I went to the Occupy Oakland event a week ago and left before the tear gas. I still feel very nervous and a bit sick to my stomach. I do not deal with physical confrontation well. The reasons why are personal and that's for another day.
What I saw was us (Occupy Oakland) letting the frame slip from the injustice of our the pay-for-representation Democracy to one that can easily be turned to anarchists vs. a police state. I saw a brilliant video the other day of Max Alper standing in front of the Oakland Police who were about to tear down the the OccupyOakland Encampment.
What Max does that is excellent is he addresses the officers as individuals. He asks them if they know any one that has had their home foreclosed on. He even comes close to excusing their impending transgressions. This is what we need. This is the message. We need refuseniks. I saw a picture that I can't find now of bankers and police officers that bravely joined the OWS movement in NY. Very powerful.
Alper lead a less inspiring effort to shout down "city council members a local business leaders" according to the news outlets. This seemed to be where the narrative slip away from us, like we were swinging in too many directions. This is where the wedge between the Occupy Oakland movement and the Oakland Community took hold. OWS has always benefitted from being leaderless and largely agenda-less, but unfortunately, we are also strategy-less. This article from the Occupy Oakland website describes the dangers of no strategy or, as the article puts it, "diversity of tactics".
The amazing, brave even heroic Occupy movement has my deep gratitude. And, what happened the night the camp was cleared fits within the frame of a system designed to maintain its castes. It is a clear demonstration of a police state where the "muscle" must follow orders in order to keep their jobs. Police officers are people who take an oath to do what they are told. This is a reality regardless of how unjust it is. To convince "them" to work with "us" is very close to asking them to leave their jobs. (I wouldn't make that sacrifice. I am not being asked to. And, yes, I am lucky enough to have a job that fits with the paradigm of supporting of OWS so I can go to work and feel a collateral righteousness.) In this excellent video, IllDoc1 explicates the role of the police as muscle brilliantly.
(A few days after writing this post, OPD wrote this interesting letter.)
I guess I am saying we have to walk in the shoes of the people we want to join with us. We have to love them, have compassion for them in a fierce and difficult sort of way. Hatred is the tool of the 1%. It can't be ours. Anger is an emotion. Hatred is a disease???
OPD knew before they could even see the protesters that they were going to gas them. I stood next to the officers in this picture and watched them get a call on their radios and then put on their gas masks. Two women walked by with babies and one of the officers yelled at her to get out. I tried to engage him to say he was too keyed up and that he was going to hurt some one if he didn't calm down. Here is an excellent post from CounterPunch by Mike King on the police in Oakland. This institution is rotten but I have to believe we must still try to humanize the individuals.
Even the Tea Party should be on our side and we need to figure out how to bring them in or, even harder, how to join them. (Had an interesting conversation today about how to represent them even if we can't find common ground.) I think it is valuable to look at what is different and what is the same about OWS and Tea Party. However, we (OWS) can't simply label the tea-party as "other". The Tea Party was a populist movement. A populist movement with a different take on the same problem. As I see it, because their enemy was government (as opposed to the Global Elite), they made bedfellows with Global Elite and then money started flowing to the headline grabber nut-jobs who ensured that government remained incompetent and distracted by their idiocy and obstructionism. The Tea Party lost the populist control of their movement by buying in to the hype of their own success. (The video above does an excellent job of describing the "ringer media" that helped to steal the Tea Party movement and is now working against us.)
Finally, I would like to praise and then suggest an evolution of the role of social media. Social media does a fantastic job of creating noise and through noise you get attention. But noise has no narrative. The decentralized approach has served us brilliantly. Again, I am grateful and in awe of those in the OWS movement who have done what I do not have the courage to do myself. And, I believe we are rapidly approaching the time when old school Port Huron style organizing is necessary. Reading up on the early days of the last civil rights movement, it took them about 10 years to get to the catalytic moment of 1968. I think we are at our 1968 moment today but don't have the structure underneath us. Social media and collaborative technology will help us make up the time. And, my opinion is, we will need leaders like Max Alper(?), Van Jones(?), Barbara Lee(?), Elizabeth Warren. I'm grabbing for straws here.
We can't just flail at the Tea Party, at the Police or even at government. All of these people, just like us, are under the thumb of the Global Elite. We have to stay focused on them. The problem is that the only way for change to happen is with radical new leadership but the system that we use (a hybrid oligarchy / representative democracy) to elect new leaders is rigged against us, right down to it's very core.
Today I learned that an event that was intended for local Oakland businesses to get together and discuss the tensions between their sustainability, their solidarity with the 99% and the occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza. The event was cancelled. A lot of reasons were cited. Mostly the tensions were just too high. (Here is a great article from Oakland Local on this issue.) Then, at 5:30 tonight, an African American man was shot outside the Occupy camp. Can't say I know much about why he was shot but seems like it was an argument about something that had no direct relevance to Occupy Oakland.
When I try to think about what I want, what will make me feel better... I want stories of resilience. I guess it is like a parent putting you to bed saying everything will be ok? I saw a video of Japanese surfers going back to the sight of the tsunami to catch their first wave since the disaster. When the Occupy camp was resurrected after they were run out, it felt like resilience. It will be very difficult to recapture the narrative. Stories of why the shooting was or was not our fault and stories of the rift between Occupy Oakland and Oakland Businesses will be the narrative.
Time to ask ourselves what we want from all this. What do we want tomorrow, next week and in years from now? And how do our actions today map to the world we want to see.