by Michael Siegel – @OaktownMike
If you will be in the streets tomorrow, in solidarity with International Workers Day, please consider joining me at a 11:00 a.m. rally for nurses at Alta Bates hospital in Berkeley, who are walking out in solidarity with their fellow California Nurses Association workers as well as May Day forces worldwide.
The Alta Bates nurses are heroes, as I’ve recently learned first hand. The scariest night of my life was Friday, April 20, when my newly born son Malik was rushed to the neo-natal intensive care unit due to dangerously low blood glucose levels. If not for the nurses at Alta Bates, and the doctors and other excellent staff there, we would not have the joyous and loving experience of having Malik with us at home.
As I learned from the Alta Bates nurses, when they were teaching us how to feed our child and keep him warm, the Summit hospital corporation has been steadily rolling back their economic and health benefits as well as their working conditions, not just to the detriment of the nurses and their families, but also to the patients themselves.
As many of you know, Malik’s mother, Hindatu, was an Oakland teacher beginning in 1999, and I was teaching at the same time. We see teachers and nurses as the bedrock of society, the people who are most influential in caring for and developing our communities. Tomorrow is an opportunity to stand with them, against the creeping forces of privatization and corporate control, and in appreciation for all the amazing work that they do.
by DB Scott – @OCCCavalry
First off, saboteurs are generally throwing bottles and bricks from behind the crowd as I observed on Oct. 25th of last year. I suspect these bottles were thrown by provocateurs (cops) themselves, but that’s my popular opinion and a whole other issue. How then, will they be identified and snatched without undercover amount the ranks? Answer; They won’t. May first, I suspect, will be shoulder to shoulder undercover for this to work with any success, so be aware without being paranoid. The last thing anyone needs is for some school teacher from Iowa being falsely outed for being a suspected cop. And if you suspect you’re already on a snatch list; mask up.
Second; I predict even more violence from and to cops due to the close up nature of snatch and grab. Officers MUST rush into crowds in small teams to extract people, often times leaving themselves surrounded by not-so-happy people. Given the spirit of Oakland in particular, this may not be a smart move. A cornered or surrounded animal is a dangerous one and anyone who IS within reach of a cop in this instance is at great risk for violence. These cops are still carrying live ammo handguns and I don’t think they’d hesitate to use them if they felt in imminent danger. (Even though it would be their own actions that put them there.)
Which brings me to my third point; Rushing into a crowd armed and violent often does one thing; It causes a stampede. We saw this January 28th when demonstrators were corralled into a chain link fence on Telegraph and 19th. OPD for whatever reason, warranted or not, fired tear gas in one corner of the park, causing hundreds of people to rush into a fenced off area trying to escape (Disperse) after an inaudible dispersal order was given with no route to leave. (The inaudible part admitted by Jordan by stating the new policy would include “Clearer dispersal orders prior to arrests”.) Luckily, it was a chain-linked fence at the other end of the park and people weren’t trampled or trapped in a gas-filled area with riot cops shooting projectiles and swinging batons at them. The fence was breeched and demonstrators were able to disperse. Scores of first-hand reports even suggest that people TRIED to disperse but were met by the usual stoicism and deaf-eared policy of OPD and NOT allowed to. This suggests to me they intended to make this mass arrest regardless of crowd control polices in place which had been ignored at every other demonstration.
My fourth issue is the actual chance these new policies will be adhered to. TEN YEARS after agreeing to a three year time frame to adopt and practice improved crowd control policies, NO change what-so-ever had taken place. It’s written in black and white on their own website and MOUNTAINS of footage and testimony prove that nearly every policy was totally ignored. Jordan has lied several times in regards to weapons and means used during recent demonstrations which includes stating that the loud explosions being heard October 26 were M-80′s being thrown at police when the truth was that flash-bangs were being thrown at the crowd. It includes the misinformation released saying business in downtown was dropping when it actually rose. (This one has always floored me when common sense dictates that if there are more people in an area, more business would follow.) The list of lies goes on, so how then are We The People to have any confidence in anything different than what’s happened before? Blatant provable lies from the Chief of Police and nothing is done.
Oh and Chief; If you really want violence and property damage to end, keep your provocateurs at home and quit starting shit. This technique has been exposed time and time again at protests throughout the U.S. and is no doubt being used here. It’s another lie you obviously feel comfortable using against the citizenry you suggest you want to keep safe. Quit playing victim and start being honest about things that are happening at these protests if you actually want change. I suspect as with every politician, that your canned responses are nothing more than spin and C.Y.A. Why are you suddenly concerned about the safety of Oakland after multiple examples that that is not your priority? Could it be the Feds are MAKING you and you actually have no personal desire?
Just asking questions.
Polunsky Unit/Death Row, Livingstion, TX
November 1993 was the beginning of what could be called “The Texas Death Row Occupy Movement.” A plan of action was planned for years by myself and other Texas Death Row inmates to protest an execution date if one was set for certain individuals, namely John “Jazz” Barefield Bey, Sam Miguel, Emerson “Young Lion” Rudd and Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson.
Schooled in the revolutionary teaching of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, all of us were committed to protesting an execution in the way deemed best for us as we saw it. Any action taken by us in protest would be justifiable self-defense. After all, the State of Texas would literally be trying to kill us! However, before any one of us received an execution date, another inmate would take the vanguard and protest his execution. He would be gassed. A team of guards would forcibly extract him from his cell. Beat him. Then take him to the death house in Huntsville, Texas. The name of the first was Desmond “Lil’ Dez” Jennings and he wouldn’t be the last. This happened in the mid-90s.
Over the years, an inmate from outside our group bonded by a pledge to resist/protest an execution would step up. Notably, Shaka Sankofa aka Gary Graham, who vehemently declared his innocence till his last breath. The most daring of those of us to resist/protest was Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson. Brother Kamau is famous for his revolutionary practices against those who would seek to end his life. His daring escape attempts. Hostage taking of a guard with inmate Howard “I. D.” Guidry. Smacking the Warden during negotiations to spitting n hand cuff from his mouth even as the poison was pumped into his body to finally take his life.
“I will not participate”
All of the original pledgers are dead, executed by the state of Texas. I am the last. However, my way of protest was inspired by Kevin Cooper.
In October 2005 I had been fasting Ramadan. Seeking the peace of mind and spirit for what I intended to be my stance against my execution. I had listened to Democracy, Now! Host Amy Goodman had interview Brother Kevin Cooper about the prospect of being killed by the State of California and I remember his saying to the effect that “it’s a sick and twisted practice to expect another human being to participate in his own murder. I will not participate or cooperate…” He described how in California they even expect you to help them find a suitable vein in which to stick you with the needle! I agreed with Brother Kevin Cooper whole heartedly. My course was set. I’d not do anything violent. I’d not try to be provocative. But, I would not participate. I would do non-violent resistance.
Most of the previous efforts at resistance had been violent, with participants being gassed and beaten. However, there had been a few notable exceptions. Todd Willingham knelt down and refused to be put in the execution van to be taken to the death house. Similarly, David Harris. But they did their protest of resistance on the day of their own execution, as did everyone else. I decided that I would have my last visits at least a month prior and dedicate at least a month to non-violent resistance of my execution date. And that’s what I did.
On November 19, 2005, coming back from a legal visit, I “occupied” and sat down in the area outside of visitation. I was picked up, placed on a wheeled gurney bed and taken back to my cell. The day before, Rob Will of the DRIVE movement got gassed in solidarity protest. He knew what I’d do.
After my protest, Gabriel Gonzales and Kenneth Foster–both of whom are no longer on Death Row–would follow Rob Will’s example. I got gassed after “occupying” the day rooms and refusing to be racked up. Robert Woodard would hang a sheet banner in the day room protesting executions and specifically my execution date. He was taken to the disciplinary wing. Randy Arroyo and Daniel Simpson would join in as woud Reginald Blantton. All protesting execution dates and the inhuman conditions we were forced to live under.
Our “occupy” movement would last for the better part of a year, even after I received a stay. Day rooms would be “occupied,” Hallways. Medical. Disciplinary hearings. The food slots and showers. Non-violently, changes would occur. For the better part of a year, other inmates would be inspired to protest their execution dates, like Tommy Hughes, Marion Dudley and Lamont Reese, whose actions would make the CNBC news. We declared our lives–all lives–have value. Our lives–all lives–have worth! We stated that. We meant that.
And today I see the same declaration across this nation. As Mumia Abu-Jamal and Kevin Cooper stated in their articles in the Occupied Oakland Tribune news lette: Don’t forget the prisoners! Don’t forget Death Row! We’re with you. We support you! We are also the 99%, as we declared in protest back here on Death Row.
Our lives–all lives–have value! Our lives–all lives–have worth! We stand with you in that declaration.
Always, In strength and In Spirit!
Tony E. Ford
This letter from was sent to the Occupied Oakland Tribune after Tony received a copy of our prisoner solidarity issue. He is on Death Row in Livingston, Texas.
Wall Street perfidy? Damed straight. Foreclosures? Hell yeah. Police Repression? Hella yeah. And farming? Yup, that too.
Today, Earth Day, a couple of hundred occupiers from around the Bay marched from Berkeley, CA to a plot of land in Albany, CA (just to the north) known as the Gill Tract, then began
violent destruction of property pulling up weeds and planting seedlings. They call themselves Occupy the Farm. At the intersection of Marin and San Pablo in Albany The Gill Tract is
… the last remaining 10 acres of Class I agricultural soil in the urbanized East Bay area. The Gill Tract is public land administered by the University of California, which plans to sell it to private developers.
For decades the UC has thwarted attempts by community members to transform the site for urban sustainable agriculture and hands-on education. With deliberate disregard for public interest, the University administrators plan to pave over this prime agricultural soil for commercial retail space, a Whole Foods, and a parking lot.
The plan was kept sooper-seekrit. Marchers did not know where they were going until they got there. Police were not there ahead of the game. An Occupy Oaklander told me that even though the banners for the farm occupation were done in his back yard, even he didn’t know the target. The initial occupation appeared to be well-planned and well-executed.
by Scott Johnson
For nearly 150 years, May 1st has been an international day to celebrate and defend the rights of the working class. While the immigrant rights movement and the Occupy movement have helped bring it back to the United States in recent years, May Day originated in the American labor movement in the 19th century.
The first mass labor protest on May Day was held in 1867 to celebrate an Illinois law mandating an eight-hour workday. When employers refused to abide by the law, the celebration turned into a rebellion. Chicago police, “long used as if [they] were a private force in the service of the employers,” as one author would later declare, were called on to break the strike wave. The movement was crushed and the law went unenforced.
After nearly two decades, May Day was resurrected when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada (later the AFL) proposed that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886.”
Even more significant than the Federation was the Knights of Labor, whose motto was “An injury to one is the concern of all.” The Knights opposed wage labor and believed in solidarity for all workers, regardless of race, gender or skill-level. However, the Knights were held back by the conservative leadership of Terence Powderly, who opposed going on strike for the eight-hour day and instead called on workers to write letters on the subject to be printed in newspapers on George Washington’s birthday.
Regardless, hundreds of thousands of workers joined the Knights expecting militant action on May Day. Their membership grew from 28,000 in 1880 to 700,000 in 1886. Powderly even put a moratorium on new chapters and suspended organizers to halt this growth in numbers and expectations. “The majority of the newcomers were not of the quality the Order had sought for in the past,” Powderly complained of these militant new recruits, but the Knights grew in spite of his efforts.
Nonetheless, anarchists and socialists continued to organize for a strike – and not a letter writing campaign – on May Day. Among the best known radicals was Albert Parsons, a Confederate soldier at 14 who later published a pro-Reconstruction newspaper in Texas that defended the rights of newly freed slaves. Moving to Chicago, the center of workers’ struggle, he participated in the national railroad strike of 1877, leading to him being blacklisted and his life threatened for being the “leader of the American Commune.”
By April of 1886, the hunger for an eight-hour day grew with 62,000 workers in Chicago pledging to strike, 25,000 demanding an eight-hour day without committing to a walk out and 20,000 already winning a reduction in their hours. Workers wore “eight-hour shoes” and smoked “eight-hour tobacco” in solidarity with workers who already won their demands. As the strike approached, the demand grew from a reduction in hours from eight to ten, to “eight hours of work for ten hours pay.”
On May 1, 340,000 workers across the country marched with 190,000 of those going on strike. New York saw a rally of 20,000 workers in Union Square – the recent home away from Zuccotti Park for Occupy Wall Street – and there were 10,000 each in Baltimore and Chicago.
The rebellion continued through May 3 when a confrontation with strikebreakers in Chicago resulted in police shooting and killing 4 workers and injuring many others.
On May 4, 1,200 workers gathered at Haymarket Square in Chicago to hold a meeting about the police killings. The number in attendance declined to 300 due to rain and Parsons left with his wife and children. The mayor of Chicago, also in attendance, even told the police – who were prepared to break up the event at any time – that it was a peaceful meeting and there was no need to attack it.
Suddenly, nearly 200 police officers stormed the meeting with no provocation or warning. Just as suddenly, dynamite was flung toward the police and exploded, killing one instantly and wounding 70, seven of them fatally.
In the following days, a full scale war was declared on the labor movement – meetings were broken up, radicals arrested and the strike wave was crushed as the jails were filled with the radical leaders of the workers’ movement.
Eventually, seven people were singled out and tried for killing the police officers, even though there was no evidence that they had any role in the bombing, which may have been carried out by a provocateur. Some of the accused were not even in attendance at the time of the explosion but that hardly mattered, as the Chicago establishment openly stated.
“Law is on trial. Anarchy is on trial,” declared Julius Grinnell, the prosecutor in the case against the Haymarket martyrs. “These men have been selected, picked out by the grand jury, and indicted because they are the leaders. They are no more guilty than the thousands who follow them. Convict these men, make examples of them, hang them, and you save our institutions, our society.”
Ultimately, seven men were sentenced to death and another to 15 years in prison. But rather than hide from the accusations of radicalism, they defended their views at trial. “I am an Anarchist,” announced Oscar Neebe. “What is Socialism or Anarchism? Briefly stated it is the right of the toiler to have the free and equal use of tools of production and the right of the producers to their product. That is Socialism.”
Another defendant, August Spies, told the judge upon being sentenced, “If you think by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement…the movement from which the down-trodden millions, the millions who toil in want and misery, expect salvation – if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there, behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out…”
An international campaign was launched to defend the Haymarket martyrs, led by Parsons’s wife Lucy, a former slave and a revolutionary herself, but to no avail. On November 11, 1887, Parsons, Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fischer were executed. “Hurrah for anarchy!” shouted Engel from the gallows.
A fifth died in prison, committing suicide by exploding a stick of dynamite in his mouth, and two others had their sentences commuted to life in prison.
But the “subterranean fire” could not be put out. The struggle against capitalism continued, ultimately winning a shorter working day as mass strikes were organized by workers throughout the 19th and 20th centures, inspired by the martyrs who led one of the greatest rebellions of American workers.
*This article will appear in the May Day Issue of the Occupied Oakland Tribune
Some days ago the Reynoso report was issued, part of which detailed the complete disorganization behind the infamous UC Davis “pepper spray” police action. Particularly criticized was then police chief Annette Spicuzza, who, after the incident, took paid leave and has now officially retired. Here is her statement:
I am humbled and distrought. I do not deserve walk amongst you on this campus. I forswear my pension and benefits and am exiling myself to Albania.
For the past seven years, I have accomplished many good things for both the police department and community here at UC Davis; and am grateful to those of you who have remembered this…
The other person singled out for criticism was Chancellor Katehi, who, as the report details, had no conception of the legality of what she was doing, of which organization on campus should be handling the protests, whether she was issuing orders and what specific orders she was indeed issuing, or the consequences of her decisions. If anyone should have resigned even before the report came out, it was Katehi.
What did Chris Hedges think of mass movements before he became involved in the tactical controversies within Occupy Wall Street? Hedges’ book “Death of the Liberal Class” defined his take on the deteriorating political and economic situation of the turn of the 21st century, way back in 2010. I picked the book up hoping to find out something about the politics behind Hedges’ anti-black bloc article “The Cancer in Occupy” and its sequel, “Occupy Draws Strength from the Powerless,” which advocates Gandhian nonviolence as a moral high ground.
“Death of the Liberal Class” is quite instructive. I can’t figure out why Hedges keeps referring to liberals as a class, apparently distinct from the working and middle classes, but I think he means the liberals in the ruling class. He makes the fairly obvious claim that this “class” (or section of the ruling class) has sold out the workers and the middle class, and its institutions, from the Dems to the liberal churches, have been gutted hollow, largely by their own leaders. “Death’s” first chapter, tagged “Resistance,” begins with a lengthy interview with a disgruntled veteran who swings between right- and left-wing populism, though he has no left-wing language and must fall back on nationalist fantasies of a lost American past, worship of the Constitution, confused liberal jabs at “fat cats,” etc. This, Hedges remarks chillingly, is “the new face of resistance.” This man calls for “revolution,” but has no inkling of a revolutionary strategy. He has ideals, but no real hope. I’ll return to hope.
What is Hedges’ own relationship to liberalism as opposed to variants of the Left tradition? Hedges calls the liberal [ruling] class “the most integral and important partner” of “the corporate state” (his updated gloss on the classic leftist category “capitalist state”). He recognizes the benefits of social democratic class compromise, but also realizes their counter-revolutionary nature. Neoliberalism and rising corporatism and authoritarianism in the Western “democracies,” especially the US, represents for Hedges an un-strategic overreach by capital. How the profit/growth imperative of capitalism may have necessitated the decimation of social democracy as other areas to exploit ran out does not receive much discussion. Hedges focuses rather on the betrayal of the liberal politicians, union tops, church leaders, etc.
Hedges sees the Red Scares of the 20th century U.S. as the death blow not only to the country’s socialism but to its liberalism as well. Without the leftists to speak the language of class struggle and anti-capitalism, the liberals “lost their voice.” Hedges sums up the communist analysis of capitalism thus: “for all the failings of the communists, they got it.”
Well and good. Hedges goes on to document the dismantling of the “liberal class” in anti-communist witch hunts and the conformism of the 1950s, and his own experience with liberal “intellectuals’” docility during the War on Terror. In his final chapter, where he returns to his theory and prescriptions for change, we see a strange but all-too-familiar response to the 20th century’s legacy of leftist defeat and betrayal, against the backdrop of bleakly honest predictions about climate change and the converging catastrophes now bearing down inevitably in the wake of the utter failure of the “liberal class” at Copenhagen.
Hedges stays with the Left tradition in his rejection of reform as a final strategy: the state as it now exists is democratic only in name, and is really an instrument of capital — increasingly so with the destruction of social democracy and liberalism in the late 20th century U.S. His antidote to futile reform is not revolution, he tells us, but something he calls “rebellion.” This is not insurrectionism, but something rather specific. It has something of an anarchist flavoring, though Hedges is no anarchist. He begins the chapter “Rebellion” with the quotation from a Russian anarchist counseling against reformism: “We think we are the doctors. We are the disease.” A slow, degenerative, probably non-fatal disease, it seems, for Hedges clearly rejects the possibility of a revolutionary defeat of capitalism. “Revolution” is the leftist category notably absent from his otherwise dark pink index. Hedges subscribes to the old Frankfurt School pessimism in which the masses under the sway of the mass media are too anesthetized to present any hope of a militant mass movement. Unlike some who share this pessimism, Hedges also categorically rejects violence, even property destruction, because of its risk to innocents and its destructive and uncontrollable psychology. This is the position of “The Cancer in Occupy:” not outright pacifism (Hedges admits that as a Palestinian in Gaza or a Jew in an East European ghetto, he would take up a gun in a last-resort defense of his community), but a principled rejection of violence based on very broad claims about its inevitable nature. This goes beyond the “tactical” nonviolence to a sort of “moral” nonviolence that is a step closer to pacifism.
So if reform, mass-based revolution, and violent insurrection are out, where does Hedges end up? Unfortunately, the lonely road of an existentialist play: hopeless “revolt” for exclusively moral reasons. The chapter starts with an epigraph from Camus. It’s worth reproducing:
One of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity… It is not an aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.
-Albert Camus, “An Absurd Reckoning”
This may sound noble, but what we’re facing isn’t personal or inner “obscurity,” but the “obscurity” — the plunge into darkness — of billions of species, hundreds of millions of human beings, and civilization as we know it. It doesn’t seem to me like the time to be romanticizing absurdity. And Hedges didn’t pick this quotation by accident. “Acts of resistance,” he tells us, “are moral acts. They take place because people of conscience understand the moral, rather than the practical, imperative of rebellion. They should be carried out not because they are effective, but because they are right” (page 205). For those familiar with “The Cancer of Occupy,” this is quite odd, because while most leftists who condemn the black bloc do so for strategic reasons, citing the impracticality of violence or destruction as self-expression, Hedges seems to embrace this sort of expressivism, but having earlier rejected the “violence” of window-smashing on equally moralistic grounds. “Any act of resistance [sic] is its own justification,” he proclaims. “It cannot be measured by its utilitarian effect” (page 205). A moment earlier, Hedges identifies resistance with “liv[ing] in the fullest sense of the word.” Fine, and civilization can die “in the fullest sense of the word,” while would-be militants are “living fully” until their termination in neo-fascist prisons.
This sort of faux-noble nihilism is a garden path, and usually leads through an organic garden somewhere along the way. As a garden educator, and someone who fully realizes the likelihood that we are entering the Dark Ages, I am all for Transition Towns and any other efforts to build up resiliency. But when these efforts are self-righteously presented as an alternative to militant politics, I get sick to my stomach. Unfortunately, Hedges also falls into this withdrawalist survivialism: he puts his only hope in holdout communities “like medieval monasteries” (page 196), with organic gardens of course, keeping the embers of civilization alive. Go buy land, he says, and wait for the Rapture. We’ve heard that one before.
It’s ironic that right after denouncing the failure of globalization along with all other utopian determinisms, Hedges suggests his back-to-the-land survivalism as part of his own rather deterministic account, which is less utopian than eschatological: it posits the inevitable devolution of empire into “local fiefdoms.” It’s a familiar dystopian future by now, shared with the likes of James Howard Kunstler of “The Long Emergency” and the leftist I think of as Hedges’ doppelganger: Lierre Keith of “Deep Green Resistance.” In all their accounts, some of the postimperial localities are fascist, some green decentralist. The latter are the monasteries carrying the torch; the former are the masses, whom Hedges, Kunstler and Keith agree are incapable of forming an effective left-wing mass movement. But what if this collapse of empire and centralism is not inevitable? Surely there are possible near futures in which the empires live on in a more totalitarian form, or in which left-wing mass movements do in fact form. To my mind, the specifics of collapse are too surely predicted in these writers. Of Kunstler the bourgeois eschatologist, Keith the anarcho-primitivist, and Hedges the disgruntled democratic socialist, I like Hedges’ politics best, and am stuggling to find a third way between his strategy and Keith’s, both of which I see as monstrous. Keith’s primitivist politics are highly problematic, though I would gladly count her like as comrades if they did not reject the possibility of a mass movement. Hedges, meanwhile, abdicates politics altogether in favor of existentialist, moralistic nihilism, the poetic abandonment of hope. No. Both options are betrayal. It is ecosocialism (whether decentralist libertarian or using some form of a democratized central state) or barbarism. To get there, a mass movement (coupled with radical reform, prefigurative or rather preparatory practice, and possibly even guerrilla activity) is our only hope, and the only way of preventing the ascendancy of an overtly fascist Right. Keith herself admits that Deep Green action will strengthen right-wing demagogy. This will happen anyway, but the Deep Greens’ proposed defense of small pockets of “resistance (perma)culture” seems to me like an awfully thin shield. So let Kunstler seek salvation in his elite New England enclave; let Deep Green Resisters either stand with the mass movement now struggling to be born, or else descend into armed cultism; let Hedges write eloquent letters on the moral poetry of hopeless “rebellion” from a fascist prison cell. I, for one, intend to march with as many as can be mustered, under the rigorous discipline of strategic hope. I, for one, intend to fight.