A number of critiques of Occupy Oakland have appeared in the weeks since January 28, aka Move-In Day. Many have argued that Occupy Oakland is on the decline and have given various reasons for why that is the case.
One article that has recently lit up the Twitter-sphere (and Facebook-sphere) this morning is An Open Letter to the Broader Occupy Community Regarding Occupy Oakland From a Small Group of Oakland Radicals. The authors claim that they are, “a group of radical Oakland activists who have been involved with Occupy Oakland from the very first days.” Unlike other commentaries, by Chris Hedges for example, this one speaks with an air of authority and honesty. I am not familiar with the authors and cannot say much about their participation, but I believe that their description of Occupy Oakland (OO) sets up a straw man with little evidence to back it up and in fact ignores the healthy moves that have been made in the weeks since J28.
First, the authors argue that,
We are concerned that the inclusivity that began this movement and contributed to its rapid growth is dying in OO as a result of the dominant insurrectionist tendencies and the “vanguardist” maneuvering and manipulations of some of its proponents . . . We all collectively must take responsibility for this “hardening” and shrinking of the OO ranks, and we must recognize that in trying to re-make OO in an ideologically purist vision, we are destroying our ability to garner the wide base of support and goodwill that will be necessary to successfully resist corporate and state domination.
No evidence of this supposed ideological hardening is given. In fact, it is not even clear which ideology is supposed to be winning this war. The authors later state that they are not interested in having out a debate about anarchism or the Black Block (neither of which I would identify with) so it is left as a lingering critique to be interpreted by the reader. Is there something you don’t like about Occupy Oakland? Great, file it under “ideological purification,” whatever that means.
The assumption would appear to be that the entire J28 episode was only carried out in order to produce a conflict with the police. The authors write, “We strongly believe that the struggle in Oakland should not be used to produce what amounts to riot porn.” I heartily agree! So does everybody I know in OO, none of whom ever believed that the purpose of J28 was to have a confrontation with the police. Granted, this is now a widespread belief among many but it is simply not true. On the contrary, we went to ridiculous lengths to avoid a police confrontation. Snaking the entire march of 2,000 people through the quad of Laney College was only the most surreal example of this.
The authors do make a handful of somewhat concrete criticisms of undemocratic maneuvers taken by a group of insurrectionists with a shady agenda. Let’s review them one at a time:
“Two non-sanctioned press conferences”
I am in the OO Media Committee and have been involved in several OO press conferences. I have no idea what a “non-sanctioned press conference” is supposed to be or who is supposed to sanction it. All of the press conferences I am aware of have been called by the Media Committee or the group that is planning the action that the press conference is discussing. The first press conference referred to here (I assume) was the one that notoriously called for the airport to be shut down in retaliation if the police attacked us on J28. That statement was a mistake, in the opinion of myself and many others. But the conference was organized by the Move-In Day Committee–with some participation of the Media Committee–and there was nothing “non-sanctioned” about it. These folks have heard an earful from many people about this threat and I assure you that the person who made this statement to the press will never live it down for the rest of our natural lives. Nobody is talking any longer about shutting down the airport or making any similar threats in the future.
The second press conference occurred the Wednesday after J28 and highlighted police repression precisely at the moment the media was endlessly replaying the clip of a flag burning outside City Hall. I personally proposed this press conference to the Media Committee and did much–though not all, of course–of the organizing for it. Not only is it completely unclear how this could not be “sanctioned”–or by whom–it is, in fact, one of the achievements in Occupy Oakland for which I am the most proud.
“The secretive and exclusionary planning of the strategy for J28 in which community voices were systematically excluded from the inner workings”
This was a part of the original proposal that passed the General Assembly. The idea was always to keep the location a secret–in order to avoid a police confrontation! Perhaps that was a mistake, or perhaps we should have secretly begun a squat well in advance of the announced action. But this issue was widely discussed and agreed upon in a contentious General Assembly discussion. After the extremely close vote, a handful of people undemocratically attempted to alter the plan so that the location would not be a secret. One of those people, I am told, is an author of this very article from the “Oakland Radicals!” But anybody who wanted to participate in the organizing itself was more than welcome to attend the Move-In Day meetings, which planned a series of events for the entire weekend in the hopes of a successful occupation, not a police confrontation.
“The hijacking of the General Assembly during the second Port Shut Down”
After shutting down the evening shift of the Port of Oakland on December 12, an emergency General Assembly was called to plan the shuttering of the Port for the next morning. In a hasty and messy series of declarations, this GA was called off and many people felt alienated. That feeling is understandable. However, while I was not involved in any of those decisions, I believe the real issue is that there should never have been an emergency GA in the first place. The original GA vote to call for the West Coast Port Shut Down stated that we would extend the blockade if there was police repression. There was police repression, therefore we were required to extend the blockade. The possibility of having a new GA vote against this standing decision would have been an embarrassing fiasco when we had already committed ourselves to doing so.
A member of the facilitation committee ultimately took the blame for the poor handling of this emergency GA, came to the next Labor/WCPSD Committee meeting and personally apologized for this whole mess. So much for an unaccountable shadow group destroying Occupy Oakland.
“[I]deological purification behavior often now takes place at the GAs and in groups like the Move-In Committee, where dissenting voices are booed and jeered”
I have been to few if any GAs or committee meetings at any time in Occupy Oakland where there was not booing or jeering or heckling among some of the most militant activists, largely directed at each other, even at the height of the movement. It may be rude but it is hardly a purification process and this argument feels much more like a useful way to score points than an analysis of the decline of Occupy Oakland.
A small group of quiet dissidents even attended the GA on February 5 carrying signs that said, “Please Rethink Vandalism.” They were not disruptive–any more than carrying a sign at a public meeting that criticizes that meeting can avoid being disruptive–and I cannot tell that they were bothered in any way. About halfway through they simply left, not having been ideologically purged from what I can tell.
This is not to say that OO is facing no challenges. On the contrary, everybody I have talked to is aware that we need to work to rebuild the confidence of the public since January 28. One such action occurs tomorrow, the Make Love Not War rally for Valentine’s Day where we literally plan to walk around Oakland and pass out candy. I have heard people who are sympathetic with Black Bloc-tactics say that we need this action to be “non-violent”–while struggling to speak those words aloud–because it is so obvious that we need to rebuild support. There is also the February 20 National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners, aka Occupy San Quentin. This action will aim to not only broaden the set of issues we organize around but also include a broader group of people who previously have not been included. These are precisely the sort of actions we should be doing and have nothing to do with “insurrectionism.”
So my sense is that everybody is clear that we do not want to participate in endless police battles. In fact, we are actively pursuing a course to re-establish Occupy Oakland. In the past two weeks, we have also had immigrant workers from Pacific Steel come to our GA asking for our support in their struggle, and an official with SEIU Local 1021 even declared that he wanted a “marriage” with Occupy Oakland.
All is not lost. We were delegitimized by the police attacks on us on J28–which happened well before any property destruction, ALL of which occurred at City Hall after the mass arrests–and seek to relegitimize ourselves in the eyes of the public. None of this involves “insurrectionary” tactics of any kind but precisely the sort of patient planning that the authors of the “Oakland Radicals” article say we need.
At the same time, none of us have ever organized anything like Occupy Oakland before and Move-In Day was entirely new form of action. Everybody is comfortable with marching up and down Market Street holding signs opposing a war that we all know–or should know–is inevitable. We are now carrying out mass actions that actually have an impact politically and economically and are therefore in new territory for everybody. Had we retreated from the Kaiser Center quicker on J28 and taken another building, we might all now be heroes. Such is the significance of small tactical decisions which have absolutely no significance in symbolic protests.
Anybody who wants to participate in any of the above actions or help us plan more in the future will find Occupy Oakland a welcoming community to organize with. We may heckle each other from time to time, but that is only because we take our decisions and our actions extremely seriously.