'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, February 13, 2012

An Open Letter from 4 Oakland Radicals 

UPDATE: On Twitter, laurenriot engages in an ongoing debate, tweet by tweet, with the signatories of the statement. Here is a sample of them, expect more to come at the hashtag #laurenriot:

58m lauren riot @laurenriot
I wonder if these folks actually spent any time in the days we laid down roots at Oscar Grant Plaza. I remember ferocity! Militance!

59m lauren riot @laurenriot
Do they mean taking a building after 10s of 1000s took to the streets only 4 weeks in?

59m lauren riot @laurenriot
Do they mean the roots of masked folx building barricades 2 weeks in to protect from cops?

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
Which roots exactly? OO was never an OWS satellite.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
As the Oakland Commune evolves and finds its legs, these folks want to return to its roots.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
And yet this group is most concerned about a handful of people who organized a *single* *action* they didn't like.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
An aside, the "radical inclusivity" of OO has us organizing w/ holocaust deniers, unapologetic racists, rapists, misogynists and homophobes.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
and seriously, just LOL at the reference to riot porn, an expression they no doubt learned from a sarcastic insurrectionary anarchist.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
The link to the Bay of Rage article (& other language) says to me that one organizer in specific is being targeted, and that's fucked up.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
The GA voted 2 keep many parts of the organizing of #J28 closed, while allowing the majority of the work to be done openly. Quite democratic

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
The critique of undemocratic processes seems to be another complaint about the organizing format agreed on my consensus at the GA. Ironic.

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
When you consider downtown residents opening their homes to strangers for teargas/OC decontamination on #J28-again, I see massive support!

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
When you consider 1000s on #J28 willing to commit trespassing, at least hundreds willing to commit burglary - speaks to massive support

1h lauren riot @laurenriot
What I see in the community is that the support for #OO is still very strong, if not stronger than it's been.!

Hat tip to Richard Crary of The Existence Machine.

INITIAL POST: An excerpt from a statement by four people involved in Occupy Oakland from the inception:

In our individualistic culture, it is rare when radical activists are able to pitch a big tent and draw in masses of people to the cause. The early days of the Occupy movement provided one of those rare opportunities. Occupy was the spark for the emergence of a broad wave of anti-corporate, anti-repression sentiment in our society. 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. Dramatically shrinking numbers reveal that this ideology and organizing style either misreads the real political situation in Oakland, or else underestimates the importance of consolidating and advancing a broad, united and popular front. 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.

Occupiers who have begun to question the decision-making processes involved in recent actions like J28 are being asked, in the name of unity, to maintain silence. We have been told that our concerns will be dealt with, that there’s nothing to worry about, and that we shouldn’t speak publicly about them. Yet we feel that without transparency and open dialogue, the problems will only get worse. We are speaking to everyone who still believes in Occupy Oakland, but especially to those most active in the GA and various committees who have the ability to help us make the kinds of changes that would reassure the larger Bay Area community that Occupy Oakland is still a wise place to invest its energy.

The four of us decided to speak out because we have each been pushed to the margins of OO by ugly, ideological purification behavior that often now takes place at the GAs and in groups like the Move-In Committee, where dissenting voices are booed and jeered and group speak and in-group relationships now dominate. Please do not mistake our concerns as yet another attack on anarchism or Black Bloc; it’s not about that at all. It’s about the exclusionary strategies and tactics that alienate those of us who are interested in a slower, more solid, more inclusive approach of mass movement building.

Please consider reading the statement in its entirety, as well as the comments in response to it. They provide insight into the urgency of adopting inclusive practices that will expand the reach of Occupy.

As Cheryl Kohler, one of the signatories to the statement, says:

We are arguing against a strategy of full-blown insurrection and asking those who seem to be pushing in that direction to reconsider the strategy.

Let's hope that the participants in Occupy Oakland do so. As Bifo more generally observed in After the Future:

The identification of desire with energy has produced the identification of force with violence that turned out so badly for the Italian movement in the 1970s and 1980s. We have to distinguish energy and desire. Energy is falling, but desire has to be saved. Similarly, we have to distinguish force from violence. Fighting power with violence is suicidal or useless nowadays. How can we think of activists going against professional organizations of killers in the mold of Blackwater, Halliburton, secret services, mafias?

For those committed to the creation of alternative forms of collective organization and resistance, the answer to this rhetorical question is obvious. As I said on Thursday, socially and economically vulnerable people, and, for that matter, most people, whatever their background, are not going to commit themselves to a movement centered around high profile direct actions that present a higher probability of confrontation with the police. They are not going to participate in actions where, through the unilateral decisions of others, they suddenly find themselves subject to police assault. Such an experience is not going to result in a mass movement directed towards the dismantlement of governmental authority and police power in Oakland. If anything, it is more likely to lead to the imposition of a state of emergency.

As noted in my replies to Richard Crary's comments about my post yesterday, there are other ways of carrying out direct actions that incorporate the concerns of the community and reduce the prospect of a violent confrontation. For example, consider Jan Gilbrecht's explanation of how the seizure of the Kaiser Center, otherwise known as J28, could have been carried out:

Some of the proponents and proposers kept adding anything goes to the list of what would happen in the building, like for example child care, without consulting the childcare committee or having that be part of the initial proposal, or housing without addressing the serious issues with violence at the old encampment. I pointed out that it was hubris for the Move-In committee to decide on behalf of the community what would happen in the building. My proposal was to build for a very large Move-In action and community festival for the weekend, with a mass GA to be held each night, where members of the community could make proposals for the future of the building and then make decisions and commitments together. Rather than a distraction, many many people agreed with or also proposed this type of an approach, and a committee actually came up with a list of proposed housing guidelines to present to the GAs. Someone was identified to facilitate these mass GAs. Actually, it was one of the central proposers and planners of the action who told me personally that he didn’t care what we said would happen in the building, because it wasn’t about holding the building anyway, that would never happen. He thought we should say whatever people wanted to hear to get them out that day. That is exactly the kind of dishonest approach that caused me to withdraw from the Move-In action.

Interestingly, even Gilbrecht did not perceive the peril in a public mass action to seize the Kaiser Center, but, at least, she did recognize the need to place the facility at the service of the community. If this approach had been adopted and communicated to the people of Oakland prior to the action, it may well have generated a larger turnout of support, deterring the police from responding with such extreme force. If not, Occupy Oakland might have received more broad based community support after the subsequently kettles and arrests. Her claim that she was told by someone that Occupy Oakland never expected to hold the building points towards another serious issue, one beyond mendacity. If true, it highlights the arguable assumption that people can be best organized through theatrical protest spectacles, where the activists and the police all play their assigned roles.

Unfortunately, in this instance, the police didn't, a fact echoed in subsequent statements by some organizers to the effect that they expected the police to allow marchers to enter the Kaiser Center and arrest them later, as with past encampments. They expected to be allowed to, in effect, briefly squat the Center, conduct a couple of GAs and have a dance party before being evicted. There is nothing wrong with that, other than the failure to inform everyone of this purpose, except that, once the police stepped outside of their assigned role, and refused entry, a few protesters did so as well, responding with bottles, rocks and firecrackers. In other words, it was on. On J28, the Oakland Police Department displayed its ability to evolve and more effectively respond to the tactics of Occupy Oakland, catching it flat-footed. Furthermore, had something like the Gilbrecht approach been adopted, Occupy Oakland might have discovered that people in the community were not very enthusiastic about it, while suggesting modifications, such as, say, a more initially covert seizure, or something else entirely instead in the spirit of democratic discourse.

Beyond this, there is the troubling possibility that such violence facilitates the current harsh transformation of global capitalism, one centered around the accumulation of surplus by means of the provision of surveillance and security services, as explained by Stephen Graham during this Democracy Now! interview:

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Stephen Graham, what’s the market? You’re talking about a growth industry. What are we talking about here in terms of investment of dollars by—because there are so many, obviously, municipalities in the United States with their own police forces?

STEPHEN GRAHAM: Well, I mean, globally speaking, the so-called homeland security market is a real—is in real boom town—boom time, excuse me. I mean, in a world where actual defense contracts are often being reduced, a lot of the big companies are moving into civilian applications. They’re moving into these non-lethal weapons, moving into all of the technologies of crowd control and civilian disturbance control. And that has to be added to, of course, the much bigger markets that are growing in terms of broader questions of surveillance and security for buildings, for cities, for special events, as we see these systems established more and more in terms of everyday spaces and everyday bits of cities. So, I haven’t got figures at hand, I’m afraid, but it’s multibillion-dollar markets that are projected to grow globally at very, very high rates over the next 15 years, according to some of the recent market research reports.

For more about Stephen Graham, and his pathbreaking work about the militarization of the city, go here and here.

Hat tip to Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist.

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