Category Archives: Winter 2011 (11/25/11)

A medics tale – interview with an Occupy Oakland street medic

Following is an interview with Amanda, a street medic active in Occupy Oakland.

What does it mean to be a medic at Oscar Grant Plaza?

To be a medic at Oscar Grant Plaza is a commitment to social change. Over the past month at the occupation, our perceptions of what Occupy is and what it stands for have changed. As medics we have had to adapt to the reality on the ground. The movement and the camp have a different reality. Without the power of the supporters and marches the camp would have not survived this long. Without the campers securing the camp the general assembly and organizers would not have had the community space for actions and meetings.

After the first raid the demographic of the camp started to change from the activist community to more of the general population of the camp being the disenfranchised community who are the most affected by the situations we as the Occupy Movement are confronting. As medics, we have to adapt to the reality of the camp–poverty and the desperate behavior, heath conditions and the darkness that comes with it.

Another facet of being a medic at the plaza is keeping the camp safe at night. Although the medic tent was rarely quiet during the day, if the camp had an emergency at night that it couldn’t handle, the cops or fire department would have come in to respond, thus weakening our ability to keep the camp alive.

If you want to march in the streets and chant “fuck the police,” we better learn to do our job.

Can you tell us a little about your history and experience with being a medic and with politics?

I volunteered in a rural fire department for a few years, was an EMT, wilderness first responder, I have personally been homeless off and on for 14 years, did forest defense, have worked in day shelters, been an advocate for homeless youth, rainbow gathering experience has been drawn upon, too…

What was your first experience with Occupy Oakland?

As I was coming into Oakland on a Greyhound bus, I saw several helicopters circling downtown, and I thought to myself “That must be where the occupation is.”

As I was walking onto the grounds for the first time (on the third day of the occupation), I was approached by a man who asked me if I needed help pitching my tent. I politely said no thank you, then he asked me if I wanted to stay in his tent, receiving a much more aggressive no thank you. Then he asked me if I wanted to smoke some pot, and he received a hearty fuck off. I moved along, trying to orientate myself. The situation repeated with another aggressor. At this point I became aware Occupy was not going to be the utopia some may have wished for.

Why medic?

I had it in my head that I would work first aid, since that is an applicable part of my background. However, at first I did not feel exactly welcomed by other medics, maybe even unwelcome. I tried not to take it personally. On one of the first nights I was there I cruised by medical and found one of my favorite Oakland street people needing psychological support. I was overjoyed she was still alive, it had been a few years since we’d crossed paths. At that point I identified my niche. Everyone who lives at the Occupation has one and it is crucial for the success of this movement for this to be honored and supported.

Can you tell us about any defining moments during the encampment?

I returned to the medic tent one evening after attending to a disturbing medical situation. I do have to say that when working on the ground, you have to put a lot of personal baggage away and be present for the situations at hand, often processing things later. So I returned to the first aid tent to find two children ages 3 and 5 putting band aids on their ouchies. Amused by their presence, I greeted them and shortly asked if their mom or dad was around. The first child responded “My daddy’s dead. He was shot in the arm and leg ’cause a bad guy was breaking into our building shooting people.” The second child responded “My daddy is in jail for a long time.” The two children then proceeded into a conversation about violence, the police system, how this affects their lives, human nature, and how they themselves cope and support their families. This is the reality for preschool aged children in 2011. This fight is really about them. What America has become needs something bigger than band aids.

What would you change about the camp or what do you think we could work on?

Occupy seems hardly tangible at this point. It is the definitive truth. It is raw, spontaneous, alive. The movement is its own being, an exposé on reality. The people have to, at this point, let history take its course. We as individuals have no control over what Occupy is, we only have control over the ideology of what Occupy is. As for the people of the movement, we must resign all desire for control. Empowerment, individual action and decentralization are the keys to breaking down the systems that control our culture. Control got us in this mess in the first place. We have to become willing to adapt to the changes we are asking for, and assume responsibility for what the government doesn’t do for us. This is our future: empty houses, empty bellies, empty schools.

Doing something good – Occupy the Hood

All across the country masses of people are becoming radicalized through their exposure to the violent and dehumanizing tactics of the police, yet many people of color expect to be stopped, frisked, beaten or arrested on any given day. The occupy movement seeks to be all-inclusive, but can we simply re-appropriate without acknowledging the pre-existing meaning of the word “occupy”? We are used to a world in which the military occupies communities of color overseas and the police occupy communities of color inside the US and people of color occupy a hugely disproportionate number of prison cells. As black cultural theorist and journalist Greg Tate wrote in the Village Voice, “Out there on the street, though all we need is to feel like you got our backs like we got yours, herein might lie the rub. People fresh to the daily struggle might need to earn our trust more. Clearly we’re in no hurry to make loads of new friends spanking new to police brutality.”

In Oakland and many other places, people of color are a big part of the Occupy Movement, but there are inevitable racial tensions arising out of culture clashes and mutual distrust. Racial oppression, exclusion, and fear of different cultures are so ingrained in all of us that it may not be possible to achieve a genuine consensus in massive public forums. Therefore it is exciting to hear that some people of color are organizing local autonomous neighborhood assemblies to establish their goals and desires for the larger movement.

An organization calling itself Occupy the Hood (www.officialoccupythehood.org) has established a presence on Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, with links to chapters across the country, and Denise Oliver Velez published an inspiring blog posting in the Daily Kos asserting that the Occupy Movement can incorporate the concerns and causes of communities of color. For example, Occupy Flagstaff in Arizona has been raising awareness of a plan to cover a mountain sacred to native tribes with snow manufactured from treated waste-water, as well as a plan to reinstate uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. Occupy the Hood Boston was specifically initiated to address issues impacting their own community, in particular police brutality and the system’s indifference to inner city violence. One of Occupy the Hood Boston’s founders said that she, like many others who have lost family members to violence, simply wants peace of mind when it comes to living in the hood; “If they can sit in the South End [Boston] at one in the morning drinking cappuccino and not have a fear of being shot then the same thing should happen here.”

It seems obvious that the Occupy Movement should mean the same thing for communities of color that it does for white people, but the methods and/or tactics used to realize that vision might be very different. Compared to most of the other Occupy movements, which rely on hand signals, stacks, and group facilitators, Occupy the Hood Boston is a bit more reminiscent of the organizational structure of the civil rights movement, but without leaders. Any member can propose an action and those who agree form a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ and take direct action. Participants in the General Assemblies of most other Occupy movements must be on stack and use hand signals for the chance to be heard, while OTHB participants need only to rise and speak. This freewheeling nature of Occupy the Hood allows for vigorous debate and unrestrained free speech.

Despite their differences, it should be noted that all of the Occupy movements are essentially fighting for the same thing, each using the strength of its collective voice to create awareness of social and economic injustice. Occupy the Hood is simply representing the people most grossly affected.

Occupy is Not a Photo Opp

Amy doesn’t tend to wear clothes. When I first moved into Bird House, a co-op on the Berkeley-Oakland border, I was a bit startled whenever I encountered Amy’s curvy, bare, tattooed body passing me in the hall, washing dishes, sitting down for dinner–completely exposed, no shame, not a quiver of fear.

It took me a few weeks to get used to my new housemate, and to realize that, for Amy, being naked isn’t about sex or being sexualized. She simply isn’t ashamed of her body so she doesn’t hide it.

So, a few weeks ago, Amy was volunteering at the Occupy San Francisco kitchen, ladling baked beans onto the plates of hungry occupiers. As she did this, she was wearing pants, but had left her bra and shirt back in the tent.

As folks moved through the line, some grinned and blushed at Amy’s bare breasts. Others hardly seemed to notice the toplessness and thanked Amy for preparing the food. As Amy does at home, she smiled at everyone who moved through the line, warmly telling them, “I love you.”

And then a woman in a shoulder-padded blazer pushed through the line and confronted Amy.

“And what exactly are you trying to prove?” the woman spat.

“…nothing,” came Amy’s soothing, gender-neutral voice.

The woman’s eyes darted from Amy’s bare breasts to her Mother Mary tattoo to her unconventional haircut (half of Amy’s head is buzzed, while the other half has chin-length locks).

A tight frown crossed the woman’s face and she said, “I hope you realize you’re mis-representing the whole movement with your childish behavior!”

This type of internal-policing has broken out in Occupy encampments nationwide.

Unable to grapple with the idea of a true autonomous zone, self-conscious occupiers obsessively try to force everyone else to fit their preconceived notions of what the movement should look like. These people mistake representation for reality: they think that the news blurbs, photos, and videos are the movement. It is as if these people have internalized the media–news-cameras gazing out at them from within, driving them to perform Occupy instead of living their experience of it.

But Occupy is not a photo opp.

At encampments from New York to San Francisco to everywhere, people from all backgrounds are revealing themselves to each other, talking out their differences, agreeing to disagree, and healing from all these many years of suffering under an oppressive system that values symbols (grades, money, status, etc) more than the quality of our shared experience.

“Well,” the woman continued to yelp at Amy, “I hope you realize you’ve made yourself into a sex object to every male here!”

“Now that just ain’t true!” interjected a middle-aged man who was sitting nearby.

He stood up and calmly explained that the Occupy SF encampment is a place of love and community, and that seeing Amy’s breasts wasn’t going to make anyone stop loving her. “It’s Amy’s body. And if she don’t want to cover it, she don’t have to.”

Throughout our media-saturated lives, we are conditioned to believe that our naked bodies are a symbol. A symbol of sex. A symbol of shame. A symbol of liberation, even. But our bodies don’t need to represent anything. Symbols need only penetrate as deep as we let them. To Amy, Amy’s body represents nothing more than it is: a body. And by letting go of the symbols society has attempted to attach to our flesh, we can begin the slow process of occupying ourselves.

The shoulder-padded woman shook her head in disgust and walked away.

Amy thanked the man for his words.

He smiled. “I meant them.”

In it for the long haul

We are in it for the long haul, within this movement that has finally emerged. Folks in the US are waking up from such an extraordinary trance. We are so beautiful, discovering more of our strength daily, bracing for the ups and downs. There have to be ups to be downs that are necessary in order for us to learn. And we must find ways to sustain what we are doing because this is going to take us some time. So I share my thoughts in this moment and am excited to hear yours too!

The movement that we are creating is on a scale unlike what any of us have engaged in before. We are learning how to care for our neediest comrades and work together across huge racial, class and cultural divides. We’re creating a new way of engaging as a society, realigning our values and priorities, and getting more folks to come along. We can’t be in a hurry. The work isn’t just for the end results — the process and the time we take matter. We need to give ourselves the space to learn from our mistakes.

Even in the cases in which we think we cannot stand something one of us is saying, we need to see if we’re ultimately seeking the same things. We may be on the same team but playing different positions. The new reality we are creating will include ways of thinking, organizing and living that we currently think are impossible. Tactical differences that may appear to divide us may really be aligned. There can be space to respectfully disagree on particular points while still appreciating the efforts and results of people going at things a different way. None of us have to do it all or know it all or have all of the answers ourselves. If you can’t understand something or you really hate it, it may help to give others a chance to explain its value.

One of the best things about the general assembly is that we try to listen to each other even when we want to boo and hiss. Sometimes new folks boo and hiss and then our facilitators remind us that we are practicing hearing the opinions of people that think differently. We can still think differently and feel aggravated inside as we build our capacity to not react and shut others out.

If we cannot find ways to talk to people a few steps to our left or right within a general assembly or an occupation, who are we fooling when we think we can change the whole muthafucker? Stretching to make a just world isn’t supposed to be easy, or pretty, or without broken things. And yet we can’t actually break everything, because some of it (our relationships, the earth, young folks…) are worth our care and protection.

Don’t forget the amazing things you were likely doing before the occupy phenomenon. They were important, the glimpses of hope that were adding together to exponentiate this that we are in now. While we are reinventing things from scratch, it is important that we continue to breathe life into the things that hold our lessons and wisdom.

Oh my — do we need to take breaks. And remember: from each according to ability, to each according to need — that anarchist thing. We don’t all have the same amount of time, energy, strength, money, skin privilege. We can be super aware of the power we have given the ways we are able to step forward, the responsibilities we have. We are actually worth caring for.

Every time I engage in a GA or at the camp, or on the marches, or just about town, I find something surprising, inspiring, mortifying, infuriating. Big emotions. These are events most of us secretly never believed we would see. This isn’t just about external politics or power and economics — minds and hearts are growing and changing and we’re on a powerful adventure. I hold myself gently as all this emerges, knowing that thankfully I don’t have to do it all. I am not alone. I get even more excited when I consider the young people growing up right now that think this is normal, that will be politicized from this moment on. What seeds are we sowing my comrades? Such beautiful seeds.

Occupy didn’t start on Wall St.

Events of the last few months feel exciting and truly unprecedented given the way things have been going for decades. Through the occupy movements, we in the US have joined a global struggle against social injustice and economic tyranny. While it may be true that the whole world is watching in wonder and astonishment, it is more because the US is the heart of the neo-liberal monster, not because we have invented anything here.

Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Spain, Morocco and Greece are just a few of the countries with recent protest movements that started before Occupy Wall Street but mirror our own. This is a worldwide moment we joined when we pitched tents in our local parks.

In Egypt, 300,000 people occupied Tahrir Square for 18 days in January and February, 2011, and the joy and revolutionary energy was felt worldwide. Egypt was the image Adbusters evoked when they ran the notice last February that is credited with sparking the movement here.

But what has evolved here is actually much more like the movement in Spain, where in May people set up camp in plazas across the country that brought thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds out into the street to participate in marches and general assemblies. There, like here, the movement was started by a slick, media savvy, radical but liberal protest group, and there, like here, the fundamentals of anarchism were embraced, such as consensus and horizontal decision making. In Spain there has been an urge to censor any person or group that called itself anarchist or advocated the explicit use of non-passive resistance.

Peter Gelderloos wrote an article in Counterpunch describing the May 15 movement in Spain, how the movement started, and how participants in Barcelona carried the spark of revolution home to their neighborhoods after the police crackdown forced them out of the Plazas. He also details what he sees as the challenges to the US occupy movement, such as the more transient and less rooted nature of our culture, the fact that past protest movements have been so brutally crushed that they are ground out of our consciousness, and our arrogance born from ignorance that we can replicate the worldwide protests without absorbing the lessons they have had to learn. Visit Counterpunch.org to read his reflections. Needless to say, we know many Europeans view us as rootless and arrogant, but we are not going to let it get us down, and certainly he is right that we need to spread our wings to embrace the solidarity of the worldwide movements and learn all we can from them.

A warning that bears repeating about the overly simplistic analysis embodied by the rhetoric of “the 99%” is how, in times of economic hardship, appeals to populism have lead to fascism in Europe. It could happen here if certain interests latch on to the linkage of nationalism and radicalism.

What I find most hopeful in Spain are accounts of the neighborhood assemblies, which are as diverse politically as the movement itself, but some of which have come to embrace anticapitalist goals and are committed to disrupting the plan to dismantle our communities in the name of economic policy. The neighborhood assemblies often meet in public in the center of everything, drawing in bystanders, blocking traffic, and generally making their presence known. They discuss tactics, such as occupying a hospital slated for closure, but they also plan participation in larger marches and actions the way an affinity group would. The participation of regular neighborhood people gives the police pause, and the rootedness to place provides people from diverse backgrounds with diverse common cause.

Here in Oakland, a few neighborhood groups are popping up, organized or inspired by people from the occupy camps. Hopefully, you will read this and be inspired to talk to your neighbors and friends about meeting to discuss your revolutionary goals out in public, working on this learning curve we are all struggling with, and forming strong bonds that will enable us to work through the stuff that could bog us down.

The fracture of good order – on “violence” at occupy demonstrations

“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 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 labyrinthine 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 2nd 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 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.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/11/04/for-the-fracture-of-good-order/ This article was originally published by counterpunch.

Grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory – solidarity does not equal un-critical

The state and capitalism are the greatest purveyors of violence, i.e. killing people and using force rather than discussion to obtain goals. To the contrary, anarchists are working to build a world based on consent and voluntary cooperation, rather than coercion, arbitrary authority and violence. It is therefore ironic that when a handful of people broke a few windows early on November 3 after the 10,000-strong November 2 general strike in Oakland, mainstream discussion concentrated on blaming anarchists for violence and sought to make the term “anarchist” synonymous with “violent.”

Some people claimed that anarchists had tried to “take over” Occupy Oakland and the general strike, when in fact the foundation of the occupy movement rests on anarchist principals such as horizontal decision making, mutual aid and participatory democracy. It’s not an exaggeration to say that anarchists organized and founded Occupy Oakland.

Anarchists are not, however, a homogenous group with a single party-line. Many of us felt that the unfocused property damage late at night after most people involved in the general strike had left was a tactical blunder — grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. Just because property destruction is not violence against human beings and pales in comparison to the violence of the state does not mean that breaking windows of local businesses, needlessly burning barricades, and trashing the streets around the occupation with spray paint was a good idea. You do not have to engage in or support inappropriate tactics in a particular situation to prove that you have a right of self-defense, that the state is more violent than activists, or that property-destruction tactics might be appropriate at certain points.

The most militant street tactic is not always “better” or more radical. Street tactics aren’t just photo-ops to dress in black and look cool. Street tactics can help shine light on social contradictions, build movement or serve other purposes. Militant tactics that appear random shrink the movement and alienate people who could otherwise be radicalized and join.

One of the worst results of the November 3 middle of the night fire and smashing was how it trapped most of us in endless and ritualized debates over property destruction vs non-violence which crowded out almost all other discussion for a couple of weeks after the general strike. At a time when we urgently needed to be figuring out what the movement should do next, what new tactics we could adopt, and what new targets we could tackle, people on both sides of the debate recited rhetorical points. It didn’t seem like either side honestly felt they could convince the other side or particularly cared — but neither side could let go, either. The stalemate just went on and on — and continues still.

The late night fire on November 3 eclipsed everything else that happened on November 2. In particular, at 11 pm that night, people seized a vacant building a block from the occupation — a logical and timely extension of the occupy movement. Had the building occupation not been followed by lighting barricades on fire and trashing the area, there might have been exciting dialogue about the building seizure — even if it got busted by the police. The media and politicians would have criticized the seizure of private property, but such seizure would be easy for most people to understand, easy to defend, and thought-provoking.

After November 3, some people argued that lighting the barricades on fire was a justified act of self-defense after police began gathering to raid the occupied building, or that it was just an attempt to blow away tear gas that had not yet been fired. This makes no sense — if anything, the burning barricades made police action more likely. Are those who lit the barricades seriously arguing that they could militarily win an engagement with a couple of hundred armed police, when they were unarmed? If so, why didn’t setting the barricades on fire protect the building occupation? If the police were able to take back the occupied building whether or not we built barricades, why build them?

It is dangerous to be tone deaf as to how actions may be perceived and dismiss anyone critical of a particular action as a stupid liberal. The concept of solidarity between radicals is important — we need to stand together when attacked. But it isn’t helpful solidarity to unquestioningly support militant tactics that go awry. Treating these questions like academic debates where we try to advocate purely ideological points misses the point. Actions have consequences. We should focus on radicalizing ever expanding numbers of people. Tactical mistakes that isolate us take us in the wrong direction.

We laugh at the waves – thoughst on the anti-capitalist march in Oakland

Things need to be said about the general strike in Oakland [on November 2nd]. There are things that need to be addressed and positions to be clarified. This is not a justification of some of the actions that happened during the general strike because these things need no justification. But because people are so keen on having an opinion on everything, we would prefer that when they say shit, they are accurate. This is also a love letter and a note of encouragement to the people on our team.

One of the most exciting actions to come out of the general strike was the anti-capitalist march. Of course, the shutdowns of banks and work places that were threatening their workers was amazing, but there seems to be little strife around these things, and therefore little to say beyond “Fuck yes, shut everything down.” But as the anti-capitalist march was one of the more confrontational (and therefore controversial) actions, there are plenty of things to say.

First things first, we were not direct participants in all of it, but we fucking love property damage. This is a very non-political (in the classical sense of the word) love and really we just love to see shit fucked up. Fuck normalcy. Besides the wanton vandalism, this march was exciting because it was a large group of people acting completely outside of and against the general political sentiment of what has so far been the occupation movement. This does not mean, of course, that it was against the occupation itself because the very non-hierarchical and overarching nature of the occupation allows for these sorts of things to happen within it. That liberals want to say otherwise says more of their own ideological naiveté and blindness.

This was also the radical wing of the occupation flexing its muscle. And it is always the radical elements of these sorts of movements that provide the energy, space, and bodies necessary to move forward, expand, and not sink into stagnation. We are situated in an ongoing global civil war, and, for the first time in a long while, there is a combination of basic infrastructure/solidarity and a large mass of bodies that, together, provide a platform for offensive and creative attacks on capital. The anti-capitalism march was a test run of this. Here we want to make clear that we do not believe that breaking windows and spray painting walls will materially hasten the revolution. We don’t think any pro-revolutionary believes this. But what is important is that pro-revolutionaries are learning how to fight, and, beyond that, being able to momentarily break out of the suffocating pressure of society.

What we found comical about this whole event was that the liberal pacifists themselves destroyed the myth of ideological pacifism, although from their position they are not able to see this. In the process of smashing bank windows, there were a couple protestors that took more hardline stances on pacifism, with a couple individuals going as far as grabbing, hitting, and tackling the people smashing windows. There was also talk from some of the “peaceful protestors” of forcefully removing people’s masks. Of course the sweet sweet irony in all of this is that while property was being destroyed (and it should be made clear here that it was only banks and union busting businesses that got destroyed – not that we, the authors, have any problem with small businesses being attacked. In fact, we absolutely love it as ALL business is still business.), the only violence directed toward actual human beings was on the part of the “peaceful protestors.” We notice here that the projected goal of pacifism, a peaceful world, is not possible through pacifism. We also notice a definite difference between non-violence and pacifism: the former being a specific tactic individuals might choose to employ; the latter being an ideology forced onto other people. It is here that we see the very same logic of the state and the police embodied in actual bodies. That peace has to be forced upon other people, regardless of how this happens. It should bring you joy then to hear that the peace police were beaten Greece style with wooden dowels and poles.

So it becomes obvious that it is not violence that is the issue, as the peaceful protesters are quick to use violence themselves. No, the issue is of intensity. Of image. The “peaceful protesters” wish for the occupation movement to be nice and soft, attractive to the media, the ultimate source of parasitism and representation. So when an amorphous mass of bodies that are not identifiable comes crashing with all of its chaos and intensity through the city, the first immediate reaction is to use any means necessary to attenuate the intensity of those bodies. Simultaneously, the unidentifiable and unrepresentable mass needs to be reduced to something that is identifiable and representable. That something can be nothing and everything all at once strikes more fear into the citizen’s heart than the police with their guns and grenades and tear gas and cages. The label “the anarchists” is thrown onto everybody who does not protest the proper way or who wears all black. This is not because of the actual political content of the rowdy hooligans, clearly. There is no thought whatsoever when this label is thrown about in such a manner. It is entirely an attempt by those who have completely internalized their alienation and the logic of this world to bring these outsiders back into the discourse of Empire, although clearly in a negative way.

All of this only further proves the existence of world civil war, and that Occupy Oakland is a battlefield. The divisions created by this march are not political in the traditional sense. It is not one tendency against each other. This is quite plainly a battle between ethical forms-of-life, meaning these conflicts are over the way people do the things they do. This is most evident in the fact that on both sides of this are anarchists and communists. And this is where it gets interesting: those anarchists and communists who were not for the property damage could be later seen telling those who were to “calm down.” It doesn’t matter that all anarchists are against the state and capitalism when there are those who are firmly attached to the life dampening nature of society itself.

None of the authors of this were present for the attempted building occupation later in the night. We do know however that it was not a violent action until the police showed up. That people were prepared for this does not place the blame on them but only shows their accurate understanding of the function of the police. We also know that the GA voted to endorse and support all occupations of buildings, so those that are saying this was not done with the consent of the occupation can shut up and stew in the short comings and failures of consensus and democracy. Losers.

Mad props and so much fucking love to all the Oakland hooligans who have been, continue to, and will be keepin’ it real.

Solidarity not Unity – Division, Consensus, and the Outside

The General Strike and “Violence”

I experienced the general strike in Oakland on Nov. 2 as an overwhelming success. The port was successfully shut down for the night, by some accounts by up to 100,000 people, and certainly well into the tens of thousands. It was celebratory, and beautiful.

After checking the usual internet sources the next morning, however, it became apparent that’s not the spin it got. Two other events were instead highlighted. First, there was some property destruction at various points (i.e. broken windows). Second, there was an attempted occupation of a vacant building at 520 16th street, to set up a free school and library. The response to this latter event is, unfortunately, becoming less surprising in Oakland: batons, rubber bullets, flashbangs, tear gas, and a seriously injured veteran. For several days afterwards much of the movement was preoccupied with this story, about whether those who acted autonomously and were branded by the news media were harmful to the movement, and about what tactics should be endorsed and prohibited.

The Orchestrated Split with “Violent” Anarchists

This is a story that has been building for thirteen years. Shortly after the 1999 WTO protests, the media spin quickly became about the “peaceful” activists vs. the “violent” activists, with the latter universally characterized as anarchists, members of a shadowy “black bloc” organization that was hell bent on ruining an otherwise perfectly upstanding protest. Immediately the narrative of much of the left became about the harm these violent outsiders wrought on the “message” of the protest, they way they were “hijacking” or “co-opting” the movement. I remember that many of my friends, after returning from the WTO protest, were completely confused as to the way “the black bloc” had become stigmatized. Their experience of black bloc tactics was mostly that when the police started to escalate, the black bloc came in through the tear gas (many had gas masks) and offered medical assistance, got people to safe places, and reinforced the human blockades everyone was setting up throughout the city. The “peace” vs. “violence” story that we hear now is a deliberate distortion of reality.

As always, we must be open to seriously questioning the efficacy and desirability of certain tactics. But regardless of what we think about particular tactics, the division of the movement into a “black bloc” and a “peaceful” contingent limits the possible tactics to a predetermined list, and destroys relationships between people which could otherwise be productive. Even in its more sophisticated, less media-hype-driven form, the disavowal of one protesting group by another effectively creates an inside and an outside to the movement. One group’s role is legitimate dissent; the other group’s is illegitimate, nonrepresentative provocation. Distinction of socially valid and invalid voices is inevitably accompanied by the distinction of socially valid and invalid peoples. Tactical discussions are absolutely essential, but they are discussions we have to have within the movement, not between the people who suppose they are part of the movement and the others who have been marginalized.

The Consensus Model as Enforced Unity

With the overwhelming success of the GA (general assembly) model, the tenor of this discussion is changing. Now, rather than just exasperation that “the black bloc” doesn’t “represent the movement,” we get on the one hand a legitimate feeling of disenfranchisement when supposedly autonomous actions occur, and on the other hand suggestions that we should organize a group to prevent the “violence,” or that we should issue a formal statement, “as a movement,” that any tactic like this is not part of The Occupy Movement. These “peace” vs. “violence” debates illuminate unresolved issues that are at the very core of our movement: policing, representation, enfranchisement, and the relationship between autonomy and collectivity. The consensus process has been our answer to all of these for a while, but if its overwhelming success has made clear its potentials, it has also revealed its shortcomings.

Just as we should be wary of narratives of division within the movement, we should be equally wary about stories of unity. These are really just two ways of looking at the same thing: the creation of an artificially unified mainstream and a disenfranchised outside. Our rallying cry should be solidarity, not unity; our physical togetherness, not our behavioral similarity. What has become clear from the application of consensus to occupations and general assemblies is that, in fact, consensus has always depended on the ingroup/outgroup distinction. A block (or “no” vote) means, effectively, if this group goes forward with this event, I will leave. And just as much, a consensed-on decision means: if you don’t go forward with this, you aren’t part of our group. To some degree (though only to some degree), the ingroup/outgroup model makes sense for a movement that is well-bounded in space, time, and objective, like the shutdown of a particular governance meeting (WTO, IMF, World Bank, G8, etc). This constituted the vast majority of the actions during the 2000s. Now, the situation is completely different. Our goals and tactics go far beyond a specific time-based objective, but more importantly, we have gained the task of organizing space, rather than just people.

Consensus and the Outside

If my experience at the occupation at Davis is any indication of a larger trend, and rumors as well as internet chatter indicate that it is, this is probably the biggest issue within the movement. Firstly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between so-called “autonomous” and group actions. Our camp changes form constantly, changes are made that people disagree with, and people start feeling like they’re losing their hold on the movement. Secondly, when we are confronted with aggression or harassment that is threatening to our camp, we often have to deal with it on the spot, without recourse to a GA. All disciplinary action is the same: exile. In a way, consensus ideology implies a Lockean paradise: you freely choose to belong to a society, and if you don’t like it you leave. Consensus depends on the fiction of an “outside” in two respects: first, that each individual has the capacity to act autonomously outside the group, apart from the group, not affecting the group as a whole; second, that disunited elements can be merely ejected back into the already-existing society. This fictional outside is now being confronted for the fiction that it always was.

Consensus has essentially nothing to say about what takes place outside of GAs. It assumes that discipline will never be necessary. It assumes that nobody needs to have a say if they can’t be physically present. And what is most important, it assumes that the space outside of the GA can be a space of complete autonomy without conflict. What the occupations are making clear is that some sort of discipline is necessary, many people want to find a way to be involved but cannot yet come to every GA, and the profound togetherness we experience within the GA does not magically become isolated autonomy as soon as we step outside of it.

As much as we had hoped otherwise, consensus is not a miniature, liberated future developing independently of the state. Consensus is totally dependent on the presence of a larger state to which it can eject elements that its process has no other means to discipline. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is, actually, a world outside of the movement, and until the movement becomes the dominant force in the world, it must exist in relation to that world. That is, it must exist dialectically: the movement must be apart from and nevertheless in relationship to that which it hopes to change. As a consciousness of reality, the outside should be preserved, because it’s there. But in our directions and our goals, we must constantly work to get rid of that outside. We need to begin practically defining mechanisms for enforcing some minimum of discipline without expelling the undisciplined to the mercy of the state.

In order to do this, we have to know what discipline is. And this means that we need to begin critically remapping the relationship between autonomy and collectivity. We must learn to see our freedom in collectivity. This may have been theoretically achieved many times, but practically, autonomy and collectivity are still in conflict, and that conflict extends to the rest of the movement.

Consensus and Social Care

The value of consensus is proven by the fact that its shortcomings have become clear: our expectations have been raised by our experiences of its immensely democratic power. Representation, which is mostly just a system to legitimize exclusion from the political process, is being actively replaced with participation. When the consensus process is focused on participation and discussion, then, it is extremely effective at being inclusive. No one can be prevented from speaking. But the “unanimous” decisions within consensus are fetishized as if they provided a complete social order, when in reality they provide only a few punctuated moments in a complex cooperative activity. The small part of our sociality that is actually formalized stands in for our sociality as a whole.

“Consensus” has always been metonymic (that is, a part standing for a whole) for a whole range of social behaviors, only a few of which are actually present in the formal consensus process. But the effect of consensus-as-metonymy is to obscure those social behaviors which have yet to be formally encoded into the consensus process. Rather than an ultimately doomed race to encode more and more of our social practice into highly systematized political structures―this race is an integral part of what we are trying to escape―we have to start giving equal priority to those things which happen outside of these structures, outside of consensus. That which is outside our formal processes must be actively included in our sociality. This will require care, and work, and may eventually react back on the formal processes. Rather than fetishizing these processes as the bearers of social good, rather than imagining that they could provide the basis for social care, we have to recognize them as only one small part of our sociality, all of which must push constantly towards care. In that push, consensus will no doubt be transformed.

If the occupation movement teaches us only one thing, it is this: it is never too early to begin building the future. For the first time in many years, we have created a space that is set apart from capitalism, and aims to be permanent. This space is already often beautiful, but it provides us with more questions than answers. As Žižek recently wrote: “there is a long road ahead, and soon we will have to address the truly difficult questions―not questions of what we do not want, but about what we do want. What social organization can replace the existing capitalism? What type of new leaders do we need? What organs, including those of control and repression? The 20th-century alternatives obviously did not work.

“Consensus” is not the answer, and cannot be allowed to defer these questions.

No more Officer Friendly

When I was young, I had deep reverence for the police. They were noble and courageous men and women in their crisp blue uniforms and shiny badges, those brave souls who protected us from danger, pursued the bad guys, rescued lost children, helped old ladies to cross the street. I remember “Officer Friendly” visiting the DARE program at my elementary school, and I remember trusting him. He shared some street safety tips and gave us his phone number to contact him if we ever felt unsafe. My teacher beamed as the officer shook everyone’s hand with a warm smile.

As a teenager and young adult, I began to grow wary of the cops. Watching documentary footage of anti-war protests and college campus strikes, I was stunned to see police raging against the crowd, thrashing their batons onto people who wanted our nation to give peace a chance. It struck me as a terrible hypocrisy that peaceful citizens could be physically assaulted by cops as a form of “crowd control.” That is not very friendly, Officer. At this age I also began experimenting with such subversive activities as driving aimlessly with friends and smoking pot in the Denny’s parking lot before stuffing ourselves full of pancakes and omelets. Obviously we kept a sharp lookout for the po-po, which was the only threat to our good times once we had escaped our parents. I became more aware of suburban police hiding on side streets to catch speedy drivers, and I listened to my parents complain about “those damn sneaky cops.” I still respected the police but mostly I tried to avoid them at all costs.

I moved to Oakland in late 2011 and was inspired by the Occupy movement. While spending time at the camp, I was cheered by the diversity of voices, talents and trades that people shared with each other, in pursuit of our common goal of economic justice. I marched with other protesters in downtown Oakland, pleased that the police were honoring our message. They had cleared the streets for our peaceful demonstration. No one was standing in our way! Until, of course, a few days later, when hundreds of riot cops raided and obliterated the encampment using violent force. I was shocked at the actions and the aftermath. Tents and other property ripped to shreds. My friends were tear-gassed. My co-workers were afraid to leave our downtown office. My roommate was hit several times with a baton and came home with an enormous bruise on her chest. Because that is exactly how you protect citizens and keep the peace, right?

I am flabbergasted by these obscene measures of police brutality against nonviolent demonstrators. We are in a war zone, defending ourselves against the same people who are supposed to have public safety as their top priority. There is no justification for this. No reason and no excuses. And now, there is no going back. No more Officer Friendly. No more childhood innocence.