Three commentaries on tactics in the Occupy Movement

The November 2nd General Strike in Oakland was a remarkable success. Although not all Unions officially adhered to the strike and not all workers were able to take off the entire day, Occupy Oakland (1) successfully organized the largest turn out for a day of action during the Occupy Movement in the US to date with dozens of thousands throughout the entire day, (2) successfully shut down the port of Oakland causing massive economic damage to the 1% and leading the Occupy Movement by example towards broader actions with the involvement of broader sectors of our communities, and (3) successfully escalated the mobilization to the occupation of foreclosed buildings in which social services used to be provided (in this case, 520 16th St.), taking the occupations from public squares to our communities. The November 2nd general strike was a warning shot to the ruling class that Occupy has become a full-blown social and political movement, and raised the bar for the other cities in terms of mobilization strategy.

Yet, in the aftermath of the General Strike the people of Oakland and the Bay Area are having to seriously consider the tactics typically associated with “anarchists” and “black blocs”, namely destruction of property during marches, graffiti on small businesses who supported the general strike, the particular way in which a building was occupied the night of the general strike and the reaction to the deployment of hundreds of police in riot gear.

Occupy Oakland made time and space for the discussion of these and other issues with tactics and strategy – which has been a very important way for these issues to be constructively discussed – and several others have shared their own insights on the topic through various other forms, including blogs and other online social media. This disposition to open dialogue and debate stands in glaring contrast to the highly conflictual and self-destructive turn of events we here in Oakland hear are taking place in places like Los Angeles and Denver. It is not for us to intervene and “take sides” in the disputes unfortunately tearing apart our communities in places like LA and Denver, but rather to express our deepest commitment to a unifying movement of all people who are suffering exploitation and oppression under the status quo. This means that ALL sides in the disputes we hear about in places like LA and Denver must “stop, children (whats that sound) everybody look whats going down”!

The most fucked up thing anyone in our movement could do is to get others among us arrested. The Denver “peace police” seem to be guilty of this to the fullest, and there are no excuses for the persecution they have unleashed. They are the “right wing” of the Occupy movement, which is willing to turn against people in our own movement for the sake of protecting THEIR class and race privilege in sustaining a “nonviolent” movement that encourages police violence against others in our own movement. On the other extreme, the LA “people’s forum” are guilty of unnecessarily raising the risks of police raids through their unwillingness to organize collective self-discipline regarding the consumption of intoxicants, which seems to be only one aspect of deeper issues with this group that imagines itself to be somehow “outside society” rather than in a social struggle. In both cases, these people seem to make the occupations an end in itself – which is clearly a misguided idea and mistaken strategy. THE OCCUPATION IS NOT AN END IN ITSELF! Rather it is a platform on which to democratically organize a mass movement through increasingly more powerful and increasingly more inclusive political struggles. That’s why we here in Oakland organized a general strike in which all could participate, and THERE lies our power! (Note, our power does not come from the nonviolence of Scott Olsen or the militancy of our anarchists alone, but in our attempt at collective organization, self-discipline and cultivation of a mass movement).

That being said, those people who have suffered at the hands of these misguided “peace police” and “born again hippies” might also benefit from paying careful attention to the fine line which we must tread if we are to mend these self-destructive splits, continue to grow our movement and escalate our political mobilization. For this purpose, we reproduce here two commentaries on tactics during Occupy Oakland’s general strike.

 

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An Open Letter to the Black Bloc and Others Concerning Last Night’s Tactics in Oakland

by Douglas Burgos on Friday, November 4, 2011 at 5:15pm
I am street medic, and I have been a street medic for over ten years at this point. I want to make crystal clear that while I may not identify formally and publicly as an anarchist, I would say that many, if not most of my values are anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical and incorporate an anti-oppression framework. In accordance with those beliefs, I do not believe property destruction is violence. I also don’t agree with the idea that cops can be provoked. I think using that term cedes ideological ground and legitimizes their behavior, inasmuch as they can justify their violence by saying they were provoked, or “forced” into action.

That being said, I have a huge problem with what I witnessed last night at 16th and Telegraph between about 11:30pm and 3:30 am.

My problem last night was not with the specific police/protester interactions. In fact, watching two hundred black bloc-ers marching on the riot cops as they staged was amazing and powerful. That sort of act I fully support, and it is part of why I medic, as I want those who are willing to undertake that sort of action to know that I have their back in a tangible way. I want people to understand that half the power the cops have over us is our own internalized fear of them, and that sort of behavior begins to dismantle that fear in a powerful way, and I fully support it. This I feel is very, very important.

My concern was with the ill-conceived tactics used to occupy the building, in that it looked like an anarchist glamorshot instead of a committed and revolutionary act to actually acquire and hold that space. I am tired of direct actions being done in a way that turns them into photo-ops and nothing else. I am tired of watching barricades be built only to be abandoned the minute the cops open fire. In addition, the crowd on 16th around the occupied building was terrifying far before the cops ever showed up. As a woman and queer person I wanted to get the fuck out of there almost immediately as it felt wildly unsafe on multiple levels, and I feel like whoever orchestrated the take-over made choices that specifically facilitated the overall crazy atmosphere. There were fistfights, screaming matches, fires, and just a general vibe that people were out to fuck shit up, and absolutely no attempt on the part of anyone to shut that sort of in-group violence down.

The setting on fire of the barricades was totally unnecessary, and may make it necessary for the city to call for the camp to be cleared; the breaking of windows and vandalizing of businesses which supported the strike was utterly stupid and counterproductive; and watching black bloc-ers run from the cops and not protect the camp their actions had endangered, an action which ultimately left behind many mentally ill people, sick people, street kids, and homeless folks to defend themselves against the police onslaught was disturbing and disgusting in ways I can’t even articulate because I am still so angry at the empty bravado and cowardice that I witnessed.

I want people to march on the police. I want them to engage in significant and strategic property destruction, I want them to march on the police station, I want them to show the riot cops that they are not afraid, but I do not want them to do these things and more at the expense of the truly marginalized. That is what I saw happen last night, and it has made me incandescent with rage.

I want to win. I want our building occupations to last. I do not want them to be cleared within hours because a bunch of wild, fucked-up, selfish and wantonly destructive people, not all of whom identify as anarchist or black bloc, need to burn a bunch of shit to get an adrenaline rush by fighting with the cops.

Some of our own, including a fellow medic and friend, are in jail today because of their actions, and while I blame the arrests squarely on the cops, I want the black bloc to acknowledge that they created the conditions for that sort of thing to happen.

I want better tactics, and I want accountability to the communities that may be impacted by our behavior, and I saw none of that last night.

I saw black bloc kids running from the camp while it was under police assault, and as someone who spent about two hours negotiating and assisting in the care of an ostensibly homeless man from the camp, hit by a rubber bullet in the camp, while black bloc kids ran away to their safe homes and made comments like “at least we crushed the place” and “we’ll just take it back,” I want those kids to be held accountable to the damage that they did, damage made possible by their class and race privilege.

This letter was born out of anger and disgust at what I saw, but it also comes from a place of wanting to engage on these issues. I think that there is a place for these sorts of tactics in our movement, but they must not be guided by grandiose notions of anarchist glory, mob rule, and unfocused rage.

In Solidarity,

A longtime street medic

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Yet another anarchist commentary on the Black Bloc

by Another Commentator
Friday Nov 4th, 2011 11:36 PM
The Black Bloc was originally formed in Germany to preserve the anonymity and reduce the risk of arrest of those who decided to fight back against neo-nazis and cops. The tactic and the organizational form were not primarily or exclusively anarchist; indeed the majority were the dreaded Autonomen: anti-party anti-fascists. The Black Bloc is a show of strength in numbers (rarely fewer than 500, and sometimes as many as a couple thousand), and is a defensive formation. They fight the cops and the fashos in self-defense, and they protect larger numbers of demonstrators from these bullies. After the demonstration ends, and if the cops were messing with them, then the Black Bloc goes on the offensive, targeting the symbols of power and alienation: banks, cops, gas stations, luxury vehicles. They do not do this to provoke the cops; they do it after being provoked by the cops. They fight the cops to show they aren’t afraid of cops, they break windows to show they aren’t hypnotized by bourgeois morality. Perhaps more importantly, they do not run away.

The Black Bloc of Wednesday Nov 2 that was active before and after the shutdown of the Port of Oakland was a Black Bloc in name only.

That Bloc did nothing but act out their spectacular and ritualized window-breaking. Precisely because it has become a ritual it has no meaning, no strategic purpose. Precisely because it is a predictable spectacle it has no tranvaluative value. We need to say clearly that we are not like those cretins who lament the destruction of a few windows and the lighting of a bonfire by immediately labeling it the work of “provocateurs” or “infiltrators”; we know that the grinding alienation of post-industrial capitalism breeds authentic opposition. But we are also savvy enough to understand that making vandalism acceptable is like improvisational comedy: a question of timing and the ability to read a crowd.

The mood and tone of the anti-capitalist march and the buildup to shut down the Port was joyous, inclusive, even festive. The mood and tone of the Black Bloc was aggressive, exclusive, and alienating. The reaction of the Peace Police was as predictable as the reaction of the proper police. Even if OO were the proper context to incite a rupture with the capitalist and statist foundation of modern American society, it certainly wouldn’t come at the behest of a self-selected vanguard of a hundred skinny masked white kids who disappear when a phalanx of riot cops shows up.

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4 thoughts on “Three commentaries on tactics in the Occupy Movement

  1. […] a queer person,” related being caught up in the confrontation between occupiers and police. She described her conclusions at the Decolonize Everything website [5]: My concern was with the ill-conceived tactics used to occupy the building, in that it looked […]

  2. chileramsden says:

    Can someone from the Black Bloc reply about their experience in the occupation?

  3. […] a queer person,” related being caught up in the confrontation between occupiers and police. She described her conclusions at the Decolonize Everything website: My concern was with the ill-conceived tactics used to occupy the building, in that it looked like […]

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