Occupy Oakland exemplified what for many was the most radical expression of the north american Occupy movement, a radicalness that speaks of the political history of the city. Having begun with a protest camp at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza on October 10, 2011, re-baptised by the protesters as Oscar Grant Plaza after a young man who was fatally shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit Police in 2009, the camp was cleared out by multiple law enforcement agencies on October 25, 2011, and again on November 14th, after a second occupation.
Occupy Oakland was also fundamental in the organisation of the November 2nd, 2011 Oakland General Strike that shut down the Port of Oakland, an action repeated on December the 12th. Police again cleared the protest encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza on November 14, 2011. The last occupation at Snow Park was cleared on November 21, 2011. Occupy Oakland has continued however to engage in political activity.
We share below two texts, the first, Occupy Oakland General Assembly’s October 26th proposal for a city wide general strike (a strike whose ambition was not limited to shutting down “economic” sites, but extended to the whole city, as a radical social strike), followed by a letter to the Occupy movement, from participants in Oakland, attempting to clarify and explain some of the questions around corporatism VS capitalism, pacifism and what the so-called 99% actually is.
Below is the proposal passed by the Occupy Oakland General Assembly on Wednesday October 26, 2011 in reclaimed Oscar Grant Plaza. 1607 people voted. 1484 voted in favor of the resolution, 77 abstained and 46 voted against it, passing the proposal at 96.9%. The General Assembly operates on a modified consensus process that passes proposals with 90% in favor and with abstaining votes removed from the final count.
We as fellow occupiers of Oscar Grant Plaza propose that on Wednesday November 2, 2011, we liberate Oakland and shut down the 1%.
We propose a city wide general strike and we propose we invite all students to walk out of school. Instead of workers going to work and students going to school, the people will converge on downtown Oakland to shut down the city.
All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.
While we are calling for a general strike, we are also calling for much more. People who organize out of their neighborhoods, schools, community organizations, affinity groups, workplaces and families are encouraged to self organize in a way that allows them to participate in shutting down the city in whatever manner they are comfortable with and capable of.
The whole world is watching Oakland. Let’s show them what is possible.
The occupation movement: On greed, unity and violence
Being “greedy” is what good corporations and businesses are supposed to do in capitalism. In this system, individuals can only get ahead by acting greedy, in their own self-interest. So while many recent city occupations in the USA have built themselves against “corporate greed”, “big business,” and “financiers on Wall Street”, we cannot forget that the most greedy corporations also donate the most to charity, that small business is just as much part of the system as big business, that productive industry cannot exist without finance. We must challenge the entire system. If we are really against “corporate greed” then we are against capitalism itself.
Yes, the 1% have been screwing us, for as long as time. The 99% are reduced to working, serving and maintaining a system that makes us miserable and prevents us from realizing our potential. A growing number of us have been completely expelled from ‘society’ altogether—through homelessness, joblessness, an inability to get adequate healthcare, lack of access to education and other miserable conditions.
But the idea that there is something called society that we should all work together to defend is an illusion. Society is rife with divisions, conflicts and wars. Some of these wars are manufactured and waged by the 1%. Other wars, such as the wars conducted by indigenous peoples and people of color against racist colonization and the war conducted by women and trans people against patriarchal gender violence, are hidden and suppressed in the false name of society. Every year for these last decades, the casualties of society have piled up as the revolutionaries have been killed or jailed.
In recent years, many of the 99% have appeared to follow the rules. Many of us have been caught in the cycle of working and borrowing in order to continue working and borrowing, we have been terrified of speaking out against daily injustices and humiliations for fear of losing the tiny foothold we hope to protect, or for fear of getting jailed or beaten by the cops, or getting ostracized and criminalized by the obeyers (even though they know the rules are unjust). Many people who have recently lost their social standing are figuring out that the promises capitalism holds out to them are hollow. What the 99% faces, at best, is a life of debt, chained to shitty jobs and to shitty commodities.
The Occupy Movement is awakening to the fact that if we continue to follow their rules, they, the 1%, will win. The Occupy movement is a wake-up call to disobey their rules and to create new ways of living together.
But the call for unity of the 99% is empty. There is no unity between those who seek to uphold the system of domination and those of us who seek to destroy it as we create a new world. What section of the 99% will join us, and what part will seek to defend the powers that exist, playing on fear of chaos or disruption? What part of that 99% will work with us to expropriate, destroy and transform what the 1% controls? Most immediately: the cops may well be part of that 99%, but they are directly in opposition to us as long as they continue to do their job as cops. (The Tea Party minions, the rapists, racists, gay bashers and sexual abusers are all part of the 99%, but they are definitely not with us).
Violence is not something we can choose or not choose
The Occupy Movement quickly comes up against the pepper spray and baton blows of the cops. What is violence? Ask the friends and family of all those who have been killed or sexually assaulted by cops or shot in the back for not paying a transit fare. Ask the prisoners who are on hunger strike across California, the homeless who try to find a place to sleep or a place to pee, the thousands who have gotten beaten up for protesting injustices, the young people of color who are constantly harassed and attacked by anti-gang task forces, the sex workers abused and exploited by the cops.
Destroying and expropriating the property of the 1% is not violence. Violence is the shooting of Oscar Grant, of Charles Hill, of Kenneth Harding, and countless others. Violence is more than 1/3 of women who suffer sexual assault. In fact, violence is a normal, constant condition of capitalism. For the occupation movement, the first clear violence will come from the cops and resistance to these agents of repression is absolutely necessary. As someone said in Tahrir Square, “when the cops come to take your shit, you have to try to stop them.”
The square occupations in North Africa unleashed revolutions that toppled dictators and those in Europe brought global stock markets to the brink of collapse. The difference here is obviously in the numbers; 50,000+ in Tahrir Square, 20,000 in Syntagma. Yet there was also something more.The strength of these occupations lied in their refusal to be removed, their commitment to physically resist any attempts to evict them from their liberated spaces. Remember the barricades around Tahrir? Non-violence made no sense during those long nights of fighting to protect the revolution. Here in the usa, we will also need to resist, in our own ways. By limiting the scope of that resistance right from the start, we undermine our potential strength and we let the state decide when we will be removed, when this explosion of resistance has gone too far and needs to be extinguished.
We need tens of thousands to take to the streets and build this movement into something greater. But if the past weeks have taught us anything it is that clashes with the state do not scare people away. In fact it is the opposite. The numbers on Wall Street have clearly grown after each round of escalation and scuffles with police.
The potential of this movement. What do we really want?
We don’t want shitty jobs. We don’t want to vote for politicians who promise to change things. We don’t want to waste our energies trying to change the constitution. We don’t want a few new rules for Wall Street. We don’t believe we can “affect the system” by just “being together.”
The 1% controls the wealth of the society. We need to take it back, and remake it in the process. But what comes after occupying the city squares? City Hall? Foreclosed homes? Supermarkets? And then—Liberating public transit? Free health clinics? Free education? Collective food production?
Everything is possible.
Postscript: Occupy Oakland
As we write this, we have no way of knowing whether the city-controlled Frank Ogawa Plaza will become occupied Oscar Grant Plaza, with all of the possibilities that entails. But we do know that if this occupation is to last and continue to grow beyond the first night, and if this movement is to bring any fundamental change in the quality of our lives, it must be drastically different than any of the other Occupations around the country.
Oakland is currently under occupation by the police. The form of this occupation varies; the situation is much different in Temescal than in deep East Oakland. We live in a militarized space. Whether it’s police executions of Black youth, police harassment of sex workers along International Boulevard, or the city council’s racist legislation in the form of anti-loitering laws, gang injunctions or the suggested youth curfew, this paramilitary occupation is a project of local government to pacify and contain the city so capitalism can go about it’s business uninterrupted.
But Oakland doesn’t just have a violent, repressive contemporary situation; we have a vibrant history of struggle and resistance. From the 1946 General Strike to the formation of the Black Panther party in 1966 to the anti-police rebellion following the execution of Oscar Grant in 2009, Oakland has long been a city full of people that refuse to sit down and shut up. Despite every attempt by the state to kill that spirit, it lives on and will be out in full force over the coming days.
Originally posted: October 10, 2011 at Bay of Rage; re-posted on Libcom.org, 24/10/2011.
Video: The Oakland Commune …
On October 10th 2011, hundreds of people in downtown Oakland occupied Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of city hall. They built a self-organized tent city and began to meet some of the community’s most urgent needs. They renamed the plaza Oscar Grant Plaza in honor of a young African-American man who was shot and killed by BART Police in 2009. Although the action was partially inspired by Occupy Wall Street and austerity protests throughout the world, Occupy Oakland’s particular character resulted from years of struggle and repression in the Bay Area. This short documentary details the ongoing story of the Oakland Commune.
It was produced by Marianne Maeckelbergh and Brandon Jourdan with footage from Caitlin Manning, David Martinez, John Hamilton, and tons of archival footage.
On January 28, 2012, Occupy Oakland endeavoured to take long-vacant convention center in the city, for the purposes of creating a social centre. What resulted came to be known as the “battle of Oakland”, as massively deployed city police violently repressed the action …
Video: The Battle of Oakland …
On January 28th, 2012, Occupy Oakland moved to take a vacant building to use as a social center and a new place to continue organizing. This is the story of what happened that day as told by those who were a part of it. it features rare footage and interviews with Boots Riley, David Graeber, Maria Lewis, and several other witnesses to key events. Video by Brandon Jourdan.