Photo by Mimi Enea
Before I give my account, I'd like to request that anyone commenting actually read the entire post first, and of course, please share this. I don't mind if you disagree with me; all that I ask is that my writing ONLY be shared in its entirety, so that my words are not taken out of context.
On Wednesday, November 2nd, I spent 13 hours in the streets of Oakland witnessing what was quite possibly the most stunning display of human interaction and cooperation that I've ever seen. I can honestly say that, until recently, I never thought I'd live to see the day where the people of this nation would join together in a realization that we can take our power back and avoid what has seemed like a downward spiral crash course that this planet has been on. When I saw news reports of the people in Egypt joining together to form road blocks in their own neighborhoods, I had no idea that I would soon find myself on the port in Oakland, doing the exact same thing with people in my bay area community. I could see this same sentiment in the eyes of everyone else there as well; the people, by golly, realized, some possibly for the first time, that we are not powerless. All of a sudden, mainstream media vans were asking US for permission to pass on OUR streets. This awe inspiring observation served to counter balance what I'd seen earlier in the day, which was far more disturbing than simply a small group of hooligans breaking windows.
Right before the afternoon march, I noticed 2 men with military style haircuts displaying suspicious looking body language. Suspicious indeed, it turns out, as they very quickly masked themselves, and proceeded towards a group of some others that had already done the same. One of them affixed a black flag to what looked like a retractable baton. At this point, they mostly fit in with the others, aside from the slight difference that all of their gear appeared to be high end, and brand spanking new right off the corporate sales rack. Their shoes had no visible wear, unlike those in the group they approached. I decided to follow them, because my "spidey senses", to say the least, were raising curiosity with an air of alarm. I followed them throughout the entire rampage.
The two men followed the rest of the black flag group, though only appeared to talk to each other, looking around nervously while seemingly conferencing on their strategies separate from the others. They all took to the front of the march as we approached the first bank. Immediately, the windows were smashed, as they were with the next bank, and the next, only skipping, from what I saw, the bank of the Orient in Chinatown, and stopping short of citibank at the end of the march. One of the two very suspicious men I noticed earlier was one of the main window smashers, and while I did see some of the others in the masked black flag group join in, most of that groups' vandalism actually consisted of paint and the throwing of objects that stood in our way. I didn't see the second man in question smash anything at all, but rather, he put his energy into yelling out things to instigate the crowd into escalating the vandalism ("Let's go! Smash that shit!" etc.), and encourage the crowd to cheer when it happened. Just in time for video and photo being presented to the rest of the world.
This is the point when the crowd started turning against each other. An older gentleman I overheard speaking of the unions earlier was brawling with one of the masked men, and everyone was screaming something different. The aforementioned instigator informed everyone within earshot that Whole Foods claimed they would fire any of their employees that took the strike day off (a claim some say now is actually false) and everyone started marching towards the store. By the time we got to whole foods, it was total pandemonium.
Chairs, tables, paint, everything was flying through the air as some people tried to protest Whole Foods while also shielding it from the chaos. By the time we got to the University building, a brave man was blocking the door screaming "Peaceful Protest! This is my city, and I don't want to destroy it!" He cracked his knuckles, ready to take on an attack, his face splattered in paint from the whole foods fiasco. Behind the doors were men in badges. After all of the police brutality in Oakland, even unarmed men being murdered for the apparent crime of of class or skin color, I was now watching a black man shield cops from a protest. Insanity.
The black flag group began pointing out those attempting to stop them, chanting "The peace police must be stopped", and I was, personally, rather disgusted by the strategy of comparing peacefully pissed people to police which have acted out violently against peaceful protesters. By this time, we had come almost full circle back to where we started, to the Wells Fargo that had been shut down by demonstrators I had joined earlier, without incident. An individual commenced to more smashing, and a disillusioned man next to me burst into tears saying "This was supposed to be Non-Violent!"
All of a sudden I realized I needed to be documenting what I was seeing with the camera I brought, something that hadn't crossed my mind in all the chaos. She was unmasked while handing these out, which says to me that she doesn't mind her face being associated with this flyer, so for now I can presume that it must be okay to display her photo here with my post. If she asks me to remove it, I most certainly will. The two men I was following had now vanished. It gets worse.
Today I approached the internet nervous to see what the media would say about this. What do I see? Talk of the eeevil anarchists in our midst that are bringing down the movement, "not part of the 99%" some say, and my heartbreak deepens. I'd like to ask anyone reading this to get really honest with themselves about the labels they are throwing onto living, breathing people, and their own associations with what those words mean.
Now there is debate over whether property damage is "violence" or not, and I'd like to take a moment to say this with great conviction: The most important thing we need to do right now is examine these labels collectively before using them, and most of all, get clear, collectively, about the word "violence."
Our culture is rather violent, I think it's safe to say, as there is massive profit on human suffering all across the board. Men in uniforms with guns, threatening to kidnap (imprison) other humans while robbing them of their homes; That, I'd call violence. It's endless- we've allowed death and misery to those that cannot contribute to the wealth of a health care system which, it seems in many cases, hurts more than helps as a front for drug companies. It's sick (pun intended) from my perspective, as I've had several teeth pulled at homeless clinics, and even extracted one of my own wisdom teeth in lieu of proper care I couldn't get. My father worked in a factory in Compton for 35 years, so I've had a LOT of time to observe what's been happening to the bottom of the proverbial 99% barrel in this country.
I remember people in my community shooting at choppers during the L.A. riots, so I've had a hell of a lot of time to think about violence too. I don't think that smashing objects should be put into the same category. I've smashed dishes that belonged to my loved ones, purely out of anger, and I know that these things can be cleaned up and fixed, as the Clean Up Occupy Oakland party today has shown. To anyone freaking out or anguished over some broken windows, I'd like to ask that you calm yourself and please bear with me here, because I'm about to say something that might sound totally f&%$ing crazy. Wait for it...
It's common knowledge that the most dangerous animal you will ever meet is a mother protecting her young. If you don't understand that, try approaching a grizzly bear cub in the forest and see what happens. My own cat attacked me once as a child when I attempted to touch her newborn kittens. Cops shooting unarmed men, and a window breaking are now given the same label: "Violent." That means that someone attempting to rape your sister, for instance, can be labeled the same as the person whom uses physical force to stop that same rapist. Self defense and brutal attacks getting the same label is a problem. That means that a peaceful protester that falls under a violent attack with chemical weapons can also be called violent when, in desperation with this struggle, they decide to simply toss an empty bottle in the direction of law enforcement (whom won't be hurt by that in their robo cop style riot gear) Language is magical like that. Spellbound= bound by spelling. Anyone old enough to remember the red scare, and all the societal insanity that revolved around calling someone a commie in those days, knows what a label can do to a real person. That said, are you ready for my crazy opinion? Here it is:
Much like the mother grizzly bear, I think it's incredibly likely that some misguided individuals did what they felt was entirely just out of love for those whom they identify with: the 99%. A patriotic soldier can feel something similar, and it's undeniable that America, and the entire planet, may be in the throes of a massive class war as I type this. Unfortunately, the end result of their actions might have extremely harmful consequences to the movement as a whole in the end, not only due to the negative press, and the resulting actions of law enforcement that needs these acts as an excuse to bring REAL violence like Scott Olson received, but also in the way that it instantly began to split the people up into those who are with the evil ooga booga anarchists, and those whom are not. Don't let anarchists become the new commie style scare. That's just stupid and old fashioned in a way thats unbecoming of us all.
I don't identify with any political party specifically, as my personal philosophy is oh so simple. My personal position always comes down to my own eternal truth which is this: Love is The Law. I think our entire political system could potentially be corrupted beyond repair at this stage of the game, and could be scrapped for an entirely new way of conducting human society as a whole on this planet. I would like to see the rule, as we currently know it, to become obsolete so that The Law (as I've defined it here) can be returned. In fact, I we may *have* to do this if we don't want to go extinct, destroying the planet with ourselves. Some people say that makes me an anarchist, or an anarcho-primitivist. Black Bloc is not a group or political party. It's a tactic of using strategic protest methods in small organized groups within the whole.
How this came to mean "smash everything", I'm not sure. That energy could be put into something more effective, something more radical, honestly. I definitely understand the satisfaction that would result from smashing something belonging to the oppressor, but didn't take part because I can see how it cannot be productive in this situation. It's counter productive all across the board, most likely. A broken window doesn't hurt the racket that is wells fargo, just the movement that takes the blame. Now, you're not going to like this, but it gets worse. MUCH worse.
Copwatch participants have been working hard for a long time to expose harmful and illegal activity among those we pay to protect us. I don't believe that each individual working in law enforcement is to blame for grievances against their department in general. I think we also need to recognize that Oscar Grants' murderer, along with the others guilty of police brutality make them all look bad as they serve as slaves to a corrupt organization that is costing us a fortune. Why does the department demand that their employees have an IQ that is average or lower, but never above average? Did they ask the people what we thought about that bizarre decision? I don't remember police having a militaristic approach, even calling the people "civilians" when I was a child; What happened? Copwatch recently released a video exposing two undercover infiltrators at Occupy Oakland that work for law enforcement. Other documentarians have exposed agent provocateurs at protests in Montebello (they admitted it!), and the most disturbing footage I've seen are in an excellent documentary called "Into the Fire", where these agents are seen causing a ruckus at the G20 summit in Toronto to serve the intentions of a militarized police force that acts ABOVE the law to squash voices of dissent exercising their right of freedom of speech. Unacceptable.
If such efforts are underway, let's turn the tables. If such plans exist to harm a peaceful message, why not refuse to be stupidly predictable in our handling of it, and instead, let it backfirein a way that benefits us all. It already started today as occupiers helped reverse some of yesterdays actions. I work for an environmental clean up crew called Playa Restoration, that makes sure there is NO TRACE LEFT BEHIND after a festival of 50,000 or so people, and we spend a month or more in a brutal desert in order to do so. As volunteers. We do it out of love for our community and the land. That said, I know it's possible for people to organize big action together. The police don't protect our safety oftentimes. Let's band together to do it ourselves. How many women in Oakland get attacked/raped every year? I almost don't even want to know, but why not replace the endless anarchist argument with discussion about ways to band together and protect women from this which is DEFINITELY violence? In the face of schools being closed in favor of spending in ways we don't want, Occupiers are answering by attempting to create community libraries and education. A center for outreach for the homeless, foreclosed and vacant, has been reclaimed by occupiers for these means (while stating that they welcome the re-opening of the center for it's purpose.) I was there, at the reclaimed building last night. It was beautiful. Why not exert our energy in that direction? A vacant building foreclosed by the banks could be turned into a shelter for battered women guarded by non-violent occupiers, or any other volunteers that see the opportunity for a revolutionary act within reach. If the city chose to attack us in the name of "sanitation" rather than using our tax dollars to clean up the park, and if the money extorted from the public is going to be put into militarizing a police force against our will while homeless shelters are emptied due to bank foreclosure, then pardon my language, but I say fuck them. We can do it ourselves.
As nice as it is to discuss these things on the internet, the most important thing we can do is show up for the General Assemblies. When OPD attacked the small collection of people at Oakland Oscar Grant Plaza camp, the people responded by showing up in very large numbers to agree on a strike. Now the entire world is talking about this mass action. Typing is great- but first and foremost, we need to be out there, facing each other, and addressing more constructive efforts than finger pointing. If someone is willing to physically destroy a target and risk jail or worse for a cause they love that much, why not have a goddamn NON-violent discussion among everyone with the pretense of coming to a compromise that won't damage an entire movement? Statements I've heard about resorting to vigilante type actions to stop these actions in order to turn them in to law enforcement as an alternative doesn't sit quite right with me either, especially since law enforcement feels rather defective to most of us right about now. What if people within our community are being influenced by a force that serves to keep the people down with agent provocateur actions that have been documented; Shouldn't we want to protect those people in our community?!?
Last night, Oakland law enforcement, along with agents from departments across the state, were sent in fully armed in response the remaining crowd, some of which appeared to be random drunk people that happened across our peaceful celebration of what we'd accomplished. I don't know who broke into the coffee shop, but frankly it's hard to be concerned when armed agents are sent in by the state with their names and badge numbers CONCEALED. That is illegal, and in my humble opinion, an EMERGENCY topic that this entire nation needs to address IMMEDIATELY. While a homeless man was shot with a rubber bullet, mainstream media reported some broken windows instead. If it's safe to assume that covert opposition are present amongst us, we surely have to agree that anything destructive to our goals, however well intentioned, must be kept seperate. Indeed, that puts us in the awkward position of struggling to protect the rights and futures of agents in our midst that oppose us, but let's just suck it up and accept that job as ours.
We need more jobs, everyone keeps saying, so there you go. There is a LOT of work to be done in this country (for starters.) I've worked with a collective called Food Not Bombs in the past, which operates in an anarchist fashion despite a wide range of political views among its participants. I never witnessed violence- I witnessed mostly poverty stricken individuals working via cooperation rather than under a heirarchy to feed those even more poverty stricken than themselves. It's my understanding that the FBI consider them terrorists.
Did we vote on that consensus? I think we need our own definitions for our words, so I haven't looked it up in a dictionary, but I'm pretty sure that's what an anarchist movement does: Work cooperatively, making the 1% obsolete.