Monday, November 14, 2011
Interestingly, an ancillary group, associated with another encampment at Snow Park by Lake Merritt, has called a meeting for tomorrow night, with the intention of organizing itself as OccupyOaklandPeacefully. After the shooting death on Thursday near the plaza, a number of campers left and joined others already occupying the Lake Merritt site about half a mile away. This shouldn't be surprising, seeing someone killed, as Davey D. observed, must be a pretty traumatic experience. So far, there is no indication that it has been raided.
Such seemingly individual decisions highlight a fundamental conundrum for Occupy Together across the country. As occupations have expanded, they have been transformed into social service providers, providers of food, shelter, clothing and even emergency medical assistance. In Oakland, this was true from the inception, while it has emerged over time at Occupy Wall Street. Of course, this is consistent with the prefigurative aspect of the movement, but there is an unavoidable tension between such an enterprise and violent confrontations with the police. Furthermore, it places a tremendous burden upon participants in terms of creating a safe and secure environment for all involved. A serious example has been the controversy surrounding sexual assaults at occupations and whether they should be reported to the police.
If people do not feel safe, they will not participate in the occupations. Precariousness is a part of everyday life for poor people and women, regardless of class, and, it will, as Shake Anderson said on my radio show on Friday, enter the occupations along with those who have been subjected to it. Hence, the occupations have faced the challenge of recognizing violent expressions of it and addressing them as effectively as possible. In some instances, it may necessitate turning people over to the criminal justice system, as distateful as this is for many involved in the movement.
Externally, the debate about non-violence versus a diversity of tactics is central. There has been much criticism of the Black Bloc and others who have engaged in property destruction and violent encounters with the police. While one can engage this subject ideologically, as many have, others have identified the practical, day to day dimension of it. Homeless people, poor people, undocumented people . . for that matter, most people generally, are afraid of the police. Last Monday, a woman appeared before the Occupy Oakland general assembly to request an endorsement of a march of poor, undocumented and indigenous people objecting to the evisceration of social services in their communities. Someone asked if there would be any violence, and she responded something like oh no, not at all . . . there will be undocumented people and people with families on the march and the last thing they need is to be arrested.
Occupy Together is a social movement that has excited some of the most vulnerable and exploited people in our society. They, along with many others, are implicitly challenging many of the capitalist values of our society. Despite their fear of the police, they are already putting themselves in harm's way when they participate in occupations. They know that they may be arrested, beaten and lose what little personal property they have, and yet they have joined the occupations. Others should not involuntarily push them into violent situations for which they are unprepared.