Friday, November 11, 2011

#N2: The day that was

As a blogger on Alice@97.3 (a crappy contemporary radio station, for those who don't know) so adroitly put it: On Wednesday, shit got "really, really real." Instead of a list of events or a play-by-play, here's a collection of incidents, vignettes, and encounters. Hopefully, this can come a little closer to capturing the beautiful dissonance of the day's events.

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In the morning, there is a small child walking around with a hand-drawn sign that says 'schools not prisons.' "Shouldn't that say 'schools are prisons?'" someone comments. 

A crappy bakery in the banking district had threatened employees who had asked for the day off. Mid-morning, a group of thirty-plus people went into the bakery, chanting and yelling. The manager eventually promised to let people off with full pay for the day's work. Some people stayed to picket outside. Others moved on, roaming through the carnival of downtown Oakland.

Only a few blocks into the anti-capitalist march, a banner is dropped from a parking garage that reads: "This is Class War. Just win, baby."

At the last second, the Anti-capitalist march is redirected to go to Whole Foods, who had also threatened workers who tried to strike on Wednesday (which they later denied, which doesn't mean shit). Someone paints the word "STRIKE" in 8-foot-high letters on the front of the building. The conflict has four parties: the spectators, the black bloc, Whole Foods, and the peace police. Almost immediately, the peace police tackle a member of the bloc. This particular member of the peace police, later identified as Zach Voorhees of San Francisco, proceeds to get roughed up with some black flags and the bloc-er is able to get away. This is the same peace cop who earlier tackled someone who had smashed bank windows. The anti-capitalist bloc continues through town, making its presence known at various banks and other miserable institutions. While not everyone participated in the destruction, almost everyone cheered for it.

While other marches chanted "peaceful protest" and "we are the 99%", the anti-capitalist bloc chanted "Egypt was violent and so are we" and "we are the proletariat."

Even though the logical contradictions in progressive thought should be no surprise to anyone, it is still interesting to note that violence toward property was initiated by anti-capitalists, while violence against people, in defense of property, was initiated by the peace police.

The sun set that night across the bay, shining in through the cranes at the Oakland port. A banner had been hung from a signal bridge above the railroad. A gaggle of people with black flags sat atop a grainer. Someone had tagged a railroad car, with the caption "occupyin' the town 2011." At one point, the march stretched continuously from Oscar Grant Plaza to the end of the port.

Barricades of potted plants, dumpsters, and trashcans are set up around the plaza. Initiated by people in black bloc, many others stepped up to lend a hand. Two or three peace police flipped their shit when people were moving dumpsters. Once barricades went up, it was often only a matter of minutes before citizen-police moved them back out of the road.

Late in the evening, after the sunset but before the building occupation, a group of people were filming a skate video on the north steps of the plaza. Before Occupy Oakland, one probably couldn't skate in what was Frank Ogawa Plaza. In Oscar Grant Plaza, this and so much more is suddenly possible. However, the filming was interrupted by one man who sometimes does security shifts at the occupation. He sat down on the 4-set where they were filming in order to prevent what, to him, was a possibility of injury. A short argument followed, sucking people in from all around. Ultimately, they stopped filming.

A foreclosed building is taken over two blocks from Oscar Grant Plaza. The initial gathering of about 150 dwindles when the threat of a police attack becomes imminent and dwindles again when a barricade is proactively set afire to disperse teargas. The barricades and the building are left behind when the cops move in. The windows of the police substation at the plaza are all broken (but the building is boarded from the inside). As the police take space, general rioting ensues. Graffiti writers of all stripes are out in force and they all get ups. Businesses up and down Broadway get smashed. Fire extinguisher pieces go up at 14th and Broadway: "Smashy smashy." A statement from the building occupiers makes this situation (and its spectacular significance) clear:
We understand that much of the conversation about last night will revolve around the question of violence (though mostly they mean violence to “property,” which is somehow strangely equated with harming human beings). We know that there are many perspectives on these questions, and we should make the space for talking about them. But let us say this to the cops and to the mayor: things got “violent” after the police came. The riot cops marched down Telegraph and then the barricades were lit on fire. The riots cops marched down Telegraph and then bottles got thrown and windows smashed. The riot cops marched down Telegraph and graffiti appeared everywhere.
The point here is obvious: if the police don’t want violence, they should stay the hell away.

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In the past few years in the bay, Anarchists have been acting autonomously, in the absence of a social movement. Now, a social movement is fermenting, one that isn't limiting itself to the demand-form and is actively avoiding political legitimation or recuperation. Far from cornering itself, the occupy movement has a wide open terrain for its varied trajectories. Keeping the terrain open and pushing the boundaries of what actions and opinions are acceptable are important goals of intervention into occupy. Two years ago, during the student occupation struggles, "occupy everything" was a radical and marginal slogan. Now it's standard fare. In years past in Santa Cruz, marching in the streets was often a matter of contention. Now it happens without a second thought.

We could see this shift as a sign that these tactics and positions are less fierce as they become more palatable to progressives. In a sense, this is true. But it is also proof that the acceptable arena for popular protest might be expanding, at least partly as a result of more antagonistic projects. The left in the United States is still far from where it is in places like France, where a general strike is called every year just as a way for labor to flex its muscle (a gesture that has become increasingly toothless in recent years). While it would be foolish to think having a militant left really does anything to further our project of total liberation, hopefully we can at least use it to get over all this bullshit about nonviolence. Also, as the dialogue and tactics expand, we as social antagonists can better articulate ourselves beyond one or another signifier of militancy.

a total revolt for a total freedom,

For further reading:
Insurrection, Oakland-Style
Bay of Rage

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