that we create but cannot hold, that we produce but cannot touch. That is ours
but so far away. This separation is the reason that spaces and buildings are occupied in
the first place – it is through occupation and reclamation that we can take back our lives
from a system predicated on separation in all areas of life. Mr. Dominguez held pieces of
glass that stood as an omnipresent reminder of this separation until they shattered on the
ground. It is then that they became a memory of struggle, a piece of history, a broken
looking glass capable of staring into a world of possibility. November 2nd was a day he
and all of us could see clearly through the cracks in the glass.
Filed under From the Bay · Tagged with
Posted by OaklandCommune on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 · Leave a Comment
In addition to the marches called for by the General Assembly of the Oakland Commune,
several marches were organized outside the formal processes at Oscar Grant Plaza. The
organization of this, and other “unofficial” actions throughout the day is a point to be
celebrated: the GA has consistently emphasized autonomous action and the strike has to
be seen as a success in opening space for such autonomous activity. Most significant of
these was the march that departed from the intersection of Broadway and Telegraph at 2
p.m. This march had been anonymously called as an anti-capitalist march. Both the poster
promoting the march and the banner at its front boldly proclaimed “if we cannot live, we will
not work; general strike!” An accompanying banner declared “this is class war.” This
messaging of the march matched its stated intention and its subsequent action: to shut
down those businesses and banks that remained open despite the strike (a promise it
would make good on).
The small concrete triangle at the intersection of Broadway and Telegraph has great
significance in the recent and long-past history of the struggle against class society in
Oakland. In 1946, this intersection was the stage for the opening act of what would be the
last General Strike in the United States before Wednesday. More recently, anarchists and
anti-state communists in the Bay Area have used the intersection as a staging point for a
series of three anti-capitalist processions in downtown Oakland. Named anticuts, these
marches were a conscious attempt by anti-capitalists to carve out (anti)political space in
Oakland from which to begin a non-statist / non-reformist response to the financial crisis, in
the absence of any foreseeable social movement in the States. Each one beginning at
Broadway and Telegraph, these three marches took to the streets of Oakland and took as
their objects certain focal points of hate in downtown: particularly the jail and certain highly
visible banking institution, but also the police whenever they came into conflict with
demonstrators. To the extent that the intention of this sequence was to claim space for and
build the offensive capacity of anti-capitalists in the Bay Area, the anti-captitalist march
during the general strike proved this initial sequence to be a success. Noise
demonstrations have returned to the jail several times through the course of the
occupation, each communicating louder and more fiercely to the prisoners than the march
before. However, it was specifically the downtown banks that attracted the ire of this
particular march. The anti-capitalist march on November 2
must then be understood
within a continuum through time; it must be seen as the emboldened and enraged
continuation of a communizing thread which aims to collectively claim and determine
space within the city of Oakland.
Any reading of recent anti-capitalist street endeavors in the Bay Area also offers another
discreet lesson to the students of social struggle: come materially prepared for the conflict
you wish to see. Following this analysis, one could read this march as highly conflictual
based solely on the obvious material preparations that went into it. From the outside, one
could see that the march was equipped with two rather large reinforced banners at the
lead, scores of black flags on hefty sticks, dozens of motorcycle helmets, and the now
familiar book shields. Add to this the anonymity afforded by hundreds wearing masks and
matching colors, and there is no question that these demonstrators came to set it off that
afternoon. The black-clad combatants at the front of this march would retroactively be
referred to with much notoriety as the black bloc, though this is perhaps a backwards
reading of the events of the day. Rather than a coherent subject group or organization that
set out to offer a singular political position, this tactical formation should instead be thought
of as a void, a subjective black-hole where those who shared a similar disposition could be
drawn to one another for protection and amplification. The so-called black bloc forcefully
asserted a desirable situation for those who wanted to accomplish outlaw tasks despite
repressive state apparatuses. Many will question the metaphysical implications or the
contemporary efficacy of this particular form of making destroy. Yet regardless, it is
important to emphasize that in the context of efforts to openly attack capitalist institutions in
the face of intense surveillance, concealing your identity and rolling with friends will
continue to be the best tactic. Additionally, this effort further expands the intention of anti-
capitalist space in the bay area, offering a way for social rebels to find one another and act
in concert.
Toward this end, the anti-capitalist march was quite successful in heightening the conflict
in the streets of Oakland during the general strike. To the pleasure of a great majority of the
several hundred demonstrators, an active minority within the march set about attacking a
series of targets: Chase Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Whole Foods, the UC Office
of the President. Each was beset by a stormcloud of hammers, paint bombs, rocks, black
flags and fire-extinguishers loaded with paint. The choice of these targets seems intuitive
to anyone attuned to the political climate of Oakland. The banks attacked are responsible
for tens of thousands of foreclosures in Oakland alone, as well as the imprisonment of
Oaklanders through the funding of private prisons and immigrant detention. Whole Foods,
in addition to its daily capitalist machinations, had purportedly threatened its workers with
repercussions if they’d chosen to strike. UCOP, besides being the headquarters for the
disgusting cabal that rules the UC system, was rumored to be the day’s base of operations
for OPD and its cronies. Despite any number of reasons to destroy these places, the
remarkable point of these attacks was that no justification was necessary. As each pane of
glass fell to the floor and each ATM was put out of service, cheers would consistently erupt.
Foregoing demands of their enemies, demonstrators made demands of one another,
shouting wreck the property of the one percent! and occupy / shut it down / Oakland
doesn’t fuck around! In 1999, at the height of neoliberal prosperity, participants in the black
bloc at the Seattle WTO summit issued a communique detailing the crimes of their targets.
A dozen years and a worldwide crisis later, such an indictment would seem silly. Everyone
hates these places..
This isn’t to say that
there wasn’t conflict
over these
smashings. A small,
yet dedicated group
of morons set about
trying hopelessly to
defend the property
of their masters. In
the name of non-
violence, these
thuggish pacifists
demonstrators and
sought to re-
establish peace on
the streets.
Thankfully, these
people were as
outnumbered and ill-coordinated as they are irrelevant. Chair fights and brawls ensued, but
each skirmish concluded with the hooded ones and their comrades on top. The anti-
capitalist march and the formations that comprised it, should also be looked to as a
practical means of neutralizing and marginalizing such peace police as well as the plain-
clothed officers who fight at their side.
Property destruction is not a new element for the Oakland Commune. In the weeks prior to
the anti-capitalist march, the property of various police entities were attacked by
communards several times.:an anonymous communique claimed an attack on an
unmarked police cruiser parked near the plaza; the riot following the eviction of Oscar
Grant Plaza took a few more cop cars as its victim; a march against police brutality, days
later, smashed the windows at OPD’s recruiting station next to City Hall. The destruction of
the anti-capitalist march is set apart from these incidents for a handful of noteworthy
reasons. Firstly, this demonstration marked the first large and coordinated act of collective
destruction by the nascent Occupy movement. For a movement that fetishizes re-written
narratives of non-violence in the Arab Spring, this event served as an act of forced memory.
Clandestine attacks, however lovely, have a tendency to be overlooked, whereas
hundreds of masked individuals comprising a march that makes destroy cannot so easily
be ignored. Secondly, this symphony of wreckage marked a turning point in the naughty
behavior of the occupations. Rather than reacting to police provocations (and in doing so
feeding certain narratives about what justifies destruction) the demonstrators of the anti-
capitalist march determined to take the initiative and the offensive in smashing their
enemies without waiting to be gassed and beaten first. In doing so, they concretely refused
the pacifist ideology of victimization that characterizes the dominant discourse of policing
and violence. Lastly, in specifically targeting the dreaded banks and corporations, so hated
by the occupation movement, these attacks served to equip he movement with the teeth it
had previously been missing. Not only do these people hate the banks, they’ll actually
make concrete attacks against the institutions they hate.
For enemies of capital, the shattering of bank windows and the sabotage of ATM
machinery is beautiful in and of itself. It is intuitive that wrecking the property of financial
institutions and forcing their closure is desirable. Some will argue that plate glass can be
replaced and that any business closed by these actions would likely re-open the next day.
This line of criticism isn’t wrong on the face of it, but it often misses a certain set of
implications at the center of chaotic episodes such as this. For those seeking to destroy
class society, chaos itself must be seen as a primary strategy at our disposal. Theorists of
social control often cite the broken window theory: a way to describe the phenomena
where the introduction of disorder to an otherwise perfectly ordered environment begets
and creates space for further disorder. At the heart of this theory of governance is the
understanding that biopolitical government must treat any interruption of order as a threat
to order as a totality. Put another way, this violence against the facades of these capitalist
institutions is damaging to said institutions in a manner far more grave than the cost of a
few windows or the lost labor time. Rather, this activity sends signals of disorder pulsing
through the imperial system. In the way that a broken window indicates the instability of an
environment, the concerted efforts to smash the windows of various banks signals a
coming wave of violence against the existent social order and its fiscal management. In the
same way, attacks on police apparatuses signal the coming of far greater confrontations
with the institution of policing. In a system as future-oriented and perception-driven as
capitalism, this type of perceived disorder is catastrophic to investor confidence and to the
key functions of the market. One need only look to the Eurozone to see the way in which
anti-austerity revolt is intrinsically tied to the collapse of any illusion of security or
confidence in the capitalist mode of production. Last year, blackclad haters in London
smashed windows and attacked banks during a UK Uncut day of action. Months later,
dispossessed people all over the England set about burning police cars, attacking police
stations, looting stores and generally expropriating a future they were totally excluded from.
Though the professional activists of UK Uncut were quick to distance themselves from the
rioting in London, nobody was fooled. The actions of vandals during the UK Uncut events
demonstrated that the crisis had arrived; that disorder was about to unfold. The left
bewailed the nihilistic elements who had ‘infiltrated’ ‘their protest’, either anarchists intent
on destruction or hooligans out to get theirs. When in subsequent months, massive
segments of London’s underbelly rose up against their daily misery, they confirmed the
fears of the bourgeoisie; the war was at their front door. In Greece and now in Italy, the
violence of insurrectionaries in the streets corresponds to the chaos tearing through the
countries’ economies. In each of these events, the reality that there is no future comes
tearing into the present. To quote comrades in Mexico, chaos has returned, for those who
thought she had died!
One can
already see
this instability
rending its way
Oakland. The
leaders of the
city are all too
aware of the
implications of
this sort of anti-
activity in the
East Bay. In
the days
following the
from Oakland’s
Chamber of
went to City
Hall to wring their hands about the previous day’s destruction. According to them, three
businesses had already withdrawn from contractual discussions about opening their doors
in downtown Oakland. Another downtown business association, comprised primarily of
banking institutions and corporate investors, bewailed the existence of the Commune.
They asserted that the activities of the occupation and the strike were causing a great deal
of damage to Oakland’s business community and that many “local businesses” wouldn’t
survive another month of its existence. Clearly it is wrong to locate a month of anti-
capitalist activity as the cause of financial crisis in the town, but there is a truth buried
beneath their denial. These events in Oakland cannot be conceived of outside the context
of the crisis as it unfolds. By the same logic, the activities of Oakland communards cannot
be separated from the social conflict which propels them and of which they are but a small
part. Almost two years ago, social rebels in the Bay Area locked themselves into university
buildings and ran blindly onto freeway overpasses declaring OCCUPY EVERYTHING and
WE ARE THE CRISIS. The former slogan has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Perhaps
the latter is coming to fruition as well.
Predictably, dogmatic pacifists responded to the vandalism and fighting by screaming
PEACEFUL PROTEST and NON-VIOLENCE. The majority of demonstrators responded
by taking up the chant, WE ARE NOT PEACFUL. Since the strike, this particular conflict
has played out in innumerable discussions. In each case, the meaning and efficacy of
‘violence’ is drawn out and debated ad nauseum. In the skirmishes between occupiers and
university police that played out the following week on University of California campuses,
this discourse surrounding violence escalated to pure absurdity. After UC police beat
protesters on the UC Berkeley campus, police and university officials declared that such
beatings were in fact not violent, while those students who linked arms in the face of police
assault had themselves committed a violent act. Within the logic of power, force dealt out
by police batons is not violent, while solidarity and care in the face of such force is violent.
In the clearest way possible, this tragicomedy demonstrates precisely why it serves us to
avoid discussions of non/violence. Violence will always be defined by Power. Those who
resist will be labeled violent, regardless of their conduct. Likewise, brutality at the hands of
those servants of Power will always be invisible.
There is an intelligence in this declaration against peace, but it cannot be reduced to this
or that position on violence. Any attempt to define violence will always fall back upon
abstraction. Any attempt to deploy such a definition is always already useless. Rather than
being for or against violence, it behooves us to instead position ourselves against peace.
In defining peace, let’s avoid abstraction. We can name every miserable element of the
daily function of capital as peace. Peace is our terrible jobs, our lack of a job, our
workplace injuries, the time stolen from us and the labor we’ll never get back. Peace is
being thrown out of our homes and freezing on the streets. Peace is when police officers
kill us in cold blood on train platforms and in our neighborhoods. Peace is racism,
transphobia, misogyny and anti-queer attacks. Peace is immigrant detention and prison
slavery. When the apologists for class society declare their intentions to be peaceful, we
understand as their desire for the perpetuation of the day to day atrocities of life under
capital. To raise one’s fingers in a peace sign in the face of our armed enemies can only be
seen as the greatest act of sycophancy. The tragically common chanting of PEACFUL
PROTEST should really be read as NOTHING, NOTHING, MORE OF THE SAME! It
should be abundantly clear, then, that we are quite done with peace. Reading peace as a
euphemism for the horrors of the present, we must take as our task the immediate
suspension of social peace.
The dominant discourse of peaceful protest bears a more troubling implication. Many who
advocate for peaceful protest, actually do so quite cynically. It isn’t out of a desire for an
absence of violence (as evidenced by their violent efforts to police others and enforce their
peace). Rather, these peace-warriors operate on an assumption that so long as they are
sufficiently meek, their cause will be just. Following from this, so long as they are passive,
the inevitable violence enacted upon them by the police will appear illegitimateThis
attempt at self-victimization, beyond being a foolish tactic, is a specific measure to
invalidate resistance and to justify the operations of the police state. Any criticism of peace
discourse must also be centered around an understanding that this language originates
from, is advocated by, affirms the position of, and is in itself the State.
Rejecting the logic of social peace, we instead assert a different rationale: social war.
Social war is our way of articulating the conflict of class war, but beyond the limitations of
class. Rather than a working class seeking to affirm ourselves in our endless conflict with
capital, we desire instead to abolish the class relation and all other relations that reproduce
this social order. Social war is the discrete and ongoing struggle that runs through and
negotiates our lived experience. As agents of chaos, we seek to expose this struggle; to
make it overt. The issue is not violence or non-violence. What’s at issue in these forays
against capital is rather the social peace and its negation. To quote a comrade here in
Oakland: windows are shattered when we do nothing, so of course windows will be
shattered when we do something; blood is shed when we do nothing, so of course blood
will be shed when we do something. Social war is this process of doing something. It is our
concerted effort to rupture the ever-present deadliness of the social peace. It is a series of
somethings which interrupt this nothing.
In the course of the anti-capitalist march, like countless before it, many attempted to take up
an all too familiar chant. WE ARE THE 99%! However this consensus was quickly
disrupted. Anti-capitalist demonstrators quickly took up a different chant: WE ARE THE
PROLETARIAT! From an anti-capitalist perspective, this is as important an intervention as
a hammer through any financial or police apparatus. Firstly, the prevailing conception of
the 99% must be recognized primarily as a means to control the activity of rebellious
elements within a mass. Originally a reference to crazy distributions of wealth in the United
States, the 99% has come to be an empty and abstract signifier for any dominant group. A
relevant example of the application of this normalizing concept is the recent letter from the
Oakland Police stating that they too are part of the 99%, and struggle daily against the
criminal 1% comprised of thieves, rapists, and murderers. Another odious deployment of
the concept is the way that lovers-of-bank-windows declare that anarchists are in fact the
1%, opposed to the peaceful 99% of protesters. Even more absurd is an assertion by
police-apologists that, in fact, 99% police officers are good people and that only 1% of
them are sadistic sociopaths. Each of these examples points to the fact that wherever it is
cited, the meme of the 99% is always synonymous with one undifferentiated mass or
another. Cops and mayors are part of the 99%, anarchists and hooligans clearly are not.
Acting as a normalizing theoretical concept, it always functions to otherize a deviant
element and to inflict disciplinary measures on that element. Insofar as it is a reference to a
mass – an abstract, peaceful, law-abiding mass – the 99% can only mean society itself.
We cannot, however, read this use of the concept of the 99% as a misappropriation of an
otherwise correct term. From the beginning, the concept is totally useless to us. There is no
such thing as the 99% and it can never serve to describe our experience of capitalism. The
use of such a framework requires a flattening out of a whole range of power relationships
that constitute the real structures of our lives. In my daily life, I have never met a member of
this mythical 1%, nor do I analyze this 1% as some elusive enemy in my hand-to-hand
conflict with capital. I have never been directly oppressed by a member of this 1%, but I
have been oppressed and exploited at the hands of police officers, queerbashers, sexual
assaulters, landlords and bosses. Each of these enemies can surely claim a place within
this 99%, yet that does not in any way mitigate our structural enmity. The strength of certain
anarchist critiques of capital is to be found in their location of diffuse and complex power
relations as being the material sinews of this society. The world is not miserable simply
because 1% of the population owns this or that amount of property. Misery is our condition
specifically because the beloved 99% acts to reproduce this arrangement in and through
their daily activity.
Fleeing from this miserable discourse, we
assert that if the 99% percent is real, we are
not of it. Rather we are the proletariat. Often
misconstrued as being synonymous with
the working class, there is in fact a discrete
distinction in our efforts to define ourselves
as such. Rather than referring to a positive
conception of wage-laborers, our use of
proletarian is meant to negatively describe
those who have nothing to sell but their
bodies and their labor. Having nothing,
being the dispossessed, the proletariat is
the diffuse and yet overwhelming body of
people for whom there is no future within
capitalism. Those who comprised this
proletarian wrecking machine perform any
number of functions in society – sex workers, baristas, medical study lab rat, petty thieves,
servers, parents, the unemployed, graphic designers, students – and yet we are united
specifically in our dispossession from our ability to reproduce ourselves in any dignified
manner within the current social order. In a post-industrial economy, an attention to our
economic position must be central to our efforts to destroy that economy. Where in the past
the proletariat was primarily comprised of industrial labor, it was conceivable that
workplace takeovers and seizure of the means of production made a certain amount of
sense. For those of us with absolutely no relationship to the means of production, an
entirely different set of strategies must be cultivated. Being a genuine outside to the vital
reproduction of capital, our methodology must valorize the position of the Outside and must
pioneer ways in which this outside may abolish the conditions of its exclusion.
For those trapped within the field of circulation, this will mean an interruption of that
circulation and an expropriation of the products to which our labor adds value. For those
engaged in informal and criminal practices, it will mean developing new methods of
collective crime in order to loot back a future that isn’t ours. For those excluded from
economic structures, it will mean efforts to blockade and sabotage and destroy those
structures, rather than any attempt to self-manage the architecture of our exclusion. For
those who need homes, it will mean occupation. For those who hunger, it will mean
looting. For those who cannot pay, it will mean auto-reduction. This is why we steal things,
this is why we smash what can’t be stolen, this is why we fight in the streets, this is why we
make barricades and block the flows of society. As proletarians – as those who have
nothing but one another – we must immediately set about creating the tactics to destroy the
machinery that reproduces capitalism and at the same time forge means of struggle that
will sustain us for conflicts to come.

November 15 second raid
An Update and Thoughts from the Oakland
An Update and Thoughts from the Oakland Commune
Posted by OaklandCommune on Monday, November 21, 2011 · Leave a Comment
A brief account of this last week in Occupy Oakland:
In the early hours of
Monday morning (11/14)
the police conducted the
second eviction of the
Oakland Commune. Far
less spectacular than the
first, a few hundred
campers and supporters
picketed and protested
inside police perimeters
and under the ruthless
lights of helicopters for
hours. Numbers dwindled
down to dozens by 9 a.m.
The following day, as
planned, a large rally was
held at the downtown
Oakland Public Library
followed by a march back to Oscar Grant Plaza (OGP). Upon arriving at OGP no tents were
raised, the kitchen was not re-established, and there was no library, no free store or medic
tent. By the mayor’s orders, the plaza was to be open to the public for 24 hours a day, but
no camping would be tolerated and the plaza would be under police supervision for 3 full
days thereafter. Next to the mud puddle that used to be our strong, police-free common
space, we held our regular Monday night General Assembly under the eye of more than
one hundred police, paddy wagons on hand. Despite how uninspired and crushed one
could feel at this time, it was hard to forget, after all we’ve been through, that this is still
On Tuesday, a contingent of Oaklanders marched from OGP to UC Berkeley’s Sproul
Plaza to join the students’ second attempt at an encampment on the evening of their
campus-wide strike (called for the evening of their first attempted encampment of the
plaza). As the march approached the University, rich with the history of 2009!s student
occupations, they chanted “Here comes Oakland!”. Occupy Cal’s General Assembly was
attended by thousands, and they set up camp and partied late into the night. Police
presence was minimal compared to the first day of Occupy Cal. This day’s activities
overshadowed and largely disregarded the death of Christopher Travis, a UC Berkeley
student who was shot and killed by the UCPD that same day (allegedly for having a gun
on campus, though details are unclear).
Wednesday’s GA drew out a rough blue print for actions to come. A proposal to establish a
new camp at 19th and Telegraph[link], blocks away from OGP, passed among a crowd of at
least 250. This was a particularly bold proposal because every detail of the event was
disclosed publicly. It was a testament to the collective confidence and loss of fear that
informs the people of OO.
Read a brief account of the
march and enthusiastic
occupation of 19
Telegraph and the rest of
Friday’s events here.
Fliers handed out during
Friday’s march:
At around 10:30pm it was
brought to the attention of
the new encampment that
the sound truck (used
during many marches and
throughout the day of the
General Strike) had been
stopped by the police. This
was clearly unwarranted
harassment, but the pigs used the excuse of a local anti-
sideshow law to impound the vehicle. Campers ran with
excitement to 17th and MLK to try and stop them. After the
drivers had left the truck, a cop got inside to drive it away, but
people had it surrounded. It was only minutes after comrades
responded that the police responded too – about 30 riot cops,
running towards the comrades with their batons drawn. One of
them, in an unmarked crown vic, drove into two people, leaving
them without injury but in a fit of rage.
The pigs evicted the new camp at 8am Sunday morning. Click
to watch.
Some thoughts:
Occupy Oakland has received the warmest statements and actions of solidarity and
inspiration from comrades in Chapel Hill, Seattle, Egypt, Mexico, St. Louis and many more.
It is clear that Oakland has found a place in the hearts of rebels far and wide. But this is not
enough. We must challenge ourselves to create our own media and to secure consistent
communications among the rebels who carry each other. Meet these ends creatively and
not under the illusion that we can subvert the mass media any more than we can subvert
the banking industry, the misery of service
work, or the police. May these lines of
communication open as the veins and vessels
in our own bodies did during the inception of
Oscar Grant Plaza. Let’s assess our thought
processes and the practical application of our
most complex theories and simplest desires. If
your heart beats to see the world in
communization, negated or in total ruins, you
know that you will not find your revolution here.
Your absent future, on the other hand, may be
further realized at this time.
Like the impressive actions of those in black bloc during the Nov 2nd General Strike, or the
spontaneous eruptions of spray painting, minor looting and window smashing of that
evening, it is important that our demonstrations necessitate creative use of our bodies and
minds. Saturday night, 500 or more people participated in tearing down the fence
surrounding the lot on 19th and Telegraph. The collective realization that this barrier
between Oaklanders and a vacant space could be destroyed spread like wild fire in a
matter of seconds. Where we are economically and emotionally alienated from each other,
we are also alienated from our own bodies, our desires, our individual and collective
potentials. Many in Oakland have resolved to stop asking for their most basic needs to be
met. Many more linger in the absence of artillery – friends.
If this movement really is
doomed, we must push it to its
limits, suspend ourselves in
time and space for just now,
and redecorate the insulting
facade of this world with
indications of its destruction. If
not for today, than for the
security of the network of
rebels we must depend on
tomorrow. #Occupy is the
perfect example.
Keep in touch,

December 12
west coast port shutdown
An Open Letter from America’s Port Truck Drivers on Occupy
the Ports
Dateline: Los Angeles/Long Beach
December 12, 2011
We are the front-line workers who haul container rigs full of imported and
exported goods to and from the docks and warehouses every day.
We have been elected by committees of our co-workers at the Ports of
Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York and New
Jersey to tell our collective story. We have accepted the honor to speak
up for our brothers and sisters about our working conditions despite the
risk of retaliation we face. One of us is a mother, the rest of us fathers.
Between the five of us we have 11children and one more baby on the
way. We have a combined 46 years of experience driving cargo from our
shores for America’s stores.
We are inspired that a non-violent democratic movement that insists on
basic economic fairness is capturing the hearts and minds of so many
working people. Thank you “99 Percenters” for hearing our call for
justice. We are humbled and overwhelmed by recent attention. Normally
we are invisible.
Today’s demonstrations will impact us. While we cannot officially speak
for every worker who shares our occupation, we can use this opportunity
to reveal what it’s like to walk a day in our shoes for the 110,000 of us in
America whose job it is to be a port truck driver. It may be tempting for media to ask questions about whether
we support a shutdown, but there are no easy answers. Instead, we ask you, are you willing to listen and
learn why a one-word response is impossible?
We love being behind the wheel. We are proud of the work we do to keep America’s economy moving. But
we feel humiliated when we receive paychecks that suggest we work part time at a fast-food counter.
Especially when we work an average of 60 or more hours a week, away from our families.
There is so much at stake in our industry. It is one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations. We don’t
think truck driving should be a dead-end road in America. It should be a good job with a middle-class
paycheck like it used to be decades ago.
We desperately want to drive clean and safe vehicles. Rigs that do not fill our lungs with deadly toxins, or
dirty the air in the communities we haul in.
Poverty and pollution are like a plague at the ports. Our economic conditions are what led to the
environmental crisis.
You, the public, have paid a severe price along with us.
Why? Just like Wall Street doesn’t have to abide by rules, our industry isn’t bound to regulation. So the
market is run by con artists. The companies we work for call us independent contractors, as if we were our
own bosses, but they boss us around. We receive Third World wages and drive sweatshops on wheels. We
cannot negotiate our rates. (Usually we are not allowed to even see them.) We are paid by the load, not by
the hour. So when we sit in those long lines at the terminals, or if we are stuck in traffic, we become
volunteers who basically donate our time to the trucking and shipping companies. That’s the nice way to put
it. We have all heard the words “modern-day slaves” at the lunch stops.
There are no restrooms for drivers. We keep empty bottles in our cabs. Plastic bags too. We feel like dogs.
An Oakland driver was recently banned from the terminal because he was spied relieving himself behind a
container. Neither the port, nor the terminal operators or anyone in the industry thinks it is their responsibility
to provide humane and hygienic facilities for us. It is absolutely horrible for drivers who are women, who risk
infection when they try to hold it until they can find a place to go.
The companies demand we cut corners to compete. It makes our roads less safe. When we try to blow the
whistle about skipped inspections, faulty equipment, or falsified logs, then we are “starved out.” That means
we are either fired outright, or more likely, we never get dispatched to haul a load again.
It may be difficult to comprehend the complex issues and nature of our employment. For us too. When
businesses disguise workers like us as contractors, the Department of Labor calls it misclassification. We call
it illegal. Those who profit from global trade and goods movement are getting away with it because everyone
is doing it. One journalist took the time to talk to us this week and she explains it very well to outsiders. We
hope you will read the enclosed article “How Goldman Sachs and Other Companies Exploit Port Truck
But the short answer to the question: Why are companies like SSA Marine, the Seattle-based global terminal
operator that runs one of the West Coast’s major trucking carriers, Shippers’ Transport Express, doing this?
Why would mega-rich Maersk, a huge Danish shipping and trucking conglomerate that wants to drill for
more oil with Exxon Mobil in the Gulf Coast conduct business this way too?
To cheat on taxes, drive down business costs, and deny us the right to belong to a union, that’s why.
The typical arrangement works like this: Everything comes out of our pockets or is deducted from our
paychecks. The truck or lease, fuel, insurance, registration, you name it. Our employers do not have to pay
the costs of meeting emissions-compliant regulations; that is our financial burden to bear. Clean trucks cost
about four to five times more than what we take home in a year. A few of us haul our company’s trucks for a
tiny fraction of what the shippers pay per load instead of an hourly wage. They still call us independent
owner-operators and give us a 1099 rather than a W-2.
We have never recovered from losing our basic rights as employees in America. Every year it literally goes
from bad to worse to the unimaginable. We were ground zero for the government’s first major experiment into
letting big business call the shots. Since it worked so well for the CEOs in transportation, why not the
mortgage and banking industry too?
Even the few of us who are hired as legitimate employees are routinely denied our legal rights under this
system. Just ask our co-workers who haul clothing brands like Guess?, Under Armour, and Ralph Lauren’s
Polo. The carrier they work for in Los Angeles is called Toll Group and is headquartered in Australia. At the
busiest time of the holiday shopping season, 26 drivers were axed after wearing Teamster T-shirts to work.
They were protesting the lack of access to clean, indoor restrooms with running water. The company hired
an anti-union consultant to intimidate the drivers. Down Under, the same company bargains with 12,000 of
our counterparts in good faith.
Despite our great hardships, many of us cannot — or refuse to, as some of the most well-intentioned
suggest — “just quit.” First, we want to work and do not have a safety net. Many of us are tied to one-sided
leases. But more importantly, why should we have to leave? Truck driving is what we do, and we do it well.
We are the skilled, specially-licensed professionals who guarantee that Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart are
all stocked with just-in-time delivery for consumers. Take a look at all the stuff in your house. The things you
see advertised on TV. Chances are a port truck driver brought that special holiday gift to the store you
bought it.
We would rather stick together and transform our industry from within. We deserve to be fairly rewarded and
valued. That is why we have united to stage convoys, park our trucks, marched on the boss, and even shut
down these ports.
It’s like our hero Dutch Prior, a Shipper’s/SSA Marine driver, told CBS Early Morning this month: “If you don’t
stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
The more underwater we are, the more our restlessness grows. We are being thoughtful about how best to
organize ourselves and do what is needed to win dignity, respect, and justice.
Nowadays greedy corporations are treated as “people” while the politicians they bankroll cast union
members who try to improve their workplaces as “thugs.”
But we believe in the power and potential behind a truly united 99%. We admire the strength and
perseverance of the longshoremen. We are fighting like mad to overcome our exploitation, so please, stick
by us long after December 12. Our friends in the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports created a pledge you can
sign to support us here.
We drivers have a saying, “We may not have a union yet, but no one can stop us from acting like one.”
The brothers and sisters of the Teamsters have our backs. They help us make our voices heard. But we
need your help too so we can achieve the day where we raise our fists and together declare: “No one could
stop us from forming a union.”
Thank you.
In solidarity,
Leonardo Mejia
SSA Marine/Shippers Transport Express
Port of Long Beach
10-year driver
Yemane Berhane
Ports of Seattle & Tacoma
6-year port driver
Xiomara Perez
Toll Group
Port of Los Angeles
8-year driver
Abdul Khan
Port of Oakland
7-year port driver
Ramiro Gotay
Ports of New York & New Jersey
15-year port driver
WW interview with longshore workers on
Published Dec 6, 2011 10:22 PM
As pressure builds for the Dec. 12 West Coast port shutdown, the capitalist owners and
their media began a battle of ideas to blunt this powerful threat to their profits and control —
even for a day.
Two International Longshore and Warehouse Union members — Clarence Thomas, who
is a third-generation longshoreman in Oakland, and Leo Robinson, who is now retired —
spoke with Workers World reporter Cheryl LaBash. Both men have held elected office in
ILWU Local 10 and have been key labor activists during their years of work in the ports.
WW: The Nov. 21 ILWU Longshore Coast Committee memorandum states, “Any public
demonstration is not a ‘picketline’ under the PCL&CA [Pacific Coast Longshore & Clerk’s
Agreement]. … Remember, public demonstrations are public demonstrations, not
‘picketlines.’ Only labor unions picket as referenced in the contract.” What is your reaction?
Clarence Thomas: A picket line is a public demonstration — whether called by organized
labor or not. It is legitimate. There are established protocols in these situations. To suggest
to longshoremen that they shouldn’t follow them demands clarification. It is one thing to
state for the record that the union is not involved, but another thing to erase the historical
memory of ILWU’s traditions and practices included in the Ten Guiding Principles of the
ILWU adopted at the 1953 biennial convention in San Francisco.
Leo Robinson: The international has taken the position somehow that the contract is more
important than not only defending our interest in terms of this EGT [grain terminal
jurisdictional dispute] but having a connection to the Occupy [Wall Street] movement in that
when you go through the Ten Guiding Principles of the ILWU, we’re talking about labor
unity. Does that include the teachers? Does that include state, county and municipal
workers? Those questions need to be analyzed as to who supports whom. The Occupy
movement is not separate and apart from the labor movement.
CT: Labor is now officially part of the Occupy movement. That has happened. The recent
[New York Times] article done by Steven Greenhouse on Nov. 9 is called ‘Standing arm in
The Teamsters have been supported by the OWS against Sotheby’s auction house. OWS
has been supportive of Communication Workers in its struggle with Verizon. Mary Kay
Henry, International President of the Service Employees, has called for expanding the
Occupy movement by taking workers to Washington, D.C., to occupy Washington
particularly Congress and congressional hearings demanding 15 million jobs by Jan. 1.
LR: There was the occupation in Madison, Wis. That was labor-led. People are trying to
confuse the issue by saying we are somehow separated from the Occupy movement. More
than anything else the Occupy movement is a direct challenge or raises the question of the
the rights of capital as opposed to the rights of the worker. I don’t understand that the
contract supersedes the just demands of the labor movement. It says so right here in the 10
guiding principles of the ILWU.
Article 4 is very clear. Very clear. “To help any worker in distress’ must be a daily guide in
the life of every trade union and its individual members. Labor solidarity means just that.
Unions have to accept the fact that solidarity of labor stands above all else, including even
the so-called sanctity of the contract. We cannot adopt for ourselves the policies of union
leaders who insist that because they have a contract, their members are compelled to
perform work, even behind a picket line." It says picket line. It doesn’t say union picket line.
It says picket line.
CT: Only 7.2 percent of private sector workers have union representation today, the lowest
since 1900. Facing a critical moment, the labor movement has been re-energized by the
Occupy Wall Street movement.
LR: Any number of times this union [Local 10] has observed picket lines, including Easter
Sunday 1977 when the community put up a picket line at Pier 27 to picket South African
cargo. Longshoremen observed that picket line for two days. So I don’t understand how all
of a sudden the sanctity of the contract outweighs the need to demonstrate solidarity. It just
does not compute. It doesn’t make sense.
WW: What were the similarities between that event and what is going on now with the
Occupy movement?
CT: The first action against South African apartheid was a community picket line. It was not
authorized by the union. It was a community picket line from start to finish.
LR: It was about 5,000 people out there on the Embarcadero [eastern waterfront and
roadway of the Port of San Francisco] for two days running a community picket line
opposing South African apartheid. Local 10 officers took the position that it was an unsafe
situation and our members were not going to cross that picket line, period. It was ruled as
such by the arbitrator.
WW: Who determines whether a situation is safe or unsafe?
LR: We have never waited for the employer to declare what is safe or unsafe. It is always
the union that moves first. We don’t ask the employers what is safe or unsafe. They
wouldn’t give a damn one way or the other as long as they got their ship worked. If the
police have to escort you in or out, that is patently saying it is unsafe. What if someone
decides to throw a rock while you’re being escorted in by the police? Does it make it hurt
any less? A longshoreman determines what is safe for him or her — on the job and off.
CT: Our members have been hurt by the police and so has the OWS movement. In 2003
when we were standing by at a picket, police shot our members with wooden bullets. In
Longview, Wash., at the EGT Grain Terminal, ILWU members and their families have been
hurt by the police. We don’t want the police to do anything for us.
WW: What is happening at the grain terminal in Longview?
CT: Our union is at an historical juncture. Our jurisdiction is being challenged up and down
the coast — the issue of logs and Local 10 and use of “robotics.” There has been nothing
like this since 1934. If ILWU members don’t honor the community picket lines, it will cause
an irreparable breach with the community. If the ILWU can’t support the community, why
should the community support the ILWU in 2014 contract negotiations or when the new
grain agreement is up next year? Who knows what the employer has up their sleeve when
they demanded only a one-year contract.
LR: Grain work provides 30 percent of our welfare contributions. Who knows … let’s say
that EGT is successful. It will open the door for other grain operators to try to work anybody.
WW: Aren’t the ports private?
CT: These ports are the people’s ports. Ports belong to the people of the Pacific Coast. The
money came from the taxpayers in California, Oregon and Washington. EGT was
subsidized by the Port of Longview. So the people have the right to go down there and
protest how their tax dollars have been ripped off.
WW: Wall Street is in New York City. What do the West Coast ports have to do with that?
LR: To show you the link, last year in the ILWU Dispatcher— a sister from Local 10 was
foreclosed on. I am certain she’s not the only one.
CT: Fifty-one percent of Stevedoring Services of America is owned by Goldman Sachs.
EGT is a multinational conglomerate trying to control the distribution of food products
around the world. The face of Wall Street is in the ports.
WW: Any closing comments?
CT: The ILWU is not some special interest group. We are a rank-and-file militant,
democratic union that has a long history of being in the vanguard of the social justice and
labor movement.
We don’t cross community picket lines. When people begin to do so they have completely
turned their backs on the ILWU’s 10 guiding principles. Is it coincidental that Harry Bridges’
name has not been asserted in relation to the OWS movement and the history of militancy?
Is it an accident? How can we not talk about Harry Bridges? That is how we got what we
have today.
Clarence Thomas is past secretary-treasurer of ILWU Local 10 and co-chair of Million
Worker March movement, which was initiated by Local 10 and supported by the ILWU
Longshore Caucus. Leo Robinson is retired and co-founder of African American
Longshore Coalition. He is a former member of the ILWU Local 10 executive board, a
national convener of the MWM movement and its major benefactor.
Articles copyright 1995-2011 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this
entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Support independent news DONATE
This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.
December 12th West Coast Port Shutdown
Occupy and Class Struggle on the
On December 12th, the entire Occupy movement on the West Coast will blockade
their respective ports to shut down “Wall Street on the Waterfront.” This is both an
effort to build a mass social struggle in the US against the 1% and a coordinated
response to the coordinated attacks against our movement in the last few weeks. If
the police repress any of our actions on the West Coast that day, the blockade will
continue up and down the coast. This historic action is being taken on independent of
existing authorities – from the mayor and police to the unions themselves, who are
unable to legally support such actions even if they wanted to. The 1% has been
pulling every lever at their command to delegitimate and criminalize the movement.
On the 12th we will demonstrate our growing social power, attacking the 1% at their
point of profit while expanding and deepening the movement in the workplace,
communities, schools and the social imaginary.
The 1% is not simply an abstract slogan. They are the corporations that pay no taxes.
They are the financial institutions that drove the economy into the ground. They are
the bailed-out bank that won’t re-write your under-water mortgage with the taxpayer
funds your grandkids will still be paying for decades from now. The 1% are embodied
in the politicians that send your kids or spouses off to fight wars that defend nothing
but the profits of the 1%, leaving hundreds of thousands dead all over the world, as
veterans with PTSD and Gulf War Syndrome return home to shoddy services and no
jobs. When these veterans have stood up for the people of this country on the streets
of Oakland, they have been beaten and shot in the head with police projectiles, from a
police force freshly trained by the Israeli and Bahrainian military to repress popular
The same bosses that have paid you less in exchange for longer hours and higher
productivity for decades; the same politicians who have made you pay more taxes in
exchange for de-funded or closed public schools, rising state college tuitions and
gutted social services; this political and economic coalition that has brought about
the highest degrees of inequality in US history; these are the 1%, and all of them must
The Class Struggle Pendulum Swinging Back
The last two major pivot-points in US class struggle were the 30s and the 70s/80s.
Workers gained the upper hand in the 30s, Capital gained it back completely in the
80s. Both of these pivots came out of upsurges that transcended existing class
struggle in the workplace, that were rooted in historic economic, political and social
crises. In the 30s, social unionism, community solidarity and agitation from the
unemployed forced Capital’s hand into making concessions to stave off more radical
potentials. In the 1970s and 80s foreign competition, technological change and the
beginnings of globalization gave Capital the upper hand, leading to
deindustrialization and steadily declining real wages and union density.
These two pivot points took place during major economic crises and were driven by
forces that were bigger than the unions and the bosses in any one place, whether a
generalized workers’ struggle much more threatening than the unions alone, or the
forces of technology and competition in the global market. The Occupy movement is
building a socialized class struggle similar to the 30s, but even more threatening to
those in power. The movement is trying to build a generalized opposition to the 1%
that also seeks the abolition of white supremacy and patriarchy – not just on the job,
but in communities and in the home. This is a major threat to the existing order and
is being responded to as such – federally coordinated police attacks, media smear
campaigns, and attempts to drive a wedge between unions and the movement. Our
enemies will do what they need to do. But so will we.
The 1% has never had a problem understanding their best interests, organizing
themselves, having influence over politics, or acting in the collective interests of their
class. Their strength has been our weakness, and our subsequent weakness has
reinforced their strength. The 99% is trying to create itself as a viable force, directly
confronting the 1%, to take back what is rightfully ours – the wealth we create and
the control over our lives and our children’s future – while fighting alongside people
around the world struggling to do the same. The 99% needs to overcome its own
divisions, internal hierarchies, and lack of action, transforming ourselves in the
Occupy Strikes Back!
Oakland, and the entire West Coast Occupy movement from Alaska to San Diego, are
taking the fight back to the 1% on December 12th with a coordinated West Coast Port
Blockade, with solidarity actions taking place all over the country. This is a
community action in solidarity with port truck drivers and Longshore workers who
have been under direct attack by the 1%. The 1% have been steadily busting unions or
preventing workers from joining one. For decades corporations have waged a one-
sided class war against workers with assistance from politicians in both parties. The
Occupy movement is attempting to make this not only a struggle that has two sides,
but one that puts workers (and the unemployed) on the offensive.
Together we can not only push back against the 1%, but wage a protracted fight to
democratize production and our economy. The formation of a broader mass
movement that seeks to break the monopoly that the rich have over resources and
power is a formidable task, but one that finds an increasing social base as the
majority of the population loses not only what they have, but hope for the future,
while the 1% reap record profits. Polls show that a large and growing portion of the
population is sympathetic to the anti-capitalist message of the Occupy movement,
despite media distortions. This is a sentiment that comes out of the material
conditions of this historical moment. The need to alleviate inequality and give people
more control over their daily lives and their communities has gone from the desire of
a few to the need of the many. The West Coast Port Blockade, ongoing home
reclamations led by those who have been evicted with support from the community,
and steady work against police brutality are some of the ways of taking our power
back from the 1%.
In Oakland, we are standing in solidarity with non-union port truck drivers who work
for as little as $30 a day, have no benefits, constantly breathe toxins from polluting
trucks and face racism on the job at every turn. As the government facilitates the
formation of massive oligopolies from banking to telecommunications, workers who
make less than minimum wage cannot organize for a fair wage, let alone a union, due
to “anti-trust” laws being applied to them, due to their misclassification as
“independent contractors.” The law makers and bosses that constructed these laws
aren’t going to help these workers. Union lawyers haven’t been able to doing
anything. Union organizers can’t legally organize them. The National Labor
Relations Board isn’t taking this up. The media isn’t covering this story. Occupy
Oakland has been working with, and is standing in solidarity with, these multiply
exploited truckers, while looking at the rest of the 89% of workers who face the boss
as isolated individuals and not as a collective. What we are doing goes beyond
ordinary protest and transcends the norms of the labor movement which has been
hemorrhaging membership and granting concessions for decades.
The lack of concrete demands should not be read as “no goals,” but as “no
compromise.” The December 12th Port Shutdown is bringing the fight back to the 1%
and expanding a movement that is seeking objectives that are unapologetically
radical, but at the same time logical and simple. People should have control over
their own lives. We should receive the things we, our families, and our communities
need. We should fight back against anyone who tries to exploit us and take away the
fruits of the wealth we create. That is what we are doing on December 12th, and this
is what we will continue to do.
Mike King is a PhD candidate at UC–Santa Cruz and an East Bay activist. He can
be reached at mking(at)
Blockading the Port Is Only The First of Many Last
Blockading the Port Is Only The First of Many Last Resorts
Posted by OaklandCommune on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 · Leave a Comment
By any
measure, the
November 2
general strike
was a grand
success. The
day was
certainly the
moment of the
season of
Occupy, and
signaled the
possibility of
a new
direction for
away from
vague, self-
and toward open confrontation with the state and capital. At a local level, as a response to
the first raid on the encampment, the strike showed Occupy Oakland capable of expanding
while defending itself, organizing its own maintenance while at the same time directly
attacking its enemy. This is what it means to refer to the encampment and its participants
as the Oakland Commune, even if a true commune is only possible on the other side of
Looking over the day’s events it is clear that without the shutdown of the port this would not
have been a general strike at all but rather a particularly powerful day of action. The tens of
thousands of people who marched into the port surpassed all estimates. Neighbors, co-
workers, relatives – one saw all kinds of people there who had never expressed any
interest in such events, whose political activity had been limited to some angry mumbling
at the television set and a yearly or biyearly trip to the voting booth. It was as if the entire
population of the Bay Area had been transferred to some weird industrial purgatory, there
to wander and wonder and encounter itself and its powers.
Now we have the chance to blockade the ports once again, on December 12, in
conjunction with occupiers up and down the west coast. Already Los Angeles, San Diego,
Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver and even Anchorage have agreed to blockade their
respective ports. These are exciting events, for sure. Now that many of the major
encampments in the US have been cleared, we need an event like this to keep the
sequence going through the winter months and provide a reference point for future
manifestations. For reasons that will be explained shortly, we believe that actions like this
– direct actions that focus on the circulation of capital, rather than its production – will play
a major role in the inevitable uprisings and insurrections of the coming years, at least in the
postindustrial countries. The confluence of this tactic with the ongoing attempts to directly
expropriate abandoned buildings could transform the Occupy movement into something
truly threatening to the present order. But in our view, many comrades continue thinking
about these actions as essentially continuous with the class struggle of the twentieth
century and the industrial age, never adequately remarking on how little the postindustrial
Oakland General Strike of 2011 resembles the Oakland General Strike of 1946.
The placeless place of circulation
The shipping industry (and shipping in general) has long been one of the most important
sectors for capital, and one of the privileged sites of class struggle. Capitalism essentially
develops and spreads within the matrix of the great mercantile, colonialist and imperial
experiments of post-medieval Europe, all of which are predicated upon sailors, ships and
trade routes. But by the time that capitalism comes into view as a new social system in the
19th century the most important engine of accumulation is no longer trade itself, but the
introduction of labor-saving technology into the production process. Superprofits achieved
through mechanized production are funneled back into the development and purchase of
new production machinery, not to mention the vast, infernal infrastructural projects this
industrial system requires: mines and railways, highways and electricity plants, vast urban
pours of wood, stone, concrete and metal as the metropolitan centers spread and absorb
people expelled from the countryside. But by the 1970s, just as various futurologists and
social forecasters were predicting a completely automated society of superabundance, the
technologically-driven accumulation cycle was coming to an end. Labor-saving technology
is double-edged for capital. Even though it temporarily allows for the extraction of
enormous profits, the fact that capital treats laboring bodies as the foundation of its own
wealth means that over the long term the expulsion of more and more people from the
workplace eventually comes to undermine capital’s own conditions of survival. Of course,
one of the starkest horrors of capitalism is that capital’s conditions of survival are also our
own, no matter our hatred. Directly or indirectly, each of us is dependent on the wage and
the market for our survival.
From the 1970s on, one of capital’s responses to the reproduction crisis has been to shift
its focus from the sites of production to the (non)sites of circulation. Once the introduction of
labor-saving technology into the production of goods no longer generated substantial
profits, firms focused on speeding up and more cheaply circulating both commodity capital
(in the case of the shipping, wholesaling and retailing industries) and money capital (in the
case of banking). Such restructuring is a big part of what is often termed “neoliberalism” or
“globalization,” modes of accumulation in which the shipping industry and globally-
distributed supply chains assume a new primacy. The invention of the shipping container
and container ship is analogous, in this way, to the reinvention of derivatives trading in the
1970s – a technical intervention which multiplies the volume of capital in circulation
several times over.
This is why the general strike on Nov. 2 appeared as it did, not as the voluntary withdrawal
of labor from large factories and the like (where so few of us work), but rather as masses of
people who work in unorganized workplaces, who are unemployed or underemployed or
precarious in one way or another, converging on the chokepoints of capital flow. Where
workers in large workplaces –the ports, for instance– did withdraw their labor, this occurred
after the fact of an intervention by an extrinsic proletariat. In such a situation, the flying
picket, originally developed as a secondary instrument of solidarity, becomes the primary
mechanism of the strike. If postindustrial capital focuses on the seaways and highways, the
streets and the mall, focuses on accelerating and volatilizing its networked flows, then its
antagonists will also need to be mobile and multiple. In November 2010, during the French
general strike, we saw how a couple dozen flying pickets could effectively bring a city of
millions to a halt. Such mobile blockades are the technique for an age and place in which
production has been offshored, an age in which most of us work, if we work at all, in small
and unorganized workplaces devoted to the transport, distribution, administration and sale
of goods produced elsewhere.
Like the financial system which is its warped mirror, the present system for circulating
commodities is incredibly brittle. Complex, computerized supply-chains based on just-in-
time production models have reduced the need for warehouses and depots. This often
means that workplaces and retailers have less than a day’s reserves on hand, and rely on
the constant arrival of new shipments. A few tactical interventions – at major ports, for
instance – could bring an entire economy to its knees. This is obviously a problem for us
as much as it is a problem for capital: the brittleness of the economy means that while it is
easy for us to blockade the instruments of our own oppression, nowhere do we have
access to the things that could replace it. There are few workplaces that we can take over
and use to begin producing the things we need. We could take over the port and continue
to import the things we need, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine doing so without
maintaining the violence of the economy at present.
Power to the
vagabonds and
therefore to no
This brings us
to a very
aspect of the
already touched
on above. The
subject of the
“strike” is no
longer the
working class
as such, though
workers are
involved. The
strike no longer
appears only as
the voluntary withdrawal of labor from a workplace by those employed there, but as the
blockade, suppression (or even sabotage or destruction) of that workplace by proletarians
who are alien to it, and perhaps to wage-labor entirely. We need to jettison our ideas about
the “proper” subjects of the strike or class struggle. Though it is always preferable and
sometimes necessary to gain workers’ support in order to shut down a particular
workplace, it is not absolutely necessary, and we must admit that ideas about who has the
right to strike or blockade a particular workplace are simply extensions of the law of
property. If the historical general strikes involved the coordinated striking of large
workplaces, around which “the masses,” including students, women who did unwaged
housework, the unemployed and lumpenproletarians of the informal sector eventually
gathered to form a generalized offensive against capital, here the causality is precisely
reversed. It has gone curiously unremarked that the encampments of the Occupy
movement, while claiming themselves the essential manifestations of some vast
hypermajority – the 99% – are formed in large part from the ranks of the homeless and the
jobless, even if a more demographically diverse group fills them out during rallies and
marches. That a group like this – with few ties to organized labor – could call for and
successfully organize a General Strike should tell us something about how different the
world of 2011 is from that of 1946.
We find it helpful here to distinguish between the working class and the proletariat. Though
many of us are both members of the working class and proletarians, these terms do not
necessarily mean the same thing. The working class is defined by work, by the fact that it
works. It is defined by the wage, on the one hand, and its capacity to produce value on the
other. But the proletariat is defined by propertylessness. In Rome, proletarius was the
name for someone who owned no property save his own offspring and himself, and
frequently sold both into slavery as a result. Proletarians are those who are “without
reserves” and therefore dependent upon the wage and capital. They have “nothing to sell
except their own skins.” The important point to make here is that not all proletarians are
working-class, since not all proletarians work for a wage. As the crisis of capitalism
intensifies, such “wageless life” becomes more and more the norm. Of course, exploitation
requires dispossession. These two terms name inextricable aspects of the conditions of life
under the domination of capital, and even the proletarians who don’t work depend upon
those who do, in direct and indirect ways.
The point, for us, is that certain struggles tend to emphasize one or the other of these
aspects. Struggles that emphasize the fact of exploitation – its unfairness, its brutality – and
seek to ameliorate the terms and character of labor in capitalism, take the working-class as
their subject. On the other hand, struggles that emphasize dispossession and the very fact
of class, seeking to abolish the difference between those who are “without reserves” and
everyone else, take as their subject the proletariat as such. Because of the restructuring of
the economy and weakness of labor, present-day struggles have no choice but to become
proletarian struggles, however much they dress themselves up in the language and
weaponry of a defeated working class. This is why the Occupy movement, even as much
as it mumbles vaguely about the weakest of redistributionary measures – taxing the banks,
for instance – refuses to issue any demands. There are no demands to make. Worker’s
struggles these days tend to have few objects besides the preservation of jobs or the
preservation of union contracts. They struggle to preserve the right to be exploited, the right
to a wage, rather than for any expansion of pay and benefits. The power of the Occupy
movement so far – despite the weakness of its discourse – is that it points in the direction
of a proletarian struggle in which, instead of vainly petitioning the assorted rulers of the
world, people begin to directly take the things they need to survive. Rather than an attempt
to readjust the balance between the 99% and the 1%, such a struggle might be about
people directly providing for themselves at a time when capital and the state can no longer
provide for them.
Twilight of the unions
This brings us finally to the question of the unions, the ILWU in particular, its locals, and the
rank-and-file port workers. Port workers in the US have an enormously radical history,
participating in or instigating some of the most significant episodes in US labor history,
from the Seattle General strike of 1919, to the battles on the San Francisco waterfront in
1934 and the sympathy strikes that spread up and down the coast. The ferocious actions
by port workers in Longview, Washington – attempting to fight off the incursion of non-ILWU
grain exporter EGT – recall this history in vivid detail. Wildcatting, blockading trains and
emptying them of their cargo, fighting off the cops brought in to restore the orderly loading
and unloading of cargo – the port workers in Longview remind us of the best of the labor
movement, its unmediated conflict with capital. We expect to see more actions like this in
this new era of austerity, unemployment and riot. Still, our excitement at the courage of
Longview workers should not blind us to the place of this struggle in the current crisis of
capitalism. We do not think that these actions point to some revitalization of radical
unionism, but rather indicate a real crisis in the established forms of class struggle. They
point to a moment in which even the most meager demands become impossible to win.
These conditions of impossibility will have a radicalizing effect, but not in the way that
many expect it to. They will bring us allies in the workers at Longview and elsewhere but
not in the way many expect.
Though they employ the tactics of the historical workers’ movement at its most radical, the
content of the Longview struggle is quite different: they are not fighting for any expansions
of pay or benefits, or attempting to unionize new workplaces, but merely to preserve their
union’s jurisdictional rights. It is a defensive struggle, in the same way that the Madison,
Wisconsin capitol occupation was a defensive struggle – a fight undertaken to preserve the
dubious legally-enshrined rights to collectively bargain. These are fights for the survival of
unions as such, in an era in which unions have no real wind in their sails, at their best
seeking to keep a floor below falling wages, at their worst collaborating with the bosses to
quietly sell out workers. This is not to malign the actions of the workers themselves or their
participation in such struggles – one can no more choose to participate in a fight for one’s
survival than one can choose to breathe, and sometimes such actions can become
explosive trigger points that ignite a generalized antagonism. But we should be honest
about the limits of these fights, and seek to push beyond them where possible. Too often, it
seems as if we rely on a sentimental workerism, acting as if our alliance with port workers
will restore to us some lost authenticity.
Let’s remember that, in the present instance, the initiative is coming from outside the port
and from outside the workers’ movement as such, even though it involves workers and
unions. For the most part, the initiative here has come from a motley band of people who
work in non-unionized workplaces, or (for good reason) hate their unions, or work part-time
or have no jobs at all. Alliances are important. We should be out there talking to truck
drivers and crane operators and explaining the blockade, but that does not mean blindly
following the recommendations of ILWU Local 10. For instance, we have been told time
and again that, in order to blockade the port, we need to go to each and every berth,
spreading out thousands of people into several groups over a distance of a few miles. This
is because, under the system that ILWU has worked out with the employers’ association,
only a picket line at the gates to the port itself will allow the local arbitrator to rule
conditions at the port unsafe, and therefore provide the workers with legal protection
against unpermitted work action. In such a situation we are not really blockading the port.
We are participating in a two-act play, a piece of legal theater, performed for the benefit of
the arbitrator.
If this arbitration game is the only way we can avoid violent conflict with the port workers,
then perhaps this is the way things have to be for the time being. But we find it more than
depressing how little reflection there has been about this strategy, how little criticism of it,
and how many people seem to reflexively accept the necessity of going through these
motions. There are two reasons why this charade is problematic. For one, we must
remember that the insertion of state-sanctioned forms of mediation and arbitration into the
class struggle, the domestication of the class struggle by a vast legal apparatus, is the
chief mechanism by which unions have been made into the helpmeet of capital, their
monopoly over labor power an ideal partner for capital’s monopoly over the means of
production. Under such a system, trade unions not only make sure that the system
produces a working-class with sufficient purchasing power (something that is less and less
possible these days, except by way of credit) but also ensure that class antagonism finds
only state-approved outlets, passing through the bureaucratic filter of the union and its
legal apparatus, which says when, how, and why workers can act in their own benefit. This
is what “arbitration” means.
Secondly, examined from a tactical position, putting us blockaders in small, stationary
groups spread out over miles of roads leaves us in a very poor position to resist a police
assault. As many have noted, it would be much easier to blockade the port by closing off
the two main entrances to the port area– at Third and Adeline and Maritime and West
Grand. Thousands of people at each of these intersections could completely shut down all
traffic into the port, and these groups could be much more easily reinforced and provided
with provisions (it’s easier to get food, water, and reinforcements to these locations.) There
is now substantial interest in extending the blockade past one shift, changing it from a
temporary nuisance to something that might seriously affect the reproduction of capital in
the Bay Area given the abovementioned reliance on just-in-time production. But doing so
will likely bring a police attack. Therefore, in order to blockade the port with legal-theatrical
means we sacrifice our ability – quite within reach – to blockade it materially. We allow
ourselves to be deflected to a tactically-weak position on the plane of the symbolic.
The coming intensification of struggles both inside and outside the workplace will find no
success in attempting to revitalize the moribund unions. Workers will need to participate in
the same kinds of direct actions – occupations, blockades, sabotage – that have proven
the highlights of the Occupy movement in the Bay Area. When tens of thousands of people
marched to the port of Oakland on November 2
in order to shut it down, by and large they
did not do it to defend the jurisdiction of the ILWU, or to take a stand against union-busting
(most people were, it appears, ignorant of these contexts). They did it because they hate
the present-day economy, because they hate capitalism, and because the ports are one of
the most obvious linkages in the web of misery in which we are all caught. Let’s recognize
this antagonism for what it is, and not dress it up in the costumes and ideologies of a
bygone world.
Society of Enemies
December 2011
Filed under From the Bay · Tagged with
Seattle Port Shutdown - Success!
(We are looking for good photos of the port action for our next issue--if you have 'em, send 'em our way:
Seattle began its port shutdown festivities with a rally in Westlake Park, in the center of the downtown
shopping district. On one side of the park, a tableau of Christmas crap--the carousel, a carnival food vendor,
the big stupid tree; on the other side, a crowd of at least 400 rabble-rousers ready to rouse some rabble.
The march took the streets quickly, led by a gigantic “Rise and Decolonize” banner. The march swelled to at
least 700, moving down 2nd Ave towards the port. The most popular chant was probably, “Shut down the
west coast/Hit 'em where it hurts the most!” The marchers seemed pretty pumped up and excited.
There were more people than expected, given that the ILWU had officially dissociated itself from the action.
The other unions that have participated in previous Occupy Seattle actions were also not there. In the days
leading up to the 12th, it seemed as if the Occupy movement was moving into uncharted territory, being
denounced by the old, established figures in the labor movement. But the absence of these figures was a
good thing—they have shown themselves to be the representatives of ideas that have grown obsolete as
capitalism falls deeper into its crisis.
Along the way to terminal 18, some sneaky little ne'er-do-wells paint-bombed/spray-painted a Wells Fargo
and a Bank of America. The crowd was generally supportive and nobody tried to intervene. This truly was a
different sort of crowd than you'd expect at a typical union demonstration.
After about an hour's walk, we finally arrived at Terminal 18. Organizers informed everyone that there was a
green zone where people could hang out if they didn't want a confrontation with the police. An unimpressive
line of cops had posted up near the intersection where the demonstration intended to blockade the Terminal
entrance, so a group of a few hundred moved forward. The intersection was taken with ease and soon
people began to build a barricade from industrial and construction debris in the nearby lots. It was a nice-
looking barricade, quite large and spanning two lanes. (Good helicopter footage of the barricade here.)
There was some back-and-forth about whether or not the entire street should be blocked or only the in-
going lanes. Eventually it was decided that those getting off of work should be allowed out, so some folks
took it upon themselves to direct traffic out of the Terminal.
The police stood around nearby. Flares blazed and smoke-bombs sent plumes of bright orange smoke into
the air. After a few hours, we got word that the arbiter had decided it was unsafe for the longshoremen to
cross the lines. Success! Soon after, the police moved it to kick us off the streets, bringing in their horse-
slaves and shoving everyone towards the sidewalk. A scuffle ensued, people were pepper-sprayed, the cops
shot some flash-bangs at us, and some things were thrown back at them. The crowd mostly dispersed but
some people stuck around on the sidewalk. There were a few arrests.
Meanwhile and afterwords, people began amassing at Terminal 5. A picket was going. There was news that
a demonstrator had been hit by a car on the bridge between the two terminals (no word on their condition at
this writing). Mostly people stood around in the street outside of the parking lot gate or walked the picket-
line, chanting, chatting, or bopping around to Hip Hop Occupies' beat-boxing. The mood was cheery after the
first success of the evening, and people weren't letting the police violence get them down. A few hours of
picketing did the trick, and Terminal 5 shut down as well.
Today was interesting particularly because it represented a collective step towards more confrontational
tactics. It also provides a clear message to the ILWU regarding the existence of an independent and
autonomous movement that has the ability to shut down the ports. The majority of the people who
consistently come out to Occupy Seattle events are not connected to the Democratic Party or the
traditional/old labor movement. Most of them are also youth. The rebels are coming out of the woodwork.
Today was successful in meeting its limited goal. For this reason, it could be considered a training-run for
future actions. These truly are only the first steps towards building an effective street presence. To future
actions, bigger, bolder, and badder!
Text from an anarchist flyer handed out during the demonstration:
Historically, the strike has been the purview of the working class, the sector of society which is both dutifully
employed and overworked, hanging by the thread of the boss’s favor. The power of the strike lay in the
industrial workers’ ability to stop production dead in its tracks. But we all know that the traditional blue collar
job is a rarity these days and that the US economy has lost much of its industrial production to the whims of
global capitalism.
Now the working class exists most predominately as the underbelly of its former self, as the excluded class—
the unemployed, underemployed, illegally employed. It no longer holds the same power as it once did to shut
down the economy from the workplace. Some of our potential comrades still work in the old world of
production: longshoremen, port truck workers, and others. The rest of us exist outside of that world, and
indeed, some of us always have. Our workplace has become the place of precarity—we occupy the streets
because we have no workplace to occupy.
We are the face of the crisis of capitalism. When we blockade the ports and staunch the flow of capital, we
do it from the outside, as displaced people, no longer as workers but as those excluded from this system, as
those who have no hope in the economy, no hope in capitalism.
When we shut down the port, we dream of the day we shut down the entire system with its jobs and its
economy of suffering.
The case for making a storm in the ports
By Aaron Bady
A Salon writer claims it doesn't hurt the 1 percent. Here's how he's wrong
The Occupy movement is
sailing into murky waters. The
coordinated West Coast port
shutdown wasn’t just risky
because of police violence
against occupiers. Shutting
down the ports of Longview,
Wash., Portland, Ore., and
Oakland, Calif., as the
protesters did (along with more
limited shut-downs in
Vancouver, Seattle, Bellingham,
Wash., San Diego, Los
Angeles, and at a Walmart
distribution center in Colorado),
has had the result of taking
some work hours away from
port and shipping laborers who
are in a very precarious
situation. Actions in Ventura,
Calif., Tacoma, Wash., Houston
and Anchorage targeted the ports as well, but for this reason did not actually attempt to shut them down.
So we should put Monday’s action into perspective. As Andrew Leonard pointed out, there is almost no way
to effectively target the 1 percent without causing serious collateral damage among the many workers who
are just barely scraping by. And so Leonard argued that a prolonged port shutdown would devastate
California, while leaving Goldman Sachs comparatively untouched. In “The costs of a port shutdown,” he
declares that “Despite noble intentions, Occupy’s tactic hurt a wounded economy more than it hurt the 1
Leonard has a point. It would be callous to deny that Monday’s work stoppage hurt “independent” truck
drivers who lost a day of work. This is a serious thing; as Leonard himself reported two months ago, being
one of the 82 percent of truck drivers who are classified as “independent contractors” means being
responsible for all the costs of driving a truck without any of the protection afforded to employees. So when a
driver can’t bring in any income—say, because protesters have blockaded the port—drivers will still be on
the hook for costs of the operation, paying overhead without any income.
It is hardly surprising that some independent truck drivers were quite upset about the shutdown; Gavin
Aronsen of Mother Jones reported that a trucker on Oakland said he risked losing $200 to $400 in pay, and
even kicked over a sign reading “truckers have rights to union wages.”
At the same time, this was not a prolonged port shutdown. The longest lasting blockade was in Oakland – in
which I took part – where one shift was actively blocked and the two shifts following it were preemptively
canceled by the port. And on Tuesday, when ILWU workers asked the occupiers to allow the port to re-open,
Occupy Oakland complied. Those ships are being unloaded right now, and truckers are back on the road.
We need a sense of perspective here. On the one hand, anyone who thought a one-day disruption of West
Coast ports was going to bring Goldman Sachs to its knees is out of their minds. I don’t know anyone who
believed that was going to happen. But actions like this one keep the movement alive, something that has
very much been in question.
When police destroyed Occupy Oakland’s camp, for example, they scattered and fragmented its occupants
(who cannot reoccupy the space, by the way, because the city leaves sprinklers on to keep the ground a
saturated muddy mess, dubbed “Lake Quan”). And as Ben Ehrenreich puts it, with part one of the movement
over, Occupy finds itself at a crossroads. Now that all the camps have been destroyed by concerted police
crackdowns, does the Occupy movement even exist anymore? Monday’s action demonstrated that it does.
When denied the local orientation of its roots, the Occupy movement is capable of playing another hand,
even of raising the stakes.
Raising the stakes, of course, raises hard questions. On the other hand, what else is there? As we have
learned, peacefully setting up camps — in one of the least confrontational forms of civil disobedience
imaginable – is something that American cities will simply not allow. So what is left to the Occupy movement
but more aggressive and confrontational tactics? Since they are not allowed to camp peacefully in public
parks, expect more work stoppages, more foreclosure defenses, and more building occupations.
I think this is a good thing, when put in proper perspective. Andrew Leonard’s argument is a common one:
While protest is fine in theory, the cost of this particular protest is too onerous. But in an economy where
every shock to the system disproportionately hurts the working class — first, last and worst — vulnerable
workers will always serve as an effective human shield for the Goldman Sachs of the world, who will always
be too big to fail. And if we wait for the magical silver bullet, and we do nothing until we find it, nothing will
change. No target will ever be the right and perfect one, no action will ever specifically and exclusively target
the 1 percent, and so we will take no action at all.
Inaction is unacceptable. As one of the truck drivers who wrote this eye-opening Open Letter From America’s
Port Truck Drivers on Occupy the Port told Andrew Leonard a few months ago, “Every day is getting worse.”
And from the beginning, Occupy Wall Street has argued one very simple thing: that our political and
economic system is not only broken, but incapable of fixing itself; that the game is not only rigged, but closed
to new players; that the status quo is not only bad, but radically unacceptable and getting worse, every day.
This fact changes the political calculus. The ongoing silent violence of the status quo is vastly greater than
whatever very mild damage might have been caused by the port shutdown. Compared to the earthquake to
working Californians, for example, that Gov. Jerry Brown’s trigger cuts will soon cause – not for one day, but
with no end in sight – a day’s loss of wages is a relatively minor matter (if only relatively).
Which brings us back to the root problems that require more radical solutions. The port was the target in
Oakland, after all, because it’s a public agency, owned and run by the city of Oakland and required by its
charter to be run for the benefit of the city of Oakland at large. But, in practice, it isn’t, and in this sense, it’s
a perfect symbol for the public subsidies to private industry that we all pay for, but from which only the 1
percent actually benefit.
While the infrastructure that makes the port’s activities possible – the railroads and freeways and utility grids
– were all built by enormous public investment, and while the land was taken by eminent domain (in many
cases, from disadvantaged African-American homeowners and businesspeople, in the days when Oakland
was strictly segregated), very little of the enormous wealth passing through the port ever finds its way to
Oakland’s impoverished schools, for example.
Oakland is not a poor city, as the president of the Oakland Education Association pointed out at an Occupy
press conference, or at least it shouldn’t be. Its apparent poverty is a function of the shell game paid with the
finances of the port, its major industry, which operates rent-free on public land. While bondholders absorb
most of the profits from the original investment, operating profits from the port never seem to find their way
back to Oakland’s coffers.
Instead they are being reinvested in making the port as profitable as possible for companies like SSA Marine
shipping (in which Goldman Sachs is a primary investor), in real-estate speculation, or in things like making
Oakland airport more accessible to the city’s wealthy travelers (while cutting funding for the buses used by
lower-income workers).
In short, while Andrew Leonard is at least a little bit right to see a port blockade as something like cutting off
the nose to spite the face, I want to offer another metaphor: stopping the port for a day was a poke in the
eye to stop the mouth from eating its own hands.
(Read Leonard’s “The costs of a port shut down” here. See Leonard’s comments below.)
Aaron Bady, graduate student at UC Berkeley, is an occupant of Oakland. His work has appeared in
the Guardian, Technology Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, American Literature, Possible
Futures, and his blog zunguzungu.More Aaron Bady
After the Tents Fall at Occupy Oakland - Susie Cagle -
What's next for the movement at its western frontier?
After hundreds of Occupy Oakland protesters were tear-gassed and shot at with rubber-coated steel bullets
by riot police on October 25, protesters in Tahrir Square marched to the US embassy in protest. One of their
signs read: "Cairo and Oakland are one hand."
At the next Oakland march, a black banner with white writing appeared: "Oakland and Cairo are one fist."
The change reflects the state of Occupy Oakland: a tactical perspective has elbowed to the forefront,
leaving others bruised and annoyed along the way.
"Your open hand can do so much more than your fist," says occupier Laura Long, 29. But it's unclear right
now what exactly Occupy Oakland wants to do, because it's unclear right now what and who Occupy Oakland
might currently be.
Since the war that took over downtown Oakland that evening in October, Occupy Oakland has struggled with
how to spend its political capital, and has lost much of it along the way. Several camp iterations and broken
windows later, Oakland's occupiers are at a crossroads now in the movement -- and they aren't interested in
sticking together. While the main decision-making body of the group, the general assembly, falters with low
attendance, action meetings are growing. A couple weeks ago this disaggregation seemed like a death knell.
Now it feels like the movement's best hope.
The breakup seems necessary after such a passionate escalation in tactics over a relatively short period of
time. The period of infatuation and political lust that intensified leading up to the November 2 General Strike
ended quickly, and many fell out of love after windows started breaking.
This period of reflection and reconsideration is resulting in a multi-front movement that engages the public
with spectacular shows of force at the ports, and with quiet and plausibly deniable ones in the form of
smashed locks on empty bank-owned buildings.
In Oakland's occupation there are some hands, and there are some fists.
Occupy organizer Krystof Lopaur, 35, worked on the December 12 coordinated West Coast port shutdown,
which disrupted port activities up and down the coast and catalyzed solidarity protests across the country. In
Oakland, Occupy disrupted and cancelled three of the ILWU workers shifts and blocked trucking in efforts
that the port says cost them, workers, and the city of Oakland $4 million. Nearly 4,500 people shut down the
Port of Oakland in the evening. Krystof calls the action Occupy Oakland's "second big act" after the
November 2nd General Strike and one-shift port shutdown. "And this is where it's at," he says of the future.
"There's a lot of stuff that we're doing that's interesting. We're kind of probing around for where we're
effective," Krystof reflected. "And I think where we're effective is where we get the most pushback."
The shutdown was a huge show of force by Occupy and union workers that many expected would be met
with a huge show of force in return from the police. This sort of confrontation is meant to force the state's
hand, to create, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, "a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the
door to negotiation." Occupy may be less interested in negotiation, but they are no less interested in
creating that crisis. But except for some 6 a.m. baton scuffles, law enforcement presence was minimal, even
if the shutdown resulted in the city council's rules committee pushing the city to use "whatever lawful tools" to
prevent any future port action. (The resolution did not pass.)
The shutdown was grand and visible. It contrasts markedly with the other threads of action that have spun
out of Occupy Oakland. Take foreclosure defense, in which occupiers set up camps at or in properties
scheduled to be taken over by the banks. The most high-profile effort occurred at 18th and Linden in West
Oakland, when a lot owner, Gloria Cobb allowed occupiers to take over the space. It made the local news
and seemed like it could become a new and successful tactic for activists. It was a highly visible political
symbol, one of Occupy Oakland's last above-ground hurrahs. And it was also one of its greatest failures.
After giving initial lukewarm approval for the occupation, the lot owner Gloria Cobb signed a declaration for
the city stating that she wanted them removed. The occupiers left reluctant and angry, with a mix of wounded
pride and sincere shame. This was Occupy Oakland's last real stab at a tent encampment. At least they went
out loud: the botched foreclosure occupation ended with a dance party in the middle of a West Oakland
street at midnight.
Dancing aside, things did not go well. "That's what inspired me to do this," says Iris Brown, 26, as she flips
through one of many binders sitting on a shelf in the small warm kitchen of an occupied house in Alameda,
each marked with a different zip code. "Watching that play out so badly."
Iris began the Foreclosure Research Action Committee (FRAC) in hopes of intervening on behalf of people
in pre-foreclosure using legal means largely outlined under the Tenant Protection Act of 2010, as well
as finding empty foreclosed buildings to occupy for full-time residential occupations as well as community
centers open to the public and meant to serve the surrounding neighborhood.
The failure of 18th and Linden was not Iris' only motivation, though. Two months ago, the owner of her quaint
Alameda house went into default, and sold Iris' lease to a new tenant for a much higher rent. Since she was
never properly served with an eviction notice, Iris filed a motion to quash, and is now waiting for her court
date before the scheduled February 12 auction of the house.
"This is what I was going through before I started being involved in all of this," she tells me. "And then I get
involved in all of this and people are like, Hey, let's help somebody with foreclosures. And I'm like, Yeah, help
The legal strategy Brown is looking to exploit are not of much interest to some others at Occupy Oakland.
Organizers like Krystof are skeptical of foreclosure defense as a scalable and wise tactic for the future of the
movement. "It's great because it's in line with the tactic of occupation," says Krystof. "The problem is you're
intervening in a really personal and individualistic struggle." Squat development, meanwhile, is "kind of like
dumpster diving, you know? Living off the scraps of capitalism."
He sees the strength of the future movement lying in a middle ground between blockading capitalism on the
wide roads of the Port and occupying quietly, even secretly, in the narrow wood-framed homes of West
"We need to intervene in a readable way in localized workplace struggles," Krystof tells me. "A campaign that
will have locally tangible results for people" in the form of improved working conditions and additional hires --
"It's kind of like a home defense, but you're not intervening on behalf of an individual -- you're intervening on
behalf of a core of people there," he says. "I think that will re-radicalize the labor movement."
The labor movement has not, especially as of late, seemed terribly interested in Occupy's radical overtures.
Many of the rank and file may be "nodding back" as Krystof says, but union leadership is decidedly not.
Occupy Oakland says they shut down the Port in solidarity with struggling ILWU longshoremen in Longview,
Washington in their ongoing fight against predatory grain shipper EGT, as well as the non-unionized truckers
at the Port, many of whom lost wages due to the shutdown on December 12.
"But it was also on our own behalf, because we're saying fuck you [to the state]: you coordinated attacks on
us, we're going to respond."
"We were shooting for spectacular because we basically wanted to say that the movement's still relevant,"
says Krystof. For all the logistics involved in shutting down the three Port shifts -- keeping the picket lines
strong by dispensing information and material support over those 24 hours -- those people powered efforts
had one high-minded purpose.
"All occupy actions need to be symbols," Krystof insists. An action "has to be visible, and it has to have a
political message as well. The camp's no good unless it's in people's faces and unless the state can't
tolerate it."
Teaching people how to fight foreclosures may be symbolic, but it's not legible to the public. It is not a grand
symbol of what can be accomplished with people power. Instead, the process is a struggle, a paperwork
battle to find, as Iris defines them, "loopholes."
Back in her kitchen, Iris flips to the page she was looking for. "Here we go. [She owes] $930,000 for a
$281,000 house. She's 79 years old, she's on social security. How do they rationalize that? Well, it's
Wachovia." Brown successfully helped the homeowner's daughter with a five-year lease for the property,
which the bank should honor to stave off the scheduled March sale of the house.
These binders are the fruits of the FRAC labor. They contain massive amounts of data on foreclosed and
soon-to-be foreclosed homes across Oakland, meticulously compiled from public and private sources. "We
are a centralized resource for information on foreclosures," says Iris. "And I know that I'm not at risk because
I'm providing information and that's still in this country perfectly legal."
FRAC's efforts have helped not only individuals looking for buildings to occupy, but also local non-profits
seeking individuals in pre-foreclosure needing assistance.
"The system we're trying to build is all about making it scalable," Iris tells me, and it's all born out of her
reading at the community law center and trial and error at the courthouse. That system is being tested in two
occupied houses at 10th and Mandela in West Oakland. Occupiers quietly establish tenancy by setting up
utility bills and making repairs to the properties. "But then not so quietly, whenever we actually move in, we
march to the house and feed the neighborhood," says Iris.
Interestingly, Brown is working with Occupy Oakland's infamous Tactical Action Committee (TAC), a
ubiquitous and passionate group of direct-action-minded young men who dress in camouflage army jackets
and are living in one of the occupied houses at 10th and Mandela. In fact, they are the same group behind
the botched encampment at 18th and Linden.
These occupations have not been without incident. Iris spends much of her time mediating disagreements
between TAC members. There's been fighting, and stealing. Recently someone brought a dog to one of the
10th and Mandela houses, the "Appletree House," resulting in a feces-smeared mess that no one wants to
clean up. Sometimes it has been to the group's advantage that their actions have not been in the limelight.
But that's not the plan for the future. "We don't want just squats -- we want libraries and we want schools and
we want breakfast programs. We want social services," Iris tells me. She wants to enlist the TAC to help
individuals in the neighborhood who need extra care -- bring in newspapers, take out garbage. She wants to
earn political capital instead of taking it by force.
"We want to make the public fall in love with us."
The public was once in love with Occupy Oakland; after October 25, the whole world was indeed watching.
While Occupy Wall Street took place on the movie-ready stage of Manhattan, Occupy Oakland took on an
economically depressed city with a long history of police brutality, civil unrest and radical political struggle.
This history is unique to Oakland, but these conditions are similar to many other post-recession American
cities. Many people looked to Oakland and saw a reality they recognized.
Without the love of the people, without the popularity and the masses, it's just a bunch of activists talking to
each other.
"Our overconfidence and impatience will be our downfall," says Leo Ritz-Barr, 21, an Occupy Oakland events
committee organizer. "And we've seen that happen before."
But that doesn't mean ruling out shows of power by the movement. Rather, occupiers have to find ways to
bring the the adventurists and the coalition builders together to create institutional support for the
movement. "We have two hands, right?" Ritz-Barr asks. "You can't have one or the other -- you need both."
Since the nationwide crackdown on occupation encampments over the past month, there's been talk that the
Occupy movement is headed underground. In Oakland, even if occupiers cannot agree on how best to act, it
seems the movement is actually reaching out and opening up to the broader community.
But the loss of the camps still puts these actions and that public relations effort at risk. In some ways, the
movement is a little too decentralized for its own good. Without an open public physical space, there is no
way for new people to plug in. Squatted buildings present a possible solution, a new kind of commons, but
they're slow and difficult to form and to hold. They may be better as conceptual tools than organizational
nodes. "It's a problem, and one we really need to solve," Krystof says, shaking his head a little.
The four weekly general assemblies are now small and often dysfunctional. Security concerns and internal
splits have sent other group meetings into private spaces, where they're inaccessible for those not in the
know. "We don't have meetings. We just do things," Brown snaps. "We act, we don't meet."
Add up all those spin-offs and those groups combined greatly outnumber the general assembly, in which
they mostly don't participate. Occupy Oakland's future depends on its ability to maintain this multi-front war
while making broader efforts to truly include the people it claims to fight for.
"If you want to bring down the system, you don't want it to crash down on top of everyone," says occupier
Laura Long. "We can't just be a movement, we have to be a whole life."
Image: 1. IndyBay 2. Reuters. 3. Reuters.
West Coast Port Shutdown. Oakland, Part 2: Occupy
Oakland’s Unstoppable Revolution, Updated
Over the last two months, Occupy Oakland
has seemed to take the express lane to
national level visibility and de facto
leadership of the Occupy movement. An
open camp at the seat of city power, in
tension and without negotiation with city
hall, marked a unique movement from the
start. The openness created the matrix for
a mass movement of the poor,
marginalized and forgotten, with new
political paradigms created outside of the
academic and political mainstream. The
tension led to a certain actualization of that
potential, culminating in uniquely brutal
and nearly fatal police repression that
exposed the limits of police violence in a
government that requires the fig leaf of
consent. With every brutal repression,
more liberals and apolitical people have
been radicalized, both in Oakland and the
nation, bringing out tens of thousands to
unsanctioned protests, where before there were only hundreds.
There were also limits to this strategy and the structure that made it possible. The camp is gone now, and
the people that lived in it, perhaps, for the time being too exhausted to replant it. But this has left a
perplexing question for many occupiers, both old and new. What happens to a mass movement predicated
on an openness based in a public access and presence when it loses its tether to the physical world? The
GA remains, of course. Unlike its reputation as a clown show of jeering white male anarchists [a sometimes
accurate description] it is more open to co-optation than any organizational structure I’ve seen to date. For
whatever reason, attendance has dwindled, and the opportunity for any group to gain a discursive foothold
there, through consensus, must be some kind of great secret at this point, because it remains surprisingly
unexploited. The GA still remains an important venue for directing a large number of people in continual
public action. The struggling vigil-type actions, which have continued since the destruction of the camp in the
form of the tree sit and the OGP vigil, have, in one way or another, been connected to the GA and their open
structure and “mass” character.
There’s also a concurrent move towards cadre actions, where unwieldy tactics such as foreclosure defense,
which up till now remain a tactic that can’t be planned openly in the GA, move through social networks and
in-loops. Whatever efficacy they may have, foreclosure defense is not a mass movement, it does not invite in
poor communities–rather it services them in a traditional way [though, there are ways of making it mass that
have yet to be discussed seriously].
At the other end of this spectrum, the movement’s “mass” actions have relied on existing networks in labor
and community organizations. This brand of “mass” actions allow day-of participation, but the planning still
relies on plug-in, and that phase, though at least rooted in working class communities, still can keep out the
vast majority of Oaklanders who’ve never been politically active and are not members of unions and other
organizations. Left out of this mix, of course, is a vast untapped reservoir of unorganized and struggling
labor, ignored in every political and social context in this country.
This all leads me back to what’s remained so special about the encampments as a nexus point for joining the
skilled, and unskilled, the connected and disconnected, the privileged and the forgotten. Without the
participation of the latter in those dichotomies, we go back to what’s comfortable and traditional—closed off
cadre actions and affinity groups, or short-lived mass actions that emerge only from institutional organizing.
These may be even more effective than before, and certainly more radicalized; but they’re not a substitute
for a participatory mass movement. That is, if it’s a mass movement we want.
Now that that’s out of the way.
Yesterday’s 20 hour port closing marathon action was glorious. Liberal haters like Andrew Leonard, Chip
Johnson and assorted local quasi-anonymous twitter-empowered city hall-servicing nobodies, will be pulling
out all the stops today with an insincere tidal wave of concern for the putative working class victims of anti-
1% actions. But yesterday’s unprecedented coordinated port closure was a victory, not just for them, but by
From the moment we arrived at the port around five thirty am, to the point that the last die-hard protesters
left in the wee hours, truckers everywhere in the port loop were cheering us on for the most part; industrial
horn-honking echoed everywhere throughout the port. From the very beginning, local Teamsters and
Longshoremen rank and file supported the strike, despite the claim from the 1%-aligned international union
offices in Washington DC that they did not support the action. Though truckers independently organized to
speak for themselves in support of protesters, and against slave-labor conditions, media more often than not
ignored solidarity. Of course, that’s not the story the media came to get. Once they got hold of the truckers
meme, local media convinced themselves they were a trucker’s advocacy group, bravely supporting their
interests against the protesters seeking to bring attention to their plight, while guaranteeing their right to
work in an obscure and dangerous low-paid perpetuity. Don’t thank the media; that’s just their job.
Of course, there’s half a dozen more no-brainer arguments for why the port protests have been a good
idea–drawing attention to the fact that the port makes billions in profits but does little to enrich the city is the
unqualified best, in my opinion. Beyond those, for me, the best argument for why the port action was a
success–and why it should be repeated despite the naysayers–was in the beauty of the mass action that
made it possible. The question is not whether Occupy Oakland is popular with “workers”, or any other group.
Indeed, its quite possible that they think we’re every bit the stinky, hairy, all-caucasoidal trust-funded hippies
the false media narrative of the past three months suggests.
OO’s power is in recalibrating what people THINK they believe about their lives, about possibilities, about
activism, about their economic relationships. And most importantly, about the people they share their lives,
work and city with. I’ve felt this myself even within the organization itself.
The past few weeks have been a brutal time for Occupy Oakland. With the loss of the camp came a diverse
set of trajectories in which to continue, and a diminishing of the solidarity felt by the camp denizens, its
protectors and developers. Some have chosen specific forms of activism that have taken them away from
visible occupation—foreclosure defense, as I mentioned. Others have tried to maintain the link to the plaza
with toe-hold actions, such as the vigil and the tree sit, but have received little support. The GA has shed
attendance as the accumulation of separate actions, the cold of winter and simple fatigue take their toll. And,
of course, the Decolonize vs. Occupy schism was a disheartening detour of wasted energy and emotion.
But the problems are beyond even such real and understandable physical conditions and realities, in my
view. Without the camp, internet connectivity has become the focal point of organizing and discussion,
fostering misunderstandings, misperceptions, increasingly bruised feelings and divisiveness. It is the literal
dehumanization of the movement, as people move away from the hard, but productive work of forging
physical bonds, to the deceptively easy, but ultimately unsatisfying and confusing process of decision
making in the ether of cyberspace.
In my case, at least, I’ve been at a loss to describe who was in this movement with me—a cacophony of
muted texts by unknown screen and birth names replaced the hundreds of faces and voices I had come to
know at the camp. Without the gravity of Oscar Grant Plaza between us, we began to drift apart from each
other, and with that drift has come alienating dissipation. Worse, those that have never existed in
cyberspace began to disappear from the terrain of our Online Occupy Oakland, existing in an alternate
dimensional OO with different schedules, different concerns and even slightly different physics. During the
camp days, there were indeed schisms, disagreements, self-segregation; but you could see them all. They
were there before you, they required mending, they could not be ignored, and they were addressed in a
tumultuous, impossible and eternal conversation about who we were, what we wanted, and how to get there.
But all of these problems that we’ve accumulated over the past few weeks evaporated when our bodies and
minds met in a new real world forged by our presence in the city’s streets. Stupid, interminable fights that I’d
been locked into with numerous people over the last two or so weeks evaporated, cleansed by the power of
coming together as a living organism with one intent and ten thousand rationales. No enmity of mine survived
the day; even someone who I really thought I was about to come to blows with two days ago happily
apologized to me, and I to him.
What I like to point out as amazing each time Occupy Oakland has yet another successful mass action, is
how little any of the pre-existing ideas of what’s possible, who we are and what we should do, matter. People
may, in their ever day, wonder what the hell those OO people are doing; why they’re camping, vigiling and
sitting in trees; when they’ll come up with a list of demands; and why they’ve hurt Mayor Quan’s feelings. But
the sight of thousands of people moving through the city like a spontaneous life form–as a diverse ONE,
chanting, playing music, laughing, supporting one another, in joyous awe of their own collective power—I
think touches the heart of all that come into physical contact with it.
The power of people organizing in ways that are not predictable, nor allowed, is in itself a cognitive, spiritual,
human revolution. It’s a herd of bicycles orbiting freely in an intersection; it’s the wonder you feel when you
get in front of the crowd a few hundred feet and see what you’ve been a part of, and will be a part of again;
its occupying completely the space you’re not allowed to be in, and inviting in those voices telling you you’re
not allowed to be there. Its shared existence in time and space as a form of power that few organized forces
can hinder. It’s a revolution that can’t be stopped now that its begun. We keep proving that every time we do

other occupations
THIS BUILDING IS OURS! Chapel Hill Anarchists
Occupy Downtown Building « triANARCHY
In the midst of the first general strike to hit the US since 1946, a group of comrades
occupied a vacant building in downtown Oakland, CA. Before being brutally evicted and
attacked by cops, they taped up in the window a large banner declaring, “Occupy
Last night, at about 8pm, a group of about 50 – 75 people occupied the 10,000 square foot
Chrysler Building on the main street of downtown Chapel Hill. Notorious for having an
owner who hates the city and has bad relations with the City Council, the giant building
has sat empty for ten years. It is empty no longer.
Following the Carrboro Anarchist Bookfair, a group “in solidarity with occupations
everywhere” marched to the building, amassing outside while banners reading “Occupy
Everything” and “Capitalism left this building for DEAD, we brought it back to LIFE” were
raised in the windows and lowered down the steep roof. Much of the crowd soon filed in
through one of the garage door entrances to find a short film playing on the wall and dance
music blasting.
People explored the gigantic building, and danced in the front room to images of comrades
shattering the glass of bank windows 3,000 miles away in Oakland. Others continued to
stay outside, shouting chants, giving speeches, and passing out hundreds of “Welcome”
packets (complete with one among many possible future blueprints for the building – see
below for text) to passersby. The text declared the initial occupation to be the work of “
autonomous anti-capitalist occupiers,” rather than Occupy Chapel Hill, but last evening’s
events have already drawn the involvement of many Occupy Chapel Hill participants, who
are camped just several blocks down the street.
Soon several police showed up, perhaps confused and waiting for orders. Three briefly
entered the building, and were met with chants of “ACAB!” Strangely, the cops seem to
have been called off, because they left as quick as they came. For the rest of the night they
were conspicuously absent, leaving us free to conduct a short assembly as to what to do
with the space and how to hold it for the near future. The group also decided to move a
nearby noise and experimental art show into the building. As some folks began to arrange
the show, others began filtering across town seeking things we needed for the night.
Within 30 minutes of the assembly ending, trucks began returning with everything from
wooden pallets, doors, water jugs, and a desk, to a massive display case for an already
growing distro and pots and trays of food donated by a nearby Indian restaurant. Others
began spreading the word to the nearby Occupy Chapel Hill campsite, and bringing their
camping gear into the building.
Over the next few hours more and more community members heard about the occupation
and stopped by, some to bring food or other items, others just to soak it all in. All the while
dozens of conversations were happening outside with people on the street. The show
began eventually, and abrasive noise shook the walls of the building, interspersed with
dance music and conversations, and ending with a beautiful a capella performance, and of
course more dancing.
More events are to follow tomorrow in our new space, with two assemblies from the
anarchist bookfair being moved to the new location, and a yoga teacher offering to teach a
free class later in the afternoon.
As of the early hours this Sunday morning, the building remains in our hands, with a small
black flag hanging over the front door. The first 48 hours will be extremely touch and go,
but with a little luck, and a lot of public support, we aim to hold it in perpetuity. Regardless,
we hope that this occupation can inspire others around the country. Strikes like the one in
Oakland present one way forward; long term building occupations may present another.
-some anti-capitalist occupiers
We would like to welcome you to an experiment.
For the past month and a half, thousands of people all over the US have been occupying
public space in protest of economic inequality and hopelessness. This itself began as an
experiment in a small park in New York City, though it did not emerge out of a vacuum:
Occupy Wall St. “made sense” because of the rebels of Cairo, because of the indignados
of Madrid and Barcelona and Athens. All of these rebellions were experiments in self-
organization which emerged out of their own specific contexts, their own histories of
struggle and revolution. Each were unique, but also united by the shared reality of the
failure and decline of late global capitalism, and the futility of electoral politics.
Recently, this “Occupy” phenomenon has expanded beyond merely “providing a space for
dialogue” to become a diverse movement actively seeking to shift the social terrain. From
strikes and building occupations to marches and port blockades, this looks different in
different places, as it should, but one thing is clear: Many are no longer content with
“speaking truth to power,” for they understand that power does not listen.
Toward that end, we offer this building occupation as an experiment, as a possible way
forward. For decades, occupied buildings have been a foundation for social movements
around the world. In places as diverse as Brazil, South Africa, Spain, Mexico, and
Germany, just to mention a few, they offer free spaces for everything from health clinics and
daycare to urban gardening, theaters, and radical libraries. They are reclaimed spaces,
taken back from wealthy landowners or slumlords, offered to the community as liberated
All across the US thousands upon thousands of commercial and residential spaces sit
empty while more and more people are forced to sleep in the streets, or driven deep into
poverty while trying to pay rent that increases without end. Chapel Hill is no different: this
building has sat empty for years, gathering dust and equity for a lazy landlord hundreds of
miles away, while rents in our town skyrocket beyond any service workers’ ability to pay
them, while the homeless spend their nights in the cold, while gentrification makes profits
for developers right up the street.
For these reasons, we see this occupation as a logical next step, both specific to the rent
crisis in this city as well as generally for occupations nationwide. This is not an action
orchestrated by Occupy Chapel Hill, but we invite any and all occupiers, workers,
unemployed, or homeless folks to join us in figuring out what this space could be. We offer
this “tour guide” merely as one possible blueprint among many, for the purpose of
brainstorming the hundreds of uses to which such a building could be put to once freed
from the stranglehold of rent.
In Love and Rage,
for liberty and equality,
-some autonomous anti-capitalist occupiers
Open Letter to the Administration of the University
of California Berkeley
by Daniel Marcus on Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 7:22am
An Open Letter to the Administration of the University of California Berkeley
Dear Chancellor Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor Breslauer, and Vice Chancellor
You should all resign—now.
On Tuesday, you sent a message to students informing us that we would not be allowed to
set up encampments or occupy campus buildings. You quoted a passage from the student
code of conduct that prohibits “[a]ny activities such as pulling fire alarms, occupying
buildings, setting up encampments, graffiti, or other destructive actions that disrupt or
interfere with anyone's ability to conduct regular activities—go to class, study, carry out
their research etc.” In this same message, you claimed that UC Berkeley shares “many of
the highest principles associated with the OWS movement” and aims to provide “a model
of the right to free speech, assembly and activism.”
We could not agree with you more: UC Berkeley does share the principles of the OWS
movement. In fact, we were instrumental in sparking the wave of occupations—yes,
occupations—that is now sweeping the globe. Recall November 20th, 2009: the students
who occupied Wheeler Hall that day were not fringe radicals or outsiders, they were
students who cared so deeply about the university that they were willing to be dragged
away in handcuffs for it. They spoke for all of us, and now we are answering back. The
model of activism you refer to: it’s us. We're all occupiers now. Don’t patronize us, then, by
telling us how we ought to behave. Time and again, our protests have been met with
batons and guns and admin-speak about “protecting us” and obeying the “limits of protest.”
After three years of brutality, we now know exactly who is being protected, and from what.
Yesterday, the police force you sent to disperse us beat and maimed several dozen
students, faculty, and staff. When UCPD requested reciprocal aid, they were reinforced by
OPD and the Alameda County Sheriffs Department—the same officers who shot a young
Iraq veteran in the head with a tear-gas canister last week at Occupy Oakland, in violation
of their own rules of engagement. He still has not regained the ability to speak. This is how
you would protect us: with blood and fear. We are appalled, but not surprised, that your
police beat an English Department graduate student so badly yesterday that he was
rushed into urgent care. This is how you would uphold the legacy of the free speech
movement. Let us remind you: we are the free speech movement. We are speaking, and
you are beating us to the ground.
About the “regular activities” of students at UC Berkeley: we do not agree that these
activities can be limited to going to class, studying, and doing research. First, because this
school is the center of our lives, which are richer and more meaningful than is allowed for
by the student code of conduct. Second, because there can be no “regular activity” in a
time of crisis. We are not blind to the world; we know that it is falling apart, torn to shreds by
the profit-hungry elite of the the 1%. We know that you have been tasked with operating the
university in crisis mode; we know this means ensuring that the 1% do not lose their
financial stake in the university and its affiliate industries—the student loan racket, for
example. We see right through you. It is you, on the other hand, who mistake our purposes:
when we occupy buildings and set up encampments, these are our regular activities. The
only people interfering with the business of the university are the police; for that, they
should be banned from campus permanently and immediately.
You describe UC Berkeley as “a place where the best and brightest youth, staff and faculty
from all socioeconomic backgrounds work collectively to solve world problems.” We
wholeheartedly agree. However, by this definition, it is you who have violated the code of
conduct; you are the ones who should be driven out of Sproul Plaza, not us. Make no
mistake: there can be no “regular activity” when a militarized police force is allowed to
brutalize students with impunity, nor can there be any peace so long as you remain at the
helm of the university. Take a lesson from history (Egypt, for example) and step down now.
The Students of the University of California Berkeley
No Cops, No Bosses
By now much of the world has seen video and photos of Lt. John Pike of the UC Davis
police department as he discharged a canister of burning chemicals into the faces of
students seated in the center of the university quad. Most viewers are outraged, and
justifiably so. Much of the outrage has been directed at John Pike. He deserves it. But we
should remind ourselves that Friday’s police violence was only an aberration because it
happened on a university campus not easily assimilable to the stereotype of “Berkeley
radicals” and to students who are perceived or portrayed as mostly white and as resisting
passively. Whiteness is brought up here, not to chastise those who only now denounce
police violence that has been routinely applied to non-white communities and individuals
—this itself is a misperception of Friday’s events: a majority of those arrested were not
white—but to invite readers, new and old, to extend the critique of police violence beyond
the walls of the university to the communities whose life it damages every single day.
Friday’s punitive violence, as terrible as it was, is not an example of bad policing. It is an
example of policing.
We’ve seen this kind of violence used before on California campuses, and not just in
response to the anti-privatization protests and occupations of the past two years. We’re
seeing it used now to suppress dissent in cities across the world, from Oakland to Cairo.
When UC Davis police chief Annette Spicuzza says she is “very proud” of her officers, who
“did a great job,” she is convinced that this is true. It’s not simply a public relations strategy,
it’s a reflection of the fact that her officers did what cops are expected to do: employ
violence against those who challenge authority.
This is why we do not demand the dismissal of Lt. John Pike, although it would be
Our demand is COPS OFF CAMPUS. Period.
Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi is working feverishly to control the media narrative about
Friday’s police attack on protesters. She tried to hold a press conference yesterday, but we
shut it down with our voices and bodies. It’s telling that the press conference was held in a
building meant to accommodate satellite trucks and internet broadcasting, but whose size
and peripheral location bar students from attending. Katehi’s press conference was meant
to calm a national public outraged by her use of force against students. Addressing
students and, more importantly, listening to them, was not part of her agenda. We were
locked out of the building yesterday, but we let ourselves in and stopped the propaganda
Although we posed no danger to her, Katehi refused to leave the building for two hours,
perhaps waiting for rain, or nightfall, before walking past a silent wall of students and
ducking into her luxury automobile. She could have addressed students there, of course,
but she preferred the leather-lined cocoon of the car and the comforts of a phone interview
with CNN, conducted immediately after she left.
For Katehi, students are a nuisance, an obstacle standing in the way of her plans to
privatize and internationalize the campus. This is apparent in the email missives that she
sends to everyone, trying to justify her use of force. She invokes safety and health
[T]he encampment violated regulations designed to protect the health and
safety of students, staff and faculty.
Here, the health and safety OF STUDENTS become empty abstractions that must be
protected FROM STUDENTS.
Similarly, in the Chancellor’s tiresome rhetoric about the university’s mission and
standards, the word EXCELLENCE loses any educational significance it may have had; it
becomes a quantifiable property of the university, indistinguishable from reputation or
ranking. “Excellence must be maintained,” recite the administrators. Like health and safety,
it must be protected from students, whose disruptive protests mar the university’s image.
The careful construction of this image often takes the form of actual construction—the so
called capital projects, the gleaming buildings featured so prominently on university
The fee increases, pepper spray, beatings,
arrests, and student disciplinary procedures
of the last two years are not the unfortunate
consequences of a dismal budgetary
situation. They are the primary vehicles for
maintaining “excellence.”
Katehi makes repeated references to the
presence of non-students among the
protesters who were attacked by police, as if
community members and alumni had no
right to set foot on the campus of a PUBLIC university, as if they had no stake in the fate of
a PUBLIC university. Our administrators prefer the university’s connections to the public to
be mediated by formal contracts with agribusiness giants. They prefer alumni to mail
checks from a distance. They prefer that the city not interfere with its project to increase the
size of the student body and expand its physical footprint. They prefer visitors to be
chaperoned through campus on tours that highlight statistics, amenities and, most of all,
the buildings—the shiny new buildings and construction projects financed by student debt.
Against the administration’s attempts to keep the community at a distance, the students of
the University of California, Davis invite alumni, community members, and everyone else
to the Quad on Monday, November 21 at noon, for a conversation about the university’s
future. We ask Davis residents to support us in our struggle against a university
administration at war with students and with the notion of a public university.
We second calls for Katehi’s resignation. She must go. But we don’t want to replace her
with another Regental appointee or an interim chancellor. We don’t want to replace her.
The administration, as a managerial class for whom the ideal university is a massive
corporation in imperialist partnership with other massive corporations and banks, will never
accede to our demands for self-management, greater student and community participation
in university governance, and better working conditions. The administration at UC Davis
and every other UC campus has proven that, when faced with these demands, they will
unleash violence in our learning spaces.
We demand the abolition of the administration and the transfer of all their functions to
workers, students, and faculty.
As a necessary precondition to self-management and for our safety, we demand that
UCPD be disbanded and that the University be declared a sanctuary space, free of
interference from law enforcement personnel. Universities outside the United States
already enjoy this freedom. We must demand it here.
Cops and administrators off campus!
on Occupy Cal and the fight over public education in California.
Police try to stop Mario Savio, leader of the Free Speech Movement from speaking at the
Greek Theater in Berkeley. AP file photo 1964
Protester brought to the ground by police in front of Sproul Hall, November 9, 2011.
The actions this Wednesday on the UC Berkeley campus under the banner “Occupy Cal”
were the largest political manifestation there since September 24, 2009. On that occasion,
a faculty-initiated walkout in concert with two union strikes, shortly joined by a mass of
students, mobilized protesters across the UC system against the privatization of public
education — 5,000 alone at Berkeley. Amidst broad and spectacular national attention and
predictable comparisons to the spirit of “the Sixties,” the action in 2009 threatened to begin
a new era in campus agitation and struggle.
It also threatened to bring it to an end. An attempted occupation of Wheeler Hall by a
militant fraction of the participants, proceeding from a more sweeping anticapitalist
analysis seeking “to push the university struggle to its limits” within a declared program to
“occupy everything/demand nothing!” failed amidst great acrimony. The ill will arrived no
more from the administration than from the main body of that day’s protestors, committed to
the seemingly more realistic and less divisive goal of restoring a marginally more
affordable and hospitable academic environment.
These two positions — revolution and reform, in their latest local incarnations — had a
brief moment of rapprochement that November when, two days after another failure to hold
a different building, more than 40 participants locked down part of Wheeler Hall for long
hours during which the building was surrounded by riot police from multiple jurisdictions.
The police were, in turn, surrounded by thousands of students challenging the threat and
authority of the robocops, while helicopters nattered overhead and faculty members
endeavored ineffectually to broker a deal that would end the standoff. Cops beat students
for refusing to depart, charged into crowds, issued endless streams of threat and invective.
They were answered. Students and staff found their inner militants. In the event, the threat
of the massed and notably non-pacific supporters compelled safe passage for the
occupiers, who walked out into the embrace of an exhausted and briefly jubilant crowd.
That moment’s tenuous unity would exhaust itself in the months to come. Fractious
divisions returned, planned actions grew more chaotic and less charismatic, and it became
increasingly evident that a mild reformist program — tuition rollbacks, job preservation, a
curbing of the administrator class’s expansion — might as well have been demands for a
new utopia with ponies for everyone. Everywhere the only response from administrators
and politicos was paternalistic contempt, disingenuous handwringing, and a monolithic,
blank insistence that the tide of history moved in one direction, against which even the
most concerted, realistic or well-mannered entreaties would find no purchase. Against all
that — demoralization among the temporarily inspired participants, sheer exhaustion
among the committed organizers, divisions all around — the campus anti-privatization
movement seemed to have guttered out.
Which brings us to Occupy Cal, and the apparent revitalization of the fight over public
higher education in California. On Wednesday a thousand or more students rallied on
Sproul Plaza, marched through Telegraph Avenue to Bank of America, returned to the
Plaza for a General Assembly, and voted almost unanimously to set up an encampment
near the administration building. When they tried to do so, already-staged riot cops from
the UCPD and Alameda Sheriff’s Department immediately moved to stop them. As the
students and workers linked arms and tried to defend the small grassy area, the police
attacked with batons, beating many, tackling and pulling the hair of a few, and arresting a
handful, all of whom were then charged with resisting arrest, with one being sent to the
hospital with injuries — all in the process of trying to prevent a single tent from being
But the crowd was actually pretty tough, and grew swiftly, because, as it turns out, people
— including people from university communities — don’t like violent cops, and it is
increasingly implausible to recognize the existence of any other kind. The police were
compelled to withdraw for a while, promising to return for an eviction at 10 p.m. Up went a
few tents. Out went the call for support that night. The cops returned early, moving swiftly
and angrily, beating people indiscriminately and ironically on the Mario Savio steps,
knocking over the tents, arresting about 30 more, forming a militarized line to defend a
micro-knoll. The inevitable crowd gathered, the helicopters hovered: it felt like old times. By
after midnight a General Assembly of 3,000, fired by a still-burgeoning shock at the actions
of the administration (especially the odious, miscalculating Chancellor Robert Birgeneau),
convened to plot next moves. There will be next moves.
But perhaps what is most striking is that, at this exact moment, the battle of the East Bay
has two fronts.
When the call for support went out, it went around campus; it also went down the street.
Less than five miles away, at the far end of Telegraph Avenue, Occupy Oakland had
established itself as the most militant of “the Occupies” — enforcing a strict no-cops policy,
declaring itself not simply an encampment but the Oakland Commune, supplying its own
needs, and reestablishing itself spiritedly after being violently evicted on October 25.
Having come through a cloud of teargas, rubber bullets, and other ordnance, the Oakland
Commune swiftly called for a General Strike (the last in the nation had been in Oakland in
1946) which shut down numerous businesses for a day as well as the nation’s sixth largest
It is easy enough to note that Occupy Oakland seeks to push the Occupy movement to its
limits. The slogan “Occupy Everything!” had accompanied the new movement since its
inception in September. Indeed, the initial call for Occupy Wall Street, formulated in the
Canadian magazine Adbusters, had borrowed heavily from the ideas and writings of the
university militants of 2009, whose actions they had chronicled (albeit poorly) at the time.
Of absolute significance is the fact that the Occupy movement fashions itself openly, if
sometimes ambiguously, as broadly anticapitalist.
In short, the ideas and programs of Fall 2009 that presented themselves as too militant and
unrealistic for that moment — occupation as material tactic, no demands, strike and refusal,
anticapitalism — are now simply the general atmosphere of the most popular political
movement in decades. To quote the Situationist writer René Vienet, “Our ideas are on
everybody’s mind.” This would be a remarkable denouement, but for three things.
The first is that the story is by no means over. Now everyone is a crisis maven and can
understand these irruptions in the context of objective conditions. Cycles of joblessness
and homelessness, of debt and default, and of exclusion from the grounds of capital are
not easing but intensifying. Everybody knows there will be no ponies gotten simply by
asking, or by arguing eloquently from some principle of justice or reason. We’re going to
have to seize the ponies. Which is to say, the homes and the jobs, and the mechanism
which excludes an increasing number of people from such amenities. At this point, visions
of wandering bemusedly out of recession and back into boom times are in fact less
plausible than the vision of various Occupies expanding outward to meet community anti-
foreclosure struggles in an increasingly unified reorganization of daily life — by which I
mean, a reorganization of who holds what, and how.
The second is that it would be a mistake, finally, to see the Occupy Everything movement
as beginning in the California university struggles of 2009, which themselves drew on
similar struggles in New York, which themselves…. In truth, the failure of the international
economic regime and the tidal fury it has produced have been wandering the globe for a
while now. The content is misery, dispossession, and a willingness to struggle. It looks
here and there for whatever form to which it can fit itself in order to gain purchase on a
given situation. It typically involves students and the dispossessed. It looks one way in the
French banlieue in 2005 and another in the Paris CPE riots the following year. It takes one
form in the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki in 2008; another in Tahrir Square in January,
and another in the squares of Madrid and Barcelona. It burns differently on the campuses
of the UK and in Tottenham and Hackney. And then there’s Chile.
It is critical to understand the university struggles in California not as some independent
rise and fall, some odd pulsating rhythm proper to this place and this situation, but as one
appearance of a far broader — and in many regards far more advanced and intensified —
conflict that has been afoot for some time. When hostility to capitalism moves to the fore, it
is not some mutation, or the ascent of some ideological fraction against another; it is the
irreducible truth of the situation, having found the form in which it can finally appear
But the third reason for skepticism in advance of any conclusions is that there is no
irrevocable march forward. Conditions guarantee this conflict, but they also present limits.
Right now, the limits for Occupy Cal and Occupy Oakland are most obviously the police:
the same government-paid thugs who rode camels into Tahrir Square, here kitted out with
far more advanced weapons. But there is also the weather and real estate, the two things
that strangers discuss at bourgeois dinner parties. These turn out to be the objective
conditions of the moment. The shift of occupation strategies in the last two years from
inside to outside spaces, to semipublic arenas, was both necessary and unforeseeably
effective. It was also a plan for a mild season. Now, as the fog and the chill of late autumn
sets in — brumaire, this month was once called — the movement of the squares, the
plazas, the universities and the Occupies will need to reclaim some indoor spaces for
itself. Whether these can be gotten, and held, is a most pressing question.
Joshua Clover is a Professor of English Literature at University of California Davis. He is
currently at work on a book tentatively entitled Capital Poetics, bringing together the study
of poetry with contemporary political economy, and finishing a poetry collection called
Images: Police try to stop Mario Savio, leader of the Free Speech Movement from
speaking at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, on the steps that now bear his name. AP file
photo, 1964.
Protester brought to the ground by police in front of Sproul Hall, November 9, 2011.
From Occupied Kansas City
Anne Boyer
A hundred people shout the word “Hopefully.” A hundred people shout “Um.” A hundred
people shout “No one has ever repeated my words before,” and a hundred people shout “I
will take care of you if you need help.” Ten people shout “Point of procedure!” Five
hundred people shout “What we are for?/ Class war.” Three hundred people shout “Let
them go!” and at the sound of the shouting people, the police let the people go.
The police are bringing some green tea. The police are promising a blind eye. The police
are posing for pictures. The police are fist pumping the air. The police are saying, “Take
down your tents.” The police are saying, “Stay on the sidewalk.” The police are saying
they haven’t had a raise in three years. The police are hugging Guy Fawkes. The police
are turning on their sirens. The police are showing off their tattoos. The police are bragging
they’d run over old ladies. The police are saying, “You’ll be arrested.” The police won’t
take off their badges. The police won’t give up their guns. The police want to talk to us.
The police are telling us the names of their wives.
I’m working through the city ordinances and doing a lot of copying and pasting and
analyzing. I am spending my night reconstructing a civic history by staring at some codes.
This city is made of two states. The river holds the bodies of slaves escaping to freedom:
the old city boss Pendergast’s ready-mixed-concrete makes up the hard surface of the city
and is said to be full of bones. People occupying Kansas City ask each other “What side
you from?” There’s a lot of quiet evidence, too, of the city’s extra-legal legality—that’s a
local strategy of inefficiency in the shards of civic databases. What is Kansas City is how
to occupy a split and barely-functioning thing, how to occupy a city made from the wild
west, racial injustice, emancipatory urges, and off-hand under-hand anti-rule. When I am
occupying Kansas City, I am occupying “suspect nostalgia and equally suspect admiration
for decay.”
I learn that since 1967 six people are a riot. I tell this to my friend, and, she says, of this
Kansas City, “We’re chill until we’re not.”
There is one guy here wearing 90’s goth pants and a gas mask and dirty dreads. He likes
to run around in the streets screaming FUCK AMERICA and BOMB THE FED. People
worry about him. They sometimes stand up to condemn him, call him a provocateur.
Whatever he is he is also like an avatar of the natural man, an animated Rousseau-like
incivility, all embodied rage-quit and totally regular, like an eternal flame.
Parents with infants stroll with their infants, also some women cook dinner. A small child
sometimes paces the encampment practicing her protest chants on a megaphone. A
“media team” of people in black plastic glasses watch YouTube videos. There is a collie
here whose only countenance is the business-like countenance of a herder. He is
unleashed, and he is unwavering in the anti-personal way he circles the gathered crowd.
He has no time to be petted as he weaves through the people’s herd.
I google “How do I put on for my city?” and the answer, from a person named “Lil-E Ima get
a job at 11,” is “Whatever your city needs, you give it to them.”
When I ask some people “Why?” one person says it is God and another says it is the
Buddha and another says it is the great feminine force of the earth and another says it is
Ron Paul and another says it is human reason and another says it is the greedy thieves
and bullshit and some guys talk about being in NYC and some other guys go talk to unions
and one person tells me it was the tear-gassing of the young women and another person
says it is so parents can have more time with their kids. A guy says he’s there because he
hates it when people tell other people to leave the premises. A homeless guy says it’s
because he was told there would be food. A guy standing near me says that his mom says
if he keeps coming back she will no longer put a roof over his head. A couple of guys who
act like leaderless-leaders just act like I am not there. One guy says he’s been there since
the beginning thirteen days ago, and it’s all the new people who keep coming who mess
things up. Another guy lost his home.
Everyone says nothing is generalizable. The people come and go, and no one night is like
the other. People take up: they leave. They are satisfied until they are dissatisfied. The
process is horizontal until it’s not. The occupation splits and joins, assembles and
dissembles, attracts and repels. It’s a crowd always gathering and falling apart, clustering
and scattered and, in its off-hand under-hand anti-rule, inefficient and in this inefficiency as
lovely as the under-handed anti-rule of the occupied city itself.
Some days I would swear to you that nothing but occupation exists. When I leave the
occupied space of the city into the ordinary space of the city, the ordinary space has
ceased to feel real. The unoccupied world is a theme park now, faux-hygienic, grating,
insincere. My feeling for the occupation is almost exactly like erotic love, vulnerable and
half-mad, but I am handing my heart not to one other human but to an unfixed, circulating
crowd. The stakes are high, and I interrogate my desire, my attachment, tell myself it is just
a cold park, some strangers, the same sad world. But I’m pretty sure I’ve been waiting my
whole life for this, how we have made a tear in the everything. From the cut—this cold
place—we shout.
COMMUNIQUE - bmorewomentrans
.d$P" d$$ "*$$.
d$" 4$"$$ "$$.
4$P $F ^$F "$c
z$% d$ 3$ ^$L
.$%"$$e d$ 3$ z$$" $F
4$ *$$.4$" $$d$P" $$
4$ ^*$$. .d$F $$
4$ d$"$$c z$$"3$ $F
$L 4$" ^*$$$P" $$ 4$"
3$ $F .d$P$$e ^$F $P
$$ d$ .$$" "$$c 3$ d$
*$.4$"z$$" ^*$$$$ $$
"$$$$P" "$$$P
*$b. .d$P"
This occupation is inevitable, and yet we need to make it. There is no way for capital to
continue its reign – this is clear. And yet, capital will not behead itself: we know that we
need to struggle in some way if we are to overcome it. This statement is not a rejection of
the occupation – as if it could be avoided, as if the present conditions were not so grave, as
if we haven’t all had enough. But there are things that need to be said. We submit this
critique in the deepest solidarity with those people of color, women, queer, and trans* folx
that have endured this occupation while labouring on making it more livable from the
Before anything else, we must frame this movement within a prior occupation, that of white
settlers on Nanticoke and Susquehannock land. The genocide, expulsion, and
dispossession of native peoples is foundational to the ascent of the US as a center of
global capital; we cannot reclaim this country, only acknowledge it as a unit of capitalist
“We are the 99%”
If we want to use this figure to underscore how far polarized the rich and the poor are today,
fine. But those of us that don’t homogenize so easily get suspicious when we hear calls for
unity. What other percentages hide behind the nearly-whole 99%? What about the 16% of
Blacks that are “officially” unemployed, double the number of whites? The 1 out of 8 Black
men in their twenties that on any given day will be in prison or jail? The quarter of women
that will get sexually assaulted in their lifetime? The dozens of queer, trans*, intersex, and
gender-variant folks that are murdered each year, 70% of whom are people of color? Is a
woman of color’s experience of the crisis interchangeable with that of the white man whose
wage is twice hers? Are we all Troy Davis? As austerity grinds down on us, who among us
will go to prison? Who will be relegated to informal, precarious labor? Whose benefits will
be cut, whose food stamps canceled or insufficient? Who will be evicted? Who will be
unable to get health care, to get hormones or an abortion?
Don’t get us wrong. We’re not asking for better wages or a lower interest rate. We’re not
even asking for the full abolition of capital – there’s no one to ask. For now, we are simply
critiquing this occupation for assuming we are there, while we have so far been left out.
Because we know that whatever is next will be something we make, not something we ask
for. Even if we don’t feel safe there, even if what little analysis and structure that has
emerged thus far makes clear we are not a part of this movement, we radical feminist, anti-
racist revolutionaries are going to keep bringing our bodies and ideologies to the
occupation, for the same reason that women of color support and attend Slutwalk despite
critiquing its white-centered politics: because we see potential for building resistance in
our communities and affecting material change. But for this potential to be realized, we
have to work together in solidarity with the understanding that unity must be constructed
with an analysis of difference, not just plastered blindly over inequalities. Consider this text
a chip at the plaster.
Anti-finance or anti-capital?
Nothing is more clear in the American debt-scape than racial character of everyday finance
– but it is sexed, too. And not only because women, like people of color, were
disproportionately solicited for subprime mortgages (across all income levels). There is no
better indicator that women and people of color cannot be assimilated to the faceless
borrowers of the 99% than the strategic location of payday loan offices, tax-preparation
outlets, and banks that specialize in subprime mortgages. A map of foreclosures, of
adjustable-rate mortgages, a topography of interest rates: all these overlap neatly on the
demographics of racialized and feminized poverty. It’s not a coincidence: today, race and
gender are not grounds to deny credit, but indexes of risk. And as long as risk can be
commodified, as long as volatility can be hedged against and profited from, our color and
gender will be blamed for the inevitable collapse. This is the absurdity of everyday finance.
We are the risk? We are the predators? Finance’s favorite game must be the schoolyard
refrain: “I know you are but what am I?”
We know that economic crises mean more domestic labor, and more domestic labor
means more work for women. Dreams of a “mancession” fade quickly when one realizes
male-dominated sectors are simply the first to feel a crisis – and the first to receive bailout
funds. The politics of crisis adds to the insult of scapegoating the injury of unemployment
and unwaged overwork. And the nightmare of fertility politics, the ugly justification of
welfare and social security “reforms.” “Saving America’s families,” the culture war rhetoric
that clings to heteronormativity, to patriarchy, in the face of economic meltdown. Crisis
translates politically to putting women in their place, while demanding queers and trans
people pass or else. And the worse this crisis gets, the more the crisis is excused by a
fiction of scarcity, the more the family will be used to promote white supremacy by
assaulting women’s autonomy under the guise of population control. The old Malthusian
line: it’s not a crisis, there’s just not enough – for them.
Let us be clear: finance is not the problem. Finance is a precondition and a symptom, a
necessary and contradictory part of capital. Deregulation, globalization, deindustrialization:
none of these words can provide a substantial explanation for the present context. Each is
only a surface phenomena of capital’s tendency to make its own systemic reproduction
increasingly difficult for itself. Crisis and the reconcentration of wealth among capitalists is
not only regular but necessary; the tendency to financialization has many historical
precedents. Genoa in the 1557-62 looks like the Dutch Republic in 1780-83; Britain in
1919-21 looks like the US today. But even if financial booms and busts are as old as
mercantilism, there is a qualitative change to the nature of these crises over the course of
the eighteenth century, when capitalist production is imposed on the British countryside.
Capitalist production creates an unparalleled need for credit, an unprecedented need to
consolidate and centralize capital, a grotesque scale of fungible assets that strives to make
everything solid melt into the sophistry of mathematics. Asset-backed securities and credit
default swaps didn’t make this crisis, they only allowed it to heat up and billow out of
For those that recall the warm and golden age of American industrialism with dewy-eyed
nostalgia: this crisis began with the failure of US industry in the late sixties. Real wages
have been stagnant since then. The oil crisis of 1973 was the hinge; we are living in the
declension of US global power. There’s no going back, no exchanging unproductive
finance for good old-fashioned productive exploitation. Or is there? Today, American
industry is indeed firing up again, as capital that had long flown from its shores returns to
find wages lower than the so-called third world. “Reshoring”: a name for the farce that
follows the tragedy of the post-war boom.
History insists on the eradication of capital as the only possibility of preventing crisis.
Finance reform and “sanctions” are not enough: we will never see “the military industrial
complex dismantled, the police disempowered, and the public sector fulfilling its
obligations to the people” by redistributing wealth. Corrupt politicians and greedy
financiers are only a superfluous, insulting layer on the thing that is truly condemned:
capital, which in our time is inescapable. With this realization, we don’t need to occupy
Wall street, or any bank. Why was Tahrir square chosen? Was it even chosen at all? We
could occupy any corner, any room, any building, and it would carry the social significance
of what needs to be either appropriated or destroyed. The better question to pose when
deciding what to occupy, is what do we want to inhabit? (On this point, it is worth
mentioning that the tactic to occupy has evolved since its recent revival in the 2008
occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago. What struck students
in New York, California, Puerto Rico, London, Athens, etc. about this tactic was that its
strategy to re-appropriate equipment, space, and organization could take place without
recognition from the authorities. Demands were auxiliary to the best part: the immediate
process of retaking control over the means of production.)
Whatever this occupation is, it is not a camping trip from capital – we are still in the
patriarchy, still in a white supremacy, still in a transphobic and disability-loathing society. In
these places, assuming we are unified will only obscure the divisions produced by capital,
divisions that need to be confronted before anything else.
On the politics of the occupation: liberalism, policing, and the uses and abuses of
The “99%” rolls their eyes at anyone that takes offense to signs referring to the current
economic climate as “Slavery 2.0,” or asserting that “The free hand of the market touched
me in a bad place.” Comparing (white) student debt to hundreds of years of violence and
forced subjugation, entrenched as a system of enduring systematic racism; mocking sexual
assault for effect – these statements send a clear message to those of us subjected to such
oppressive acts. By trivializing our experiences, these signs simultaneously control and
silence how we talk about our marginalized statuses and traumas. To those of us who
hoped for Occupy Baltimore’s status as a safe, anti-oppressive space, we read these signs
as “BEWARE.”
While some are already bristling at the “identity politics” of those that are offended by racist,
misogynistic, survivor-hating signage, the placards that have been denounced the most
loudly are those that attack capitalism. Concerns about “public opinion” being able to
identify and sympathize with our collective messages abound. These so-called debates
actively skew the agenda towards the watered down, apolitical, and (com)modified. GAs
play out as if we (the comprehensive “99%”) all endorse these views, but communist,
anarchist, and anti-capitalist perspectives are in fact excluded before they are given a
chance to be voiced. Meanwhile more privileged niche groups like (hella pro-capitalist)
small business owners remain front and center. We who are “taking things too far” get left
behind by the “99%”.
As a result of this policing, liberal populism has dominated the occupation’s process,
statements, and proto-demands. Or better, populism tinged with a healthy dose of hippie
new-age individualism (a vaguely counter-cultural disposition suits contentless politics
perfectly). Liberalism uses platitudes of “unity” and “equality” not to insist that we should act
in order to be unified and equal, but to say that we already are – and as such, should “put
aside our differences.” Liberalism refuses to see racism, sexism, and class inequalities as
material and systemic, reducing these to the level of individual attitudes of perpetrators and
victims; liberalism only registers and disciplines individual oppressors, never structures. In
the process, the systemic character of individuals’ oppressive actions is obscured, while
the demands made by the oppressed for changes in their actual material conditions are
ignored, or worse – appropriated, co-opted. (Take, for example, so-called “reverse racism”:
the idiotic triumph of the liberal individual over history.)
The police are not “just workers” and they are not our friends
More than anything, the 99% will be divided by our relationship to the cops. They say: in
the interests of “radical inclusivity” that we should avoid anti-police messaging; the police,
after all, are part of the 99% that have seen wages, benefits and pensions cut along with
the rest of the public sector. They say: we must remember that the police are people too,
and not exclude them from our movement before they’ve had a chance to express
solidarity with us. We say: just wait. These arguments assume that an individual can be
separated from their institutional/social roles, that a police officer can be engaged with in a
purely personal sphere, completely distinct from their occupation as an arm of state
repression. A classic liberal tactic to humanize the oppressor, and thus to derail a structural
analysis of oppressive systems, and invalidate the anger of those experiencing institutional
violence. Advocating a cooperative, amiable relationship with the police brushes aside the
violence of widespread racial profiling, sexual assault with impunity, the murder of
innocents, and the war on drugs by universalizing a white, middle-class position that
believes the police really serve and protect.
And it’s not only about police brutality. How can there be non-violence when there are still
police? We need to know that as soon as we present a threat to any element of capital –
before this point, even – we will be violently repressed. A peaceful, lawful protest by no
means guarantees immunity against arrest and brutality: we only have to look at the
women who were penned and maced at #Occupy Wall St. to know that. But unless this
knowledge is at the forefront of our minds, the first to be arrested will be those that are most
vulnerable to police brutality and to breaches of security. (A journalist in the room is a tip-off
to immigration officials, not “good press”.) We must make our movement a safe space for
the undocumented, for the homeless, those with criminal records, and for anyone else for
whom contact with the police never takes place on friendly terms. However “nice” a police
officer may be to you (FYI: police are often very “nice” to those from the right class and
race) does not change the fact that the police are a powerful instrument of violent
repression, deployed by a capitalist state to enforce its interests: namely, white supremacy,
male domination, ruling class power, and the limitless pursuit of profit.
Why say “99%” when you mean “me”?
The reason #Occupy Baltimore has not yet been anti-capitalist is because, for all its
rhetoric of “unity” and “inclusivity”, it is really a movement organized by and for the white
middle class. There is a reason why the people most afflicted by capitalism are not coming
down to the McKeldin Square. When the organizers act like racism is a “second-tier” issue
(for instance, by saying “We don't have time for that - We need to bring this back to the real
issue: finance reform.” As if reinstating Glass Steagall will do a fucking thing!) it becomes
clear whose movement this is. Let’s drop the false rhetoric: what’s wrong with the system is
not that it isn’t fair to the 99%, but because it isn’t fair to them. The disappearing middle
class reappears in the concrete environs of the business sector – to better envision the
jobs and upward mobility they desperately want. Don’t get us wrong – there can be a lot of
good in indignation, discontent, disillusionment. But we need to exorcise the living ghost of
the middle class: the spirit of not giving a fuck who you fuck over. Why say “99%” when you
really mean “me”?
And you know how it goes: the neutral “me” is the white dude with all the time in the world
(we have to say it: the ideal occupier). Whiteness and maleness have been duly reinforced
as the not-so-secret standard at this occupation, in many ways. One example: an
announcement made by a young white man at a GA that “everyone is accountable when
they speak to media, because they represent the occupation as a whole” (FYI: there is no
literature, no point person, no infrastructure to guide new members; only judgment). The
countless snaps and twinkles in support of such a statement demonstrated clear
consensus. Those twinkles expressed a range of assumptions that people who are largely
comfortable in their own skin tend to make: being present in a space makes you in charge
of its representation; most everyone agrees with you (and should). Those of us that have
daily to prepare ourselves for an immanent bash; immanent fight with hostile, privilege-
denying strangers; an immanent insult (intended or not), we take issue with this coercion
into representation. We don’t ask you to represent us (please god no); don’t fucking
assimilate us to your views, and then make us responsible for them. We won’t even
mention how much and how loud white dudes have been speaking.
Rather than policing the radical voices taking anti-capitalist, revolutionary, and anti-police
positions, we should give these voices space to be heard, and listened to seriously. The
anarchist in-joke “Make Total Destroy” has a grain of truth: that the real political agenda
consists in destroying state power, capitalism, and all its forms of coercive social control.
Why was this phrase deliberately excluded from the agenda cards read out during a GA,
while such platitudes as “We are All One” and “Peace on Earth and Good Will to All,” were
deemed worthy to be shared? The liberal-or-else reformism of Occupy Baltimore is
perfectly encapsulated by the imposition of goals of peace and love. Fuck peace: we need
to formulate a coherent political analysis and a revolutionary agenda to destroy capitalism
and dismantle state power. Rejecting outright the eventual need for an armed uprising
reflects an unwillingness to pursue the logic of our own (proto-)demands to their full extent.
Don’t tell us to be “pragmatic,” to focus on piecemeal reforms and wait for our day in the
revolt. Actually, reformism is idealistic: reformism believes in democracy under capital, in
the possibility of redistributing wealth that is systematically dispossessed from its
producers. Our revolutionary desire to destroy capital is not idealistic, abstract, or merely
theoretical; nor is it inactive: this aim is embodied in a multitude of actions towards different
immediate and faraway ends. To us, this means the revolutionary aim is not purely
negative, not only about destruction: we work to confront racism, sexism, and class war in
our community as an immediate goal, without losing sight that we ultimately cannot live
like this anymore. For Occupy Baltimore, this means the 99% must relinquish its presumed
equality and acknowledge division if it is to grasp the real conditions of society, and what
must actually be done.
“The 1% are winning every time we fight amongst ourselves.”
When the excluded call out a movement, we are often told to put aside our differences: it’s
only common sense that to accomplish anything, we need unity. But the only unity we
have, the only equality we share, is the thinnest commonality – the democracy of
consumers. Already, in conversations with supposed comrades, our critiques have been
met with concern that the “mainstream” won’t get it, that the precious, delicate momentum
will be stopped. Interventions to a white-washed and patriarchal agenda (which is any
agenda that denies the differential impact of capital on people of colour and women) are
always received as interruptions. At best, they are conceded to with invitations, with
“outreach”, and with promises to be more inclusive. We say: inclusivity without an
adequate analysis is just unstated exclusivity. This is not identity politics: this is the anti-
identity politics. For it is capitalism that pushes us to rank facets of our identities; to select
one group as the vanguard and press marginalized identities to choose which aspect of
their oppression to make a priority. We refuse this choice: we know that our difference is
produced and reproduced by capital and therefore cannot be erased within it, that these
differences are real (the most real) and thus should drive our analyses and our actions, and
that no unity can be claimed until every social relationship is no longer defined by capital,
but by us.
The Founding and Defense of the Santa Cruz
Social Center « Viewpoint Magazine
There were no broken windows. So that particular liberal defense is off the table. Those
who have decided to side with the state instead of this new and radical social movement
will find that it is now their illusions that have been shattered.
We had heard murmurings all week about a new autonomous action emerging from the
Santa Cruz occupation. The conditions of social life in Santa Cruz involve a visible
homeless population, and they have not been absent at Occupy Santa Cruz, which
stationed itself outside of the courthouse, right across from the county jail and a bail
bondsman. It’s easy for the media to dismiss occupations as a collection of bums, but the
truth is that the homeless need a place to sleep; and now, with chilly nights and fierce
winds, the activists at the occupation, like the homeless every year, need more than tents.
A general assembly was announced at 2PM at the courthouse. We arrived and were
relieved to discover that there would be no GA. Instead, after people gathered, we marched
to Chase Bank. A few basic statements about foreclosures, and the hardworking DJ
wheeled in the speakers and played the new anthem of Santa Cruz actions.
The march spread to the road, and walked across the bridge. There was no fanfare as the
The march spread to the road, and walked across the bridge. There was no fanfare as the
members of the affinity group that organized this action filed quickly into the abandoned
Coast Commercial Bank at 75 River Street. The building had been vacant for three years
after being being purchased by Wells Fargo.
Immediately the extremely well-organized facilitators of this action coordinated deliveries
by vans full of furniture and supplies, which were quickly brought inside the new social
center. They issued a statement explaining their project:
An existing time-honored U.S. and California law allows for the transfer of a
property title when a property is occupied and taken care of by an
alternative party for an extended period of time. This law is called adverse
possession. The law was born out of the belief that society’s best interests
are met when land and property are utilized productively rather than sitting
vacant. Today, the building at 75 River St. has been adversely possessed.
No longer will the property exist only as an empty parking lot and a vacant
building with a sign re-directing people to Wells Fargo across the street. It
will be repurposed and used to benefit the community instead of Cassidy
Turley, the large-scale commercial real estate company currently leasing the
building, and Wells Fargo bank.
Instead of an empty space, there will be a space for community teach-ins,
an open library, and discussion forums. The space will be offered to Occupy
Santa Cruz as an opportunity to have a roof over its head and allow for more
organization to take place. The space will be safe, non-violent, non-
destructive and welcoming. The building will be a forum for individuals in
the community to learn from one another, and help the Occupy movement
Police showed up before long. They may have arrived before getting the call from Wells
Fargo, but either way the bank made it clear that they wanted the occupiers out. The police
liaison monitored them adeptly, and a banner drop was quickly pulled together. The banner
bizarrely read “OOcupy Everything,” which at least had the virtue of entertaining supporters
outside. I have since been informed that this was in solidarity with Occupy Oakland, whose
hashtag is usually #OO, but perhaps realizing that this was an esoteric reference the
banner committee revised the text with a splash of gold paint.
When a small group of five or six officers advanced on the building, occupiers linked arms
to defend the entrance, while others waited at the side with cameras ready. The police fell
back. They stood watching for quite a while; we spoke with some of them and determined
that they were simply confused, with no plan in place for responding to this kind of action.
I went inside to observe the GA taking place. It had already been clearly announced that
the space should be respected – there was no vandalism, but the windows had been
decorated with informational signs. The GA was discussing the two inevitable questions:
first, what should we do when the police make a raid; second, what should we do until
then? As the meeting continued, some of us who had been there for several hours left to
reproduce our labor-power. I fell asleep. When I woke up this morning the news was
“I have my own army in the NYPD,” Michael Bloomberg has said, “which is the seventh
biggest army in the world.” Fortunately the Santa Cruz Police Department is not so big.
Last night, the Occupy movement was bigger. Riot police attempted to take the entrance,
but barricades were erected and the police were surrounded. They had to ask for
permission to leave. “Hopefully this group isn’t representative of a new aggressive
movement,” the spokesman for the SCPD told Mercury News.
Whether their hope is fulfilled is up to us. I walked to the site this morning and found a
heavily barricaded building filled with sleeping militants. Two sleeping bags outside the
entrance contained people who were prepared to be the first to deal with the repressive
state apparatus. A reporter interviewed a calm and collected media liaison.
It’s hard to exaggerate the significance of forcing the police to retreat. Smaller locations
often seem cut off from the major actions that take place in New York or Oakland. But these
are locations with unique conjunctures and unique possibilities. A wave of occupations in
small towns can form a very strong link with big-city port shutdowns.
Even if such occupations are repressed by state violence, this is not a defeat. The
occupations movement is cycling geographically. If it leaves one place, it goes everywhere
occupations movement is cycling geographically. If it leaves one place, it goes everywhere
and comes back. Just Monday, November 28, UC-Santa Cruz students carried out an
action in solidarity with UC-Davis’s strike against the administration’s practice of police
brutality. They formed a picket line outside the Hahn “Student Services” Building – the
building containing the offices that facilitate student debt, charge outrageous rents, and
discipline students who exercise their right to protest. They had three demands: the
immediate resignation of Chancellor Katehi, police off campus, and no fee hikes. This
action made it clear that police brutality is not simply a civil liberties issue: it has to be
understood as an instrument used by the administration to enforce the exploitation of
students and to prevent resistance to this exploitation.
The union representing workers in Hahn determined that its members should not cross the
picket line. They were sent home, with pay. As we gathered outside Hahn we received
news from Davis. Hearing of our successful picket, they had decided to respond. About 200
students endorsed our demands in their GA and occupied Dutton Hall, their equivalent of
When we heard of their action it was difficult to avoid the subject in our own GA –
especially since it had been clear since the morning that someone (a sympathetic worker?)
had left a window open at Hahn. After some debate we moved inside. A very long GA took
place, but the building was held for a night. The next day another GA decided that the ideal
step would be to count this as a major advance, but to allow other students to file their
paperwork as we build and develop the movement; a comprehensive list of demands was
generated, with the promise of future actions. The demands represent nothing like liberal
reformism; they represent a very focused antagonism towards the administration, a clear
message that we will not permit them to carry out their business.
Even though the occupation decided voluntarily to leave, its achievement was dramatic
Even though the occupation decided voluntarily to leave, its achievement was dramatic
and profound. It demonstrated that there is a geographic cycle of escalation, a solidarity
that spreads as actions ebb and flow in different places. In the Hahn-Dutton cycle this
meant a movement within the University of California system, but the action yesterday
demonstrated that the building occupation tactic is powerful outside of university activism.
This connection between student radicals and the community is another element of the
cycle. That the Occupy movement’s next step will involve moving inside has become more
and more clear; but just as crucial are that our numbers grow dramatically, and that we
spread everywhere.
This morning a comrade stood on the roof of the new occupation looking out for police, who
he had seen hovering around the encampment at City Hall. He doubted that they would
make a scene in daylight. “Downtown business is too important.”
But every indication is that they will return at night, in greater number and with more
instruments of violence. They will return to literally do the bidding of Wells Fargo, draining
public funds to pay for repression, adding to the $13 million spent in other cities. If we don’t
have the strength to respond, our best option will be to retreat. Let’s not enter into that
situation. If you’re anywhere near Santa Cruz, come to the 75 River Street social center so
we can outnumber the police again and defend this building. If you’re far away, no problem.
Occupy a building near you.
Asad Haider is a graduate student at UC-Santa Cruz, a member of UAW 2865, and an
editor of Viewpoint.

When asked to give my reflections on the "occupy
movement" in about 150 words...
by Evan Loker on Saturday, November 26, 2011 at 6:38pm
The disparate sum of encampments, city squares, and parks deemed the “occupy
movement” is the least idealistic form of praxis I have yet encountered.
It literally has no demands, no ideal future state, which the present must aspire towards. It
does not seek to externally reform social relations, but to seize social space and erect new
forms over the fresh fossils of late capitalism.
Occupation means nothing when confined to the stasis of political abstraction. For this
reason it only acquires transformative significance when animated by the seemingly
mundane, quotidian non-events in which the material, intellectual, and emotional
reproduction of its participants is realized.
But nor does occupation assert the primacy of practice and the futility of theory. It was in
large part the disillusioning failure of pragmatism, in its inability to adequately confront the
complex hydra of contemporary social relations, which attracted many of us to a form of
praxis that oscillates between the theoretical and the practical in a fluid unity.
We embrace tension and imperfection as the aesthetic of the movement; in conflict and
struggle we see the substance of community.
First Full Moon Over Occupy Oakland
What Violence Isn’t
First, let’s make sure that we begin talking about
Occupy Oakland not merely as the local chapter
of Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street wasn’t
a local phenomenon, it was organized by people
in Canada, had buy in from people around the
nation and found New York supporters along the
way to becoming a national phenomenon.
Whatever the organizers of Occupy Oakland
meant it to be on Day 1, the camp has become a
fluid and organic phenomenon that defies
definitions of physical space, economic class,
gender and race. What this means is that Occupy
Oakland is, almost single-handedly, redefining
the meaning of protest and the question of who is
allowed to speak for the poor and
disenfranchised. It’s broached the question of
whether the OWS movement should restrict itself
to broad discourse about financial institutions, or
add a more specific and three-dimensional
analysis that calls local actors to answer for their
institutional failures in leadership. Where other
Occupations speak for a monolithic 99%, while
keeping homeless and other socially
marginalized people at bay, Occupy Oakland has chosen the harder route, inviting all in,
regardless of their appearance or social baggage, to participate in building a new kind of
social and political movement.
While a few feet away from the camp, institutional actors in City Hall are more than happy
to support the ethereal discourse of the OWS movement, they understandably hesitate to
have their own management called into question. That’s their real problem with the
organization; liberal mayors like the discourse just fine so long as it pegs its hopes to the
stratosphere, and looks beyond the horizon to strictly national goals. Oakland residents
know, however, that solves only one piece of the puzzle for a city where many have no
bank accounts at all, and live paycheck to paycheck, one step away from homelessness in
rental units.
Occupy Oakland has no walls and thus, no gates, or gatekeepers. When an organization
pulls down its doors, there are naturally people who, for whatever reason will participate in
dangerous and destructive ways. There are people who approach the camp with the intent
of taking advantage of its open nature, by selling things both legal and illicit, theft and
etcetera. Some of those people become members of the camp regardless, leaving behind
their initial idea of targeting it for something larger. Others don’t, but they soon become
aware that individuals in a loose-knit organization can also come together spontaneously
for a greater good, and repel their attempts to abuse the camp’s open nature. So too, there
are people who approach the camp who are mentally ill; some of those people are
homeless, some aren’t. In some cases, the problems associated with their mental illness
are obvious, and in others they don’t became apparent until later. Some of these people
nevertheless become valuable members of the society of the camp, and of course, others
can’t or won’t.
Regardless, one difficult conversation that has emerged time after time at Occupy Oakland
is how to maintain the safety of the people who become part of the camp, including those
who live there; and also their families, allies, friends and neutral visitors, tourists and
inadvertent bystanders who may not. This conversation ranges far and wide, from police
brutality, to actions that some believe are not inherently violent or dangerous—such as
graffiti—but can draw real violence from police.
At its heart, this is a discussion about what violence is. Its a term bastardized by media
over the last few weeks but which many of us believe retains some inherent borders and
contextual meanings.
Perhaps the murder of young Alex at the foot of the entrance of Frank Ogawa Plaza BART
—a transit system that also became forever identified with the tragic murder of Oscar Grant
by transit police some three years ago—can refocus the attention of the city and nation on
the true nature of violence, what it is and what we know it isn’t.
Violence is not the breaking of windows; anyone looking at coverage of the Penn State
riots over the past two days, with its noticeable lack of the V word to describe incidents that
just a week ago were characterized as violent in Oakland, must know that by now.
Violence is a monolithic term and it encompasses a territory so vast, that I think most
people are at a loss to properly define it.
Violence is the murder of men and women by people who use guns as answers to their
rage or confusion. Violence is the use by police of projectiles to destroy flesh and bone,
and even kill. Such violence by police sent two men associated with Occupy Oakland to
the ICU at Highland over the past month, while no one in the city or police department
answer for the crimes.
Violence is a system that tells people that when they become homeless, they are welcome
to sleep alone and vulnerable in the street, or temporarily in shelters; but that they are not
allowed to unify and solve their own problems of habitation, feed themselves and others, or
take political and constitutionally guaranteed means to address their problems to the city,
county and nation.
Violence is a populace that turns its back when its members are attacked, or when difficult
problems arise that require risk or sacrifice to solve, hoping that someone else will solve
the problem for them, or that they can put it behind them by walking away quickly. Violence
is a system that arrests and badgers the poor and working class with overwhelming fines
for quality of life crimes, harassing people based on the way they look and how much
money they have daily–so that every time they leave the safety of their home, if they indeed
have one to escape it, they rarely know peace. And, of course, violence is the raining down
of bombs on the world’s brown and poor whenever our nation needs something contained
in their homelands. Its the funding of brutal police states; military occupations and
dictatorship for our own ends; the manipulation of the world’s resources and money to
maintain a standard of living for one segment of an increasingly poor nation.
And the list goes on and on, in infinity. That list can contain many things that we’re still
learning about, that still challenge us. But at Occupy Oakland, its easy to see what
violence isn’t. It isn’t feeding people in a dark, cold camp surrounded by hostile police, as
many did last night. It isn’t ignoring the presence of hostile media and creating a
spontaneous candle-light vigil to remember a young man forgotten by the rest of the city. It
isn’t giving tents to people trying to get out of the rain, or providing people with the
opportunity to be of use to themselves and others. Violence isn’t building a community
based on real, not imagined bonds, through hard work and dialogue.
This definition of “what isn’t violence” may not give us any immediate inroads to stopping
real violence in our communities in Oakland and Occupy Oakland. But it may make it
obvious that a massive raid by police on the people who’ve created a unique social and
political movement in front of City Hall certainly won’t do anything to stop real violence in
This writing I’ve been doing is part of a larger project with the goal of documenting the
history of this unique and unprecedented movement. If you’d like to support this project
feel free to visit and contribute to my kickstarter campaign
The New Inquiry
(“Circle of Truth
Hovering over
The USA”
by The London
On police
with the status
quo and
with the police
By Maryam
One of the most
heated aspects
of the Occupy
from the Occupy
Wall Street
mothership to
Occupy Boston
(the base of my
own direct
observation) to
Oakland (site of arguably the worst police onslaught thus far)—is their relationship or non-
relationship to the police. Before launching a critique on that matter I wish to present two
excerpts, one by a preacher in 1963 and another by a physician in 2011. It is very important
that I mention their upstanding professions first, because of the troubling occurrence (and
sometimes, though not always, establishment appropriation) of the anarchists versus
everybody else. That this discourse is so recurrent in the shadow of a hawkish,
conservative Democratic presidency is no great surprise, but rarely do we stop and
seriously reflect on what this cleavage means about how we make sense of ourselves as a
body politic. Physicians and the clergy are emblems of care and conscientiousness in
polite society, while “anarchists” in the dominant lingo imply a shadowy group of
subversives (usually men, usually white, usually angry), so it is from this intersection of
seriousness of aims and moral purpose, regardless of the dictates of polite society, that I
want to read Occupy and law enforcement. Neither letter writer has ever publicly avowed
himself or herself an “anarchist” in the definition of the dominant lingo, and neither is a
white male.
This is Dr. Martin Luther King on the police in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, written on
April 16, 1963 from his jail cell and addressed to eight fellow clergymen:
I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled
me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for
keeping ‘order’ and ‘preventing violence.’ I doubt that you would have so
warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their
teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly
commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane
treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push
and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them
slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them,
as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to
sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham
police department.
It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the
demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather
‘nonviolently’ in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of
segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that
nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends
we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to
attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps
even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr.
Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was
Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of
nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot
has said: ‘The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed
for the wrong reason.’
They have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial
injustice. The greatest treason is to do the right deed for the wrong reason. One would be
hard-pressed to find one police blitz on an Occupy mobilization that could be described as
“nonviolent,” but these words from Dr. King and T. S. Eliot (of all people!) still read as
truthful, plausible, and, importantly, morally logical. They get to the heart of the fallacy of
good cop/blue shirt versus bad cop/white shirt, as if the role that the police play is
contingent on circumstance or even personality and not an oath to enforce civil and penal
law by the power invested in them by authoritative owners of property.
Here is a letter by Dr. Rupa Marya, a doctor whose former patient Charles Hill was killed
on the Civic Center platform by BART police over the Fourth-of-July weekend this year, just
five months after the police killing of Oakland resident Oscar Grant. Her letter on why she
joined the BART protests bears reading entirely, but here’s a brief takeaway:
Last month, I learned that one of my former patients Charles Hill was shot
and killed by BART police. Per the police, he was armed with a bottle and a
knife and had menacing behavior. Per eye witnesses, he was altered and
appeared to be intoxicated but did not represent a lethal danger. I
remember Charles vividly, having taken care of him several times in the
revolving door which is the health care system for the people who do not fit
neatly into society. Charles was a member of the invisible class of people in
SF—mentally ill, homeless, and not reliably connected to the help he
needed. While I had seen him agitated before and while I can’t speak to all
of his behavior, I never would have described him as threatening in such a
way as to warrant the use of deadly force. We often have to deal with
agitated and sometimes even violent patients in the hospital. Through
teamwork, tools, and training, we have not had to fatally wound our patients
in order to subdue them. I understand the police are there to protect us and
react to the situation around them, but I wonder why the officer who shot
Charles did not aim for the leg if he felt the need to use a gun, instead of his
vital organs. I wonder if he possessed other training methods to subdue an
agitated man with a knife or bottle.
I feel this situation quite deeply. It is hard to watch our civil servants (police)
brutally handle a person and their body when i spend my time and energy
as a civil servant (physician) honoring the dignity of that person, regardless
of their race or social class, their beliefs or their affiliations. I know it is not
my job—nor the police’s job—to mete out justice or judgment of a person’s
worthiness. It is also hard because Charles has no voice, no one to speak
for him now that he is gone. It would be easy to let this slide and move on
with our busy lives, as we all struggle to make ends meet in this expensive
city during a recession.
Through teamwork, tools and training, we have not had to fatally wound our patients in
order to subdue them. Charles has no voice, no one to speak for him now that he is gone.
Dr. Marya’s testimony to the practicalities of physicians’ Hippocratic oath—that they will
practice medicine ethically and soundly—is revealing. A physician’s duty is to heal without
doing harm, and that extends even to the most marginalized and vulnerable classes. She
also speaks to police in a horizontal fashion, from one civil servant to another; it’s a
perceptive move not because she is saying that police and doctors play the same role in
society, but because the fractured bodies of persons in police custody take up a wholly
different social meaning than they do in physicians’ care. Physicians may “serve and
protect” (the universal police motto) but they cannot legally enact force on their patients as
the police legally can (and do) on those they apprehend. This is a crucial distinction.
Consensus with police regimes
I will comment at length on two pieces by Jeremy Kessler called “The Police and the 99
Percent” and “An Open Letter to the Men and Women of the New York City Police
Department.” Before doing so, I note some of the exchange that has preceded my writing: a
response to Kessler by Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clovers, and Annie McClanahan was
published on the Los Angeles Review of Books. Kessler’s response was generously
published on the LA Review’s blog. Willie Osterweil responded to both Kessler and
Bernes, Clovers, and McClanahan on his blog, Wasted Ideology. My purpose in writing is
not to respond to Kessler but to problematize his worst assertions, draw attention to an
endemic public-police dilemma at the heart of the Occupy mobilizations (unlike Kessler, I
do not refer to them as merely protests—a protest to what or whom?), and create some
openings to how we might collectively sort through the dilemma through both theoretical
and practical judgment.
Beyond the extended rebuttals to Kessler’s original pieces, published on
the n+1 magazine site, it is worth noting that the eponymous article on the police and the
“99 percent” is one of the few pieces posted on the nascent Occupy Police website.
Further, after the sudden appearance of Occupy Police on the web a few days ago (on the
heels of the national day against police brutality), the managers of the Occupy Wall Street
Twitter account gave it their endorsement:
Also, n+1, in
addition to
retweeted this
police sighting
that, unless they
say otherwise,
appears approving:
I have no further
information on
Occupy Police
than its own
website and a
few tweets (the
Twitter account
writer has
mentioned that s/he is “an advocate for homeless people here in Boston, and we have
sympathizers from BPD”) so, without any further identifying data on the site’s managers nor
their ambitions, I choose to read the mystery it produces as less a product of bad publicity
than circumspect goals until proven otherwise. I am not suggesting that appealing to cops
to lay down their uniforms and arsenal of weapons and join the mobilization is at all
undesirable. However, since I have no other fact-based knowledge about this particular
entity or its ambitions, I will comment on the text it promotes—Kessler’s—which is readily
In Kessler’s first piece, called “Police and the 99 Percent,” he begins with infamous cases
of recent police brutality during Occupy Wall Street, such as Deputy Inspector Anthony
Bologna (already under investigation for previous claims of brutality) pepper-spraying
young women in a police net cage (he has since been docked 10 vacation days) and the
unprecedented and violent Brooklyn Bridge arrests of over 700 people (a mass class
action civil suit has been launched). He contrasts this with the news about J.P. Morgan
Chase’s gift of $4.6 million to the NYPD to ‘“strengthen security in the Big Apple.”’ Kessler
acknowledges what “any good American protester knows about the police: they’re bought
and they’re brutal.”
Despite this nod to the moneyed and armed nature of U.S. police departments, in the next
paragraph Kessler takes it upon himself to prescribe what the Occupy mobilizations should
do. Namely, they:
should not be too eager to escalate confrontation with the police. The
tedious transformation of substantive political protest into protest against
police abuse of protesters at times can be ideologically appropriate and
tactically useful. But unlike student, neighborhood, and even civil rights
protests, whose participants generally present themselves as a
conscientious minority oppressed by larger forces—particularly police
power—the Occupiers’ central claim is that they are the ‘99 percent,’ the
moral majority of the nation.
By including police in the “99 percent,” Kessler reduces class antagonism to a quantitative
division and props up two myths:
Myth #1: Police participation [if we stay deliberately blind to what this even means] will
increase Occupy’s longevity and diversity.
Making a miscalculation about “99 percent” as literal numbers rather than a picture of
dissensus allows Kessler to suggest that “police might even become participants, taking a
large step toward confirming the radical 99 percent claim.” In his words:
Such an ambitious recipe calls for two ingredients that more targeted
protests don’t—longevity and diversity. The police who currently ring the
park could provide both.
His point about longevity is a straw man because he fails to produce any argument
connecting police participation (active duty? retired? uniformed? undercover? he doesn’t
say) to how long the occupations last. The reality-based fact is that each and every police
crackdown on encampments have led to soaring numbers, from New York to Cleveland to
Chicago to Oakland to Philadelphia (I documented the crackdown on Occupy Boston here,
and, as predicted, participation has grown considerably since).
Kessler continues:
The absence of the police themselves from the Occupation chips away at
the 99 percent claim that is central to the movement’s populism. Here, the
first problem—of police power—produces something of a vicious circle. To
the extent that police power limits the protesters mainly to the young and the
nomadic, individual police will find few protesters with whom they can
I deliberately limit myself to Kessler’s claptrap logic to debunk his claims, but let’s stop and
ask: Where does he get “populism” from? Rather than attributing the relatively young
median age range (and even this is arguable) to the class consciousness of young people
and students who have played by the rules only to be discarded and divested of
aspirational mobility, or even dignity, commensurate with their education or work
experience, Kessler merely resorts to the idea that police can “identify” with older, more
stable people. He does say that the Local 100 Transit Workers Union joining Occupy Wall
Street suggests “more middle-class participation” but fails to mention that the union
workers went to court not wanting to bus protesters rounded up by the NYPD, its president
stating “TWU Local 100 supports the protesters on Wall Street and takes great offense that
the mayor and NYPD have ordered operators to transport citizens who were exercising
their constitutional right to protest—and shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.”
Kessler’s follow-up pieces make no mention of major contradictions to his claims about the
supposedly too young, too aimless, and too nomadic occupiers versus the great water
bearers of social stability, the police. For example, thousands of observers of the police
incursion on Occupy Boston’s second encampment watched as a line of riot police with the
Special Operations unit of the Boston Police mowed down elderly members of Veterans for
Peace that stood between the masses of people and the police. But instead of illuminating
these moments of highly charged political polarization, Kessler papers them over in favor
of flimsy promotions of cooperation. He manages to take the one thing about Occupy Wall
Street and its sister Occupies that nearly everyone agrees on, namely its highly broad
social and economic base, and turn it into a weird apologia for why more police haven’t
joined the movement. He even concedes that “there is something boring and obvious in
this sociological calculus” but, rather than heed his own self-assessment, he turns it into a
conclusion: “But it is the only hope of the Occupation.”
Myth #2: It is important to court the police, despite the objections of “many anarchists at the
center of the Occupation [who] have no love for the authorities.” (This is connected to a
corollary, as pointed to previously.) The mobilizations are responsible for keeping violence
at bay.
The most striking thing about this visionless pronouncement is the loud and notably
present absence of any attempts to grapple with race, gender, or class. Why on earth
would people of color and immigrants and poor people and women and service workers
and queers and the disabled and any other marginalized majority/ sizeable minority not
wish to “court” the police? This is a profoundly important void.
In his open letter to the members of the New York Police Department, Kessler displays the
sycophancy to power that one would expect from the police themselves on the difference
between modestly behaved protesters and angry mobs:
As in any crowd, there are some who make the lives of police personnel
harder than they ought to be. But as the police assigned to the Park over the
last month can attest, the vast majority of protesters are peaceful,
passionate, and good-humored. They have come to the park not to wreck
property or insult hardworking citizens. They have come to the park
because they believe in a fair shake, and know they haven’t gotten it.
This is sheer and reckless groveling, the kind of distortion one expects from the dominant
press that for weeks either ignored (or in the case of the New York Times, mocked) Occupy
Wall Street until the spectacle of police brutality became so great that they either had to
cover the mobilization or become irrelevant.
American citizens have a right to assemble in public in order to
communicate with one another and with their elected leaders.
If Kessler believes the Occupy mobilizations are about seeking redress with elected
officials, I fear I have nothing further to add as far as he’s concerned.
In responding to the authors at the LA Review who artfully invalidated his “99 Percent”
piece, Kessler writes:
They incorrectly state that my piece advocated a strategy of ‘police
compliance.’ It did not. Rather, I spoke to a very specific question: to what
extent should the Occupation—circa early October—actively seek to
escalate police violence.
Again, we are reverted back to police logic itself about the aims of Occupy, not the finely-
tuned and process-oriented way the mobilizations have grappled with difficult questions
about expansion of space, growth of numbers, greater participatory reach, etc. and
crucially, how to escape violence. If there is one point Kessler appears to willfully dismiss,
it’s this one.
At this point, his response to the LA Review authors descends into outright offensiveness:
At the Occupy Philadelphia protest, we have recently seen how calls for
violence by an ill-positioned minority retard rather than energize the
A commenter on the piece writes: “What on earth is this about? I ask as a participant in
Occupy Philly who has seen nothing of the sort.” In stark contrast to Kessler’s puzzling
claim, Occupy Philly produced its own Statement from the Occupiers Protesting Police
Brutality. Not only is the statement rightfully defensive and protectionist about police
repression, it even outlines community demands of police officers and condemns the
“treatment by the police of Occupy community members in New York City, Boston, Denver
and other cities across the country” as it suffers its own egregious abuses. Its demands of
the Philadelphia Police Department include:
• A personal apology to Occupy Philadelphia community member Deborah
VonBerg for refusing to adequately investigate her sexual assault case; for
ignoring her, for making her insignificant, and for giving her a reason not to
trust anyone.
• An apology for the police brutality inflicted on Ian, Shane, and Kayla
(Occupy Philadelphia community members) at a private, off-site event
where they were beaten with batons, ridiculed, and unjustly detained by the
police and for the bigoted behavior of the police officers involved.
• An apology to the family of Billy Panas, who was murdered by Officer
Frank Tepper, who remains on desk duty.
• An apology for failing to adequately investigate, because of their
transgender identity, the murders of Nizah Morris and Stacey Lee Blahnik.
In contrast to Kessler’s incomprehensible preamble on Occupiers seeking violence, note
the verbal nature of Occupy Philly’s demands, even at the expense of sexual assaults and
death in their communities: They are seeking an apology.
But what about violence in police tactics? What should occupiers do when confronted with
Here’s an account of outwitting police violence by Egyptian political revolutionaries in
a statement of solidarity they sent to Occupy Wall Street.
We faced such direct and indirect violence, and continue to face it. Those
who said that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors
that police visited upon us, nor did they see the resistance and even force
that revolutionaries used against the police to defend their tentative
occupations and spaces: by the government’s own admission; 99 police
stations were put to the torch, thousands of police cars were destroyed, and
all of the ruling party’s offices around Egypt were burned down. Barricades
were erected, officers were beaten back and pelted with rocks even as they
fired tear gas and live ammunition on us. But at the end of the day on the
28th of January they retreated, and we had won our cities. […] Be prepared
to defend these things you have occupied, that you are building, because,
after everything else has been taken from us, these reclaimed spaces are
so very precious.
The activists use of these means to defend themselves were directly related to protection
of occupations and spaces in the face of tear gas and live ammunition. Tear gas, “bean
bag” bullets, and rubber-coated steel bullets were used in this week’s Occupy Oakland
police assault, which Esquire called “a military assault on a legitimate political
(It’s also worth mentioning that I spent much of August in Cairo and only add that by all
accounts, the nearly simultaneous torching of 99 police stations is still attributed to proxies
of the Mubarak regime, and I have yet to locate one Egyptian who believes
demonstrators could even manage to set them on fire in such a calculating and
orchestrated way.)
Dissensus from police regimes
One of the most useful and succinct definitions about a relationship or non-relationship
with police regimes has been contributed by (but does not originate with) the contemporary
French social theorist and labor historian Jacques Rancière, who I think will prove to be a
crucial theorist for how we observe the rise of the current political mobilization that
necessitates reclaiming space.
Politics stands in distinct opposition to the police. The police is a
distribution of the sensible (partage du sensible) whose principle is the
absence of void and of supplement.
What does this mean? For one, politics does not have a commonsensical meaning of
politicians, citizenry, etc. Instead, Rancière defines politics as the distribution of the
sensible. On the surface this may not appear to stray so far from the tepid one offered in
millions of high school Government classes in the U.S., namely who gets what, when, and
where. But where it diverges strongly is the element of partitioning space and roles.
Political dispute is that which brings politics into being by separating it from
the police, which causes it to disappear continually either by purely and
simply denying it or by claiming political logic as its own. The essential
work of politics is the configuration of its own space. It is to make the world
of its subjects and its operations seen.
Rancière’s contention is that what politics does is to claim and create a space. Crucially,
that space is a reclaiming separate from the police. His essential argument is developed
along Louis Althusser’s work on the police, arguably the most frequently cited principle on
the police. Althusser, who was Rancière and Michel Foucault’s teacher (Rancière broke
with him following the May 1968 worker-student rebellion), wrote that law enforcement
works through interpellation, or, “Hey, you there!” In Rancière’s notion of politics as a
circulation or distribution of the sensible, “Hey, you there!” becomes “Move along! There’s
nothing to see here!” The deflection from spaces or places not under the state’s “protection”
(the “void” alluded to earlier) consists in “recalling the obviousness of what there is, or
rather of what there is not.” Rather than viewing the Occupy mobilizations as ordinary
denizens do—that it is a space that does and is—the state and its police proxy see it
merely as a nullity (or defiance) of their care.
Politics (insert Occupy here for the same effect) consists in “transforming this space of
‘moving-along,’ of circulation, into a space for the appearance of a subject: the people, the
workers, the citizens.” Politics refigures space, or what is to be done, to be seen, and to be
named in it. If you have been to an Occupy in your city, regardless of a positive or negative
experience, this is what you would have seen—a dispute over the circulation of space.
If politics, seen this way, is by its very nature a dispute, then its essence
is dissensus. Dissensus doesn’t mean a clash of opinion or desire. Instead it points out the
“gap in the sensible itself,” demonstrating worlds within worlds that were not meant to be
seen. “It places one world in another,” and the way I read Rancière’s example of workers in
a factory is that dissensus breaks down the traditional understanding of public and private.
If a Wal-Mart worker expresses a cry of pain, for example, we might think of this cry as a
private world. But:
The worker who puts forward an argument about the public nature of a
‘domestic’ wage dispute must demonstrate the world in which his argument
counts as an argument and must demonstrate it as such for those who do
not have the frame of reference enabling them to see it as one. Political
argumentation is at one and the same time the demonstration of a possible
world in which the argument could count as an argument, the construction
of a paradoxical world that puts together two separate worlds.
One might pose a counter-argument: The police are part of us. We pay the police’s salary.
Therefore, like all other civil servants, they work for us. (This is also summed up in the
frequent chant, “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?”)
An anonymous Occupy Wall Street writer addresses this question head on: “Are cops part
of the working class?”
Cops depend on wages and salaries like the rest of us—that is true. They
might have a series of grievances against their ranking officers and the
But every cop knows that the moment they publicly sympathize with a
people’s movement, or refuse to carry out repressive order, they will be out
of work. They understand that part of their job is to stop the people from
rising up.
Rank-and-file soldiers in the military, who typically serve only for a few
years, have at several key historical moments defected, torn off their
uniforms, and switched back to the workers’ side in large numbers.
Professional police officers, who have chosen to join that institution of
repression as their life’s work, almost never do.
Professional police officers, who have chosen to join that institution of repression as their
life’s work, almost never switch back to the workers’ side in large numbers. Are there
incidents of disobedience on the part of the professional police class? I can cite two. In
February 2011, hundreds of cops marched into the Wisconsin State Capitol building to
protest the anti-union bill, and were quoted as saying: “We have been ordered by the
legislature to kick you all out at 4:00 today. But we know what’s right from wrong. We will
not be kicking anyone out, in fact, we will be sleeping here with you!”
More recently at Occupy Albany, cops defied an order to arrest hundreds at a publicly-
owned park.
On a personal note, police in Iran have both tried to jail my cousin for taking part in protest
and protected her from the Basij militias that beat her for showing up to an anti-
establishment street demonstration. Police have both been friendly to me—in college one
Korean officer sympathized with our cause of occupying a building in protest of our
university’s business-military dealings with Israel and explained he took the job that he did
to support his family and make a great living (around $74,000 annually, adjusted for
inflation), and a black officer openly wept as he arrested us at that same occupation. I’ve
also been hit, pushed, and pepper-sprayed by police so severely it landed me in the
But the greatest fault with exceptions-prove-the-rule arguments (that individual police have
interior lives, that they are human too, etc.) is that they again ask us to forget the
sociopolitical role of the police. What may be ideal—”nice” police petting kittens, as seen in
this Washington Post report on the heels of the Oakland assault—is not the reality or even
the norm. Anecdotes such as these do not get to the heart of the politics-police separation
that is embedded within the distribution of the sensible, seeable, and sayable. The appeal
that the “police are not your friend” is shorthand for the constitution of our polity, handed
down to us from Roman law and several centuries of coercive bondage, about enforcers of
authoritative justice. Mike Davis has written on the Occupy mobilization: “My generation,
trained in the civil rights movement, would have thought first of sitting inside the
buildings and waiting for the police to drag and club us out the door; today, the cops prefer
pepper spray and ‘pain compliance techniques.’” The severity of bodily harm and the
discourses used to justify that harm may fluctuate from one generation to the next but the
logical kernel remains intact.
What would police “involvement” even look like? Kessler doesn’t say, although he does
write in his open letter, “We appeal to your conscience as men and women and to your
sense of justice as American citizens. If you are ordered to disperse the Occupy Wall
Street protesters, please refuse.” As I have outlined, professional police refusal is very rare
in American history, though if Kessler were serious about his point that the police join the
“99 percent,” he might ask them to walk away from the job entirely.
Parenthetically, my argument does not extend to veterans and former military officers, who
are known to join in sizeable numbers, but it is worth noting the Department of Defense
directive on the authorized political activity of active duty officers. I have pulled a section of
the directive that may apply to Occupy actions. Per section 4.1.2. the directive states that a
member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall not: Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering
that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause. March or ride in a partisan political parade. Display a large political sign, banner, or poster (as distinguished
from a bumper sticker) on a private vehicle. Display a partisan political sign, poster, banner, or similar device
visible to the public at one’s residence on a military installation, even if that
residence is part of a privatized housing development.
Further, directives like Kessler’s would have us ignore what we explicitly know to be true
about policing in the global North, just as the local municipalities and mayors they answer
to decry civil disobedience. This includes:
Outright distortion, such as the NYPD blaming Occupy Wall Street for a rise in
murders. The Gothamist writes: “Perhaps the flimsy excuse for an uptick in shootings
stems from the NYPD suffering from a lack of esprit de corps. ‘Morale is as bad as I’ve ever
seen it,” the president of the PBA tells the Daily News. Why? Take your pick of
headlines: Rape Cops, ticket-fixing, flaking, Tony Bologna, racism.
The heavy surveillance of Occupy campsites.
Even before the stunning Oakland raids, police brutality charges at Occupy mobilizations
across the United States.
A personal account by a young woman at Occupy Melbourne: Why I was ridden down by a
horse and punched in the back of the head.
An account from a Baptist reverend at Occupy Melbourne: Physical violence only went one
Outside of Occupy proper, we would have to ignore rapes by police officers (at least four
NYPD and two Chicago police officers in recent public memory), prisoner sexual abuse
(most recently by the LAPD), and the fact that no charges were brought against the police
who body-slammed a wheelchair-bound man.
We would also have to ignore the regular use of infiltration and sexual manipulation as a
police tactic to break into activist circles.
Keeping the peace, “internally” or “externally,” and where we go from here
Kessler produces one anonymous, succinctly cop-hating person at Zuccotti Park who
objects to outsourcing “peacekeeping” outside of the Occupy mobilization:
[A] handsome, dark-haired man in his mid-twenties, who has taken on an
increasingly central role in the daily discussions, stated unequivocally, ‘I
hate the police.’
This is at best a disingenuous move by the author, as the issue of whether or not to report
“internal” crime to the police is a major source of (healthy) debate at nearly every Occupy
I’ve followed. Kessler’s off-the-cuff dismissal shows an unwillingness to acknowledge that
several worlds of what we might call social crime co-exist. We currently live in several
social worlds at once, and violent crimes like rape and sexual assault are a hugely
disconcerting part of even our alter-worlds. Since legal action following a sexual violation
frequently relies on police reports, the option of police reporting absolutely belongs to the
victim of that crime.
One illuminating and complicated personal account of this conundrum that I’ve come
across is in one of Eileen Myles’s books, in which she recounts calling the cops on her
“violent girlfriend” despite opposition to the police in the lesbian community and
encouragement to work out problems privately “in ‘the community’”:
Some of this feeling I knew was about the ugly history of homos in America.
Those famed police stings on gay bars. And anyone political (including
myself) had been jailed on several occasions for civil disobedience. But this
was violent crime and I had been the victim. But most of the angry people in
the community were younger than me. They hadn’t been getting busted pre-
Stonewall. So I smelled a rat. If any of them had a problem I felt certain that
there was a ready system of privilege for them to draw upon—lawyers,
family friends, people they went to college with, husbands and wives. None
of these social networks were every publicly acknowledged in ‘the
community.’ No one I knew had ever gone to jail for drugs for instance.
Meanwhile US prisons are loaded with black and Hispanic men and
women who in many cases did a lot less buying and selling of drugs than
my friends. This is in fact the American way—and meanwhile I was being
blamed for being so stupid (as in lower class) as to find myself in a violent
situation, to not have known it inherently. In my subsequent years of
thinking it over I wondered if anyone actually believed that lesbians were
not entitled to the use of the court system, the police department that had
worked so well for me, the hospitals and schools. Did they really believe we
were supposed to reinvent these institutions on our own?
Myles’s account points to the complexities of internal/external divisions that marginalized
communities and Occupy mobilizations are contending with. Sexual assaults and rapes do
occur, and frequently, and no liberal, leftist, radical, etc. community is immune from them.
By all accounts, Occupy mobilizations are having these debates, some more successfully
than others, and it remains to be seen how they choose to evolve. But they need to be
given that chance. People in each disciplined, process-oriented mobilization decide this
together. Can several truths about the police coexist? I believe so. It is possible to be
protected by police, just as it is possible to be brutalized. But that police are emboldened
by legal authority to enact force—and in the United States this includes lethal, militarized
weapons of war—makes the police, to put it in colloquial idiom, “not your friend.”
Maryam Monalisa Gharavi is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature and Film and
Visual Studies at Harvard University. She has contributed poetry and critical writing to
various publications, and her films have screened at Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary
Art, Harvard Film Archive, and Pacific Film Archive, among others. She is the author of the
blog South/South.
blog comments powered by
This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.
On "Violence" at Occupy Oakland
For the Fracture of Good Order
“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead
of children….”
These were Father Daniel Berrigan’s words when he was on trial in 1969 for a draft board
raid in Catonsville, Maryland. He and eight others had entered the draft board office
during business hours, removed draft files (against some resistance from the staff) and
then burned them out front with homemade napalm. At the time, there were many who
construed this as an act of violence and, given the denunciations of property destruction
emerging out of Oakland today, there are many in our current day who would
undoubtedly agree. But Berrigan and many of the others who carried out draft board
raids were principled pacifists and did not understand the destruction of draft files as an
act of violence. Disruptive, disturbing, provocative? Without a doubt. Shot through with
incivility? Perhaps, if you insist. But the point was that when the forces of order and
“civility” wreak havoc—destroying homes, livelihoods, and lives—the “fracture of good
order” is not only warranted, but necessary and indeed a moral obligation.
There are no easy or simple parallels between the destruction of draft files in the 1960s
and the breaking of bank windows today. It is, however, worth thinking through the
commonalities—both are largely symbolic actions targeting the physical manifestations of
a system that causes harm to people—and pausing a moment on that logic. This means
restraining the urge to react with hostility to the idea of property destruction, reining in
the urge to simply denounce it as violence and thus close off reflection and debate (since
all “good” people are necessarily opposed to violence). And it means setting aside for the
moment—but only for the moment—the question of whether tactics involving property
destruction makes sense in this particular time and place.
The question that first needs to be addressed is: what is violence? what defines an act as
violent? This seemingly simple question is anything but. This has been a point of
contention—and yes, division—in progressive social movements for at least the past half
century. For those who see property destruction as a legitimate tactic under certain
circumstances, including Catholic pacifists in the 1960s who saw little disjunction
Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names » For the Fracture of ...
1 of 3 12/10/11 4:59 PM
between their avowed pacifism and acts of restrained destruction, violence above all
denotes harm to human beings (and other living things). This is the touchstone for
determining whether an act constitutes violence: are people being injured or killed?
When the definition of violence is expanded to include acts that are directed at property
only, in which no person is at risk of injury, property is treated as on par with (and in
practice often more valuable than) human life. We live in a system characterized by deep
stratification and inequality. In this context in which some human lives are accorded very
little worth, to treat property destruction as a form of violence minimizes the daily
experience of real violence—harm to human beings—in many communities. It also makes
it hard to see systemic, structural forms of violence—the harm of under-resourced
schools, shuttered libraries, inadequate and labyrinth mental health services; the harm of
foreclosure, unemployment, and hunger—as violence, because we are so accustomed to
thinking of violence as a great outburst or a spectacle instead.
That so many react with horror and outrage at broken bank windows is not, however,
surprising. The capitalist system in which we live sanctifies property and personalizes
corporations, while dehumanizing millions of people in the US and billions worldwide.
To a very large degree these ideas suffuse our common sense; they are the taken-
for-granted assumptions out of which our moral and affective reactions emerge. But if we
are serious about transforming our society to put human need at the center of our politics
and economic practices, then we need to attend to the way unexamined assumptions
shape our interpretations of this moment, its pitfalls and possibilities, and the way
forward. We must deny the existing system the power to define the situation for us. We
must root out the ways it shapes our interpretations and reactions, by thinking deeply,
probing our assumptions, questioning the origins of our gut reactions and the allegiances
these express. We must have the courage to pursue personal transformation alongside, in
conjunction with, and as mutually constitutive of the social transformations we seek.
And we must have the courage to embrace disruption. As scholars and many participants
of social movements have long pointed out, movements have transformative potential
when they disrupt the status quo, when they interrupt or make difficult the smooth
functioning of daily routines, when they unsettle a passive acceptance of social norms,
values, or ideals. The Occupy Wall Street movement knows this intuitively, and on
November 2
Occupy Oakland pulled off the movement’s boldest act of disruption to
date, with mass convergences and the forced closure of the Port of Oakland.
But a lingering fear remains within many, a fear of disruption that echoes in frantic calls
for “peaceful protest.” To be clear: a fear of disruption does not usually inhere in calls for
peaceful or nonviolent protest that issue from a deeply held and principled pacifism.
Indeed, many committed pacifists have assumed great risks and stepped beyond the
Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names » For the Fracture of ...
2 of 3 12/10/11 4:59 PM
bounds of prevailing social norms in their efforts to transform society. A fear of
disruption—and particularly of the consequences it might unleash—does however
circulate among many today who insist on peaceful protest. Here peace is not equated
with justice but with pacification. A desire for order, for predictability, for security.
This comes out most clearly in some of the proposals circulating for how to deal with
those who engage in property destruction. Discursively expelling the “black-clad
anarchists” from the fold of the 99%, either by insisting that they are another 1% who
usurp or destroy the good of the many or by irresponsibly painting all as agents
provocateurs, is perhaps the most benign—while at the same time fraught with all the
dangers that divisiveness invites. Some proposals have gone further, suggesting the
creation of an internal police force within the Occupy movement or active collaboration
with the police. The irony, if these proposals and the sentiments they express were not so
worrying, is that this vigilantism itself harbors the threat of violence—real violence,
directed at people who have been cast out and made targets.
The unacknowledged assimilation of peace with pacification will only fetter the
movement’s potential, by keeping us bound to and within the bounds of the dictates of
order. This is not to celebrate an equally unthinking embrace of property destruction or
overly confrontational tactics. But we must create space for a diversity of tactics—not, as
some have suggested, as code for the legitimation of violence—but as a necessary
corollary to the diversity of this movement itself. We must find a way to harmonize our
myriad voices—not by silencing some, but by giving each its range of expression. We
must accept that social transformation will entail conflict, that we won’t always be
embraced by our audiences (even those in whose name we speak), and welcome the
personal and collective growth that conflict can engender. We must, in short, recognize
the power we wield in our capacity for disruption, and let go of our fear.
Emily Brissette is a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley, where she is completing a
dissertation on the effects of deeply held cultural beliefs within the movements against
the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. She can be reached at ebrisset (at)
Exclusively in the New Print Issue of CounterPunch
Hughes on Clerical Sex Abuse and the Vatican. PLUS Fred Gardner on Obama’s Policy on
Marijuana and the Reform Leaders’ Misleading Spin. SUBSCRIBE NOW
Order your subscription today and get
CounterPunch by email for only $35 per year.
Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names » For the Fracture of ...
3 of 3 12/10/11 4:59 PM
No- one cares about prop erty damage › Voyou
Given the amount of time spent discussing the handful of bank windows smashed during
Wednesday’s Oakland general strike, you might imagine that many people care about
property damage; and yet, if you look for such people, who are they? Liberals complain
about property damage during the various marches and actions, but they’re quick to add
that it is not they themselves who are disturbed or offended; rather, they are concerned
about the effect this property damage will have on others, particularly the cops who will
react violently and the media who will focus on images of destruction to the exclusion of
whatever else the demonstration achieved. The liberal’s position here is perverse in the
Lacanian sense: it expresses itself not as an actual desire, but as a desire to be the
instrument of the desire of some fantasized other. Part of what supports this disavowed
desire is that the objection to property damage can present itself as neutral, even expert,
strategic advice. It’s bad strategic advice, though, and I think in a revealing way.
The supposed strategic advice is based on the idea that, if we act in certain ways, the
media and police will react in particular ways. But the media has a bunch of structures
around which they build stories, and they will slot the actual events into these structures as
they see fit; so, whatever the the most militant or photogenic action of the day happens to
be gets wedged into the “outrage” slot, if the script calls for an outrage, and whether that
particular outrage is property damage or something else is basically irrelevant. As
reclaimuc put it on Twitter, “the media will always be terrible, no matter what we do.” This is
even more true of the idea that property damage “provokes” the police, which really badly
misunderstands the way in which public order policing works. Police responses are not, in
general, decided by individual police witnessing specific events, but by senior police and
political leaders deciding how to deal with the protest as a whole. If the police attack
protestors, it’s because they’ve decided to attack protestors, not because of anything the
protestors did (this is also why worrying about police infiltrators is usually pointless; police
may use provocateurs to stage-manage their intervention, but the form of their intervention
is decided in advance and is independent of what either protestors or provocateurs do).
In both cases, the liberal position is based around a belief that we can control how we are
perceived, and how the state (and its ideological apparatuses like the media) will respond
to us. Or actually this could be put more strongly: the criticism reveals the liberal’s
desperate need to be in control. The fact that protestors have very limited ability to prevent
state crackdowns, and certainly individual protestors can do almost nothing, is scary, and it
conflicts with deeply held liberal beliefs about how the state works, and how protesting can
change it.
This piece
responds to a
couple Jacobin-
related things
pretty directly,
so let’s put them
out there
straight away:
First, Malcolm
observation in
“Baby, We’re All
Now” that “the
left has finally
broken into the
by adopting the
tactics, strategy,
and slogans of
a group of left-
communist insurrectionaries at the Universities of California.”
Second, the Jacobin-sponsored debate at Bluestockings—which I’ll let readers watch for
And then a caveat: I should probably find it shameful to admit that I’m writing this from afar
—from France, to be exact, where the wave of global occupations hasn’t yet broken. So
granted: these views don’t come from within the Occupy movement, or even from an
Occupied city, though I wish they did. But since it’s become so difficult to claim any
geographic distance from the occupations, I hope my separateness will be useful
somehow. Distance can distort, but it can also clarify.
I first heard the slogan “Occupy Everything” in 2009 during the anti-privatization protests—
so yes, to a certain extent the University of California, where I’ve been a grad student since
2007, was instrumental in generating the tactics and rhetoric currently in use at Zuccotti
and elsewhere. During the first weeks of that fall semester, that slogan gradually came to
mean something specific, something razor-sharp, in a way that, as Harris rightly notes, has
been diluted at OWS. Back then, to occupy meant to forcibly lock down buildings with bike
locks and barricades without any provision of demands or benchmarks for de-escalation. It
was, you can guess, a contentious tactic both inside and outside the organizing coalition,
especially since the point wasn’t to force a negotiation with the administration, but only to
block business as usual—and also, ideally, to wrench a parcel of space and time free from
the capitalist order. This last point proved to be an Achilles heel for the UC occupations,
since the occupiers became mired in the structures and temporalities of student protest.
What they wanted was a commune—to communize, more specifically—but this proved late
in coming.
As I’m sure Harris knows, this “first wave” of occupations didn’t begin at the UC as
reported, nor even at the New School, another site of protest marked by takeovers and
barricades. As far as I’m aware—please correct me if I’m wrong—the occupations started
in France during the 2006 anti-CPE protests, when a contingent of students occupied the
Sorbonne without demands in defiance of the university’s orders. (The administration
preemptively blocked access to the campus in order to prevent it from being occupied, as it
had been in May 1968—a decision that, ironically, prompted the students to occupy). The
French roots of the occupation movement go deeper still, and they’re worth dredging up,
especially in light of the dispute that emerged at Bluestockings the other night. In fact,
there’s about a decade’s worth of para-academic French Marxism woven into the tactics
and ideas of the first-wave occupiers—not only the widely-read The Coming Insurrection,
but also writings by the less well-known (and equally shadowy) collective Théorie
Communiste, who’ve been arguing against the familiar forms of leftist agitation—trade
unionism above all—as possible fixes for the present crisis. One could name other
progenitors as well; the list is long and internecine, but I only want to emphasize that the
original occupations—certainly those at the UC schools—were undergirded at least in part
by a specifically Marxist set of ideas about capitalism and class struggle, and of deeply
pessimistic bent (I would hesitate to call it ultra-left or Left Communist). These ideas seem
to have vanished from the present dispute over demands, hierarchy, and horizontalism—to
our loss, I’d argue.
Back in 2009, the tactic of refusing demands had nothing to do with democratic process or
knee-jerk horizontalism, and everything to do with the present stakes of class struggle.
Rejecting demands marked, or was meant to betoken, a refusal to collaborate any more
with the capitalism order, including the labor movement; it registered a vote of no-
confidence in the wage system, because there are no jobs anyway—we’re grad students,
remember—and those jobs that do exist really and truly suck. Above all, the tactic was
understood to signal, for some instinctually, for others intellectually, that the present-day
horizons of struggle were emphatically not those of ancestral socialism. There was no
longer any possibility of going back to the arcadia of the workers’ state; now it was a matter
of piecing together the apparatus of redistribution on the outside, in the cold of the
commons, without wages or benefits. If the refusal of labor was once the endpoint of
autonomist struggle, today the stakes have been reversed: the rebels are not the workers
but the jobless, those who’ve been refused employment both inside and outside the
capitalist heartland. The Arab Spring had everything to do with this logic, and only the
fatally tone-deaf would mistake OWS as a workingman’s movement—quite the opposite.
From this point-of-view, the argument that’s been playing out in and around Jacobin—
about structures of organizing and, implicitly or otherwise, vanguardism—fails to hit
economic bedrock. The argument we ought to be having concerns the future of capitalism:
where it’s been, where it’s headed, and with what consequences in the present tense. I
assume that someone out there in the Occupied world has been talking about those things,
but it doesn’t seem to have trickled upstream.
At the Bluestockings discussion, the traditional-Left side of the table endorsed the idea that
OWS ought eventually to endorse a list of demands. Soon thereafter, the Demands
Working Group released their proposal for “a massive public works and public service
program with direct government employment at prevailing (union) wages, paid for by taxing
the rich and corporations, by immediately ending all of America’s wars, and by ending all
aid to authoritarian regimes to create 25 million new jobs.” While these are all fine things,
they have as their premise the wrong assumption that some version of the welfare state
represents a Platonic form of the political good. But the welfare state was only ever
invented to serve a partisan set of interests—those of capitalists—and could not have been
built save during a bygone moment of capitalism’s global development, when the costs of
welfare and high employment were capable of being offset by the profitability of
modernizing production. Yes, the labor movement did force capitalists to internalize many
of the costs of workers’ social reproduction, but it did this in an era of spectacular growth—
nothing could be further from the present-day scenario. Bear in mind that the greatest
expansion of the welfare state took place during capitalism’s golden age in the 1950s-60s.
The point of it was never to build a good, equal, or just society; the point was to draw
workers further into the system of production, extending that system to encompass nearly
every aspect of lived experience. Remember too that the success of the welfare state was
dogged by the counter-cultural rejection of its meaninglessness, and also its exclusivity. If
the 20
century was the proletariat’s utopia, it was also its hell.
No amount of wishful thinking will bring back the days of heaven and hell, though. Now
there is only hell, bleak and disastrous, but no longer quite so meaningless or exclusive.
Capitalism has been failing since the late 1960s, when its previous temporary fix—the
rapid modernization of production in advanced economies, coupled with reasonably
generous social welfare—stopped doing the trick. If the welfare state beckons on the
horizons of Zuccotti Park, it can only be a mirage, a trick of the light playing on the shields
of the riot police. I’m not arguing that the occupiers pack up and go home, though—far from
it. For if anything about OWS is encouraging, it’s that in the first days of the present wave of
occupations, veritable communes were set up in literally dozens of American cities,
distributing food, shelter, and first aid freely and to all comers. Whatever else the second-
wave occupiers believe about their movement, they’ve already begun to do what we at the
UC couldn’t quite pull off, at least not until now—creating living breathing communism in
some of the least communal places imaginable. A movement that began as a political
response to economic injustice has become an economic response to capitalism. To the
extent that OWS has a future qua class struggle, it will be as communes or as nothing.
Forget your demands, in other words—welcome to the autumn of the communes.
Critics will say that while these small acts of communism are well and good, they will
never be able to provide for the millions who depend on capitalism for daily bread (Doug
Henwood said something to that effect on last week’s Behind the News). Two months ago,
though, these same critics would have said that organizing even a single commune was
an impossibility, that communes inherently fracture and fail, and would in any event be too
geographically isolated to matter. Clearly the mayors and police departments of the
occupied cities see things differently. In any event, the communes exist and can’t be
wished away. They’ve already begun to attract the jobless and homeless and
underemployed and will continue to do so for as long as the occupations keep going. And
this, after all, is the economic function of communes relative to capitalism: not to liberate
people in the abstract, but to lay the groundwork for a retreat from the wage system. It has
always been a desideratum of capitalism that such refuges should be destroyed, whether
to flush people into the labor market (primitive accumulation) or to prevent alternatives to
the wage system from materializing. It should come as no surprise that the first groups to
join the occupations have been those who are at present excluded from the system—the
homeless, the wageless, the debt-stricken and the underemployed—and that the police
force called on to oppress them are well-paid suburbanites. As the movement of the
communes pushes forward, these divisions, between the waged and wageless, the self-
policing professionals and the communards, will only widen. This split must not be
construed as external or opposed to the movement; it is the movement’s clearest
form of expression.
As for the practical tasks of the communes, I defer to Théorie Communiste’s account of
what’s to be done and how: Communization is, to begin with, “the destruction of exchange:
this means the workers attacking the banks which hold their accounts and those of other
workers, thus making it necessary to manage without; this means the workers
communicating their ‘products’ to themselves and the community directly and without
market; this means the homeless occupying homes, thus ‘obliging’ construction workers to
produce freely, the construction workers taking from the shops at liberty, obliging the whole
class to organise to seek food in the sectors to be collectivized, etc. Let’s be clear about
this. There is no measure which, in itself, taken separately, is ‘communism.’ To distribute
goods, to directly circulate means of production and raw materials, to use violence against
the existing state: fractions of capital can achieve some of these things in certain
circumstances. That which is communist is not ‘violence’ in itself, nor ‘distribution’ of the
shit that we inherit from class society, nor ‘collectivization’ of surplus-value sucking
machines: it is the nature of the movement which connects these actions and underlies
them, renders them the moments of a process which can only communize even further, or
be crushed.” I would only add that the point of communization is not simply to destory
capitalism, but also to reappropriate—directly and immediately—the means of social
reproduction. One need have no particular scruples about how this should be done; for
example, it’s immaterial whether one pays for, steals, or buys on credit what’s needed to
keep the commune going, so long as one enables the group to live without wages—and
not only to live, but to grow, to spread, to incorporate more capital, like phagocytes in the
economic bloodstream. Nor does it matter whether or not the commune has these means
from the get-go; the point is to acquire them, after all, and that takes time. While it’s
certainly important what spatial form the communes take, perhaps the centralized model of
OWS will give way to more dispersed territorial arrangements. Time will tell. Make no
mistake, though: these experiments have begun, and they will spread; they make sense,
and much more sense than the usual business of demanding, politicking, and wound-
licking. The era of the Party is over; long live the communes.
BEN EHRENREICH on Occupy Los Angeles
on percentages, politics, and the police.
They are occupying Riverside! They’re occupying Oakland and Omaha and Iowa City and
Sacramento and Denver and Miami and Kalamazoo and and Hartford and Philadelphia
and Buffalo and Austin and San Antonio and Fort Wayne, Indiana! On Tuesday morning,
police in Boston arrested 141 protesters. This week cops made mass arrests in Des
Moines, grabbing 30 in one swoop, plus 25 in Chicago, 11 in San Francisco, six in DC,
another 21 in Seattle last week, and those 700 on the Brooklyn Bridge. Torrance is under
What a difference a month can make. Until September 17, 2011, I was buzzing along in my
usual slow, steady state of localized political despair. In Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya,
Yemen, and Bahrain, people had been risking and losing their lives, demanding to play a
role in the construction of their own societies. And it was clear enough, if you paid
attention, that they were rising up not just against particular dictatorships but against the
local manifestations of a global economic system that had for decades been concentrating
wealth in fewer and fewer hands, privatizing all public goods, tossing everything into the
market and dicing it up into speculation-ready bits. The Greeks took to the streets, too —
and the Chileans, the Italians, the Spanish, the French, the Irish, the British, the Icelanders.
The forty-years-and-running neoliberal transfer of public wealth to private coffers was
everywhere becoming too brutal and too brazen to ignore. While mouthing the now nearly
universal rhetoric of “shared sacrifice,” governments were feeding billions directly to the
banks. And people across the planet were showing them exactly what they were willing to
sacrifice — their freedom, their lives — to stop the looting.
Everywhere but here. In the U.S., it seemed that Milton Friedman’s jolly acolytes had
colonized (occupied, even) not only the halls of power but our very imaginations, locking
us into solitary suffering, cutting off all possibility of even envisioning some collective
response. Politics was for politicians — and for those who could afford to buy one. Even
the fleeting, expiatory pleasures of a good riot seemed beyond us. We were pissed, surely
and righteously, but beyond voting-booth fetishism, online griping, and The Secret, what
options did we have? The jackals in Congress wouldn’t listen anyway. They had their
orders. Better to stay home, avoid the mailman while there still was one to avoid, and pray
that the Law of Attraction kept functioning long enough to keep the cable and the Internet
It took the Canadians, in the end, to snap us out of it. I didn’t know Adbusters was still
around, but a few people did, and they began to gather in a tiny park in lower Manhattan
near a certain street with a famous name, a name that spoke, appropriately, of exclusion,
fortification, enclosure. There were not many people out there at first, but there were
enough, apparently, to make certain other people nervous. People of the exclusive,
enclosed and well-fortified variety. For the next two weeks, the mainstream press kept a
studious silence while Mayor Bloomberg and the New York Police Department did
everything they could to turn an isolated protest into a rapidly growing movement. Every
blast of pepper spray, every baton blow to the gut, every protester beaten and dragged
away on YouTube made it clear what the stakes were, and who was on what side. While
the slogan of the moment — “We are the 99 percent” — can be faulted for eliding
enormous differences of class, race and privilege among us masses of non-billionaires,
billy clubs and zip-tie cuffs have a funny way of forging solidarity. The fallen and falling
middle class is swiftly learning what the poor have known for too long: that the rich protect
their wealth with violence and the state exists to help them do it. Like the picket signs say:
“Screw us and we multiply.”
In Los Angeles, the police have maintained an anomalously light touch. On most of my
visits to the occupation site outside City Hall, I did not see a single police officer, although
they surely saw me: the new LAPD headquarters, with its cameras and mirrored glass, is
right across the street. Our local politicians have been cleverer than New York’s. Rushing
to bask in the movement’s populist glow, the City Council yesterday passed a resolution
endorsing the occupation. When it rained last week, Mayor Villaraigosa wandered the
encampment, distributing ponchos, shaking hands, grinning his 100-watt grin. Some
activists have fretted about co-optation, worrying that the Democratic Party and the union
bureaucracies will contain and ultimately kill off the rising insurgent energy. But no one I’ve
spoken with on the City Hall lawn has seemed in any danger of being satisfied.
The more immediate hazard may come from a different kind of comfort. Last week, the
Slovenian philosopher and academic superstar Slavoj !i"ek made an appearance in New
York’s Zuccotti Park, where he warned his acolytes among the protesters not to be satisfied
with “carnival.” On first glance, this seemed a bit curmudgeonly. Part of the point of this sort
of occupation is to reclaim public space, to encourage the sort of noncommercial
relationships between human beings discouraged by corporate culture, to build in
miniature the society you are fighting to create. This means taking care of one another. It
means all the unlikely things that protesters in New York and L.A. and elsewhere are
already doing: Setting up free kitchens and libraries and childcare and open air schools
and why not a bike repair tent too, along with what rudiments of health care people can
provide for one another on a small patch of grass. It means drum circles, if we really must. It
means not just chanting and marching together but dancing a little, and arguing too.
Anarchists and liberals aren’t supposed to agree, but better that they figure out how and to
what extent they are willing to work together than that everyone simply stay home.
Fighting, too, is carnival. And especially here in Los Angeles, where public space is most
often experienced at rush hour with one’s foot on the brake, we could use a bit of carnival,
a chance to live in the spaces that are allegedly ours without an entrance fee or corporate
Still, !i"ek was right. If the cops are being polite and the politicians are eager to make the
protesters comfortable, it’s not because they’re nice. It’s because they’re not feeling
sufficiently threatened. When several hundred protesters left the City Hall campsite last
week, marched to a Bank of America branch on Figueroa, and refused to leave until tellers
cashed a giant, Ed McMahon-style check for $653 billion made out to the people of
California, the chumminess of our brothers in blue evaporated. Eleven people were
arrested. The lesson was clear: The protests would be permitted, encouraged even, so
long as the protesters didn’t try to actually do anything. It’s not a fight, in other words,
unless you’re fighting. Otherwise, as one particularly intense young fellow put it to me on
the City Hall steps last night, “We’re just fucking camping.”
Politics, and
the Police
The generally
inclusive and
indefinite nature
of the politics
behind the
movement has
been both its
virtue and vice.
Or, to put it in
less moralistic
terms, the
flexibility of the
occupations —
in New York,
and beyond —
has generated
while at the
same time
presenting real
limits to a
serious challenge of capital’s domination.
A mutation of both the university occupations of 2009 (where the slogan “Occupy
Everything” was brought to life) and the “movement of the squares” in Egypt, Spain, and
Greece, these American occupations have managed to draw forth a variegated crowd of
generally anti-capitalist character in city after city: Anarchists and socialists, disenchanted
liberals and trade unionists, teachers and teenagers, street kids and college kids, the entire
motley crew growing rather than fading away, moving from novelty song to popular genre
with a breadth and rapidity that would have commanded utter disbelief in August. And it is
apparent that the refusal to decide in advance on the exact political content of this
movement — and instead suggesting that such a content will emerge through the process
of struggle — is very much part of what has allowed for this sequence’s unfolding and
brought so many people out into the plazas of our cities. The notion of the 99 percent is
part of this inclusiveness, but it’s also an emblem of the real limits here.
Central among these limits is the incoherent stance often taken toward the police by the
occupiers, or, more specifically, the organizers of the occupations. It can only be of the
greatest significance that this issue has emerged as the central matter of debate; it secures
the suspicion that the question is at the center of the occupation movement’s politics, and
its fate.
But this hypersignificance remains opaque. Again and again, these occupations have
featured scenes in which protesters beaten and pepper-sprayed by the police have
insisted that their oppressors are also, in their way, part of the 99 percent. Occasionally, in
New York, there is a more complicated fantasy in which the only truly oppressive cops are
the supervisors — “whiteshirts,” after the white (rather than blue) shirts they wear, but also
because obliquely referencing class status — whereas the blue-collar cops are only
reluctantly doing their jobs.
At the same time, there has been more and more criticism of collaborationist policies
toward the police, and an increasingly acrimonious debate within the movement, initiated
in many cases by its anarchist and anti-statist wing. Occupy Oakland, for instance, has
refused to cooperate with the Oakland Police and its General Assemblies feature long
lines of people who speak eloquently and bluntly about police violence in the city. So there
is a debate within the movement, one that the brutal police repression of Occupy Boston,
happening just as Occupy Oakland was getting under way, has in some regard brought to
a head.
In an ironic turn, on the same day as the repression of Occupy Boston, n+1 published
Jeremy Kessler’s “The Police and the 99 Percent,” a virtual compendium of the fallacies,
apologetics, wishful thinking, and historical misprisions assembled to defend the strategy
of police compliance. Alas — and curiously enough for a journal with a brief but consistent
record of critique — the article sides decisively with compliance and complicity. In doing
so, it misunderstands the character of the occupations; the recent history of the movement
of the squares; the role and history of the police in relation to antistate and anticapitalist
movements; the position of non-violence; and accepts exactly what is most problematic
and disabling about the formulation of the “99 Percent.”
Kessler approaches the issue of the police not from a moralistic position – he does not
insist, for instance, that we must approach the police with loving kindness, lest we produce
bad vibes or bad karma – but from a strategic one. He thinks that confrontations with police
dissuade a putative “middle-class,” including union labor, from joining the occupation. The
only possible recourse is to live up to the Occupy movement’s promise of including the
superplurality of the “99 Percent.” The movement must, therefore, establish links with the
police by appearing more like the police themselves, in cultural terms. It should establish
itself as, well, kind of normal-looking and non-threatening. This might encourage the police
toward a quiet insubordination once the call to crack down on Liberty Plaza eventually
The first thing to say about this is that what Kessler proposes has already been
contradicted by the very situation he describes. The occupation in Zuccotti Park began as
a relatively small encampment, and the initial police response was, as Kessler himself
observes, “brutal.” Videos quickly surfaced of police grabbing, tossing, macing, batoning,
barricading, and arresting protestors without provocation; one video showed an officer
telling another that he hoped “his nightstick would get a workout tonight.” It was precisely
the spread of these videos that drew the crowds, that made it impossible for the media to
continue to ignore the protests; it was precisely the unmistakable images of a violent state
apparatus mobilized to protect financial interests that revealed the nature of the present
moment. The October non-surprise that JPMorgan Chase had previously donated $4.6
million to the NYC Police Foundation (the largest gift in the foundation’s history) gave this
relationship between the police and the financiers a headline, but the earlier images of
police brutality at Occupy Wall Street had already presented more powerfully the same
material fact, and it was these images that began to draw more protestors to Zuccotti Park.
We can dispense with the notion that the specter of police violence is the real limit to
participation by some phantom “American middle class.” But we cannot dispense with the
notion that police are violent and threatening, and that they will be — have already been —
levied to break the occupations.
It is hard to imagine anyone denying that it would be a good thing if the police were to take
the side of the occupations. This is a far cry, however, from the belief that such a thing
could reasonably happen. We must distinguish between analysis — an analysis of the
concrete situation and accompanying historical record — and wish fulfillment fantasy. The
latter tends, after all, to lead toward quite disastrous strategic and tactical decisions. In
Tahrir Square — a place and idea toward which the Occupy movement swears fidelity —
there was, despite some folks’ hysterical amnesia on this score, no commitment to non-
violence, no gesture of complicity with the police, and no hesitation in resisting the
government’s armed thugs. The Egyptians understood with clarity who their antagonists
were, what their relationship to them was, and what would be needed to prevent the
movement from being crushed by the folks with the guns and clubs.
The argument that “the cops will eventually come to sweep us away” may seem to open
onto the conclusion “thus the cops must be befriended” — but only if one somehow
suppresses the very reasons that the cops will come in the first place, and the long history
of the police in relation to popular militancy. Cairo is one such example; others multiply
throughout history. On the other side of the ledger: few entries indeed. It is true that armies
and navies have been known to take the side of the people in revolutionary moments, but
they are in the business of taking and holding territory, a portable trade. Police are charged
with disciplining populations. Were they to take the side of the population, they would be
without a trade. Any serious reading of history suggests that the police everywhere
maintain their fidelity to the task of performing as bodyguards for money, property, and
Kessler offers a paradigmatic example of what Mark Fisher calls “capitalist realism,” which
always takes the form of something like the following: OK, kids, utopia sounds great, but
let’s let the serious people take over and work within the given limits of the world before us.
The problem isn’t simply that this involves quitting in advance of struggling, it’s that
Kessler’s historical vision doesn’t even follow the principle of realism, or, even better, of
reality. History is not on his side. One of his assumptions is that the ultimate goal of the
Occupy movement is to animate a new political majority, a new hegemonic force. There is
no discussion, however, of the kinds of force such a majority might exert, of what it might
do. There is simply the assembling-in-place of the great 99 percenters and their processual
assemblies; these, Kessler assumes, are slowly, somehow, supposed to arrive at an actual
political stance. Though this movement might go in any number of directions, it seems
clear that if everyone follows Kessler’s recommendation and agrees that the one thing they
shouldn’t do is alienate the “middle-class” — if the goal of the movement is simply to
assemble and increasingly resemble the already extant social order — then it seems likely
that the demand arrived at, eventually, will suffer from the tyrannical logic of the lowest
common denominator. It will most likely take the form of a demand that everyone join the
Democratic Party immediately to ward off the threat of Rick Perry or Mitt Romney.
Perhaps it’s true, as Kessler notes, that only through agreeing to play by the rules and not
offend the delicate sensibilities of the middle-class will the occupations become a true
political majority. But it’s not clear what’s to be gained from such growth, if in exchange we
make sure to refrain from doing anything that disrupts the smooth reproduction of the status
quo. The filling of U.S. plazas and parks with millions of people doing little but complying is
unlikely to bring even mild reform. No, to do that we’ll have to resort to the old strategies of
the strike, the blockade, sabotage and — one hopes — the occupation and expropriation of
private property.
Though numbers are, in many regards, decisive, they are not everything. This suggests
there is another way we might interpret the Occupationists’ deferral of content and
emphasis on process, that it indicates a focus on what these occupations intend to do, and
how they intend to do it, rather than what they say or what proclamations they release. This
would bring them back to the ideas that emerged out of the original California and New
York occupations, which insisted that an occupation was not a bargaining chip but an act of
claiming the things we need to survive. Such occupations were not, therefore, about asking
for concessions from the state, nor were they simply a launching pad for a new political
discourse or a new hegemony. The sign “I am the 99 percent” retains its ambiguity; signs
like “Capitalism Cannot Be Reformed” and “It’s Class Warfare and We’re Losing” less so.
Such stances, still lurking beneath the slogans on Wall Street, might be one way to think
about what is happening (or what could happen) in Zuccotti Park: people learning to
provide for each other, now that it is quite clear that capitalism can’t provide for them.
For Jeremy Kessler’s response,see here.
Other related pieces: TODD GITLIN, “New York City, October 19: The Sense of a
ED SKOOG, “Recessionary Measures in Support of Occupy Seattle”
SESSHU FOSTER, “Occupy Los Angeles Saturday October 15”
MIKE DAVIS, “No More Bubble Gum”
Ben Ehrenreich is the author of The Suitors and of Ether, just out from City Lights Books.
Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover, and Annie McClanahan are writers involved in the
university occupations of 2009 and ongoing projects relating to the crisis of capitalism.
Image: Woman Detained cc Paul Weiskel
More pictures at The Atlantic: and at and
We welcome letters to the editors, on this or any other subject, at
Buying books by clicking on the icons below helps support the Los Angeles Review of
Books. Any item you buy after clicking through pays us a royalty, which we in turn use to
pay our bills. If you would like to make a more substantial gift, please hit the DONATE
button here, above, or below.
By David Harvey / 28 October 2011
The Party of Wall Street has ruled unchallenged in the United States for far too long. It has
totally (as opposed to partially) dominated the policies of Presidents over at least four
decades (if not longer), no matter whether individual Presidents have been its willing
agents or not. It has legally corrupted Congress via the craven dependency of politicians in
both parties upon its raw money power and access to the mainstream media that it
controls. Thanks to the appointments made and approved by Presidents and Congress,
the Party of Wall Street dominates much of the state apparatus as well as the judiciary, in
particular the Supreme Court, whose partisan judgments increasingly favor venal money
interests, in spheres as diverse as electoral, labor, environmental and contract law.
The Party of Wall Street has one universal principle of rule: that there shall be no serious
challenge to the absolute power of money to rule absolutely. And that power is to be
exercised with one objective. Those possessed of money power shall not only be
privileged to accumulate wealth endlessly at will, but they shall have the right to inherit the
earth, taking either direct or indirect dominion not only of the land and all the resources and
productive capacities that reside therein, but also assume absolute command, directly or
indirectly, over the labor and creative potentialities of all those others it needs. The rest of
humanity shall be deemed disposable.
These principles and practices do not arise out of individual greed, short-sightedness or
mere malfeasance (although all of these are plentifully to be found). These principles have
been carved into the body politic of our world through the collective will of a capitalist class
animated by the coercive laws of competition. If my lobbying group spends less than yours
then I will get less in the way of favors. If this jurisdiction spends on people’s needs it shall
be deemed uncompetitive.
Many decent people are locked into the embrace of a system that is rotten to the core. If
they are to earn even a reasonable living they have no other job option except to give the
devil his due: they are only “following orders,” as Adolf Eichmann famously claimed, or
“doing what the system demands” as others now put it, acceding to the barbarous and
immoral principles and practices of the Party of Wall Street. The coercive laws of
competition force us all, to some degree or other, to obey the rules of this ruthless and
uncaring system. The problem is systemic, not individual.
The Party’s favored slogans of
freedom and liberty to be
guaranteed by private property
rights, free markets and free
trade, actually translate into
the freedom to exploit the
labor of others, to dispossess
the assets of the common
people at will and the freedom
to pillage the environment for
individual or class benefit.
Once in control of the state
apparatus, the Party of Wall
Street typically privatizes all
the juicy morsels at below
market value to open new
terrains for their capital
accumulation. They arrange subcontracting (the military-industrial complex being a prime
example) and taxation practices (subsidies to agro-business and low capital gains taxes)
that permit them freely to ransack the public coffers. They deliberately foster such
complicated regulatory systems and such astonishing administrative incompetence within
the rest of the state apparatus (remember the EPA under Reagan, and FEMA and “heck-of-
a job” Brown under Bush) as to convince an inherently skeptical public that the state can
never ever play a constructive or supportive role in improving the daily life or the future
prospects of anyone. And, finally, they use the monopoly of violence that all sovereign
states claim, to exclude the public from much of what passes for public space and to
harass, put under surveillance and, if necessary, criminalize and incarcerate all those who
do not broadly accede to its dictates. It excels in practices of repressive tolerance that
perpetuate the illusion of freedom of expression as long as that expression does not
ruthlessly expose the true nature of their project and the repressive apparatus upon which
it rests.
The Party of Wall Street ceaselessly wages class war. “Of course there is class war,” says
Warren Buffett, “and it is my class, the rich, who are making it and we are winning.” Much of
this war is waged in secret, behind a series of masks and obfuscations through which the
aims and objectives of the Party of Wall Street are disguised.
The Party of Wall Street knows all too well that when profound political and economic
questions are transformed into cultural issues they become unanswerable. It regularly calls
up a huge range of captive expert opinion, for the most part employed in the think tanks
and universities they fund and splattered throughout the media they control, to create
controversies out of all manner of issues that simply do not matter and to propose solutions
to questions that do not exist. One minute they talk of nothing other than the austerity
necessary for everyone else to cure the deficit, and the next they are proposing to reduce
their own taxation no matter what impact this may have on the deficit. The one thing that
can never be openly debated and discussed, is the true nature of the class war they have
been so ceaselessly and ruthlessly waging. To depict something as “class war” is, in the
current political climate and in their expert judgment, to place it beyond the pale of serious
consideration, even to be branded a fool, if not seditious.
But now, for the first time, there is an explicit movement to confront The Party of Wall Street
and its unalloyed money power. The “street” in Wall Street is being occupied—oh horror
upon horrors—by others! Spreading from city to city, the tactics of Occupy Wall Street are to
take a central public space, a park or a square, close to where many of the levers of power
are centered, and by putting human bodies there convert public space into a political
commons, a place for open discussion and debate over what that power is doing and how
best to oppose its reach. This tactic, most conspicuously re-animated in the noble and on-
going struggles centered on Tahrir Square in Cairo, has spread across the world (Plaza del
Sol in Madrid, Syntagma Square in Athens, now the steps of Saint Paul’s in London as
well as Wall Street itself). It shows us that the collective power of bodies in public space is
still the most effective instrument of opposition when all other means of access are
blocked. What Tahrir Square showed to the world was an obvious truth: that it is bodies on
the street and in the squares not the babble of sentiments on Twitter or Facebook that
really matter.
The aim of this movement in the United States is simple. It says: “We the people are
determined to take back our country from the moneyed powers that currently run it. Our aim
is to prove Warren Buffett wrong. His class, the rich, shall no longer rule unchallenged nor
automatically inherit the earth. Nor is his class, the rich, always destined to win.”
It says “we are the 99 percent.” We have the majority and this majority can, must and shall
prevail. Since all other channels of expression are closed to us by money power, we have
no other option except to occupy the parks, squares and streets of our cities until our
opinions are heard and our needs attended to.
To succeed, the movement has to reach out to the 99 percent. This it can do and is doing
step by step. First, there are all those being plunged into immiseration by unemployment,
and all those who have been or are now being dispossessed of their houses and their
assets by the Wall Street phalanx. It must forge broad coalitions between students,
immigrants, the underemployed and all those threatened by the totally unnecessary and
draconian austerity politics being inflicted upon the nation and the world, at the behest of
the Party of Wall Street. It must focus on the astonishing levels of exploitation in
workplaces—from the immigrant domestic workers who the rich so ruthlessly exploit in
their homes, to the restaurant workers who slave for almost nothing in the kitchens of the
establishments in which the rich so grandly eat. It must bring together the creative workers
and artists whose talents are so often turned into commercial products under the control of
big money power.
The movement must above all reach out to all the alienated, the dissatisfied and the
discontented, all those who recognize and deeply feel in their gut that there is something
profoundly wrong, that the system the Party of Wall Street has devised is not only barbaric,
unethical and morally wrong, but also broken.
All this has to be democratically assembled into a coherent opposition, which must also
freely contemplate what an alternative city, an alternative political system and, ultimately,
an alternative way of organizing production, distribution and consumption for the benefit of
the people, might look like. Otherwise, a future for the young that points to spiraling private
indebtedness and deepening public austerity, all for the benefit of the one percent, is no
future at all.
In response to the Occupy Wall Street movement the state backed by capitalist class
power makes an astonishing claim: that they and only they have the exclusive right to
regulate and dispose of public space. The public has no common right to public space! By
what right do mayors, police chiefs, military officers and state officials tell we, the people,
that they have the right to determine what is public about “our” public space, and who may
occupy that space, and when? When did they presume to evict us, the people, from any
space we, the people, decide collectively and peacefully to occupy? They claim they are
taking action in the public interest (and cite laws to prove it), but it is we who are the public!
Where is “our interest” in all of this? And, by the way, is it not “our” money that the banks
and financiers so blatantly use to accumulate “their” bonuses?
In the face of the organized power of the Party of Wall Street to divide and rule, the
movement that is emerging must also take as one of its founding principles that it will
neither be divided nor diverted until the Party of Wall Street is brought either to its senses
—to see that the common good must prevail over narrow venal interests—or to its knees.
Corporate privileges to have all of the rights of individuals without the responsibiities of
true citizens must be rolled back. Public goods such as education and health care must be
publically provided and made freely available. The monopoly powers in the media must be
broken. The buying of elections must be ruled unconstitutional. The privatization of
knowledge and culture must be prohibited. The freedom to exploit and dispossess others
must be severely curbed and ultimately outlawed.
Americans believe in equality. Polling data show they believe (no matter what their general
political allegiances might be) that the top twenty percent of the population might be
justified in claiming thirty percent of the total wealth. That the top twenty percent now
control 85 percent of the wealth is unacceptable. That most of that is controlled by the top
one percent is totally unacceptable. What the Occupy Wall Street movement proposes is
that we, the people of the United States, commit to a reversal of that level of inequality, not
only of wealth and income, but even more importantly of the political power that such a
disparity confers. The people of the United States are rightly proud of the their democracy,
but it has always been endangered by capital’s corruptive power. Now that it is dominated
by that power, the time is surely nigh, as Jefferson long ago suggested would be
necessary, to make another American revolution: one based on social justice, equality and
a caring and thoughtful approach to the relation to nature.
The struggle that has broken out—the People versus the Party of Wall Street—is crucial to
our collective future. The struggle is global as well as local in its nature. It brings together
Chilean students who are locked in a life-and-death struggle with political power to create
a free and quality education system for all, and so begin dismantling the neoliberal model
that Pinochet so brutally imposed. It embraces the agitators in Tahrir Square who
recognize that the fall of Mubarak (like the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship) was but the first
step in an emancipatory struggle to break free from money power. It includes the
“indignados” in Spain, the striking workers in Greece, the militant opposition emerging all
around the world, from London to Durban, Buenos Aires, Shenzhen and Mumbai. The
brutal dominations of big capital and sheer money power are everywhere on the defensive.
Whose side will each of us as individuals come down on? Which street will we occupy?
Only time will tell. But what we do know is that the time is now. The system is not only
broken and exposed but incapable of any response other than repression. So we, the
people, have no option but to struggle for the collective right to decide how that system
shall be reconstructed and in what image. The Party of Wall Street has had its day and
failed miserably. How to construct an alternative on its ruins is both an inescapable
opportunity and an obligation that none of us can or would ever want to avoid. December 10, 2011
Occupy Wall Streets anarchist roots - Opinion - Al Jazeera
The 'Occupy' movement is 'a genuine attempt to create the institutions of a new society in
the shell of the old' [AFP]
New York, NY - Almost every time I'm interviewed by a mainstream journalist about Occupy Wall
Street I get some variation of the same lecture:
"How are you going to get anywhere if you refuse to create a leadership structure or make a
practical list of demands? And what's with all this anarchist nonsense - the consensus, the sparkly
fingers? Don't you realise all this radical language is going to alienate people? You're never going
to be able to reach regular, mainstream Americans with this sort of thing!"
If one were compiling a scrapbook of worst advice
ever given, this sort of thing might well merit an
honourable place. After all, since the financial crash
of 2007, there have been dozens of attempts to kick-
off a national movement against the depredations of
the United States' financial elites taking the approach
such journalists recommended. All failed. It was only
In-depth coverage of the global movement
on August 2, when a small group of anarchists and
other anti-authoritarians showed up at a meeting
called by one such group and effectively wooed
everyone away from the planned march and rally to
create a genuine democratic assembly, on basically
anarchist principles, that the stage was set for a
movement that Americans from Portland to
Tuscaloosa were willing to embrace.
I should be clear here what I mean by "anarchist
principles". The easiest way to explain anarchism is
to say that it is a political movement that aims to bring
about a genuinely free society - that is, one where
humans only enter those kinds of relations with one another that would not have to be enforced by
the constant threat of violence. History has shown that vast inequalities of wealth, institutions like
slavery, debt peonage or wage labour, can only exist if backed up by armies, prisons, and police.
Anarchists wish to see human relations that would not have to be backed up by armies, prisons
and police. Anarchism envisions a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist
solely on the free consent of participants.
Anarchism versus Marxism
Traditional Marxism, of course, aspired to the same ultimate goal but there was a key difference.
Most Marxists insisted that it was necessary first to seize state power, and all the mechanisms of
bureaucratic violence that come with it, and use them to transform society - to the point where, they
argued such mechanisms would, ultimately, become redundant and fade away. Even back in the
19th century, anarchists argued that this was a pipe dream. One cannot, they argued, create peace
by training for war, equality by creating top-down chains of command, or, for that matter, human
happiness by becoming grim joyless revolutionaries who sacrifice all personal self-realisation or
self-fulfillment to the cause.
It's not just that the ends do not justify the means (though they don't), you will never achieve the
ends at all unless the means are themselves a model for the world you wish to create. Hence the
famous anarchist call to begin "building the new society in the shell of the old" with egalitarian
experiments ranging from free schools to radical labour unions to rural communes.
Anarchism was also a revolutionary ideology, and its emphasis on individual conscience and
individual initiative meant that during the first heyday of revolutionary anarchism between roughly
1875 and 1914, many took the fight directly to heads of state and capitalists, with bombings and
assassinations. Hence the popular image of the anarchist bomb-thrower. It's worthy of note that
anarchists were perhaps the first political movement to realise that terrorism, even if not directed at
innocents, doesn't work. For nearly a century now, in fact, anarchism has been one of the very few
political philosophies whose exponents never blow anyone up (indeed, the 20th-century political
leader who drew most from the anarchist tradition was Mohandas K Gandhi.)
Yet for the period of roughly 1914 to 1989, a period during which the world was continually either
fighting or preparing for world wars, anarchism went into something of an eclipse for precisely that
reason: To seem "realistic", in such violent times, a political movement had to be capable of
organising armies, navies and ballistic missile systems, and that was one thing at which Marxists
could often excel. But everyone recognised that anarchists - rather to their credit - would never be
able to pull it off. It was only after 1989, when the age of great war mobilisations seemed to have
ended, that a global revolutionary movement based on anarchist principles - the global justice
movement - promptly reappeared.
How, then, did OWS embody anarchist principles? It might be helpful to go over this point by point:
1) The refusal to recognise the legitimacy of existing political institutions.
One reason for the much-discussed refusal to issue demands is because issuing demands means
recognising the legitimacy - or at least, the power - of those of whom the demands are made.
Anarchists often note that this is the difference between protest and direct action: Protest, however
militant, is an appeal to the authorities to behave differently; direct action, whether it's a matter of a
community building a well or making salt in defiance of the law (Gandhi's example again), trying to
shut down a meeting or occupy a factory, is a matter of acting as if the existing structure of power
does not even exist. Direct action is, ultimately, the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already
2) The refusal to accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order.
The second principle, obviously, follows from the first. From the very beginning, when we first
started holding planning meetings in Tompkins Square Park in New York, organisers knowingly
ignored local ordinances that insisted that any gathering of more than 12 people in a public park is
illegal without police permission - simply on the grounds that such laws should not exist. On the
same grounds, of course, we chose to occupy a park, inspired by examples from the Middle East
and southern Europe, on the grounds that, as the public, we should not need permission to occupy
public space. This might have been a very minor form of civil disobedience but it was crucial that
we began with a commitment to answer only to a moral order, not a legal one.
3) The refusal to create an internal hierarchy, but instead to create a form of consensus-
based direct democracy.
From the very beginning, too, organisers made the audacious decision to operate not only by direct
democracy, without leaders, but by consensus. The first decision ensured that there would be no
formal leadership structure that could be co-opted or coerced; the second, that no majority could
bend a minority to its will, but that all crucial decisions had to be made by general consent.
American anarchists have long considered consensus process (a tradition that has emerged from
a confluence of feminism, anarchism and spiritual traditions like the Quakers) crucial for the reason
that it is the only form of decision-making that could operate without coercive enforcement - since if
a majority does not have the means to compel a minority to obey its dictates, all decisions will, of
necessity, have to be made by general consent.
4) The embrace of prefigurative politics.
As a result, Zuccotti Park, and all subsequent encampments, became spaces of experiment with
creating the institutions of a new society - not only democratic General Assemblies but kitchens,
libraries, clinics, media centres and a host of other institutions, all operating on anarchist principles
of mutual aid and self-organisation - a genuine attempt to create the institutions of a new society in
the shell of the old.
Why did it work? Why did it catch on? One reason is, clearly, because most Americans are far
more willing to embrace radical ideas than anyone in the established media is willing to admit. The
basic message - that the American political order is absolutely and irredeemably corrupt, that both
parties have been bought and sold by the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population, and that if we are
to live in any sort of genuinely democratic society, we're going to have to start from scratch - clearly
struck a profound chord in the American psyche.
Perhaps this is not surprising: We are facing
conditions that rival those of the 1930s, the main
difference being that the media seems stubbornly
willing to acknowledge it. It raises intriguing questions
about the role of the media itself in American society.
Radical critics usually assume the "corporate media",
as they call it, mainly exists to convince the public that
existing institutions are healthy, legitimate and just. It is becoming increasingly apparent that they
do not really see this is possible; rather, their role is simply to convince members of an increasingly
angry public that no one else has come to the same conclusions they have. The result is an
ideology that no one really believes, but most people at least suspect that everybody else does.
Nowhere is this disjunction between what ordinary Americans really think, and what the media and
political establishment tells them they think, more clear than when we talk about democracy.
Democracy in America?
According to the official version, of course, "democracy" is a system created by the Founding
Fathers, based on checks and balances between president, congress and judiciary. In fact,
nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution does it say anything about the US
being a "democracy". The authors of those documents, almost to a man, defined "democracy" as a
matter of collective self-governance by popular assemblies, and as such they were dead-set
against it.
Democracy meant the madness of crowds: bloody, tumultuous and untenable. "There was never a
democracy that didn't commit suicide," wrote Adams; Hamilton justified the system of checks and
balances by insisting that it was necessary to create a permanent body of the "rich and well-born"
to check the "imprudence" of democracy, or even that limited form that would be allowed in the
lower house of representatives.
The result was a republic - modelled not on Athens, but on Rome. It only came to be redefined as a
"democracy" in the early 19th century because ordinary Americans had very different views, and
persistently tended to vote - those who were allowed to vote - for candidates who called
themselves "democrats". But what did - and what do - ordinary Americans mean by the word? Did
they really just mean a system where they get to weigh in on which politicians will run the
government? It seems implausible. After all, most Americans loathe politicians, and tend to be
skeptical about the very idea of government. If they universally hold out "democracy" as their
political ideal, it can only be because they still see it, however vaguely, as self-governance - as
what the Founding Fathers tended to denounce as either "democracy" or, as they sometimes also
put it, "anarchy".
If nothing else, this would help explain the enthusiasm with which they have embraced a
movement based on directly democratic principles, despite the uniformly contemptuous dismissal
of the United States' media and political class.
In fact, this is not the first time a movement based on fundamentally anarchist principles - direct
action, direct democracy, a rejection of existing political institutions and attempt to create
alternative ones - has cropped up in the US. The civil rights movement (at least its more radical
branches), the anti-nuclear movement, and the global justice movement all took similar directions.
Never, however, has one grown so startlingly quickly. But in part, this is because this time around,
the organisers went straight for the central contradiction. They directly challenged the pretenses of
the ruling elite that they are presiding over a democracy.
When it comes to their most basic political sensibilities, most Americans are deeply conflicted.
Most combine a deep reverence for individual freedom with a near-worshipful identification with
institutions like the army and police. Most combine an enthusiasm for markets with a hatred of
capitalists. Most are simultaneously profoundly egalitarian, and deeply racist. Few are actual
anarchists; few even know what "anarchism" means; it's not clear how many, if they did learn,
would ultimately wish to discard the state and capitalism entirely. Anarchism is much more than
simply grassroots democracy: It ultimately aims to eliminate all social relations, from wage labour
to patriarchy, that can only be maintained by the systematic threat of force.
But one thing overwhelming numbers of Americans do feel is that something is terribly wrong with
their country, that its key institutions are controlled by an arrogant elite, that radical change of some
kind is long since overdue. They're right. It's hard to imagine a political system so systematically
corrupt - one where bribery, on every level, has not only been made legal, but soliciting and
dispensing bribes has become the full-time occupation of every American politician. The outrage is
appropriate. The problem is that up until September 17, the only side of the spectrum willing to
propose radical solutions of any sort was the Right.
As the history of the past movements all make clear, nothing terrifies those running the US more
than the danger of democracy breaking out. The immediate response to even a modest spark of
democratically organised civil disobedience is a panicked combination of concessions and
brutality. How else can one explain the recent national mobilisation of thousands of riot cops, the
beatings, chemical attacks, and mass arrests, of citizens engaged in precisely the kind of
democratic assemblies the Bill of Rights was designed to protect, and whose only crime - if any -
was the violation of local camping regulations?
Our media pundits might insist that if average Americans ever realised the anarchist role in Occupy
Wall Street, they would turn away in shock and horror; but our rulers seem, rather, to labour under a
lingering fear that if any significant number of Americans do find out what anarchism really is, they
might well decide that rulers of any sort are unnecessary.
David Graeber is a Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent Al
Jazeera's editorial policy.
Feminism, Finance and the Future of #Occupy -
An interview with Silvia Federici
This movement appears spontaneous but its spontaneity is quite
organized, as it can be seen from the languages and practices it has
adopted and the maturity it has shown in response to the brutal attacks
by the authorities and the police. It reflects a new way of doing politics
that has grown out of the crisis of the anti-globalization and antiwar
movements of the last decade, one that emerges from the confluence
between the feminist movement and the movement for the commons. By
“movement for the commons” I refer to the struggles to create and defend
anti-capitalist spaces and communities of solidarity and autonomy. For years now people
have expressed the need for a politics that is not just antagonistic, and does not separate
the personal from the political, but instead places the creation of more cooperative and
egalitarian forms of reproducing human, social and economic relationships at the center of
political work.
Silvia Federici discusses the Occupy Movement and the struggles of social reproduction to
challenge capital.
Occupations and the Struggle over Reproduction
Silvia Federici is a veteran activist and writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. Born and raised in
Italy, Federici has taught in Italy, Nigeria, and the United States, where she has been
involved in many movements, including feminist, education, and anti-death penalty
struggles. Her influential 2004 book Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and
Primitive Accumulation,built on decades of research and activism, offers an account of the
relationship between the European witch trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
and the rise of capitalism. Federici's work is rooted in a feminist and Marxist tradition that
stresses the centrality of people's struggle against exploitation as the driving force of
historical and global change. With other members of the Wages for Housework campaign,
like Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa, and with feminist authors like Maria Mies
and Vandana Shiva, Federici has been instrumental in developing the idea of
“reproduction” as a key way to understand global and local power relations. Reproduction,
in this sense, doesn’t only mean how humans reproduce biologically, it is a broad concept
that encompasses how we care for one another, how we reproduce our physical bodies
depending on our access to food and shelter, how culture and ideology are reproduced,
how communities are built and rebuilt, and how resistance and struggle can be sustained
and expanded. In the contest of a capitalist society reproduction also refers to the process
by which “labor power” (i.e. our capacity to work, and the labor force in general), is
reproduced, both on a day to day basis and inter-generationally. It was one of the main
contributions of the theorists of the Wages For Housework Movement to Marxist feminist
theory to have redefined reproductive work in this manner. In this interview, an extended
version of which will appear in a forthcoming issue of Politics and Culture, Federici reflects
on the #Occupy movements, their precedents and their potentials.
Max Haiven: We hear a lot of talk about the originality of Occupy Wall Street and the other
Occupations. But people have been pointing out that this movement isn't unprecedented
and it has been building in various ways for a long time. What do you see as the feminist
roots of the Occupations, both in New York and more broadly?
Silvia Federici: This movement appears spontaneous but its spontaneity is quite
organized, as it can be seen from the languages and practices it has adopted and the
maturity it has shown in response to the brutal attacks by the authorities and the police. It
reflects a new way of doing politics that has grown out of the crisis of the anti-globalization
and antiwar movements of the last decade, one that emerges from the confluence between
the feminist movement and the movement for the commons. By “movement for the
commons” I refer to the struggles to create and defend anti-capitalist spaces and
communities of solidarity and autonomy. For years now people have expressed the need
for a politics that is not just antagonistic, and does not separate the personal from the
political, but instead places the creation of more cooperative and egalitarian forms of
reproducing human, social and economic relationships at the center of political work.
In New York, for instance, a broad discussion has been taking place for some years now
among people in the movement on the need to create “communities of care” and, more
generally, collective forms of reproduction whereby we can address issues that “flow from
our everyday life (as Craig Hughes and Kevin Van Meter of the Team Colors Collective
have put it [1]). We have begun to recognize that for our movements to work and thrive, we
need to be able to socialize our experiences of grief, illness, pain, death, things that now
are often relegated to the margins or the outside of our political work. We agree that
movements that do not place on their agendas the reproduction of both their members and
the broader community are movements that cannot survive, they are not “self-reproducing,”
especially in these times when so many people are daily confronting crises in their lives.
Great sources of inspiration here have been the response of Act Up to the AIDS crisis, the
anarchist tradition of ‘mutual aid,’ and, above all, the experience of the feminist movement
which realized that “the revolution begins at home” in the restructuring of our reproductive
activities and the social relations that sustain them. In recent years, this merging of
feminism and political ‘commoning’ has generated a great number of local initiatives -
community gardens, solidarity economies, time banks, as well as attempts to create
‘accountability structures’ at the grassroots level to deal with abuses within the movement
without resorting to the police. Often these initiatives seemed to remain confined at the
local level and lack the power to link up to confront the status quo. The Occupy movements
show us that this need not be the case.
The Occupy movement is also a continuation of the student movement that has grown
throughout North America and internationally over the last decades in response to the
commercialization of education. The very concept of ‘occupation’ connects it with the
tactics that students adopted over last two years, from New York to Berkeley and beyond,
and especially in Europe. For all their contradictions, these student struggles expressed
the same need: not only to oppose the authorities but to produce moments of collective
experience and collective reproduction on different terms than the competitive logic of
neoliberal capitalism. It is significant that some of the young people who started Occupy
Wall Street (OWS) were City University of New York students who, in June of this year,
were involved in the creation of ‘Bloombergville,’ an around-the-clock encampment in front
of New York City Hall protesting the budget cuts planned by Mayor Bloomberg’s
I also cannot help thinking that the experience of the ‘tent cities’ set up by
homeless/evicted people over the last few years across America has contributed to
shaping the collective imagination. They also evoke the historic memory of the
Hoovervilles and the Bonus Army of the Great Depression, where thousands of out-of-work
families and veterans camped out, both to demand government action and to support their
own survival.
MH: Many people have criticized the Occupations for having a relatively narrow focus on
the crimes of finance, rather than the broader systems of power of which finance is just a
part. What do you make of the movement's general orientation?
SF: I do not think that this movement is exclusively concerned with the crimes of the
finance world. A visit to OWS or some of the other occupations spreading across the
country would demonstrate the great variety of issues discussed and the diversity of
organizing going on, as well as the diverse composition of this movement. Occupations are
becoming a point of convergence for all kinds of struggles: opposition to the war,
opposition to the prison system, support for healthcare and education reforms. A movement
of teachers and students to abolish student debt is presently being coordinated through the
occupations, at least in the United States. On November 21st an anti-student debt
movement was officially launched at OWS, its members pledging to refuse to pay back
their debts when the pledge reaches one million signatories [2]. The Occupy movement is
also developing an alternative to representative politics and becoming, in effect, a school
of direct democracy and self-government.
I must add that, in the present economic context, is it impossible to take on Wall Street’s
‘crimes’ without confronting the entire economic system at the basis of its abuses. As with
any other movements, there are different strands within the Occupations. Some
participants may be satisfied with just obtaining a more regulated banking system, or a
return to Keynesianism. But the economic crisis is bringing to light, in a dramatic way, the
fact that the capitalist class has nothing to offer to the majority of the population except
more misery, more destruction of the environment, and more war.
Occupations, in this context, are sites for the construction of a non-capitalist conception of
society and a coming together of the practices that, in recent years, have begun to
concretize this project. A sign of the broad scope of this movement and its capacity to
resonate beyond downtown Manhattan is that in Egypt the people of the squares have
recognized the commonality between their movement and that of OWS or Oakland.
As some have put it, the Occupy movement is the first worldwide anti-capitalist movement
to appear in a long time in the US. It is the first movement in this country to give expression
to the growing revolt against the present economic and political order, which is the reason
why it has spread so rapidly and has excited the collective imagination to such a degree.
MH: Where do you see the Occupations going? What will be critical for their success?
SF: There are already two encouraging developments under way. On one side, the
Occupations are organizing a network that is circulating experiences, information, forms of
mutual support, and articulating a perspective for the construction of nationwide and
worldwide mobilizations. There is now a plan to hold a general assembly on July 4, 2012
in Philadelphia that will be a test of the ‘constituent’ power of this movement, by which I
mean the ability of the movement to create new models of social cooperation.
I agree with Mike Davis, however, that the movement should not be too eager to produce
programmatic demands and should concentrate, instead, on making its presence more
visible, on reaching out to other communities, and on ‘reclaiming the commons.’ This is
beginning to happen with the migration of the occupations into the neighborhoods, which
is essential to reconstruct a social fabric that has been dismantled through years of
neoliberal restructuring and the gentrification and suburbanization of space.”
The most crucial test, however, will be whether the Occupy movement has the capacity to
address the divisions that have structured the history of this continent. Clearly, you cannot
have an egalitarian society without undoing the legacy of centuries of enslavement,
genocide, and imperial warfare that have left a deeply scarred and divided social body.
Confronting racism, colonialism and other forms of oppression and exploitation, both within
the movement and in broader society and its institutions, will have to be the centerpiece of
the drive for the production of a new “constitution,” whatever forms this may take.
A positive sign is that the composition of the movement is already quite diverse, although
the degree of diversity varies in different parts of the country. It has been a long time since
we've seen a movement bringing together students, nurses, veterans, radicals and trade
unionists with immigrant- and people of color-led grassroots community organizations. The
key questions will be whether this movement can be a bridge to the millions of
incarcerated in the US jails, or to the many more who cannot take their money out of the
banks because they have no bank accounts, and whether the movement's agenda can
include an end to the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and the policy of
MH: Is feminism critical for this movement, and how so?
SF: Feminism is still critical for this movement on several grounds, and I am encouraged
by the fact that many young women today identify themselves as feminists, despite a
tendency in past years to dismiss feminism as merely “identity politics.”
First, many of the issues that were at the origins of the women’s movement have not been
resolved. In some respects the position of women has worsened. Despite the fact that more
women have access to paid employment, the root causes of sexism are still in place. We
still have an unequal sexual division of labor, as reproductive work remains primarily a
woman’s responsibility, even when she works also outside the home, and reproductive
work is still devalued in this society. Though we are less dependent on individual men, we
are still subject to a patriarchal organization of work and social relations that degrades
women. In fact, we have seen a re-masculinization of society with the glorification of war
and the increasing militarization of everyday life. Statistics speak clearly: women have the
longest work-week and do most of the world’s unpaid labor, they are the bulk of the poor,
both in the US and around the world, and many are practically sterilized because they
cannot afford to have children. Meanwhile, male violence against women has intensified
rather than diminishing, not only at the individual level but also at the level of institutions: in
the US, for instance, the number of women in jail has increased fivefold since the ‘80s.
For all these reasons feminism is crucial for the Occupy movement. You certainly cannot
have a ‘sustainable’ movement if the unequal power relations between women and men
and male violence against women are not addressed.
I am also convinced that the Occupy movement has much to learn both from the egalitarian
vision of society that the feminist movement developed in its radical phase -- which was
also an inspiration for the queer and the ecological movements. Consensus-based
decision-making, the distrust of leaders (formal or charismatic) and the idea that you need
to prefigure the world you want to create through your actions and organization, these were
all developed by radical feminist movements. Most importantly, like the Civil Rights and
Black Power movements, the radical feminist movement began to address the question of
unequal power relations in the movement and in society by, for instance, creating
autonomous spaces in which women could articulate the problems specific to their
conditions. Feminism has also promoted an ethics of care and sisterhood and a respect for
animals and nature that is crucial for the Occupy movement and, I believe, has already
shaped its practice. I have been impressed by the tolerance and patience people
demonstrate to one another in the general assemblies, a great achievement in comparison
with the often truculent forms of behavior that were typical in the movements of the ‘60s.
MH: Where do you see feminism in this movement and what do you make of the gender
dynamics as you have observed and encountered them?
SF: I do not want to be unduly optimistic, but it seems to me that feminists are well
represented in this movement, though it would be naïve to imagine that this is sufficient to
eliminate sexism from it. As a recent article published in The Nation on this subject pointed
out, “women are everywhere”: they facilitate and speak in the general assemblies,
organize educational forums, make videos, run the information center, speak to the press,
and circulate information through scores of blogs on the net [3]. At OWS, before the
eviction, they created an all-women space, a tent “for women by women,” that functioned
as a safe autonomous zone. This is what I learned in my visits to OWS and from my online
reading about other occupations.
What is especially promising is the diversity of women who are active and present in the
occupations: this is a movement that brings together white women and women of color,
young women and women with white hair. I also see the influence of feminism in the fact
that this movement places its own reproduction at the center of its organizing. The lesson
of the feminist movement –which is that you cannot separate political militancy from the
reproduction of your everyday life, in fact you must often revolutionize your reproduction
relations in order to engage in the struggle—is now being applied on a broad scale,
including the creation of ongoing free food distribution, the organization of cleaning and
medical teams, and the activities of the working groups that are daily discussing not only
general principles and campaigns but all the issues concerning daily co-existence.
That OWS is no longer a standing camp, after its eviction from Liberty Square, does not
invalidate this point. Hundreds of occupations are now taking place all over the country
and around the world. The loss of the camp at Liberty Plaza in New York is only the start of
a new phase of the movement. Hopefully it will be a phase in which the building of
reproductive commons will take on a new meaning and dimension. Soon, in fact, the
movement must begin to pose the question of how to create a reproductive network outside
of the market, for instance connecting with the existing urban farming projects and other
elements of the solidarity economy.
MH: Since the 2008 financial crisis, we've heard a lot of attempts to understand and
critique the system, both from liberal critics and from Marxists and others on the Left. But
we haven't heard a lot of feminist explanations. What does a feminist critique of finance
capitalism look like?
SF: Finance capitalism is not different in nature from capitalism in general. The idea that
there is something more wholesome about production-based capitalism is an illusion we
must abandon. It ignores the fact that finance capitalism is also based on production and
unequal and exploitative class relations, although in a more circuitous way. A feminist
critique of financial capitalism, then, cannot be substantially different from a critique of
capitalism in every other form. Nevertheless, looking at finance capitalism from the
viewpoint of women, we can gain an insight into some of the ways in which our everyday
reproduction and the relation between women and capital have changed.
We see first that financial transactions—through credit cards, student loans, mortgages—
have become part of our everyday means of subsistence. Like male workers, many women
too have come to rely on them to make ends meet and satisfy their desires. This by itself
indicates that the world of finance is not a fictitious sphere of capitalist relations, but
reaches deeply into our day-to-day lives. It also indicates that, increasingly, women now
confront capital directly, rather than through the mediation of the male wage, as was the
case for women who worked exclusively in the home, or through the mediation of the state,
as was the case of women on welfare and other forms of social assistance. Indeed,
through the entanglement of finance capital in the working of our daily lives,
financialization has become one of the main grounds of confrontation between women and
capital, and this is an international phenomenon.
We see the same dynamics with the development of micro-credit in Africa, Latin America,
and parts of Asia. Micro-finance has become one of the main tools by which international
agencies have attempted to bring a whole population of women formerly engaged in
subsistence economies under the control of global monetary relations by encouraging
them to see themselves as market entrepreneurs and take out loans for small enterprises.
While these programs have been heavily promoted by investors, banks and “development”
professionals in the global North, they have proven one of the most contested policies
directed towards women worldwide, since far from ‘empowering’ women (as the rhetoric
goes) they are turning them into debtors and, in this way, transforming their daily micro-
reproductive/marketing activities into sources of value-creation and accumulation for
others. In some cases (e.g. in Bolivia in 2002) women have besieged the banks to protests
their debts and the extortionist policies banks and lenders have enforced. There have also
been cases of women who have hanged themselves because they could not pay back
their debts.
This situation shows that when we speak of a “financial crisis” we must be very careful not
to assume that we speak of one reality alone. For surely the massive indebtedness that
women have incurred both in the North and the South, through credit cards, loans or micro-
credit, is a financial crisis in itself!
As for the other financial crisis, the one that capital declared in 2008 and that continues to
this day, we can see that it is one more twist and turn in a process that has been unfolding
now for 35 years, starting in the mid 1970s, when I wrote my first paper on women and the
crisis. [4].
Since then, global capitalism has waged a continuous attack on people’s means of
subsistence, women’s in particular. This has been especially devastating for women in
Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The difference, today, is that the crisis has been unleashed
on populations that, by now, have nothing left, and the attack has also been extended to
relatively affluent people in Europe and North America. But its objectives, and the effects it
has on women, are predictable. Not surprisingly, the reports on this subject coming from
international institutions (like the United Nations) are increasingly formulaic. Once again,
we hear that “the conventional conceptual frameworks used to design macro-economic
policies are gender blind.” We hear of “the disproportionate burden women bear in the
financial crisis,” and the negative impact this will have on their access to education and
healthcare. We are told that the crisis “threatens women’s meager gains” and will lead to a
further expansion of women's unpaid and ‘informal’ labor. How many times have we heard
these laments, often from women (self-described feminists included) who are totally
complicit with the institutional system that is responsible for the policies that have caused
the crisis in the first place, over which now they shed crocodile tears?
Clearly employers and the state once again expect women to absorb the cost of the new
austerity programs that are being introduced and to compensate both for the cuts in social
services and for the increased costs of food, fuel and housing with extra labour, both in the
home and outside the home. This is what British Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Big
Society’ program is about: downloading the costs of reproduction from society and
government onto women – never mind demanding a greater share from corporations and
capital, despite the fact that they depend on that reproduction. The financial crisis is an
excuse to extend these policies. But if the Occupy movement is a sign of the response to
be expected to this new assault on our means of reproduction in the months to come, this
crisis may very well backfire.
MH: How can we improve inter-generational learning in our movements?
SF: In the ‘60s there was a saying that if you were over 30 you were already on the other
side. It never worked that way and the contribution of activists from the older generation
was always important for the movement. But activists today are certainly more open to
intergenerational learning. The question, however, is what kind of structures are necessary
for knowledge to be transmitted and for intergenerational cooperation, in both directions, to
be made possible.
Building archives and reproducing materials are all-important steps, but they are not
enough. I think activists today need to rethink the history of the movements of the ‘60s --
their contributions and limits, and the issues they left open -- in the same way as those
movements reconstructed the history of the labor movement and the old left of the pre-war
and post-war periods. I am thinking, for instance, of the feminist movement. Its history has
been so distorted by the media and by its subsumption within the United Nations that many
young women in recent years have dissociated themselves from it. But they are
discovering that they still face many of the same problems that led to the establishment of
‘women’s liberation.’ I am referring here not only to the fact that there is still evidence of
sexism within social movements, but that, in the best of cases, women today can achieve
some economic independence only at the cost of “becoming like men,” that is, at the cost of
accepting work regimes that make no space for other relations: children, friends, families,
and political activism. I have also heard, over and over, young women complaining of the
balancing act they must perform in a workplace that expects them to be both ‘feminine’ and
competent at the same time. Add to this that many of the achievements of the feminist
movement today are in jeopardy. For instance, Access to abortion is constantly being
attacked and reduced. In the US, several states are trying to pass laws which greatly
extend the government’s control over a women reproductive capacity, for instance making
it possible to charge pregnant women with murder for engaging in any activity that can be
construed as jeopardizing the foetus. Presently, about 50 women are jail under this charge.
Indeed, over the years, we have seen that no gains women have made can be taken for
granted. I am convinced that learning the history of the struggles of the past is crucial in this
context as they enable us to understand what forces we up against.
More generally, there is a great amount of knowledge that should be recuperated so that
younger activists do not repeat the same mistakes as those who have gone before them,
so that we can better understand what is new and specific about today’s struggles, and
also so we can learn to anticipate the strategies our rulers will deploy to try to defeat us.
That said, it is clear that the present Occupations are a great moment of intergenerational
exchange, and I am confident that, as the movement grows, younger activists will see the
need to re-appropriate the radical past, and that activists like myself from an older
generation will be able to celebrate what is new in this movement, rather trying to put new
wine into old bottles.
[4] “Wages For Housework and the Crisis” (February 1975) Presented at the Second
Wages For Housework International Conference, held in Toronto in 1975.
Interview by Max Haiven
Reclamations - Current Issue
Special Issue on Debt (August-September 2011)
The Student Loan Debt Abolition Movement in the United States (1)
George Caffentzis
Debt has had a crushing impact on the lives of those who must take student loans to
finance their university education in the US. For tuition fees that have been so notoriously
high in private universities now are rising in public universities so quickly they are far out-
pacing inflation. Average loan debt per student in the US has been much higher than in
Europe (with the exception of Sweden), though recent developments there would indicate
that this gap may soon no longer exist (Usher).
We should also take into account the fraudulent way in which the loans have been
administered by the banks and the vindictiveness with which those who have been unable
to pay back have been pursued by collection agents. The most frustrating aspect of student
loan debt being the legally toothless position the debtor is in, because government policy
has relentlessly vested all the bargaining power in the hands of the creditors.
But however agonizing the situation of the indebted, the debt is growing. As of September
2010 total student loan debt amounted to $850 billion, having just surpassed credit card
debt by about $20 billion for the first time. And it is rising at a catastrophic rate, e.g., by 25%
in 2009 to meet the rising cost of tuition and other college fees. Even the Great Recession
has not put an end to this financial explosion. On the contrary, while credit card debt has
leveled off, student borrowing has continued to grow to cover
the rising costs of living as well as the tuition fees, especially by unemployed workers who
are “going back to school” to get a “better,” or at least some, job in the future.
Logic, therefore, makes the remission and abolition of student loan debt a necessary
demand for the university student movement, especially in an era when the need for “an
educated work-force” has become an institutional axiom. However, student loan debt
abolition (for instance) was not a focus
or prominent issue in the student mobilization that peaked in the spring of 2010, especially
in California. This constitutes an impasse for the movement, since in meeting after meeting
it has become clear that refusing the blackmail of the debt and calling for abolition of tuition
fees are pivotal to every form of struggle on our campuses. Students holding three jobs to
repay (or avoid) loans or taking as
many credits they can fit in their schedules to reduce the budget cuts and the
commercialization of education nor can they engage in self-education and the creation of
“knowledge commons.”
In this contribution to the Edu-factory network’s discussion of debt I think beyond this
impasse, asking why an organized debt abolition movement does not exist in the US and
what needs to be done to assist its formation.
A first consideration is that the very conditions that would call for mass student protest
against indebtedness have so far contributed to preempt this possibility. Even before the
time to pay back is upon them, the debt has profound disciplining effect on students,
taylorizing their studies and
undermining the sociality / and politicization that has traditionally been one of the main
benefits of college life (Read).
An even more important consideration is the fact that student loans are constructed so that
students do not pay them back while they are students. Student loans are time bombs,
constructed to detonate when the debtor is away from the campus and the collectivity
college provides is left behind.
Once we recognize this we can also see that there is a hard-fought struggle around the
student loan debt throughout the US, but (a) it operates in a non-communal, micro-social,
serial way, mainly through default; (b) it is a struggle that involves subjects other than
students, taking off precisely once
students cease to be students, for only after they leave the campus do the debt collectors
show up at their doorsteps. In other words, while the visible student movement has not so
far made debt abolition its goal another movement with that goal has been growing to a
large extent underground. One former student after another is rejecting loan payments
through default, but they are not publicly announcing it. “For fiscal year 2008 the default
rate increased to 7.2 percent, compared with 6.7 percent in 2007 and 5.2 percent in 2006”
after a long period of decline from 1990, when it hit a peak of 22.4%, and 2003, when it hit
a trough of 4.5%. (NB: These somewhat misleading statistics are calculated according to
“cohort” years. For example, the 2007 cohort default rate is the proportion of federal loan
borrowers who began loan repayments between October 2006 and September 2007, and
who had defaulted on their loans by the end of September 2008. Therefore, they
dramatically underestimate the true default rate) (Lederman).
As typical of “invisible” movements, statistics fail us in drawing its proportions. We have no
estimate, for instance, of how many have been driven to suicide or how many have been
forced to go into exile due to
their student debts. Nor do we have a measure of the social impact of the growing de-
legitimation of the student debt machine. We can only speculate about the consequences
of disclosures concerning the collusion between the university administrations (especially
in the case of “for profit” institutions) and the banks, now commonly acknowledged in the
media as well as in congressional investigations. For sure, blogs and web-groups are
forming to share experiences and voice anger about student loan companies
like the biggest one, the Student Loan Marketing Association (nicknamed “Sallie Mae”). On
Google alone, there are about 9,000 entries under the rubric “Sallie Mae Sucks,” and
another 9,000 under “Fuck Sallie Mae.” Browsing through the chat rooms, with their
harrowing stories of wrecked lives and mounting frustration against the operations of Sallie
Mae, makes it clear that the potential for a debt abolition movement is high. So far,
however, most attempts that have been made to give an organizational form to this anger
have largely demanded the application of consumer protection norms to the management
of the debt.
A well-known example is ( that systematically compiles
testimonials on the subject, organized state-bystate, revealing in graphic detail the dread,
disgust, and humiliation
indebtedness generates. These testimonies also reveal why, despite their anger and
despair, debtors hesitate to join in an open debt abolition movement. As the founder of, Alan Michael Collinge, points out that there are many obstacles to such course of
action: Even now, the barriers to inciting meaningful political action at the grassroots level
are daunting. For one thing, facing large--often
insurmountable--student debt is a highly personal matter. Many debtors are too
embarrassed or humiliated even to tell their immediate family members and close friends
about their situation, let alone join in a grassroots effort challenging the injustice of student
lending laws.” (Collinge: 93)
The Kantian imperative that debts ought to be repaid cost what may is also weighing on
the minds of the debtors despite the fact that the conditions imposed by student loans
companies are often fraudulent and generally unfair. As mentioned, many of the
developing student debtor organizations
refuse to speak of “abolition.” What fuels their indignation is the arbitrariness and
arrogance of the creditors’ management of the debt, not the debt itself. As the “content
author” of the web-site writes:
Allow me to make one thing clear. This site is not for people who chose not to make their
payments. Choosing not to pay a debt is one’s own fault. Sallie Mae, like many companies,
makes mistakes.
I don’t fault them for that. What matters is how they resolve the problems. They did a
terrible job resolving the mistakes they made with my account, and I found out that I was far
from being the
only person suffering because of THEIR mistakes. I also found that they allegedly prey on
borrowers, trapping people into paying 2 to 3 times (sometimes significantly more) what
they borrowed.
There is simply no excuse for it. ( The very choice of the term
“Beef” in the title of the organization suggests a complaint or a private dispute, not a
demand or a public arraignment., one of the most publicized student loan protest organizations, also rejects both
individual or collective refusals to pay--witness what its founder writes of one of’s
members, Robert, whose $35,000 debt became $155,000 through the ploys of the financial
company which held his debt : “like most members, Robert absolutely agrees that
he should pay what he owes, but he simply cannot deal with a debt of this magnitude”
(Collinge: 19).
In other words, prominent anti-student loan debtors organizations re-affirm the principle of
the student debt. They believe that the safeguards and regulatory oversight that apply to
other consumer loans--mortgages, auto loans, and credit card charges--should be applied
to student loans as well, which presently is not the case because of the repeated
governmental actions taken to block this option.
*In 1998 Congress made the student loan “the only type of loan in US history non-
dischargeable in bankruptcy” (Collinge: 14). This means that presently even after filing for
bankruptcy and being
reduced to the status of a pauper, a debtor is still deemed responsible for payment on
student loans, cost what it may, perhaps even facing a charge of fraud and imprisonment, if
some politicians have their ways.
*In 1998 all statutes of limitations for the collection of student loan debt were eliminated.
*Since the beginning of the federal student loan program in 1965, the freedom to change
lenders in order to find better terms for a loan has been denied.
Once the commodity approach to education is accepted, the political strategy adopted
becomes predictable. According to Collinge, “it is imperative that standard consumer
protections be returned to student loans” (Collinge: 20). This means, for a start, that student
loans should be made dischargeable in bankruptcy, should have a statute of limitations
apply to them, and it should be possible to refinance them with other lenders. These are
the demands put forward by since its formation in 2005, supported in varying
degrees by a number of liberal politicians like Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Dick Durbin,
and Congressmen George Miller and Danny Davis (see the Acknowledgements section of
(Collinge: 151)).
Over the last five years this “consumer protection” strategy has produced significant
legislative results addressing some of the grievances listed above. These include the
passage of three major acts: The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007 (that halves the
interest rate on federally subsidized loans and cuts lender subsidies and collection fees
slightly), The Student Loan Sunshine Act of 2007 (that requires university officials to fully
disclose any special arrangements between them and lending companies),
and in 2010 The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) (described below).
For all these cautious legislative efforts however, and similar organizations have
not achieved any of their major objectives. If we add the return to power, as Speaker of the
House, of John Boehner, “by far the largest recipient of campaign contributions from
student loan interests” (like Sallie Mae) and their most aggressive watchdog, we can
conclude that the “consumer protection” approach to student debt has
reached its limit. Indeed, when Boehner speaks of repealing the Health Care Bill (whose
complete name is the “Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act”), he certainly
alludes also to the education rider-
SAFRA--hidden in it, as much as to the parts of the bill dealing with health care.
What then are the prospects for the struggle against student loan indebtedness?
Clearly a premise for the rise of an openly organized student loan debt abolition movement
is that the organized campus student movement and the student loan debtor movement off
the campuses meet. Indeed, they need each other and will be in crisis as long as they
remain separated. On the one side, the student movement activists cannot call for the
liberation of education without confronting the debt peonage waiting for them and their
fellows, and on the other, the student loan debtors movement must go beyond the limits of
its stalemated “consumer protection” approach. The sense that a limit has been reached in
this regard is indicated by the enormous interest generated in early 2009 by Robert
Applebaum’s Keynesian proposal, “Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy,”
where he called for the government to forgive government student loans and pay back to
banks and finance companies the outstanding private student loans (Applebaum).
The combination of an underground struggle involving millions of loan defaulters,
intensified by mass unemployment and cuts in social spending, and the exodus of
thousands of debtors fleeing the debt collectors hounding them, just as the campuses are
becoming again places of mass, open agitation, has set the stage for a student loan debt
abolition movement that Edu-factory network, for one, has been calling for.
It is the possibility of this encounter, I believe, that prompted Congress to pass SAFRA that
was signed into law by President Obama on March 30, 2010. George Miller, the archetypal
East San Francisco Bay liberal, surely had a sense of the political winds that were blowing
when he introduced the bill into Congress in July 2009, just as the occupations at the UC
campuses of Santa Cruz and Berkeley were being planned and a 32% tuition fee increase
was being discussed by UC’s regents. But he was certainly looking as well at the rates of
defaulting loans and what they expressed in political terms, for I could not otherwise
understand why its buffering attempt would take the form of a student loan debt reduction
bill, when the student movement on the campuses was not openly calling for it.
SAFRA is full of diversionary and ameliorating moves in the struggle between debtors and
creditors that attempt to cushion the impact of the Crisis on student debtors.
(i) it replaces the private institutions with the federal government as the creditor, by halting
loan-guarantees to the banks --a major source of interest revenue for the latter at no risk to
themselves. The billions of dollars that will be “saved” would be used to increase
scholarships for low-income students (Pell grants);
(ii) it provides for a reduction of debt payments, from 15% to 10% of discretionary income;
(iii) it provides for more debtor-friendly “forgiveness” conditions (viz., the debt would be
“forgiven” for those working in the “private” sector--if payments were made on time--in 20
years instead of the
previous 25 years, and in 10 years for those in “public service,” including teaching and the
These more favorable conditions are meant to forestall an increase in default rates--for if
the “crisis” continues and unemployment rates remain high, the student debt machine is
bound to collapse and will force a “bail out” of student loan debtors similar to Applebaum’s
“Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy” proposal. They are also meant to
prevent an escalation of student activism on the campuses and above all to keep the two
movements divided. Whether SAFRA will succeed in doing this is not something we can
foresee at this stage. We can, however, see some steps that appear necessary to build an
abolition movement besides the obvious one of bringing both movements together in a
national student loan abolition convention.
Building a student loan debt abolition movement also requires that we reframe the
question of the debt itself. A first step must be a political house cleaning to dispel the smell
of sanctity and rationality surrounding debt repayment regardless of the conditions in which
it has been contracted
and the ability of the debtor to do so. Most important, however, from the viewpoint of
building a movement is to redefine student loans and debts as involving wage and work
issues that go to the heart of the power relation between workers and capital. Student debt
does not arise from the sphere
of consumption (it is not like a credit card loan or even a mortgage). To treat student loans
as consumer loans (i.e., deferred payment in exchange for immediate consumption of a
desired commodity) is to misrepresent their content, making invisible their class dimension
and the potential allies in the struggle against them.
Student debt is a work issue in at least three ways:
(i). Schoolwork is work; it is the source of an enormous amount of new knowledge, wealth
and social creativity presumably benefiting “society” but in reality providing a source of
capital accumulation.
Thus, paying for education is, for students, paying twice, with their work and with the
money they provide.
(ii). A certificate, diploma, or degree of some sort is now being posed as indispensable
condition for obtaining employment. Thus the decision to take on a debt cannot be treated
as an individual choice similar to the choosing to buy a particular brand of soap. Paying for
one’s education then is a toll imposed on workers in exchange for the possibility, not even
the certainty, of employment. In this sense, it is a collective wage-cut.
(iii). Student debt is a work-discipline issue because it represents a way of mortgaging
many workers’ future, of deciding which jobs and wages they will seek and their ability to
resist exploitation and/or to
fight for better conditions (Williams). The overarching goal of capital with respect to student
loan debt is to shift the costs of socially necessary education to the workers themselves at
a time when a world market for cognitive labor-power is forming and a tremendous
competition is already developing between workers. Employers’ refusal to massively invest
in education in the US is not, in fact, a misreading of its class interests as theorists like
Michael Hardt maintain (Hardt). It is the result of a clear-cut assessment of the new
possibilities opened up by globalization, starting with the harvesting of educated brains as
well as muscles from every part of the world. Capital’s strategic use of student loan debts to
enforce a harsher work-discipline and to force workers to take on more of the cost of their
reproduction makes the struggle for debt abolition one that necessarily affects all workers.
Accepting student debt is accepting a class defeat, for it certainly marks a major set back
with respect to the 1970s when education was still largely financed by the state.
Certainly university teachers (like myself and many readers) and our unions and
associations must take an active role in the abolition of student loan debt. For we are on
the frontline, but in a compromised position, because we must “save the appearances” and
pretend that for the university, cultural
formation is of the essence, while we know that the student loan money is the source of
much of the university’s budget and that the future debt peonage of many of our students
“pays” our wages today (Federici). Just as, hopefully, most professors would object to be
paid by a university whose revenue was the product of slave labor, so too must we object
to having our students pay us at the cost of their post-graduation bondage.
Finally, debt in general is constructed to humiliate and isolate the debtor (Caffentzis). But
demands for its abolition can be unifying, because it is everybody’s condition in the
working class worldwide. Student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, medical debt:
across the world, for decades now, every cut in people’s wages and entitlements has been
made in the name of a “debt crisis” of one sort or another. Debt abolition, therefore, can be
the ground of political re-composition among workers. If this is the
path it takes with respect to student loan debt, the student movement in the US will
experience a decisive turning point and opening out to many allies beyond the campus.
Afterword: John Boehner’s Revenge: The Debt Ceiling Counter-attack on the
Student Movement
In the days leading up to the passing of the debt ceiling agreement in August 1, 2011
rumors were circulating in Washington and beyond that the whole government-subsidized
student loan program was a focus of the budget hawks’ annihilating gaze. In the end, the
rumors did their job of terrorizing the creatures in the field, making it easier to tack on two
fundamental changes in the federal government’s student loan program at the end of the
debt ceiling agreement:
First, graduate and professional students would have to begin paying interest on their
loans while they are still studying instead of, as in the past, six months after graduation. Up
until now, the Federal government has been paying the interest fees while the students
were still in their graduate or professional school programs. With the new legislation,
students can defer payment on the principal and interest charges until they graduate, but
then they must pay for the accrued interest during
their period of study on top of the principal and future interest charges. This change would
lead to approximately a “savings” of $18.1 billion over a decade.
Second, most of the “savings” (approximately $17 billion) from the above change in the
graduate and professional students’ loan program will be directed to an increase in the
number of Pell Grants which are meant for low-income undergraduate students.
I call these changes “John Boehner’s Revenge.” For, as the piece above indicates,
Speaker of the House Boehner is ‘“by far the largest recipient of campaign contributions
from student loan interests” (like Sallie Mae) and their most aggressive watchdog.’ He has
made it his business to restart
the process of privatizing the student loan industry after suffering a defeat in the passage of
the rider to the Health Care bill--the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA,
discussed above)-- which attacked the foundation of the private student loan sector by
taking away the Federal government’s guarantees of student loans issued by private
lenders. The student loan provisions in the debt ceiling agreement (to be found in Sections
501-504 of the agreement) provided a perfect place for Boehner
and his allies to divide the student movement and to slowly pull the plug on the federal
government’s dominance of the student loan world.
Sections 501-504 of the debt ceiling agreement clearly were intended to divide the
undergraduate from graduate and professional school students. This was done by
reducing funding going to graduate and professional students through eliminating the
Federal government’s payment of interest charges while these students are studying (and
presumably heading for high wage positions) and “transferring” these funds to
undergraduates from low-income families in the form of Pell Grants. The rhetoric of
monetary “transfer” is clearly a fiction, since a one dollar reduction in one part of the budget
does not “create” another dollar in another part. Congress could just as well have
increased the number of Pell Grants without changing graduate and professional school
students’ loan conditions. But the pairing of the defunding of graduate and professional
students and the increased funding of undergraduates was a
clever psychological move that made it difficult for the supporters of student rights to protest
the graduate student provision without appearing to be demanding a reduction in Pell
Grants. On the contrary, given the logic of austerity, the increase in Pell Grants has been
taken as a positive,
even progressive development.
Another consequence of this “transfer of funds” from paying interest on student loans to
providing outright grants is the reduction of the financial difference between government
loans and private loans. For if graduate and professional school students are obliged to
pay interest immediately on receiving a government loan, then one of the great advantages
of this kind of loan over private ones is erased. Indeed, a third legislative change (in
Section 503 of the debt ceiling agreement), though small, is also
indicative of the categorical shift we are witnessing. This provision eliminates the slight
reduction in interest rate on a student loan (.25%), if the loan installments are paid on-time
for one year. Again, though it might only lead to about a $3 billion “savings” (or payments
by debtors) over ten years, this change attacks the idea that Federal student loans of the
future will remain quite different from the loan one gets from a private financial institution. It
is as if John Boehner and his ilk are saying: “If the
government is not going to guarantee student loans from banks and other private sources
(a la SAFRA), then we are going to make government-backed student loans much less
What has happened between the passage of SAFRA in March 30, 2010 and of the student
loan provisions of the debt ceiling agreement in August 1, 2011 that made it possible for
John Boehner and his allies to exact their “sweet revenge” at low political cost? Of course,
there are many factors, but
in the case of the student loan provisions in particular it seems quite clear. The inability of
the student movement in the U.S. to continue the scale and pace of its mobilization
between these two dates has been not only evident to the participants but also to our
enemies. The John Boehners of the world are not blind to the movement’s difficulty in
launching major initiatives or in sustaining them when they arise (as in Wisconsin this
winter). They also have noted the divisions that have dogged the student
movement from Los Angeles to New York (some of these divisions have been chronicled in
Reclamations). These same John Boehners are also cognizant of the fact that the student
loan debtors have not organized to become a major public force in this period, even though
student loan debt
is now the largest category of individual debt in the U.S. The Boehners of the world are not
stupid; they study our movements carefully. On the basis of their accumulated knowledge
of our movements,
it is not surprising then that the debt ceiling debate would be the occasion for divisive
attacks on the student movement (and graduate and professional students in particular,
who have often been in the forefront of many organizing campaigns) and on the
government’s extended commitment to finance university studies in the future. What must
be surprising will be the response.
George Caffentzis is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine. He is
also a founding member of the Midnight Notes Collective.
Applebaum, Robert (2009). Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy. Accessed December 10, 2010.
Caffentzis, George (2007). Workers Against Debt Slavery and Torture: An Ancient Tale with
a Modern Moral. UE Newspaper (July).
Collinge, Alan Michael (2009). The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S.
History--and How We Can Fight Back. Boston: Beacon Press.
Federici, Silvia (2010). "Political Work with Women and as Women in the Present
Conditions: Interview with Silvia Federici." Maya Gonzalez and Caitlin Manning.
Reclamations. Issue 3 (December). Accessed on Dec. 10,
Hardt, Michael (2010). "US education and the Crisis." Liberation (Dec. 2).
Lederman, Doug (2009). "Economy Sinks, Default Rates Rise." Inside Higher Education.
September 15. Accessed December 10, 2010.
Read, Jason (2009). "University Experience: Neoliberalism Against the Commons." In
Towards a Global Autonomous University: Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge,
and Exodus from the Education Factory. Edited by the Edu-factory Collective. New York:
Usher, A. (2005). Global Debt Patterns: An International Comparison of Student Loan
Burdens and Repayment Conditions. Toronto, ON: Educational Policy Institute.
Williams, Jeffrey (2009). "The Pedagogy of Debt." In Towards a Global Autonomous
University: Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge, and Exodus from the Education
Factory. Edited by the Edu-factory Collective. New York: Autonomedia.
1. This article was written in the winter of 2010-11 and published on the Edu-factory
website, The Afterword, “John Boehner’s Revenge,” was written in
early September, 2011, for Reclamations.
From Occupation to “Occupy”: The Israelification
of American Domestic Security
New York - In October, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department turned parts of the
campus of the University of California in Berkeley into an urban battlefield. The occasion
was Urban Shield 2011, an annual SWAT team exposition organized to promote “mutual
response,” collaboration and competition between heavily militarized police strike forces
representing law enforcement departments across the United States and foreign nations.
At the time, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department was preparing for an imminent
confrontation with the nascent “Occupy” movement that had set up camp in downtown
Oakland, and would demonstrate the brunt of its repressive capacity against the
demonstrators a month later when it attacked the encampment with teargas and rubber
bullet rounds, leaving an Iraq war veteran in critical condition and dozens injured.
According to Police Magazine, a law enforcement trade publication, “Law enforcement
agencies responding to…Occupy protesters in northern California credit Urban Shield for
their effective teamwork.”
Training alongside the American police departments at Urban Shield was the Yamam, an
Israeli Border Police unit that claims to specialize in “counter-terror” operations but is better
known for its extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders and long record of
repression and abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Urban Shield also
featured a unit from the military of Bahrain, which had just crushed a largely non-violent
democratic uprising by opening fire on protest camps and arresting wounded
demonstrators when they attempted to enter hospitals. While the involvement of Bahraini
soldiers in the drills was a novel phenomenon, the presence of quasi-military Israeli police
– whose participation in Urban Shield was not reported anywhere in US media – reflected
a disturbing but all-too-common feature of the post-9/11 American security landscape.
The Israelification of America’s security apparatus, recently unleashed in full force against
the Occupy Wall Street Movement, has taken place at every level of law enforcement, and
in areas that have yet to be exposed. The phenomenon has been documented in bits and
pieces, through occasional news reports that typically highlight Israel’s national security
prowess without examining the problematic nature of working with a country accused of
grave human rights abuses. But it has never been the subject of a national discussion. And
collaboration between American and Israeli cops is just the tip of the iceberg.
Having been schooled in Israeli tactics perfected during a 63 year experience of
controlling, dispossessing, and occupying an indigenous population, local police forces
have adapted them to monitor Muslim and immigrant neighborhoods in US cities.
Meanwhile, former Israeli military officers have been hired to spearhead security
operations at American airports and suburban shopping malls, leading to a wave of
disturbing incidents of racial profiling, intimidation, and FBI interrogations of innocent,
unsuspecting people. The New York Police Department’s disclosure that it deployed
“counter-terror” measures against Occupy protesters encamped in downtown Manhattan’s
Zuccotti Park is just the latest example of the so-called War on Terror creeping into every
day life. Revelations like these have raised serious questions about the extent to which
Israeli-inspired tactics are being used to suppress the Occupy movement.
The process of Israelification began in the immediate wake of 9/11, when national panic
led federal and municipal law enforcement officials to beseech Israeli security honchos for
advice and training. America’s Israel lobby exploited the climate of hysteria, providing
thousands of top cops with all-expenses paid trips to Israel and stateside training sessions
with Israeli military and intelligence officials. By now, police chiefs of major American cities
who have not been on junkets to Israel are the exception.
“Israel is the Harvard of antiterrorism,” said former US Capitol Police Chief Terrance W.
Gainer, who now serves as the US Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. Cathy Lanier, the Chief of
the Washington DC Metropolitan Police, remarked, “No experience in my life has had more
of an impact on doing my job than going to Israel.” “One would say it is the front line,”
Barnett Jones, the police chief of Ann Arbor, Michigan, said of Israel. “We're in a global
Karen Greenberg, the director of Fordham School of Law’s Center on National Security
and a leading expert on terror and civil liberties, said the Israeli influence on American law
enforcement is so extensive it has bled into street-level police conduct. “After 9/11 we
reached out to the Israelis on many fronts and one of those fronts was torture,” Greenberg
told me. “The training in Iraq and Afghanistan on torture was Israeli training. There’s been a
huge downside to taking our cue from the Israelis and now we’re going to spread that into
the fabric of everyday American life? It’s counter-terrorism creep. And it’s exactly what you
could have predicted would have happened.”
Changing the way we do business
The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) is at the heart of American-Israeli
law enforcement collaboration. JINSA is a Jerusalem and Washington DC-based think
tank known for stridently neoconservative policy positions on Israel’s policy towards the
Palestinians and its brinkmanship with Iran. The group’s board of directors boasts a Who’s
Who of neocon ideologues. Two former JINSA advisors who have also consulted for Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, went on to serve in
the Department of Defense under President George W. Bush, playing influential roles in
the push to invade and occupy Iraq.
Through its Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP), JINSA claims to have arranged
Israeli-led training sessions for over 9000 American law enforcement officials at the
federal, state and municipal level. “The Israelis changed the way we do business
regarding homeland security in New Jersey,” Richard Fuentes, the NJ State Police
Superintendent, said after attending a 2004 JINSA-sponsored Israel trip and a subsequent
JINSA conference alongside 435 other law enforcement officers.
During a 2004 LEEP trip, JINSA brought 14 senior American law enforcement officials to
Israel to receive instruction from their counterparts. The Americans were trained in “how to
secure large venues, such as shopping malls, sporting events and concerts,” JINSA’s
website reported. Escorted by Brigadier General Simon Perry, an Israeli police attaché and
former Mossad official, the group toured the Israeli separation wall, now a mandatory stop
for American cops on junkets to Israel. “American officials learned about the mindset of a
suicide bomber and how to spot trouble signs,” according to JINSA. And they were
schooled in Israeli killing methods. “Although the police are typically told to aim for the
chest when shooting because it is the largest target, the Israelis are teaching [American]
officers to aim for a suspect's head so as not to detonate any explosives that might be
strapped to his torso,” the New York Times reported.
Cathy Lanier, now the Chief of Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, was
among the law enforcement officials junketed to Israel by JINSA. “I was with the bomb
units and the SWAT team and all of those high profile specialized [Israeli] units and I
learned a tremendous amount,” Lanier reflected. “I took 82 pages of notes while I was there
which I later brought back and used to formulate a lot of what I later used to create and
formulate the Homeland Security terrorism bureau in the DC Metropolitan Police
Some of the police chiefs who have taken part in JINSA’s LEEP program have done so
under the auspices of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a private non-
governmental group with close ties to the Department of Homeland Security. Chuck
Wexler, the executive director of PERF, was so enthusiastic about the program that by
2005 he had begun organizing trips to Israel sponsored by PERF, bringing numerous high-
level American police officials to receive instruction from their Israeli counterparts.
PERF gained notoriety when Wexler confirmed that his group coordinated police raids in
16 cities across America against “Occupy” protest encampments. As many as 40 cities
have sought PERF advice on suppressing the “Occupy” movement and other mass protest
activities. Wexler did not respond to my requests for an interview.
Lessons from Israel to Auschwitz
Besides JINSA, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has positioned itself as an important
liaison between American police forces and the Israeli security-intelligence apparatus.
Though the ADL promotes itself as a Jewish civil rights group, it has provoked controversy
by publishing a blacklist of organizations supporting Palestinian rights, and for
condemning a proposal to construct an Islamic community center in downtown New York,
several blocks from Ground Zero, on the basis that some opponents of the project were
entitled to “positions that others would characterize as irrational or bigoted.”
Through the ADL’s Advanced Training School course on Extremist and Terrorist Threats,
over 700 law enforcement personnel from 220 federal and local agencies including the FBI
and CIA have been trained by Israeli police and intelligence commanders. This year, the
ADL brought 15 high-level American police officials to Israel for instruction from the
country’s security apparatus. According to the ADL, over 115 federal, state and local law
enforcement executives have undergone ADL-organized training sessions in Israel since
the program began in 2003. “I can honestly say that the training offered by ADL is by far the
most useful and current training course I have ever attended,” Deputy Commissioner
Thomas Wright of the Philadelphia Police Department commented after completing an
ADL program this year. The ADL’s relationship with the Washington DC Police Department
is so cozy its members are invited to accompany DC cops on “ride along” patrols.
The ADL claims to have trained over 45,000 American law enforcement officials through its
Law Enforcement and Society program, which “draws on the history of the Holocaust to
provide law enforcement professionals with an increased understanding of…their role as
protectors of the Constitution,” the group’s website stated. All new FBI agents and
intelligence analysts are required to attend the ADL program, which is incorporated into
three FBI training programs. According to official FBI recruitment material, “all new special
agents must visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to see firsthand what can happen
when law enforcement fails to protect individuals.”
Fighting “crimeterror”
Among the most prominent Israeli government figure to have influenced the practices of
American law enforcement officials is Avi Dichter, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet
internal security service and current member of Knesset who recently introduced
legislation widely criticized as anti-democratic. During the Second Intifada, Dichter ordered
several bombings on densely populated Palestinian civilian areas, including one on the al-
Daraj neighborhood of Gaza that resulted in the death of 15 innocent people, including 8
children, and 150 injuries. “After each success, the only thought is, ‘Okay, who’s next?’”
Dichter said of the “targeted” assassinations he has ordered.
Despite his dubious human rights record and apparently dim view of democratic values, or
perhaps because of them, Dichter has been a key figure in fostering cooperation between
Israeli security forces and American law enforcement. In 2006, while Dichter was serving
at the time as Israel’s Minister of Public Security, he spoke in Boston, Massachusetts
before the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Seated
beside FBI Director Robert Mueller and then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, Dichter
told the 10,000 police officers in the crowd that there was an “intimate connection between
fighting criminals and fighting terrorists.” Dichter declared that American cops were actually
“fighting crimiterrorists.” The Jerusalem Post reported that Dichter was “greeted by a hail of
applause, as he was hugged by Mueller, who described Dichter as his mentor in anti-terror
A year after Dichter’s speech, he and then-Secretary of the Department of Homeland
Security Michael Chertoff signed a joint memorandum pledging security collaboration
between America and Israel on issues ranging from airport security to emergency
planning. In 2010, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano authorized a new joint
memorandum with Israeli Transport and Road Safety Minister Israel Katz shoring up
cooperation between the US Transportation Security Agency – the agency in charge of
day-to-day airport security – and Israel’s Security Department. The recent joint
memorandum also consolidated the presence of US Homeland Security law enforcement
personnel on Israeli soil. “The bond between the United States and Israel has never been
stronger,” Napolitano remarked at a recent summit of AIPAC, the leading outfit of America’s
Israel lobby, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The Demographic Unit
For the New York Police Department, collaboration with Israel’s security and intelligence
apparatus became a top priority after 9/11. Just months after the attacks on New York City,
the NYPD assigned a permanent, taxpayer-funded liaison officer to Tel Aviv. Under the
leadership of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, ties between the NYPD and Israel have
deepened by the day. Kelly embarked on his first trip to Israel in early 2009 to demonstrate
his support for Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip, a one-sided attack that left over
1400 Gaza residents dead in three weeks and led a United Nations fact-finding mission to
conclude that Israeli military and government officials had committed war crimes.
Kelly returned to Israel the following year to speak at the Herziliya Conference, an annual
gathering of neoconservative security and government officials who obsess over supposed
“demographic threats.” After Kelly appeared on stage, the Herziliya crowd was addressed
by the pro-Israel academic Martin Kramer, who claimed that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was
helping to reduce the numbers of “superfluous young men of fighting age.” Kramer added,
“If a state can’t control these young men, then someone else will.”
Back in New York, the NYPD set up a secret “Demographics Unit” designed to spy on and
monitor Muslim communities around the city. The unit was developed with input and
intensive involvement by the CIA, which still refuses to name the former Middle East
station chief it has posted in the senior ranks of the NYPD’s intelligence division. Since
2002, the NYPD has dispatched undercover agents known as “rakers” and “mosque
crawlers” into Pakistani-American bookstores and restaurants to gauge community anger
over US drone strikes inside Pakistan, and into Palestinian hookah bars and mosques to
search out signs of terror recruitment and clandestine funding. “If a raker noticed a
customer looking at radical literature, he might chat up the store owner and see what he
could learn,” the Associated Press reported. “The bookstore, or even the customer, might
get further scrutiny.”
The Israeli imprimatur on the NYPD’s Demographics Unit is unmistakable. As a former
police official told the Associated Press, the Demographics Unit has attempted to “map the
city’s human terrain” through a program “modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate
in the West Bank.”
Shop ‘til you’re stopped
At Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, security personnel target non-Jewish and non-
white passengers, especially Arabs, as a matter of policy. The most routinely harassed
passengers are Palestinian citizens of Israel, who must brace themselves for five-hour
interrogation sessions and strip searches before flying. Those singled out for extra
screening by Shin Bet officers are sent to what many Palestinians from Israel call the “Arab
room,” where they are subjected to humiliating questioning sessions (former White House
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala encountered such mistreatment
during a visit to Israel last year). Some Palestinians are forbidden from speaking to anyone
until takeoff, and may be menaced by Israeli flight attendants during the flight. In one
documented case, a six-month-old was awoken for a strip search by Israeli Shin Bet
personnel. Instances of discrimination against Arabs at Ben Gurion International are too
numerous to detail – several incidents occur each day – but a few of the more egregious
instances were outlined in a 2007 petition the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed
with the country’s Supreme Court.
Though the Israeli system of airline security contains dubious benefits and clearly
deleterious implications for civil liberties, it is quietly and rapidly migrating into major
American airports. Security personnel at Boston’s Logan International Airport have
undergone extensive training from Israeli intelligence personnel, learning to apply profiling
and behavioral assessment techniques against American citizens that were initially tested
on Palestinians. The new procedures began in August, when so-called Behavior Detection
Officers were placed in security queues at Logan’s heavily trafficked Terminal A. Though
the procedures have added to traveler stress while netting exactly zero terrorists, they are
likely to spread to other cities. “I would like to see a lot more profiling” in American airports,
said Yossi Sheffi, an Israeli-born risk analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Center for Transportation and Logistics.
Israeli techniques now dictate security procedures at the Mall of America, a gargantuan
shopping mall in Bloomington, Minnesota that has become a major tourist attraction. The
new methods took hold in 2005 when the mall hired a former Israeli army sergeant named
Mike Rozin to lead a special new security unit. Rozin, who once worked with a canine unit
at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, instructed his employees at the Mall of America to visually
profile every shopper, examining their expressions for suspicious signs. His security team
accosts and interrogates an average of 1200 shoppers a year, according to the Center for
Investigative Reporting.
One of the thousands who fell into Rozin’s dragnet was Najam Qureshi, a Pakistani-
American mall vendor whose father accidentally left his cell phone on a table in the mall
food court. A day after the incident, FBI agents appeared at Qureshi’s doorstep to ask if he
knew anyone seeking to harm the United States. An army veteran interrogated for two
hours by Rozin’s men for taking video inside the mall sobbed openly about his experience
to reporters. Meanwhile, another man, Emile Khalil, was visited by FBI agents after mall
security stopped him for taking photographs of the dazzling consumer haven.
“I think that the threat of terrorism in the United States is going to become an unfortunate
part of American life,” Rozin remarked to American Jewish World. And as long as the threat
persists in the public’s mind, Israeli securitocrats like Rozin will never have to worry about
the next paycheck.
“Occupy” meets the Occupation
When a riot squad from the New York Police Department destroyed and evicted the
“Occupy Wall Street” protest encampment at Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan,
department leadership drew on the anti-terror tactics they had refined since the 9/11
attacks. According to the New York Times, the NYPD deployed “counterterrorism
measures” to mobilize large numbers of cops for the lightning raid on Zuccotti. The use of
anti-terror techniques to suppress a civilian protest complemented harsh police measures
demonstrated across the country against the nationwide “Occupy” movement, from firing
tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into unarmed crowds to blasting demonstrators with
the LRAD sound cannon.
Given the amount of training the NYPD and so many other police forces have received
from Israel’s military-intelligence apparatus, and the profuse levels of gratitude American
police chiefs have expressed to their Israeli mentors, it is worth asking how much Israeli
instruction has influenced the way the police have attempted to suppress the Occupy
movement, and how much it will inform police repression of future upsurges of street
protest. But already, the Israelification of American law enforcement appears to have
intensified police hostility towards the civilian population, blurring the lines between
protesters, common criminals, and terrorists. As Dichter said, they are all just
“After 9/11 we had to react very quickly,” Greenberg remarked, “but now we’re in 2011 and
we’re not talking about people who want to fly planes into buildings. We’re talking about
young American citizens who feel that their birthright has been sold. If we’re using Israeli
style tactics on them and this stuff bleeds into the way we do business at large, were in big
This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.
NOVEMBER 30, 2011
Occupations and the Fulfillment of Human Need
The Vacancies of Capitalism
Throughout the first several weeks of Occupy Oakland’s existence the analysis and
discussion at the General Assembly and elsewhere has been about the need to
construct an entirely different social order. It is not so much that “the system is
broken” but that it is, and always has been, set up to deliberately benefit, a small
minority. The few social provisions that allowed many people in Oakland to survive
off of low or no wages have been cut, largely to maintain a police budget that
consumes 2/3rds of the city budget. Budget cuts to education and services, police
brutality, unemployment and housing foreclosures all serve to multiply the pain and
precariousness of a growing number of Oaklanders, displacing many more, including
25% of Oakland’s black population in the last 10 years. This reality is not unlike many
other cities and towns throughout the country and not entirely dissimilar to the
realities of most people throughout the world living through the last four decades of
neoliberal, free market capitalism.
The goal of this piece is to illustrate how the vacancies of capitalism, shuttered
homes, abandoned factories, closed schools, de-funded libraries and social programs
are a vacancy in two senses – and how Occupy Oakland, as well as cities and towns
throughout the Occupy movement, are attempting to fill them. First, they are an
obvious gap or a lack – a lack of jobs, housing, affordable healthy food, medical care,
etc. – that are either embodied in empty homes and factories or in emptiness inside
the residents of Oakland, whether a physical hunger from lack of food, or a
metaphorical hunger for a better world. Second, these vacancies are not just a lack,
they a political, social and economic opening within the existing social order that
capital and the State have ceded for the sake of short-term profit. The long history of
the failures of the existing order, and the current crisis we find ourselves in, are an
opportunity to fill the vacancies of a dying world while building a better one. We
have seen this all over the globe – Argentina, Greece, Egypt and elsewhere – when
the social order makes life impossible for a large number of people, and relatively
deprives another large group that is not accustomed to barely getting by, they self-
organize their communities while fighting for a just society that meets peoples’
needs. Oakland, and cities all over the US, have begun this process and are preparing
to take this next step – occupying these multiple vacancies.
The Power of Solidarity: Occupy Strikes Back
The vacancies of capitalism in Oakland overlap each other and effect different
communities in different ways. Undocumented day laborers from the Fruitvale face
different struggles than the 50% of black young adults who are unemployed and over-
policed in East Oakland. College students who contribute to rising rents that even
they can’t afford with their massive student loans in North Oakland are in a different
position than single mothers who can’t afford $1000 every month for childcare for
one child in West Oakland. The language of the 99% tends to lump people in a way
that erases relative class privilege as well as gender and race inequalities. While we
need to develop this conversation and what it means for our short-term and long-
term political work – we should also appreciate the fact that despite our differences
in lived experience, and unsympathetic media efforts to highlight them, a large
portion of Oakland’s population support the anti-capitalist goals of Occupy Oakland
for a radically different society. Our potential grows out of our own strength and
solidarity, but also out of the vacancies of capitalism – economically in its inability to
provide jobs or decent wages, and politically in its inability to learn from its past and
current crises by attempting to lessen peoples’ pain. Though this pain is not evenly
distributed among us, the key to its alleviation is collective action and solidarity.
Oakland is preparing for several major actions in the next two weeks. On November
, there will be a rally in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland in solidarity with
efforts in Arizona to shut down the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)
summit which constructs policies that criminalize communities of color, including
crafting SB 1070. On December 6
, Oakland will be participating in a nation-wide
day of action against foreclosures, helping to put evicted families back in their
homes. On the 12
, all of the ports on the West Coast will be shut down in solidarity
with longshoreman resisting scab labor on the docks in Longview, WA as well as
highly exploited independent truckers. Major banks have their hands in all of these
efforts to criminalize and exploit workers. These are not just fleeting days of actions,
but ongoing political work in Oakland and elsewhere, harnessing our collective social
power to transform the existing society through solidarity and collective action.
The System Isn’t Broken, the System Needs to be Broken
The housing and economic crises as well as social cuts do not exist in a vacuum, nor
are they particularly new. They are however being exacerbated by record levels of
racialized economic disparity. The distribution of resources in a society is an easy
way to evaluate not just economic inequality, but political power of various groups in
society as well as the values and morals of those who are in a position to decide the
allocation of those resources. Economic inequality nationally is at the highest level
ever recorded. 71.5 % of all wealth is controlled by the top 10%, with the 1%
controlling 34% by themselves. The racialized economic wealth gap shows an even
greater contrast, with median white wealth 20 times greater than black wealth and 18
times greater than Latinos. Our cities also visually illustrate this stark economic
disparity. Of all the cities in the entire world New York has the 9
highest level of
economic inequality. The Bay Area metro region has the 7
highest level of
inequality in the country.
This inequity is, and has been, compounded by political policies designed to shift
money away from the poor and working class and towards benefits for the rich and
State apparatuses of social control – with police, prisons, and foreign wars topping
the list. At the national level, the federal budget that spends almost half of its money
on the military also gave several billion dollars to the banks that recklessly created
this crisis – not so they can help people stay in their homes, but so they can buy
smaller banks in the aftermath of the crisis they created, deny people loans and
mortgage modifications, and (often literally) take our last dollars in bank fees, or
leave us to the predation of check-cashers and pay-day loans.
In Oakland the city budget gives the best overview of the priorities of those in power.
The police control 2/3rds of an indebted and shrinking budget, with social services
making up roughly 20% of city expenses – facing heavy budget cuts again this year.
School funding, which comes out of a separate budget, has been steadily de-funded,
compounded by the social costs of housing foreclosures (discussed below), leading to
5 school closures this year and the potential for a much higher number of school
closures next year. The politico-economic system works in mutually beneficial ways
for the rich and mutually detrimental ways for the rest of us – their splendor is our
pain. The Occupy movement in Oakland is addressing this through coordinated
direct action and solidarity, not through petitioning a system that is deliberately
designed to do exactly what it has been doing for decades.
Factories and Housing: From Usefulness to Speculation
Banks, other financial institutions and major corporate players in real estate have
thus far succeeded in making their crisis our crisis. The several billion dollars in
bailout money, and the billions more loaned out of the Federal Reserve, are only one
part of the story. Through a combination of international competition and waves of
deregulation in the last four decades, capitalism has permanently shifted to pursuing
profit through unstable forms of speculation. Noam Chomsky points out that in the
early 1970s 90% of global trade (market exchanges) were of real goods and services
(i.e. cars, food, teachers’ salaries) and 10% was speculation (i.e. hedge funds, stock
futures, etc.). Today 90% of trade is speculation and 10% is in real goods and
services. This means that our economic system is firmly rooted in real estate
speculation, complex financial instruments that the banks don’t even understand,
government, corporate and household debt, currency speculation, and various
insurance and bailout schemes to protect these corporate gamblers from risk.
US taxpayers are currently paying several billion dollars for bailouts on declining
wages from the most current crisis that began in 2008. To compound the situation
these same banks and assorted speculators have used this money to take advantage of
those most harmed in the crisis. As homeowners lose their houses due to predatory
loans or outright bank fraud, and renters get evicted because they either lost their
jobs or can’t pay continuously rising rents in cities like Oakland, the already bloated
vultures have swept in to flip foreclosed houses into gentrification pads and have
bought whole portions of neighborhoods in Oakland at rock-bottom prices,
speculating that the aforementioned gentrification will increase the value of their
investment in the coming years. This leaves a landscape of empty homes and
homeless families. This is modern primitive accumulation in US cities, where market
processes destroy peoples’ ability to get by with the intention of appropriating
resources – land, homes, city budget funds. Plainly, this is economic profit through
perpetuating social crisis. This process is not new, nor is it unique to Oakland.
The extent of this housing crisis in Oakland is acute, with 33% of homeowners behind
on their mortgages, as real estate developers like the Fitzgerald Group take
advantage of declining property values, in neighborhoods like West Oakland, to
speculate on future gentrification. California has the second highest foreclosure rate
in the US. In Oakland 1 in 241 homes were foreclosed on in just one month, this past
August, at a cost to the city of $20,000 in city services to evict each family. While the
costs to the City of Oakland to carry out these evictions, in a city with a population
below 400,000, has totaled $224 million, an additional $75 million has been lost in
property taxes. This $75 million is a rough estimate of the overall budget deficit of
the entire City of Oakland for this coming year. From 2008, Oakland property values
will have fallen by $12 billion by the end of 2012. The gutting of the tax base, will
further decimate what little is left of Oakland’s social services and the public schools,
forcing more families out, bringing in more privatization. This accumulation through
dispossession is a deliberate political policy designed to perpetuate a social crisis for
the potential economic enrichment of the few.
They Have Made Their Crisis Our Crisis; Now It’s Time to Make Our Crisis
The government, both locally and nationally, have met the crisis of capitalism and the
Occupy movement that has grown out of it with an extraordinary amount of hubris.
At the federal level, bank bailouts and corporate tax breaks, failure to provide
medical care to tens of millions of Americans, unending wars and continuous saber
rattling, school budget cuts, and continued criminalization of immigrants and
communities of color, demonstrate an overwhelming bipartisan commitment to the
unholy alliance of trickle-down economics and militarism, both outside and inside
the borders of the US. The federally coordinated raids on the Occupy movement in
recent weeks and perpetual rounds of police violence around the country mark a
conscious effort to suppress dissent with military tactics.
As the movement spreads deeper into communities of color facing eviction and police
profiling, to immigrant communities being criminalized and ruthlessly separated
from their families; to college students going into lifelong debt in exchange for a
steadily degraded quality of education and lack of job prospects; to rank and file
unionists tired of the boss and the business unions that have steadily compromised
their interests; to the much broader working class that scrapes by paying a second or
third mortgage or holding off grocery shopping for weeks to be able to pay rent while
working long hours or multiple jobs, as 36% of the workforce are excluded from full-
time employment – a growing number of people are seeing beyond the weak, racist
scapegoat arguments, empty nationalism and media distractions that have worked in
the past. There also exists a vibrant and viable movement pursuing a set of radical
social changes that are increasingly being seen, not only as desirable, but necessary.
By the time the State scrambles to make concessions it will be too late for them and
all of those they tirelessly represent.
When Your Politics Make Life Impossible, “The Politics of the Impossible”
Become Reality
The US is undergoing heightened neoliberal “restructuring” after decades of
subjecting the rest of the world to structural adjustment programs and free trade that
guts the public sector and social safety nets, and bleeds workers to subsidize
corporate profit from a number of angles. The response from around the world has
been militant resistance, the construction of democratic counter-institutions, and
revolution. As E.P. Thompson so eloquently described in “The Moral Economy of the
English Crowd in the 18
Century,” when they raise the price of bread people have
bread riots; this is as old as capitalism itself.
In Argentina when they closed factories, workers occupied them and now run them
collectively. When school budgets were cut in Mexico City, the students took over
the university. The Brazilian labor movement, along with masses of the urban poor,
have addressed poverty by winning control over city resources to provide
development, services and jobs to the poor through directly-democratic,
participatory budgeting. Elsewhere is Brazil, landless peasants have been occupying
the idle land of the rich in order to survive for decades. South Africans have steadily
fought privatization, South Koreans waged a massive General Strike when asked to
make sacrifices. Venezuela has taken control of their resources to fund free hospitals
and build decentralized democracy, amid US coup attempts. In Greece, anarchists
and other militants have responded to austerity with widespread ungovernability.
From Tunisia to London to Oakland, the people have rioted against the prevalent
violence reaped by the police on the poor and racialized. In Egypt a broad-based
movement led to the ouster of a neoliberal US-propped dictator through occupying
public space. When the police attacked them they burnt the police station to a crisp.
This movement didn’t start with Occupy Wall Street and it won’t end with a bunch of
camps getting raided or with pepper spray from lazy cops.
The dynamics that shape the conflict between the Occupy movement, workers and the
dispossessed on one side and the State and capital on the other are being made clear
as the struggle progresses. The coming together of various tensions is putting the
radical transformation of society on a realistic horizon. With protracted socio-
economic crisis and record inequality being facilitated by an unaccountable
government, forming the political ground upon which we stand, a growing anti-
capitalist consciousness, mass mobilizations, solidarity and self-organization are
beginning to coalesce as we march towards that horizon to build a new day.
Mike King is a PhD candidate at UC–Santa Cruz and East Bay activist. He can be
reached at mking(at)

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.
NOVEMBER 17, 2011
Repression Breeds Resistance
The Coming War on the Occupy
As I begin to write this, Occupy Oakland circulates in a by-now familiar pattern:
forced from the camp at the break of day, the occupiers reconvened as they have done
before on the steps of the Public Library. Later, they will attempt to close a repeating
circuit that stretches a short six blocks along 14
Street between City Hall and the
This circuit, moreover, is one which draws its familiarity not only from recent weeks,
but also from the early moments of what is a single cycle of struggle spanning years:
it was down 14
Street that Oakland Police pursued us during the first rebellion, on
January 7
of 2009, that greeted the murder of Oscar Grant. And it was in front of
the same Public Library that I crouched behind a bush as an armored personnel
carrier sped past, only to sprint off as heavily-clad militarized police-troops
dismounted to chase myself and others on foot.
It has become all too apparent that the Occupy Movement is under attack, and that
even my title is wholly insufficient: this war is not “coming,” this war has already
Breaching the Limits of Tolerance
Writing from the perspective of a previous cycle of struggle, the radical Frankfurt
School theorist Herbert Marcuse described the phenomenon of “repressive
tolerance,” in which an ostensibly liberating concept and practice becomes distorted
to suit the powerful and legitimate the status quo. According to the political theorist
Wendy Brown, the discourse of tolerance serves to mark the powerful as normal
while discrediting the “unruly” as somehow “deviant,” and thereby “legitimates the
most illiberal actions of the state.” In other words, the repression that comes is not a
distinct and corrupted form of tolerance, as for Marcuse, but instead embedded
within the idea itself.
This lesson is of paramount importance to the Occupy Movement, but so is its
opposite: even the most repressive of tolerance has its limits in the push-and-pull of
forces vying for control, and Marcuse’s arguable pessimism on this point must be
countered with the optimism of transgressing those limits.
This war began as most do, in the realm of hegemonic struggle where small shifts
signal coming offensives. But walking the fine line of counterintelligence and
counterinsurgency, the forces conspiring against the Occupy Movement have been
anything but subtle. In a crude and thinly-veiled information war, lies are tossed
about like the seeds they are, and the media duly parrots line put forth by police and
city alike. This “chatter” (to turn the language of the counterinsurgents against them)
begins to spread surreptitiously: that Occupy is unsanitary, now dangerously so, now
downright violent.
By the time San Francisco Chronicle was citing “anonymous police sources” about the
conditions of the camp (bearing in mind that the police were not even allowed into
the camp), it was clear to many that a raid was imminent. For the second raid this
morning, the warning was even clearer: another anonymous leak to the Chronicle,
and a leaked email to parents at a local school about an “overwhelming use of force.”
The script is strikingly similar across the map, from Oakland to Portland, Atlanta to
Philly: a Democratic mayor plays nice, claiming to represent “the 99%” and to
support the Occupation’s crusade against big business. But at some point, as the
chatter increases, the occupation goes badly wrong, becoming unacceptable and
violent, unrecognizable to the Middle America for which it claims to speak. A murder,
a suicide, a rape, and an overdose suddenly brim with political opportunity. With the
stage set, all that remains is for the guardians of good order to step in to defend the
common good.
The Students Step into the Fray
The Bay Area Occupy Movement received an unexpected shot in the arm last
Wednesday when students protesting the creeping increase in fees in the UC system
pitched a small number of tents on the grassy area in front of Sproul Hall. If Oakland
Mayor Jean Quan drastically miscalculated when she unleashed the police in late
October, the response by UCPD to this seemingly minor disturbance strays into the
realm of the Epic Fail. Deploying overwhelming force, UCPD could be seen on video
beating and spearing students with their batons, punching some in the face, and even
dragging English Professor Celeste Langan down by her hair. Langan would later
write about her experience, and another English Professor, Geoffrey O’Brien, was
also injured by police on the day.
Such repressive tactics and blatant disconnect between the second-rate cops of the
UCPD and the student body are nothing new. Amid the student upsurge of 2009, the
UCPD came under heavy scrutiny for its handling of a wave of building occupations,
and at least one lawsuit from a friend of mine whose fingers had been purposely
broken by a sadistic officer outside the Wheeler Hall occupation. At the height of the
repressive wave, I myself was one of many featured on the UCPD website in an openly
McCarthyite attempt to foster a snitch culture on campus (website visitors were
encouraged to send tips that would aid in identifying the dangerous student
organizers). The website was eventually removed through legal action.
But repression breeds resistance, as we well know. As I write this, the November 15
system-wide student strike is but a few hours away, and the mass participation of
students in the Occupy struggle promises, if they can successfully link with their
counterparts to the south, to offer a much needed injection of energy and numbers.
The Indestructible Oakland Commune
The days following the Oakland General Strike and port shutdown were dominated
by a debate that never should have been. Rather than crowing about an
unprecedented and unexpected chain of victories, in which Occupiers forced the city
to back down and re-took Oscar Grant Plaza only to then embark on a massive if not
truly General Strike, which saw up to 25,000 people swarm and shut down the Port
of Oakland, some within the metaphorical Occupy camp naively took the bait offered
by the city and the police, and amplified by the media. The press talking points went
something like this: an otherwise powerful day was sullied by the actions of a small
few who broke windows at a bank and assailed the Whole Foods in my old
While this iteration of the “nonviolence” debate was won on many fronts by those
promoting nuance and diversity of tactics, this was nevertheless a powerful foothold
for those seeking to oust the Occupation once again. Within a matter of days the
chatter had increased once again, City Council was almost unanimously urging its
removal, and the formerly remorseful Jean Quan, fresh from a visit to Scott Olson’s
bedside, was once again urging the Occupiers to vacate. Councilwoman Desley
Brooks, whose opportunism apparently knows no bounds, went from sleeping at the
occupation (or at least publicly emerging from a tent) to condemning the occupiers in
a matter of mere weeks. (Such stage-managed populism is something of a forte:
Brooks had previously unleashing her goons on myself and others for apparently
undermining her carefully crafted image of sympathy with the people.)
As City Council turned against the Occupiers, and as the City Administrator
threatened to go around the Mayor to approve a raid, Quan was apparently
disconnected and feigned impotence: as a leaked email from her husband put it, “she
does not set policy for the city… council does.” The very same Mayor who had
approved the devastatingly brutal raid a week prior finally signed on to allow the
same police, under the same police chief, with the same participating agencies, to
move in and clear the camp.
This was too much for some within the Quan administration to handle. At 2am,
Quan’s chief legal advisor Dan Siegel resigned via a twitter message. Siegel, who I am
proud to count as a friend and a comrade, and whose civil rights law firm has
tirelessly defended protestors in the past, has been for years fighting the struggle
within the Quan administration against all odds. He has chosen to take a principled
stand at exactly the right moment.
As Occupiers massed at the Public Library, only to march once again up 14
Street to
again seize Oscar Grant Plaza with no resistance from police, the same Plaza the
Mayor had just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to clear, it is clear that she has
been defeated once again, and decisively so. One wonders what could possibly be next
for Quan.
Occupy Philly’s “Wrong Turn”
On the opposite coast, the same script plays out. After initially expressing support for
Occupy Philly, and evidently fooling many Occupiers in the process, Mayor Nutter
was re-elected by a wide margin last Tuesday, freeing his hand for a radical change in
course. The previous week, the Radical Caucus of Occupy Philly had brought forth a
proposal to the General Assembly which simply stated that the Occupy camp would
not voluntarily leave in preparation for a scheduled construction project in Dilworth
Plaza, and would resist eviction. The proposal seemed to shock many who had been
lulled into the false sense of security that liberal tolerance provides, but after
extending discussion of a modified proposal for an entire week, a four-hour General
Assembly decided almost unanimously (150 to 3) to remain in Dilworth Plaza and
make preparations for nonviolent civil disobedience in the event of a raid.
Nutter’s first move came in a Sunday press conference, in which he announced his
intentions to the world in so many words. “Occupy Philly has changed,” he insisted,
and so to must the city’s relation with it change. Conditions had deteriorated, fire
codes had been violated, and communication, according to the Mayor, had been
unilaterally severed. The shadowy force behind this subtle and unwelcome change,
according to Nutter, was the Radical Caucus, a frightening group that had taken over
and is “bent on civil disobedience” (I only wonder why he didn’t follow suit with
other cities in referring to “violence”). If the central pretext for eviction in other
cities has been murder, suicide, and overdoses, in Philly it is rape: Nutter highlighted
a sexual assault at the camp as an indication of just how far the movement had fallen.
If the repetition of this same strategy, discredit then evict, across the country were
not enough to doubt the Mayor’s words, Occupy Philly itself was quick to respond. At
a counter-press conference yesterday, speaker after speaker dismantled Nutter’s
claim, piece by piece. The most shocking revelation came from the Women’s Caucus,
which was quick to highlight the opportunism and hypocrisy of focusing in on the
sexual assault as a pretext to attack the Occupation. As a representative of the
Women’s Caucus told the press, “We asked police for help with the eviction of a
sexual predator. The police said, ‘It’s not our problem. Get your men to handle it.’”
If anything, the Mayor’s slander has strengthened the resolve of those who will
defend the camp from eviction, and here’s to hoping it will open the eyes of some who
have claimed that the Mayor was on the side of the Occupation from day one. (The so-
called “Reasonable Solutions Committee,” which had spearheaded efforts to hand the
Plaza back to the city, appears to be beyond all limits of reason. Its members are now
both circulating a petition to repeal the GA’s decision to remain, deemed a “Petition
for the Logical” with characteristic condescension, while simultaneously betraying
the Occupation as a whole by unilaterally applying for alternative permits from the
The Politics of War
From the messy dialectic of the spreading Occupy Movement emerge some expected
developments. Solidarity develops among the occupiers, who draw strength from the
successes and rage from the repression of their comrades, learning crucial and
radicalizing lessons from both. Police and city administrators similarly close ranks
(sometimes together, sometimes against one another) gripped with the fear that their
power is splintering, that the movements have become ungovernable, that they are
slipping the yoke and refusing the straitjacket. A climate of mutual polarization,
radicalization, and warfare sets in.
But other unexpected dynamics surface as well, some of which play into the hands of
the Occupiers. As Occupations spread from Oakland to Berkeley, the sheer number of
available police becomes a question, as individual forces rely on mutual aid programs
for costly, large-scale eviction efforts. Word emerges that Oakland’s efforts to
remove the camp were sped-up due to the constraints imposed by the impending
student strike tomorrow. Here the fallout from the brutality of the first Oakland
eviction blows back on the police forces themselves: citing the excessive force in
Oakland, Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to block mutual aid assistance
between the Berkeley PD and UCPD.
And even those more than willing to participate in brutality have begun to demand
more booty and protection: in the run-up to the second Oakland eviction this
morning, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department demanded not only $1,000 per
officer per day, and the City of Alameda also demanded increased legal protection in
the case of a repeat of the brutality that left Iraq veteran Scott Olson critically injured
at the hands of an ACSD officer. This increasing legal scrutiny, financial strain, and
sheer numerical limitations bode well for the future of Bay Area occupations and
those across the nation.
I use the language of war consciously, not out of some desire for violent conclusion
but out of a recognition that violence is already there. As our Egyptian comrades
made clear in a statement in solidarity with Oakland, “It is not our desire to
participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose.” Despite the
asymmetrical nature of the war that confronts us, the implements are the same: few
can deny the shocking militarization of police departments in recent years, or that
this heavy weaponry has been all but openly deployed against the Occupiers. If
Clausewitz famously argued that war is politics by other means, a formulation which
Foucault slyly reversed, the practical reality of the Occupy Movement is that the two
are much more difficult to disentangle from one another. Every word from the mouth
of these Democratic Mayors, every leak whispered from a cop to a reporter is a
rubber bullet in potentia.
I use the language of war because we will not back down, and because as a result, the
war will be brought to us.
But more importantly, I speak of war because this is not a one-sided affair, and we
should not allow our opponents to strip us of our status as equals simply because we
do not respond in kind. Our power is nothing to scoff at, although it circulates in a
manner largely distinct from that which we oppose. Just two nights ago, Occupy
Portland swelled into the thousands to defend Chapman and Lownsdale squares,
facing down riot police, forcing their retreat, and winning the night in the most
absolute of terms. Last night, the plaza was cleared and campers removed, but traces
of such a stunning initial victory remain in the confidence and compromise of the
occupiers as they regroup and go once more into the breach.
And as I finish, I receive late word from Oakland that the occupiers have re-taken
Oscar Grant Plaza without more than a symbolic police presence, and even later word
of a massive crackdown of Zucotti Park in Lower Manhattan. Another skirmish lost,
another battle won, but the long war stretches out before us like an interminable
George Ciccariello-Maher is an exiled Oaklander who lives in Philadelphia and
teaches political theory at Drexel University. He can be reached at

communiqués, demands,
points of unity
Solidarity Letter from Cairo « Anti-Capital Projects
To all those in the United States currently occupying parks, squares and other spaces, your
comrades in Cairo are watching you in solidarity. Having received so much advice from
you about transitioning to democracy, we thought it’s our turn to pass on some advice.
Indeed, we are now in many ways involved in the same struggle. What most pundits call
“The Arab Spring” has its roots in the demonstrations, riots, strikes and occupations taking
place all around the world, its foundations lie in years-long struggles by people and
popular movements. The moment that we find ourselves in is nothing new, as we in Egypt
and others have been fighting against systems of repression, disenfranchisement and the
unchecked ravages of global capitalism (yes, we said it, capitalism): a System that has
made a world that is dangerous and cruel to its inhabitants. As the interests of government
increasingly cater to the interests and comforts of private, transnational capital, our cities
and homes have become progressively more abstract and violent places, subject to the
casual ravages of the next economic development or urban renewal scheme.
An entire generation across the globe has grown up realizing, rationally and emotionally,
that we have no future in the current order of things. Living under structural adjustment
policies and the supposed expertise of international organizations like the World Bank and
IMF, we watched as our resources, industries and public services were sold off and
dismantled as the “free market” pushed an addiction to foreign goods, to foreign food even.
The profits and benefits of those freed markets went elsewhere, while Egypt and other
countries in the South found their immiseration reinforced by a massive increase in police
repression and torture.
The current crisis in America and Western Europe has begun to bring this reality home to
you as well: that as things stand we will all work ourselves raw, our backs broken by
personal debt and public austerity. Not content with carving out the remnants of the public
sphere and the welfare state, capitalism and the austerity-state now even attack the private
realm and people’s right to decent dwelling as thousands of foreclosed-upon homeowners
find themselves both homeless and indebted to the banks who have forced them on to the
So we stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down the old but to experiment with
the new. We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that
they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same spaces of public
practice that have been commodified, privatized and locked into the hands of faceless
bureaucracy , real estate portfolios, and police ‘protection’. Hold on to these spaces,
nurture them, and let the boundaries of your occupations grow. After all, who built these
parks, these plazas, these buildings? Whose labor made them real and livable? Why
should it seem so natural that they should be withheld from us, policed and disciplined?
Reclaiming these spaces and managing them justly and collectively is proof enough of our
In our own occupations of Tahrir, we encountered people entering the Square every day in
tears because it was the first time they had walked through those streets and spaces
without being harassed by police; it is not just the ideas that are important, these spaces
are fundamental to the possibility of a new world. These are public spaces. Spaces for
gathering, leisure, meeting, and interacting – these spaces should be the reason we live in
cities. Where the state and the interests of owners have made them inaccessible, exclusive
or dangerous, it is up to us to make sure that they are safe, inclusive and just. We have and
must continue to open them to anyone that wants to build a better world, particularly for the
marginalized, excluded and for those groups who have suffered the worst .
What you do in these spaces is neither as grandiose and abstract nor as quotidian as “real
democracy”; the nascent forms of praxis and social engagement being made in the
occupations avoid the empty ideals and stale parliamentarianism that the term democracy
has come to represent. And so the occupations must continue, because there is no one left
to ask for reform. They must continue because we are creating what we can no longer wait
But the ideologies of property and propriety will manifest themselves again. Whether
through the overt opposition of property owners or municipalities to your encampments or
the more subtle attempts to control space through traffic regulations, anti-camping laws or
health and safety rules. There is a direct conflict between what we seek to make of our
cities and our spaces and what the law and the systems of policing standing behind it
would have us do.
We faced such direct and indirect violence , and continue to face it . Those who said that
the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors that police visited upon us,
nor did they see the resistance and even force that revolutionaries used against the police
to defend their tentative occupations and spaces: by the government’s own admission; 99
police stations were put to the torch, thousands of police cars were destroyed, and all of
the ruling party’s offices around Egypt were burned down. Barricades were erected,
officers were beaten back and pelted with rocks even as they fired tear gas and live
ammunition on us. But at the end of the day on the 28
of January they retreated, and we
had won our cities.
It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose.
If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will
surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted “peaceful” with
fetishizing nonviolence; if the state had given up immediately we would have been
overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other
option than to fight back. Had we laid down and allowed ourselves to be arrested, tortured,
and martyred to “make a point”, we would be no less bloodied, beaten and dead. Be
prepared to defend these things you have occupied, that you are building, because, after
everything else has been taken from us, these reclaimed spaces are so very precious.
By way of concluding then, our only real advice to you is to continue, keep going and do
not stop. Occupy more, find each other, build larger and larger networks and keep
discovering new ways to experiment with social life, consensus, and democracy. Discover
new ways to use these spaces, discover new ways to hold on to them and never give them
up again. Resist fiercely when you are under attack, but otherwise take pleasure in what
you are doing, let it be easy, fun even. We are all watching one another now, and from
Cairo we want to say that we are in solidarity with you, and we love you all for what you are
Comrades from Cairo.
of October, 2011.
You’re currently reading “Solidarity Letter from Cairo,” an entry on Anti-Capital Projects
October 24, 2011 / 1:58 pm
civic life, occupy everything
California prison hunger strikers propose '10 core demands'
for the national Occupy Wall Street Movement
December 6, 2011
Select Language
Powered by Translate
by Heshima Denham, Zaharibu Dorrough and Kambui Robinson
"The Constitution, then, illustrates the complexity of this American system: that it serves the interests of a
wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers to
build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers
against the Blacks, the Natives, the very poor Whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum
of coercion, a maximum of law ÷ all made palatable by this fanfare of patriotism and unity." ÷ Howard Zinn
Occupy Miami and the Miami Workers
Center occupy a Bank of America
branch. ÷ Photo: Miami Workers Center
Greetings, Brothers and Sisters. A firm,
warm and solid embrace of revolutionary
love is extended to you all. These words
by Brother Howard Zinn are particularly
relevant to the survival of the evolving
Occupy Wall Street Movement, as these
truths have been integral to the success
of populist organizing in the U.S.
historically and are central to the
proposal we're putting forward here.
Most of you, at this point, are familiar with
the NARN Collective Think Tank (NCTT)
from the many progressive programs and
ideas that have come out of this body
from both Pelican Bay SHU and here in Corcoran SHU, most recently our work in the Prisoner Hunger Strike
Solidarity Coalition. Like the Arab Spring, which is still rocking the Middle East, and our own struggle to
abolish indefinite confinement in sensory deprivation SHU torture units (see the five core demands from
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity), the Occupy Wall Street Movement expresses a fundamental rule of
materialist dialectics as they apply to social development ÷ i.e., the transformation of quantity into quality ÷
expressed eloquently by the Honorable Comrade George Lester Jackson some 40 years ago:
"(C)onsciousness is directly proportional to oppression.¨
"(C)onsciousness is directIy proportionaI to oppression." - HonorabIe
Comrade George Lester Jackson
The purpose of the NCTT primarily is to act as a clearinghouse for progressive and meaningful solutions to
the ills of society from our unique and scientific perspective. As we have followed and supported the Occupy
Wall Street Movement, discussing its great potential, analyzing its character, composition and socio-
economic motive force, predicting the inevitable violent reactionary response of the fascist state in defense
of its capitalist masters, the ruling 1 percent have never, nor will they ever, concede anything, surely not
substantive changes, without struggle which requires unity of purpose, broad-based organization, fluid
strategy and effective tactics.
Populist and progressive movements in this nation have succeeded or failed, lived or died, based on how
effectively they understood and adapted to this reality. We learned this in the epoch following the Civil War
as reconstruction gains were effectively repealed and Jim Crow law was introduced.
The populist movements that gave birth to the People Party, the power of organized labor and the Dorr
Rebellion learned this very hard lesson on the heels of the Haymarket Massacre. The Civil Rights Movement
taught us the necessity of broad-based organization and accurate agreement of the opposition's center of
gravity: their point of weakness. Only a few years later we learned not to underestimate the power of the
ruling 1 percent and insidiousness of its state tools when the Counter-Ìntelligence Program (Cointelpro)
dismantled the Black Liberation Movement, imprisoned many of us, and ushered in the world of individualistic
pursuits, greed, corruption, gross inequality and mass incarceration you all have now inherited.
As we watched the National (Ìnternational) Day of Action unfold and the days that have followed, witnessing
the predictable brutal response of the tools of the 1 percent as they beat young men and women bloody,
pepper sprayed and pummeled peaceful youth at UC Davis, destroyed the people's property across the
nation, and even peppersprayed and dragged away 68-year-old women and pregnant ladies alike, with great
effort we detached from our rage and analyzed the comments, ideas, and responses of various political
pundits, common people on the streets, agents of the state and our protestors themselves.
Three things immediately became obvious from that analysis: 1) The mass media and far too many of the
various pundits were in essence counting on the national Occupy movements to just peter out and fizzle
away. Ìt was this message that those who own these mass media outlets ÷ the 1 percent ÷ want to be
disseminated as broadly as possible to undermine mass support for the movement.
The mass media were counting on the nationaI Occupy movements to just
peter out and fizzIe away. It was this message that those who own these mass
media outIets - the 1 percent - want to be disseminated as broadIy as
possibIe to undermine mass support for the movement.
2) We, the 99 percent, have no intention of going anywhere until substantive change is realized, and though
most in this nation not involved directly in the occupations themselves agree with our ideas in opposition to
corporate greed and institutional inequality, there were no clearly articulated demands around which the
movement could organize the broader masses. 3) This lack of clearly articulated demands and coherent
strategic and tactical organization by the national Occupy Movement was undermining its intent, diluting its
potential, and degrading its motive force.
As you read this, consider where the
men who wrote it live: Here, in Corcoran
State Prison, labeled the "worst of the
worst," they've survived as long as
decades in solitary confinement in the
SHU (security housing unit), one of the
worst hell holes on earth. Out of despair
and unimaginable cruelty and brutality,
they forge hope for the beloved
community. These men were leaders in
the hunger strikes this summer and fall
that involved over 12,000 California
This state of affairs left unaddressed, as
in most every similar movement in the
U.S. historically, will lead to its isolation.
This cannot be allowed. The first step in
defeating an enemy as powerful, all-
encompassing and organized as the
ruling 1 percent is understanding the
nature of struggle and the basis of their
power. When you analyze opponents,
you must see beyond the superficial for the origins of that power, the point of vulnerability upon which it is
based. Striking this point of vulnerability will inflict disproportionate damage.
Ìt must be understood that substantive, radical, progressive social change is no different than warfare and
warfare is a form of power. Power systems, no matter their myriad manifestations, share the same basic
structures. The most visible thing about them is their appearance, what is seen and felt.
Great power systems first try to ignore challenges to them, to dismiss them. When this fails, they opt to crush
them. This is exactly what the Occupy Movement has experienced thus far. But all too often this outward
display is a deceptive fabrication, a manifestation of insecurity, since power dares not expose its
The key lies in determining what their point of vulnerability is, and to do so you must understand the
structure of the power system and the culture in which it operates. Ì began this discussion with a concise
analysis of just this point by Howard Zinn.
The real point of vulnerability in American democracy is the social and political support of its citizens.
Unfortunately, the key apparatus in influencing public opinion is the American mass media ÷ yet, ironically,
they are equally vulnerable to the power of the mass support of the people. The key factor thus far in failing
to harness this mass support is the lack of broad-based, articulable demands around which the uncommitted
people who may support our message but not our movement can be educated, organized and mobilized to
join the movement and transform not only the nature and structure of U.S. society, but the WORLD.
The key factor thus far in faiIing to harness the mass support of the peopIe is
the Iack of broad-based, articuIabIe demands around which the uncommitted
peopIe who may support our message but not our movement can be
educated, organized and mobiIized to join the movement and transform not
onIy the nature and structure of U.S. society, but the WORLD.
To that end the NCTT Corcoran SHU has made a comprehensive analysis of statements from participants of
all the national Occupy movements and some of those abroad and compiled these ideas into 10 core
demands of the Occupy Wall Street Movement national coalition. We call on you brothers and sisters to
disseminate these 10 core demands to all the Occupy movements across the nation and the world, and we
call on all the Occupy movements to convene a national forum ÷ which can take place online or at a national
convention ÷ to discuss the adoption of these 10 core demands as the definitive goals and organizing points
around which the movement is based and the next level of our struggle is to be waged. These 10 core
demands can be modified, augmented or amended to take into account the broadest cross-section of the 99
percent possible and the collective will of the movement:
The 10 Core Demands of the Occupy WaII Street Movement NationaI CoaIition
1. We want fuII empIoyment with a Iiving wage for aII peopIe who wiII work, and for empIoyment to
be enforced as the right which it is. The U.S. Declaration of Ìndependence states in part "that all men .
are endowed . with certain inalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of
Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers
from the consent of the governed.¨ "Life¨ is thus a right guaranteed by this nation and the means to live ÷
work, making a living wage for all of those who will and can work ÷ must be equally guaranteed as the right
which it is ÷ as must a guaranteed income for those who can't work. This is the responsibility of the federal
government. Ìf the corporate U.S. businessmen will not provide full employment even as they sit on trillions of
dollars in cash reserves fleeced from the surplus value of labor, then the means of production should be
taken from them and placed in the community so the 99 percent of the people can organize and employ all
the people, ensuring a quality standard of life for all.
2. We want an end to institutionaI racism and race- and cIass-based disparities in access to, and
quaIity of, Iabor, education, heaIth care, criminaI defense, poIiticaI empowerment, technoIogy and
heaIthy food. We recognize institutional racism ÷ the U.S. race caste system ÷ and systemic class
disparities in the U.S. capitalist structure as not simply an obstacle to equitable educational opportunities,
labor access, wage equality, proportionate rates of chronic disease management, access to quality and
preventable health care services, non-predatory community policing, equitable treatment of criminal
offenders, access to the political process for all, access to communications technology, the internet and
fresh, unprocessed foods but as structural features of U.S. market capitalism primarily designed to prevent
broad class cooperation between the 99 percent from various racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We
will no longer allow this divide and rule arrangement to govern the socio-economic relationships upon which
the nature and structure of U.S. society is based.
3. We want decent and affordabIe housing for aII peopIe and for it to be enforced as the right
which it is. We recognize that housing, like living wage employment, is a fundamental necessity of life and
as such a right that we have invested this government with securing on our behalf. Ìnstead, government has
consistently sided with those on Wall Street, who are responsible for the single greatest loss of housing in
the nation's history, while federal, state and local officials have in essence criminalized homelessness and
chronic poverty and made a practice of attacking, destroying the property of and displacing the homeless
wherever they've tried to erect shelters in this locked, anti-poor society. Since it was corporate greed,
government deregulation and financial speculators that led to the creation of exotic financial instruments like
credit default swaps and sub-prime loan bundles which fleeced the 99 percent of much of their wealth and
home equity, the government should mandate a "cost of living¨ readjustment to home equity debt on all U.S.
homes so what the people owe actually reflects what these properties are now worth. This would eliminate
"underwater¨ homeowners and bail out the 99 percent of the people for a change. Simultaneously, vacated
and empty federal housing authority properties (FHA) should be made into cooperatives so that our
communities, with government aid, can create and build decent housing for all.
4. We want affordabIe and equaI access to higher education for aII and access to education that
teaches the true history of coIoniaIism, chatteI sIavery, repression of organized Iabor, the use of
poIice repression and imprisonment as tooIs of capitaIist expIoitation, and the perpetuation of
imperiaIism in the deveIopment and maintenance of modern U.S. power systems and corporate
financiaI markets. As current trends in the national unemployment rate indicate ÷ for the 99 percent
nationally, the rate is 14 percent for Latinos, 17 percent for New Afrikans (Blacks), yet only 4 percent for
those with a college degree ÷ higher education has a direct correlation to socio-economic opportunity and
prosperity. Since equal opportunity is a fundamental right of U.S. citizenship, the 99 percent should have
equal access to higher education without speculative corporate profiteering in industries related to higher
education driving up tuition costs and student loan interest rates to usurious levels, leaving most in perpetual
debt and simply pricing the very prospect of higher education out of reach for those in communities of color
and the poor.
This is a Corcoran SHU cell. Notice
how cramped it is with two guards
inside. Ìmagine living here for
months and years and decades,
with no privacy and the lights on 24
hours a day.
There should be a universal higher
education system open to all based
on their capacity to pay with tuitions
set at that capacity level, while not
barring anyone for an inability to
pay. Simultaneously, the usurious
debt incurred by students who
clearly have no capacity to pay at a
sustainable rate should have those
debts forgiven in full. Our public
education system should give all
our people a knowledge of the true nature and structure of U.S. capitalist society and its legacy of injustice,
genocide, exploitation, intentional underdevelopment, unjustifiable wars of imperialist aggression to secure
new markets, resources and spheres of influence, bloody conquest, ecological mismanagement, slavery and
murder in service to the development and maintenance of the molding of greed that is the 1 percent ruling
5. We want an immediate end to poIice brutaIity and the murder of oppressed peopIe in the U.S.,
particuIarIy in the New Afrikan (BIack), Latino, immigrant and undercIass communities and among
those protesting in this nation. We recognize the police and other state paramilitary agencies ÷ sheriffs,
FBÌ, correctional guards etc. ÷ are, and have always been, the enforcement army of the ruling 1 percent.
This was again proven when these fascist forces moved nationally, en masse, to attack, pepper spray, beat,
destroy the property of, arrest and attempt to crush the national Occupy Movement and its supporters at the
two-month anniversary of the worldwide action and every day since. We recognize such brutal and
unwarranted treatment is the daily existence of New Afrikan (Black), Latino, immigrant and underclass
communities and people in this nation now, and historically, all to ensure the 1 percent "keeps us in our
place,¨ the unfortunate victims of the race/class arrangement.
We recognize the poIice and other state paramiIitary agencies - sheriffs, FBI,
correctionaI guards etc. - are, and have aIways been, the enforcement army
of the ruIing 1 percent.
Self-defense is a human right and both the action and means are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and
state laws (see the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and California Penal Code Section 50). We
believe community organized oversight and self-defense forces should be organized to monitor and record
all police interactions with the people and defend them against ruling class directed and racist attacks when
necessity dictates. The hypocrisy of the government and media is exposed as they criticize Syria, China and
Ìran for attacking peaceful protestors while they do the same across the U.S. daily. We will suffer no more
attacks like those at UC Davis, no more Scott Olsens, Fly Benzos or Oscar Grants to be injured or killed at
the hands of the tools of the 1 percent.
The hypocrisy of the government and media is exposed as they criticize
Syria, China and Iran for attacking peacefuI protestors whiIe they do the same
across the U.S. daiIy. We wiII suffer no more attacks Iike those at UC Davis, no
more Scott OIsens, FIy Benzos or Oscar Grants to be injured or kiIIed at the
hands of the tooIs of the 1 percent.
6. We want an end to the expansion of the prison industriaI compIex, as a profit base - from our
tax doIIars - for the disposaI of surpIus Iabor and the poor. We want an end to the use of indefinite
solitary confinement torture units in the U.S. as they are inhumane and illegal. The mass incarceration of
people of color and the poor will no longer be tolerated as an acceptable alternative to enforcing socio-
economic equality in America. The disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege and opportunity in a
society is the origin of all crime. The U.S. has one of the greatest disparities between haves and have nots
on earth. As a result, the U.S. has the largest prison population on the planet with some 2.7 million of our
citizens in prison, 67 percent of them New Afrikans (Black) or Latinos, though they constitute only 26 percent
of the nation's population.
The prison population in the U.S. has exploded some 60 percent since 1981, with state and federal prison
budgets in excess of 100 percent of billions of our tax dollars a year lining the pockets of corporate interests
that build, supply and maintain these prisons, jails, courts and staff, not to mention the labor aristocrats like
the CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association) guards union, who've created a socio-
economic and political power base that guarantees their job security and ever increasing salaries and
benefits, while maintaining a lobbying stranglehold on state politicians. We recognize, in the face of such a
corrupt cabal of government and business, the purpose of imprisonment in the U.S. now has little to do with
public safety and rehabilitation and more to do with the development of a self-perpetuating, poverty-fueled,
recession-proof industry and an accompanying socio-political accommodating labor aristocracy of prison
guards, cops and staff as a support base for the interests of the ruling 1 percent.
Prison is a socially hostile microcosm of society's contradictions, possessing the same race/class and
state/class contradictions that currently define the socio-economic inequality that is capitalist Amerika.
Prisons serve as warehouses for surplus labor, the poor and those who have been forced to the bottom rung
of society. Ìt is the systemic race/class disparities, intentional criminalization and underdevelopment of poor
communities and social apathy which have forced most offenders into the underground economy as the only
viable option to survive. This is unacceptable and unsustainable, equally repugnant, fundamentally
inhumane, and illegal as the continued gross violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture ÷ to which the
U.S. is a signatory and we agree is the law of the land ÷ which prohibits long-term solitary confinement for
extracting information, political views or as punishment for any reason ÷ which is the very purpose of SHU
units ÷ as torture, but it is being practiced in numerous U.S. prisons with government approval. The
continued indefinite confinement of human beings in SHUs, SMUs and other supermax torture units must be
abolished in the U.S., as they violate the basic tenets of human rights this nation has sworn to uphold. The
basis of true rehabilitation, such as tech and computer-based vocational programs, access to higher
education for prisoners and community-based parole boards must become the new order of the day. This is
the only way to guarantee true justice in an unjust social arrangement and see our imprisoned citizens are
capable of making a meaningful contribution to our society and prosperity.
The disproportionate distribution of weaIth, priviIege and opportunity in a
society is the origin of aII crime. The U.S. has one of the greatest disparities
between haves and have nots on earth.
7. We want an end to aII corporate and financiaI infIuences in the poIiticaI process in the U.S. We
recognize, since its inception, the nature and structure of U.S. society has been one of the rich, for the rich
and by the rich, in which the 99 percent have served as a source of exploited labor and a consumer market
for the goods and services of those who own the means of production. This pattern of usurpations has
evolved into a political process in which public policies and elected officials are more often than not
determined by lobbying dollars, manipulation of public opinion by corporate-controlled mass media, and the
overwhelming influence of financial markets and industries on policies and policymakers, effectively
marginalizing the people, their interests and their will, reducing them to pawns in a game of corporate
pandering. This will stop now. The U.S. will finally become a nation of the people, for the people and by the
people, where only individual citizens may have any influence in the nature and structure of the democratic
process in the U.S. This means banning all lobbyists, donors, financial market proxies, strategic advisers and
special interest groups from local, state and federal electoral and legislative processes in the U.S. We are
sick of this "legalized¨ corruption.
8. We want an end to imperiaIist wars of aggression and sending our youth off to kiII and die to
enforce the economic interests of big oiI and other corporate concerns seeking new resources
to expIoit, new markets to open for saIe of their goods and services and as an impetus to keep
from addressing domestic iIIs. We recognize, as Bolton Hall said, "Ìf there is a war, you will furnish the
corpses and the taxes and others will get this glory. Speculators will make money out of it, that is, out of you
(us).¨ Thousands of our young men and women died in Ìraq and across the Middle East and caused the
deaths, either intentionally or unintentionally, of many thousands more Third World people, all based on the
lies of greedy and bloodthirsty politicians with multiple ties to big oil and corporate interests. The current
administration has only slightly modified this same imperialist tendency by shifting it to a more palatable
target at the cost of billions of our tax dollars and thousands of our youth that could have been contributing
to the prosperity of the nation and its people. We support our young men and women, but we do not support
9. We want a bottoms-up approach to economic deveIopment and Iabor-capitaI reIations in the
U.S. This nation is empowered by "we the people,¨ the 99 percent, to secure our rights to life, liberty, and
prosperity; yet we recognize the state has aligned itself so intimately for so long with the exclusive interest of
the ruling 1 percent that it has become enamored exclusively to a top-down approach to socio-economic and
political solutions which always favors the rich first and everyone else when or if possible. This has resulted
in a 281 percent increase in the growth of wealth in the top 1 percent of this nation, while the bottom 90
percent have seen their incomes flat over the past 20 years. We recognize that this fascist alliance between
corporate capital and government has become obstructive to the ends of securing the rights of life and
prosperity to the 99 percent of this nation's people and will now come to an end. Socio-economic and
political policy must now uplift the quality of life from the bottom rung up ÷ empowering the disenfranchised,
providing opportunities for those with no options and directing bailouts and subsidies to the people, not
banks and billionaires. We recognize the state has thus far been a tool to guarantee the dominance of one
class over others, of the 1 percent over the 99 percent, and that arrangement will now come to an end.
Socio-economic and poIiticaI poIicy must now upIift the quaIity of Iife from the
bottom rung up - empowering the disenfranchised, providing opportunities
for those with no options and directing baiIouts and subsidies to the peopIe,
not banks and biIIionaires.
10. We want a more equitabIe distribution of weaIth, justice and opportunity at every IeveI of
society, refIecting the objective reaIity that it's the socio-economic, poIiticaI, inteIIectuaI and
cuIturaI contributions of the 99 percent upon which this society stands. We recognize that there is
enough food in this nation that no one need be hungry, enough unoccupied structures in this nation that no
one need be homeless, enough educators, institutions, knowledge and technology in this nation that no one
need be without a degree or skilled trade, enough work to be done that no one needs to be without a job;
and it is only due to the insistence of an entrenched, super-rich 1 percent and their stranglehold on every
institution and apparatus of this nation's infrastructure from the government to the mass media that their
opulence and privilege be maintained at the expense of the 99 percent. We recognize that this is not our
national reality, the ruling class has mismanaged our society ÷ woefully and criminally mismanaged ÷ and
those in power at every level are either unable or unwilling to change the nature and structure of capitalist
society. So it falls to us, the 99 percent, to forge a new basis upon which socio-economic relationships will be
based, ushering in a new social order in Amerika and around the world, that serves the interests of all the
people and not simply the privileged few.
For an hour a few times a week,
prisoners in the Corcoran SHU are
allowed to "exercise" in these yard
Ìt is our request that all of you
please send a copy of this proposal
to each individual Occupy
Movement coalition, which includes
but is not limited to Occupy Wall
Street (New York City), Occupy
Oakland, Occupy NOLA (New
Orleans), Occupy San Francisco,
Occupy Boston, Occupy L.A. (Los
Angeles), Occupy Seattle, Occupy
UC Davis, Occupy Phoenix, Occupy
Fresno, Occupy Cleveland, Occupy
Chicago et al. Post a copy of this
proposal online at as many sites for the Occupy movement as possible. Post it on Facebook, blog sites and
wherever social commentary is held.
Ìn addition, we call on each individual Occupy Movement to begin organizing in and with the underclass
communities in your city or town and for all my brothers and sisters in the ghettos, projects, barrios and
trailer parks across this nation to begin organizing with Occupy Movement coalition reps around collective
programs that can serve to begin realizing these 10 core demands by our unity and contributions alone. The
NCTT, both here in Corcoran SHU and Pelican Bay SHU are committed to making meaningful contributions to
the development of such community action programs, which we will outline in our next communication.
We caII on each individuaI Occupy Movement to begin organizing in and with
the undercIass communities in your city or town and for aII my brothers and
sisters in the ghettos, projects, barrios and traiIer parks across this nation to
begin organizing with Occupy Movement coaIition reps around coIIective
programs that can serve to begin reaIizing these 10 core demands by our
unity and contributions aIone.
But what must be understood is social movements of this nature are supported only to the degree that their
ideas find resonance in the psychological structures of the masses, but even this is not enough. To ensure
the realization of any substantive change in the nature and structure of U.S. capitalist society and to prevent
this movement from being isolated and neutralized by the forces of repression, it must be firmly embedded in
as broad a cross-section of this population as possible.
There are some 47 million people in Amerika living below the poverty line, another 150 million or so barely
getting by ÷ two thirds of this nation's population, all of them part of the 99 percent. Ìt is here that we will find
our most lasting support, and thus it is here that you must begin forging meaningful ties. These are
overwhelmingly New Afrikan (Black), Latino, immigrant and poor communities.
You champion us all with your ideas and the courage of your convictions, just as we continue to support you
with our sacrifices and insight. Ìt is now time to take the movement to its next evolution and ultimately to its
inevitable conclusion: victorious revolutionary change.
Your greatest power lies in your unity and cooperation and ultimately your organizational ability. The power
of the people far surpasses all the repressive violence of the Babylons attacking you/us or the wealth of the
1 percent, who will stop at nothing to silence us all.
The power of the peopIe far surpasses aII the repressive vioIence of the
BabyIons attacking you/us or the weaIth of the 1 percent, who wiII stop at
nothing to siIence us aII.
This is a protracted struggle; there will be no 90-day revolution here. Victory will require sacrifice, tenacity
and competent strategic insight. The question you must ask is, Are you prepared to do what is necessary to
win this struggle? Ìf you answer in the affirmative, commit to victory and accept no other alternative. The
people, as we are, are with you. Until we win or don't lose, our love and solidarity to all those who love
freedom and fear only failures.
Send our brothers some love and light: Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, CSP-COR-SHU 4B1L-53, P.O. Box
3481, Corcoran, CA 93212; J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, CSP-COR-SHU 4B1L-46, P.O. Box 3481,
Corcoran, CA 93212; and Kambui Robinson, C-83820, CSP-COR-SHU 4B1L-49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran,
CA 93212. And read their previous stories: "A brief hunger strike update from the front lines of the struggle:
Corcoran-SHU 4B 1L C-section Isolation Unit" (second story in that post), "From the front lines of the
struggle,"and "We dare to win: The reality and impact of SHU torture units." This story was typed by Adrian
ReIated Posts
Letters from Hugo Pinell and other hunger strikers ÷ Rally to support the hunger strikers
We dare to win: The reality and impact of SHU torture units
The police raid on Occupy Oakland was nothing new for this city
Tea parties and Occupy protests
Can police raids stop Occupy Oakland or SF?
Points of Unity for a Feminist & Queer Occupation
« oakland occupy patriarchy
1. This capitalist society is based upon a
racist, white supremacist, patriarchal order.
Our organizing must confront, and attack
structural racism and white supremacy in this
city and in our own spaces.
2. Women, Trans people, Queers, Fags,
Dykes, need a space that is OURS.
We are marginalized, harassed, and attacked
in other spaces all the time. We do not all
have the same needs and desires;
our relationships with one another are
structured by the intensified oppression of
people of color, trans people and poor
folks. However, we think we can support
each other and increase our power by
working together.
3. While we know we are not all affected
in the same way by patriarchy, we do believe
that our degradation, marginalization and
harassment is systematic and structural.
Though we cannot be fully liberated until
we abolish patriarchy, white supremacy
and capitalism in all their forms, this does not
mean we must continue to allow these
systems to victimize us.
4. We are against Non-Profit Organizations.
They support the system we want to destroy
and pay less than lip-service to the communities
they claim to aid. Non-profits have created a
style of political organizing that will never really
threaten capitalism, patriarchy, or white
5. We are against the cops; they are our
enemy. Police protect the interests of the
ruling class, repress our resistance, harass,
injure, rape and kill people in our communities.
We do not seek to reform, negotiate, or work
with this system; instead, we work with each other!
Communique from the Crisis Center « Anti-Capital
Tonight we open the Crisis Center. In this abandoned building that once provided services
to those in need, we open the Occupation Crisis Center. Capitalism cannot avoid crisis.
Capitalism cannot resist crisis. But capitalism is not the crisis. We are the crisis. Capitalism
is not hungry, homeless, jobless, excluded, exploited. We are. And across the globe,
across the nation, across borders, across Oakland, we are moving to meet our immediate
needs. We are reclaiming space that has been unused, used against us, left empty while
we sleep outdoors, while we cook and organize and struggle outdoors. We open this
building in this moment of crisis — in our moment — to continue our occupations, continue
our struggles, to seize this crisis and make of it a new world in which everything belongs to
everybody. We will use this space for organizing, for talking, for making plans. These are
our needs. We will use this building to continue, to endure, and to grow. These are our
needs. We will not be asking to have them met; we are here to meet them. To Occupy
Oakland; to Occupy Wall Street; to our comrades in Greece and Oaxaca and Cairo: we
know you are here with us. We are with you. We are you. You are all welcome here. Our
true loves are everywhere, and we find each other in these spaces that we claim. We
welcome you to the Crisis Center. We have much to do here, and we have already begun.
For our friends and our loves: we are here. For the rest: we are coming.
You’re currently reading “Communique from the Crisis Center,” an entry on Anti-Capital
November 2, 2011 / 9:34 pm
Plaza – Riot – Commune
Plaza – Riot – Commune
Posted by OaklandCommune on Monday, October 10, 2011 · Leave a Comment
We are the generation of the abandoned, the betrayed. Tossed up on the shores of the
present by 150 years of failed insurrection, by the shipwreck of the workers’ movement, the
failure of a hundred political projects. But it is not only our once-upon-a-time friends who
have departed. Today, even our enemies flee from us, even capital abandons us: no more
its minimum promises, the right to be exploited, the right to sell one’s labor power.
Abandoned, we greet the world with utter abandon. There is no longer any possible
adequacy of means and ends, no way of subordinating our actions to the rational or the
practical. The present age of austerity means that even the most meager of demands
require the social democrats to pick up bricks. Betrayed by democracy, betrayed by the
technocrats of socialism, betrayed by the dumb idealism of anarchy, betrayed by the stolid
fatalism of the communist ultraleft. We are not the 99%. We are not a fucking percentage at
all. We do not count. If we have any power, it is because we are the enemies of all majority,
enemies of “the people.” As the old song goes, we are nothing and must become
Though it is a key characteristic of capitalism that each generation of its victims has, in its
way, considered its persistence beyond a few decades unlikely if not preposterous, the
difference between us and them is that in our case it just happens to be true. Now, not even
capital’s footservants can paint a convincing portrait of a future based upon markets and
wages – all the sci-fi dystopias of flying cars and robot servants seem truly ridiculous. No,
the future only presents as ruin, apocalypse, burning metal in the desert. It is easier to
imagine the end of life on earth than our own old age.
This is why anxieties over the implicit statism of anti-austerity struggles are baseless. With
the exception of a few benighted activists and media ideologues, everyone understands
quite well that the Keynesian card was played long ago, blown on wars and bailouts, the
victim of its own monstrous success. There will be no rebirth of the welfare state, no
“reindustrialization” of society. This much is obvious: if there is an expansion of the state, it
will be a proto-fascist austerity state. Nor is there any longer a “Left” in any meaningful
sense, as a force that desires to manage the existing world on different terms, in the name
of the workers or the people. Those radicals who, tired of the weakness of the loyal
opposition, imagine themselves called upon to “destroy the left” find that their very
existence is predicated upon this old, vanished enemy. There is no Left left: only the great
dispirited mass of the center, some wild and misdirected antagonism at the fringes.
The hopelessness of deflecting the state from its current course; the realization that even a
slight reform of the system would require collective violence of a near revolutionary
intensity; the attendant awareness that we would be idiots to go that distance and yet stop
short of revolution –all of this gives many anti-austerity struggles a strange desperation and
intensity. Our hope is to be found in this very hopelessness, in the fact that, in the current
cycle of struggles, means have entirely dissociated from ends. Tactics no longer match
with their stated objectives. In France, in response to a proposed change in the retirement
age, high school students barricade their schools; roving blockades confuse the police;
rioting fills city center after city center. In Britain and Italy, university struggles recruit tens of
thousands of youth who have no hope of attending the university, nor any interest in doing
so for that matter. There is no longer any possibility of a political calculus that matches
ideas with tactics, thinking with doing. Do we suppose that French children are really
concerned about what will happen to them once they are ready to retire? Does any young
person expect the current social order to last that long? No, they are here to hasten things
forward, hasten things toward collapse. Because it is easier to imagine the end of the world
than retirement. Because anything is better than this.
For the neo-Leninist philosophes who build their cults in the shells of the dying
universities, such an impossibility of lining up means with ends is nothing but a barrier or
block. Where is the revolutionary program in the Egyptian revolution, they ask, where is the
program in the streets of Britain or Greece? Who will discipline these bodies for their final
assault on the palaces and citadels? For such thinkers, only an idea can guarantee the
efficacy of these bodies. Only an idea – the idea of communism, as some say – can make
of these bodies a proper linkage between means and ends. But communism is not an idea
nor an idealism – it means freeing bodies from their subordination to abstractions.
Thankfully, we are skittish, faithless and flighty people. We have trouble listening. For us,
communism will be material or it will be nothing. It will be a set of immediate practices,
immediate satisfactions, or nothing. If we find discipline and organization, it will come from
what we do, not what we think.
By “idea” the philosophes mean something like “the Party.” They intend to make
themselves and their ideas mean, as structure and social form. They intend to cement the
old pact between the intelligentsia and the workers’ movement. But there is no
intelligentsia anymore and there certainly is no workers’ movement to speak of. The entire
structure of duty and obligation – Christian in origin – upon which the classical
programmatic parties were built no longer exists, because capital no longer needs morality
for helpmeet. There is acting for ourselves; there is acting with others; but there is no
sustained acting for another, out of obligation.
Our indiscipline means that among political ideas only the one idea which is, by its very
nature, determined to remain an idea, an ideal, can gain any purchase here: democracy.
From Tunisia to Egypt, from Spain to Greece, from Madison to Wall Street, again and
again, the “movement of the squares” buckles under the dead weight of this shibboleth.
Democracy, the name for the enchantment of the people by its own image, by its potential
for endless deferral. Democracy, a decision-making process become political ontology,
such that the form itself, the form of the decision, becomes its own content. We
democratically decide to be democratic! The people chooses itself!
In the present era – the era of the austerity state and the unemployment economy – radical
democracy finds its ideal locus in the metropolitan plaza or square. The plaza is the
material embodiment of its ideals – an blank place for a blank form. Through the plaza,
radical democracy hearkens back to its origin myth, the agora, the assembly-places of
ancient Greece which also served as marketplaces (such that the phrase “I shop” and “I
speak in public” were nearly identical). These plazas are not, however, the buzzing
markets filled with economic and social transaction, but clean-swept spaces, vast pours of
concrete and nothingness, perhaps with a few fountains here or there. These are spaces
set aside by the separation of the “political” from the economy, the market. Nowhere is this
more clear than in the most recent episode of the “movement of squares” – Occupy Wall
Street – which attempted, meekly and rather insincerely, to occupy the real agora, the real
space of exchange, but ended up pushed into a small, decorative park on the outskirts of
Wall Street, penned by police. This is what building the new world in the shell of the old
means today – an assembly ringed by cops.
If there is hope in these manifestations, it lies in the forms of mutual aid that exist there, the
experimentation people undertake in providing for their own needs. Already, we see how
the occupations are forced against their self-imposed limits, brought into conflict with the
police, despite the avowed pacificism of the participants. The plaza occupations – with all
their contradictions – are one face of the present dissociation of means from ends. Or
rather, they present a situation in which means are not so much expelled as sublimated,
present as the object of a vague symbolization, such that the gatherings come to pre-enact
or symbolize or prefigure some future moment of insurrection. At their worst, they are vast
machines of deferral. At their best, they force their participants toward actually seizing what
they believe they are entitled to merely want.
How far we are from Egypt, the putative start of the sequence. There, the initial assembly
was an act of symbolic violence, decidedly so, which everyone knew would open onto an
encounter with the state and its force. And yet, even there, the separation from the
economy – from the ways in which our needs are satisfied – remained inscribed into the
revolution from the start. In other words, the Egyptian insurrection was not deflected to the
sphere of the political but started there to begin with. And all of the other episodes in the
so-called “movement of squares” repeat this primary dislocation, whether they remain
hamstrung by pacifism and democratism, as in Spain, or press their demands in material
form, as in Greece.
This brings the plaza occupations into relation not only with the entire development of
orthodox Marxism, from Lenin through Mao, which places the conquest of state power front
and center, but also its apparent opposite in this historical moment: the riots of Athens and
London and Oakland, which, bearing the names of Oscar Grant, Alexis Grigoropoulos, or
Mark Duggan, treat the police and state power as both cause and effect, provocation and
object of rage. Though the looting which always accompanies such eruptions points the
way to a more thorough expropriation, these riots, even though they seem the most
immediate of antagonistic actions, are also bound by a kind of symbolization, the
symbolization of the negative, which says what it wants through a long litany, in letters of
fire and broken glass, of what it does not want: not this, not that. We’ve seen their limits
already, in Greece –even burning all of the banks and police stations was not enough.
Even then, they came into a clearing, a plaza, swept clean by their own relentless
negations, where negation itself was a limit. What then? What will we do then? How do we
Between the plaza and the riot, between the most saccharine affirmation and the blackest
negation – this is where we find ourselves. Two paths open for us: each one, in its way, a
deflection from the burning heart of matter. On the one hand, the endless process of
deliberation that must finally, in its narrowing down to a common denominator, arrive at the
only single demand possible: a demand for what already is, a demand for the status quo.
On the other hand, the desire that has no object, that finds nothing in the world which
answers its cry of annihilation.
One fire dies out because it extinguishes its own fuel source. The other because it can find
no fuel, no oxygen. In both cases, what is missing is a concrete movement toward the
satisfaction of needs outside of wage and market, money and compulsion. The assembly
becomes real, loses its merely theatrical character, once its discourse turns to the
satisfaction of needs, once it moves to taking over homes and buildings, expropriating
goods and equipment. In the same way, the riot finds that truly destroying the commodity
and the state means creating a ground entirely inhospitable to such things, entirely
inhospitable to work and domination. We do this by facilitating a situation in which there is,
quite simply, enough of what we need, in which there is no call for “rationing” or “measure,”
no requirement to commensurate what one person takes and what another contributes.
This is the only way that an insurrection can survive, and ward off the reimposition of
market, capital and state (or some other economic mode based upon class society and
domination). The moment we prove ourselves incapable of meeting the needs of everyone
– the young and the old, the healthy and infirm, the committed and the uncommitted– we
create a situation where it is only a matter of time before people will accept the return of the
old dominations. The task is quite simple, and it is monstrously difficult: in a moment of
crisis and breakdown, we must institute ways of meeting our needs and desires that
depend neither on wages nor money, neither compulsory labor nor administrative decision,
and we must do this while defending ourselves against all who stand in our way.
Research & Destroy, 2011

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful