category: Further Reading

Insurrection, Oakland Style

(from: http://viewpointmag.com/the-insurrection-oakland-style/)

A History

By Matthew Edwards

This is an unfinished work – a snapshot of history as it occurred, experienced by me, reported on social media, or retold by trusted comrades. It will lack the finality of hindsight. Contained within is my account of the Oakland Insurrection, as it has unfolded over the past days and weeks. Both the insurrection and this essay are works of hope. I hope that we push forward on the streets of Oakland, the Bay Area, and everywhere else, to the limit of what is possible – beyond occupation and the proposed general strike to “total freedom” for us all.1

#OccupyOakland 

Inspired by the uprisings across the world and fueled by the increasingly precarious economic conditions across the United States, a callout was made for an occupation of Wall Street. On September 17, 1000 people occupied the financial hub of the United States and arguably global capitalism. Within days, dozens of towns and cities had their own version of the #Occupy movement – with varying degrees of encampment, protest, and organizing space; within weeks, hundreds of cities were occupied; within a month, over a thousand worldwide.

Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza, renamed Oscar Grant Plaza by many Bay Area residents, was occupied on October 10. Logistical planning started a week before the occupation date, with #OccupyOakland fielding a fully functional canteen, childcare, medic, sound, and general assembly area on day one, with person of color (POC), gender, and queer safe spaces soon to follow. #OccupyOakland had the same populist rhetoric regarding the problematic “homogeneous” nature of “#Occupy…”, but pushed the “99%” critique in a decidedly anti-capitalist direction. Coupled with this was a distinctly anti-police and anti-state tone that also translated into anti-oppression organizational forms.

On October 21 the city of Oakland presented the general assembly, the official organizing body of #OccupyOakland, with a letter of eviction, citing “public safety.” The words of OaklandCommune, posted October 19 on the Bay of Rage website, beautifully foreshadow what transpired on October 25 and 26when the police made good on their threats:

Social rebels from around Oakland have descended upon Oscar Grant Plaza and have created a genuine, autonomous space free of police and unwelcoming to politicians. Whereas other occupations have invited the police and politicians, or have negotiated with them, Occupy Oakland has carved a line in the cement. That line of demarcation says: if you pass this, if you try and break up or over shadow this autonomous space, you are well aware, as observed over the last couple of years, what we are capable of.

History

The Bay Area’s history of social resistance is well documented, and it’s important to remember the context behind the militancy seen around #OccupyOakland. The general events these social rebels are referring to are the uprisings and demonstrations that have occurred over the past three years in the Bay Area, responding to police violence and “austerity.”2 To understand the events of the past week, one must understand the atmosphere in which these actions took place. The most relevant of these demonstrations revolve around three sets of riots that followed the murder of Oscar Grant III on January 1, 2009.3

One week after Oscar’s murder by police, January 7,2009, a rally at the Fruitvale BART station transitioned into a march that eventually evolved into a riot, with running street fights against police. The action resulted in 100 arrests and hundreds of thousands in policing costs and property destruction. Johannes Meserle, the officer who killed Grant, was arrested one week later – a day before thousands marched through Oakland, serving notice to the police that their actions had consequences.

A series of low and mid-intensity direct actions and marches occurred over the next 18 months until the verdict day, July 8, 2010, when Meserle was ostensibly acquitted for murder and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for shooting an unarmed and prone Oscar Grant in the back. Police preparations, dubbed “Operation Verdict,” were one of the largest local buildups of state and federal police forces in recent history.4 The buildup actually seemed to intensify popular opinion against the police. Operation Verdict not only failed to stop another riot, where hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property was destroyed, but also failed to arrest as many demonstrators as the riots of a year before.  Sentencing day, November 5. 2010, saw an evolution of police tactics that stopped the march before it morphed into something greater. The march was kettled and everyone was arrested in mass, all later to be released without charges.

Oscar Grant’s Legacy

I would like to recognize that Oscar Grant was a real person; with a daughter, family, and friends. I would like to recognize this because the human element can get lost when we make martyrs out of casualties. The actions around his death were living laboratories for many Bay Area residents, specifically youth and political radicals – anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and anti-capitalists. For some, this was the first time they had tasted tear gas or felt the sting of a rubber bullet. The January 7 riot was a hurried affair, with people quickly learning how to stay together, erect makeshift barricades, or set fires to necessitate getaways.

July 8 saw the forces of the state prepared and still unable to stop scores of “crews” smashing shop windows.5 Communication and coordination appeared to improve between the various demonstration participants. Masks were worn and code names used. It was apparent that even just a few “battle hours” dramatically increased a collectivity’s “street” effectiveness, i.e. the ability to create social unrest and get away with it. Through these events, it was revealed that street demonstrations, with riots in particular, did have an effect on, if not public policy, then at least civic discourse.

There were failures as well. Media and state forces conspired to create the concept of the “outside agitator” – the anarchist from afar whose only purpose was to smash. The actions of property destruction seemed to overshadow the context in which they were used. The tactic itself was the perfect expression of the powerlessness that people felt in demanding, from an unjust state, some sort of “justice.” It was an action of tantrum, saying, “in this protest zone, in this space of social rupture, I only have the ability to destroy.” A statement like that, while unifying for the participants within that instant of “social rupture,” has little to no organizing potential. And so the movement went from active conflict to history. Its steam and momentum were lost. However, with its passing came a time of tactical and strategic reflection, the results of which were practiced on the streets of Oakland under the banner of #Occupy only a week ago.

Anarchists

The efforts and effects of the anarchist tradition in the Bay Area cannot be ignored, neither in the case of Oscar Grant nor #OccupyOakland. There are hundreds of anarchists active in “street level” actions; hundreds more working in various corporate, non-profit, alternative, and other industries that bring money, logistical support, and experience when needed; and hundreds still who are engaged in their own projects, communities, and building families.

The presence of such a high concentration of anarchists at radical or potentially explosive demonstrations has influenced how people protest. To be sure, not every person at a demo is an anarchist, far from it, but many have adopted anarchist practice. Masking up, wearing black, and working in teams has created a safer and more disciplined force. The attendance of anarchist street medics, propagandists, and experienced street fighters adds a level of infrastructural and logistical support that makes actions on the streets feel supported and emboldened. Traditionally organizing on egalitarian and non-hierarchical planes, as well as a familiarity with consensus process, have facilitated the creation of a strong general assembly. The creation of solidarity groups for those arrested at actions, and access to the legal network that years of Bay Area activism created has been key in movement progress. In both social movements the anarchist presence has been an important, though by far not the only, element to any success.

This is not to say that an anarchist presence in the Bay Area has not had its troubles in recent years. The attempt by the state to brand anarchists as “outsiders” failed in the buildup of Operation Verdict, but did highlight racial and class issues that people are still confronting. Furthermore there was a successful attempt to brand anarchists has violent, although this was just one more step in a process dating back hundreds of years to redefine “anarchism” in the negative. Still , the only contact that many people have had with anarchists is the images presented by the media of “black-clad hooligans destroying things.” The insurrectionary anarchist current that is alive within the Bay has showed itself as a trend of attack, security culture, and tightknit networks. In the past it was inward focusing and only surfaced in times of action, although the presence of many insurrectionists at the general assemblies and their use of violence in a form different from that of property destruction does give credence to the idea that this trend is maturing.

Insurrection and Strike

Throughout the week, preparations were made within the #OccupyOakland space for arrival of police enforcing the eviction notices. The plan was to construct and defend barricades to keep the Oakland Police Department (OPD) out for as long as possible. Over the past two weeks, the police made only a handful of incursions into the autonomous space. The response by those camped was always forceful yet disciplined, with the distilled message being: “get out!” As a result there was little worry about the question of “when” “they” would come. “They will come when they do,” one camper told me with a shrug the night before the eviction. On Tuesday October 25, at 4:30 AM, hundreds of riot police from over a dozen different agencies descended upon the camp. After calling a dispersal order, police waited for five minutes before throwing concussion grenades, launching tear gas, firing pepper and rubber bullets, and hitting people with batons. The night concluded with around 80 arrests and some serious injuries.

A call out was made for 4 PM the same day to meet at the Oakland Library for a march to Oscar Grant (OG) Plaza. A diverse crowd of over 1500 people arrived. They marched around Oakland, swelling in numbers as people came into the streets. The police attacked with gas, less-than-lethal rounds, and batons. Demonstrators responded with bottles and paint balloons. Police snatch squads grabbed and beat protestors in full view of the crowd, with a handful having to be taken to the emergency room.6 The march continued to OG Plaza where lines of riot police stood behind metal barricades blocking all possible entrances. A standoff ensued.

At roughly 8:30 PM a crowd of 500 assembled at 14 and Broadway. After repeated warnings the police attacked. The gas attack was the worst of the day. Injured protesters littered the intersection, including Scott Olson, two-tour Marine veteran, who took a teargas canister to the head. Others were blinded and choking on the gas. Numerous burn victims from the gas canisters ran for cover; at least one of them needed plastic surgery on her foot. The crowd recomposed within minutes, playing cat and mouse with the police, rallying and taking the streets outside the barricades, fleeing from police attacks only to form again.

The chatter of excitement and anger was easy to understand. Groups of people were swapping stories from the days events. The gas was loosing its fear effect; these crowds were not dispersing. Teenagers were laughing at each other’s snot and tear-soaked faces. Older people were talking about the 1960s; “gas nowadays seems more potent,” they said. Anarchist and other radical medics were helping gas victims. By about 10 PM it was obvious that even though the group had failed to retake the plaza, they had in fact won two important victories. #OccupyOakland was effectively in control of all of downtown Oakland save OG Plaza. Or, to put it differently, the police had lost the initiative: they had lost their mobility and the ability to dictate terms outside the range of their weapons. By controlling the plaza they abdicated control of the rest of downtown Oakland to the occupiers. Declaring victory on the ground, the hundreds of occupiers began to disperse to ready themselves for the next day.

The second victory was not seen until the next day, when media outlets had no choice but to broadcast images of the night’s insurrection. Grabbing the media’s attention as well was the grievous injury to Scott Olson. Surviving two tours in Iraq to come home and be shot by OPD sealed the police’s fate in the realm of public opinion. Not only had #OccupyOakland succeeded in controlling the streets, they had also won over hearts and minds. As of this writing it looks as though Scott will recover and not become a martyr for any cause, just another victim of police brutality.

A general assembly was called for 6 PM on October 26. The police were nowhere in sight, but some reported that they were massing at a nearby parking garage. They were never to mobilize in any show of force. Bike patrols were passing back information, and a general feeling of safety permeated the camp. The metal fence that had been set up by the city was taken down, and once again the plaza was in the hands of #OccupyOakland. A proposal was submitted for a general strike in Oakland on November 2. The proposal passed by 96.9%; 1484 votes for to 77 against, with 47 abstentions, more than enough in Oakland’s modified consensus of 90% for the proposal to pass.

After the vote, 2000 people attempted to march for the downtown Oakland BART station to travel to San Francisco, where it was reported that the SF occupation was to be attacked by SFPD. The station was closed by BART officials, so the 2000-strong group marched through Oakland, stopping once at the OPD headquarters to yell at the police, once at the Oakland jail chanting in support of those incarcerated, and once under a freeway overpass, to discuss whether the group should cross the Oakland/Bay bridge to support #OccupySF. The march decided to retake OG Plaza instead.

A truly startling realization emerged among many of the anarchists present at the general assembly. As thousands of people discussed the general strike proposal, others were circulating and intermingling, talking about the victory of the night before. A major theme of the discussion was the fact that so much had been gained without resorting to property destruction. A tacit understanding developed amongst many of the radicals that no one was going to physically stop any of the “wrecking crews” from smashing windows, but people understood that much of the previous night’s victory could be attributed to the images of police violence against protestors and the counter-violence of protestors against the police. If there is an insurrectionary imperative to attack the state, that idea seemed to gain support, at least among those in the general public who watched the live stream. The march on October 25 showed how the protestors had done due diligence in their attempt to remain “peaceful”; they responded to police violence with defensive force, instead of the less understood (and less direct) tactic of attacking property. A violence of low-intensity self-defense actually gained #OccupyOakland international support.

Lessons Learned

In the OG Plaza riots, the impotent violence that resulted in Meserle’s arrest also doomed the movement to remain marginal. People have many unresolved issues with property destruction. It is my presumption that those in command of the police forces on the night of the October 25 expected to see protester-initiated property destruction. Broken windows have the power to retroactively rationalize the use of police violence. The destruction of the camp and the attack on the march would suddenly seem understandable once the nightly news flashed images of broken glass.  Unfortunately for police command, the radical and urban #OccupyOaklanders did not fall into their trap. There was no need; confronting OPD and Alameda Sheriffs Department was enough.

There was a very real feeling that if the OPD had changed its tactics on the night of October 25, and – instead of holding positions and gassing protestors – went in for arrests, the police might have started a fight that they were not prepared to win. There were roughly equal number of police and #OccupyOaklanders, around 500 each, but the police were spread out, covering the perimeter of OG Plaza, while the demonstrators were able to focus all their numbers in one location. Even more impressive is that on the night of October 26, with the police lacking the authority to act in response to #OccupyOakland’s retaking of OG Plaza, the occupiers were able to push the police out of their autonomous zone and defend it. This cohesion and the strength of will it produced is a direct result of the reflections, lessons, and tactical considerations that grew from the OG riots. Those initiating confrontations with police did so with discipline, and, dare I say it, style.

There has been a lot of talk about a lack of demands as a weakness of the #Occupy movements. I hear their demands loud and clear. The critique of capitalism, opposition to state power, clear revulsion towards the police, redefinition of social and power relations, independent organization, cooperation, and the attempt to reconfigure our existing world into one that is healthy for all; these are demands that are being made by those occupying. The idea from the beginning was to create. In acts of creation power is returned. We have held our ground, defended a space that is our own. Now we are organizing not just for ourselves but also for others. A general strike will occur. The next question is clear: what other cities will follow?

See you in the streets.


Matthew Edwards is a graduate student at UC-Santa Cruz, and an organizer in the Bay Area. A native Californian, he has been involved in radical politics since refusing deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002. Comments can be sent to anewhope AT riseup.net


1. This phrase appeared on a massive banner by a contingent of Greek anarchists at the 2009 G-20 in Germany. While not explicitly Insurrectionist, the Greek anarchist tendency of spectacular street battles has become synonymous with the Insurrectionary Anarchist milieu that has dominated North American discourse in recent years.

2. For an amazing collection of news stories dating back over 10 years, see indybay.org.

3. The first murder of 2009 was committed by a police officer against an unarmed person of color.

4. It is also important to note that the National Guard was mobilized.

5. One could also use the term “affinity group,” but an affinity group is an expressly political form of self organization that may not necessarily apply to all those who ran together that night.

6. It is important to point out that the police were not the only perpetrators of violence that evening. One arrestee was punched, elbowed and pushed to the ground by an Oakland fire department member who also made derogatory sexual and racial comments towards him. Later in sheriff custody at the county jail he was beaten by at least four correctional officers.

Anti-capitalist March During Nov 2 General Strike

2pm @ Telegraph & Broadway on Wednesday Nov 2, 2011. See you there…

On the Previous Few Days, And What Is to Come…

Oakland Takes Out The Trash.
Tuesday, 3am – 7am

On Monday, October 24th the second weekend of #OccupyOakland had come and gone; charisma from Saturday’s march [link] had passed and a police raid was imminent. Beyond popular speculation that the city and the police were planning the destruction of Oscar Grant Plaza, there were a few obvious clues that Monday night would be the night. For one, the city had issued letters to select businesses around the plaza suggesting that there would be police activities sometime in the coming day. In addition, the city seems to have forced the Fire Marshall to come to the occupation to “remove” the propane tanks (and thus restricting us from cooking on site).

Before the rubber bullets and concussion grenades, the hundred or so arrests and unrelenting spider mobs that saturated downtown Oakland, there was joyous, eager barricading. It was trash night. The already desolate streets surrounding Oscar Grant Plaza were quickly cleared of whatever debris could act (symbolically and/or effectively) as an impediment to the police. Locked in an alley of City Hall were nearly one hundred metal police barricades. They were quickly liberated from their cage and placed strategically around the encampment. Reports trickled in slowly: several police units, from many agencies all the way out to Vacaville, were mobilizing and traveling to the plaza via motorcade or BART. Arguments broke out at the occupation – some called for a united strategy of defense, while many continued building barricades, spray painting and hammering away at the cobblestone floor. Eventually, around 4am, the distant sirens quickly turned into dozens of police units in formation, giving dispersal orders before attacking the encampment.

There was hopeful but little supposition that these people and barricades could deter the police, let alone defend the camp. When the spotlights from police helicopters began indiscriminately scanning the plaza, a panic fevered the already frantic people. It took only moments to realize that to stay inside the plaza was hopeless. Those intent on posturing and symbolically “standing their ground”, were subject to projectiles, batons and ultimately arrest. The scene was panicked, oppressive and defeating. For now, the fight for the plaza had been lost and most everyone inside dispersed.

Outside police lines, many looked to reconvene, others arrived responding to the emergency text messages and phone calls they’d received from others – they found each other at 14th and Franklin, one block east of the plaza. To the police it was clear that this massing crowd would not be reduced to impotent spectators. Moving away from the sidewalks into the street, what was now the morning traffic detour route, the intersection filled with hateful slogans directed at the police. There was a startling impatience and lust for revenge. It had grown to nearly 200 people when a police motorcade was ordered to intimidate and disperse the crowd. Shape shifting and turning over trash cans, the group headed in the opposite direction. Shouts of excitement, more seething remarks toward the police and a medley of thudding and crashing filled the streets. The police came prepared to assault the plaza, not to be met with the consequences of doing so.  From 5am to 6am the streets east of the plaza held a familiarity to some and an unprecedented emotion for others.

An offensive decision by the city and its allies brought opportunity to those subject to their increasingly irrelevant authority. Tuesday morning, the city took to actively discouraging people from going to work in the downtown area. Despite this official suggestion, one could overhear security guards, baristas and other service workers phoning into work announcing their absence on their own initiative. Someone initiated a campaign to eject Jean Quan from her position as mayor. Tweets and texts exploded with announcements to rally at the downtown Oakland Library at 4pm. The Alameda County Labor Council among other local unions had publicly denounced the actions of the police and the city.

Yet to take shape as either a spectacle or rebellion, The Town, once again, opened itself to the freedoms found in possibilities.

Library. Riot. Continued.
Tuesday, 4pm – Midnight

12 hours later, the contingency plan approved by the GA in case of a raid, was put into place. At 4pm, close to 1000 people gathered at the main Oakland Library to listen to inspirational speeches and condemnations against the police. One could not avoid the general feeling of animosity towards those responsible for what happened last night. Something spectacular was going to happen tonight.

After the speeches, people marched to the Downtown jail to show support for those arrested the previous night. Along the way, the march passed through two separate lines of police, but on the third one, as the march was a block away from the jail, the police pushed back. They grabbed two people from the front of the march and threw them to the ground. Seeing this, the crowd immediately surrounded the cops yelling at them, trying to grab the comrades and free them. People pushed and paint was thrown. As the tension continued to escalate, the police knew they were fighting a losing battle, so they brought in reinforcements with tear gas and flash grenades to disperse the crowd. Those being arrested initially, amongst the chaos, were secured by the pigs and loaded into a van. One of the arrestees was fucked with while in jail, called racist slurs and physically harassed. How could we not hate the police?

Throughout the arrests of Occupy Oakland’s resistance, we demonstrate solidarity with the state’s hostages in a multitude of ways, emotionally and physically. The march regrouped and proceeded past the jail making noise and letting those inside – every single one of them – aware that the march was here for them in total solidarity. A comrade who has been released from jail, arrested the previous night, said that it was one of the most beautiful and powerful things they have ever seen. To hear and see 1000 people outside making noise, making their solidarity known to those on the inside. Solidarity means attack.

The march returned to Oscar Grant Plaza where the group proceeded to try and retake the plaza. After 20 minutes of confronting the police at 14th and Broadway, rounds of tear gas and flash grenades were used once again (there would be somewhere around seven different instances of the police using tear gas and flash grenades in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The crowd did not deteriorate this time nor any other).

This was only the beginning…

This first major tear gassing was also the incident were a veteran was hit in the head with a tear gas canister and either knocking him out or causing his system to go in shock – he was on the ground in front of the police with eyes open, not moving and not responding to anything. People immediately ran up to him and tried to get him out of the way, which is when the police throw another flash grenade directly on top of him and near those who responded in aid. This bears repeating: the police throw a flash grenade directly on someone that was lying motionless on the ground, dispersing the crowd that was trying to take him out of the warzone. The injured protester was eventually removed and taken to the hospital with a skull fracture and is currently in critical condition and undergoing surgery. Many were injured. Not everyone has reported their injuries for obvious reasons.

By this point, the march had doubled to more than 2000 people. The group marched to Snow Park to gather, but it wasn’t long until people marched back on the plaza again. In what became the standard of the night, the march confronted the militarized area formerly known as Oscar Grant Plaza and was met with tear gas and flash grenades causing people to faint and throw up. But this didn’t stop anyone; it only galvanized the crowd and incited many at home to head downtown and join the resistance.

The march started at 5 and lasted until late into the night with over 6 hours of snake marches and almost constant confrontation with the police throughout downtown.

Towards the end of the night, people began to worry about being kettled, so some people took it upon themselves to set up barricades around the surrounding intersections. This action would allow people to respond before being trapped, by either getting away or fighting back. The barricades included the city’s own barricades that were established throughout the area, dumpsters and trash cans (some of these were set aflame to relieve the lingering tear gas present throughout all of the downtown and to cause more trouble for the police if they dared to intimidate or assault crowd).

As the night went on, the group slowly dissipated, confident that this fight was not close to over.

The Retaking of Oscar Grant Plaza.
Wednesday, 6pm – Midnight

It was obvious to everyone the previous night that people were heading back to Oscar Grant Plaza. By this time, police were nowhere to be seen around the plaza. The only thing that was there was a metal fence erected around the spot of the occupation. Well, it only lasted a little while. Before the General Assembly even started, people spontaneously began to tear down the fence. Initially, some “peace police,” spouting something about non-violence were trying to get them to stop – that was of course to no avail as the fence quickly was torn down.

The GA that happened that night was the largest one yet for #OccupyOakland, with over 2000 people participating. Since it was such a large GA, everything took more time, but the one proposal that was passed was worth it all. Following announcements that various occupations around the US were participating in solidarity marches, and that people in Cairo are going to march on Tahrir square this Friday saying that “Cairo and Oakland are one hand,” the proposal to call for a General Strike this Wednesday, November 2nd was passed with overwhelming majority (97%). Get ready Oakland, shits about to get real….

Following the GA, people announced that OccupySF was under threat of eviction. People made a call out for people to go to San Francisco and make their solidarity physical. But this wouldn’t happen. Before people could even make it into BART, the station was closed. Pissed, the small group that was heading to SF instead took to the streets in Oakland where the rest of the GA, who was still around, joined them. The march immediately headed towards the jail to show solidarity with those still inside. Everyone could see the inmates hands on the windows and the flickering of their cell lights, letting us know that they see us.

Over the next couple of hours, the group marched around downtown Oakland with no police interference. There were reports of police staging close by, but they never made themselves visible more than a few cars in front and back. After the previous night, they realized how badly they fucked up. Tonight, we controlled the streets. It finally ended in Oscar Grant Plaza, with people just chilling, standing and sitting in the middle of 14th and Broadway (the main downtown intersection), with no attempt by the cops to disperse the crowd.

As the proposed General Strike is just but a week away, there is a lot of work that needs to be done and a lot of connections to be established and strengthened. Some people began to set up camp again at Oscar Grant Plaza, but others are merely taking this time to rest, to regroup, to gather themselves for what is to come.

Get some rest comrade. We have yet to see what’s around the corner…

Solidarity Letter from Cairo

To all those in the United States currently occupying parks, squares and other spaces, your comrades in Cairo are watching you in solidarity. Having received so much advice from you about transitioning to democracy, we thought it’s our turn to pass on some advice.

Indeed, we are now in many ways involved in the same struggle. What most pundits call “The Arab Spring” has its roots in the demonstrations, riots, strikes and occupations taking place all around the world, its foundations lie in years-long struggles by people and popular movements. The moment that we find ourselves in is nothing new, as we in Egypt and others have been fighting against systems of repression, disenfranchisement and the unchecked ravages of global capitalism (yes, we said it, capitalism): a System that has made a world that is dangerous and cruel to its inhabitants. As the interests of government increasingly cater to the interests and comforts of private, transnational capital, our cities and homes have become progressively more abstract and violent places, subject to the casual ravages of the next economic development or urban renewal scheme.

An entire generation across the globe has grown up realizing, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future in the current order of things. Living under structural adjustment policies and the supposed expertise of international organizations like the World Bank and IMF, we watched as our resources, industries and public services were sold off and dismantled as the “free market” pushed an addiction to foreign goods, to foreign food even. The profits and benefits of those freed markets went elsewhere, while Egypt and other countries in the South found their immiseration reinforced by a massive increase in police repression and torture.

The current crisis in America and Western Europe has begun to bring this reality home to you as well: that as things stand we will all work ourselves raw, our backs broken by personal debt and public austerity. Not content with carving out the remnants of the public sphere and the welfare state, capitalism and the austerity-state now even attack the private realm and people’s right to decent dwelling as thousands of foreclosed-upon homeowners find themselves both homeless and indebted to the banks who have forced them on to the streets.

So we stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down the old but to experiment with the new. We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same spaces of public practice that have been commodified, privatized and locked into the hands of faceless bureaucracy , real estate portfolios, and police ‘protection’. Hold on to these spaces, nurture them, and let the boundaries of your occupations grow. After all, who built these parks, these plazas, these buildings? Whose labor made them real and livable? Why should it seem so natural that they should be withheld from us, policed and disciplined? Reclaiming these spaces and managing them justly and collectively is proof enough of our legitimacy.

In our own occupations of Tahrir, we encountered people entering the Square every day in tears because it was the first time they had walked through those streets and spaces without being harassed by police; it is not just the ideas that are important, these spaces are fundamental to the possibility of a new world. These are public spaces. Spaces for gathering, leisure, meeting, and interacting – these spaces should be the reason we live in cities. Where the state and the interests of owners have made them inaccessible, exclusive or dangerous, it is up to us to make sure that they are safe, inclusive and just. We have and must continue to open them to anyone that wants to build a better world, particularly for the marginalized, excluded and for those groups who have suffered the worst .

What you do in these spaces is neither as grandiose and abstract nor as quotidian as “real democracy”; the nascent forms of praxis and social engagement being made in the occupations avoid the empty ideals and stale parliamentarianism that the term democracy has come to represent. And so the occupations must continue, because there is no one left to ask for reform. They must continue because we are creating what we can no longer wait for.

But the ideologies of property and propriety will manifest themselves again. Whether through the overt opposition of property owners or municipalities to your encampments or the more subtle attempts to control space through traffic regulations, anti-camping laws or health and safety rules. There is a direct conflict between what we seek to make of our cities and our spaces and what the law and the systems of policing standing behind it would have us do.

We faced such direct and indirect violence , and continue to face it . Those who said that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors that police visited upon us, nor did they see the resistance and even force that revolutionaries used against the police to defend their tentative occupations and spaces: by the government’s own admission; 99 police stations were put to the torch, thousands of police cars were destroyed, and all of the ruling party’s offices around Egypt were burned down. Barricades were erected, officers were beaten back and pelted with rocks even as they fired tear gas and live ammunition on us. But at the end of the day on the 28th of January they retreated, and we had won our cities.

It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose.

If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted “peaceful” with fetishizing nonviolence; if the state had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back. Had we laid down and allowed ourselves to be arrested, tortured, and martyred to “make a point”, we would be no less bloodied, beaten and dead. Be prepared to defend these things you have occupied, that you are building, because, after everything else has been taken from us, these reclaimed spaces are so very precious.

By way of concluding then, our only real advice to you is to continue, keep going and do not stop. Occupy more, find each other, build larger and larger networks and keep discovering new ways to experiment with social life, consensus, and democracy. Discover new ways to use these spaces, discover new ways to hold on to them and never give them up again. Resist fiercely when you are under attack, but otherwise take pleasure in what you are doing, let it be easy, fun even. We are all watching one another now, and from Cairo we want to say that we are in solidarity with you, and we love you all for what you are doing.

LETTER FROM AN ANONYMOUS FRIEND AFTER THE ATTACK ON THE OAKLAND COMMUNE

We knew that it would happen

If you live with others in a public space in a city, if you set up shelters in which people can live without owning or renting property, if you set up an outdoor kitchen with which to feed anyone who wants food, if you establish a free school at which anyone can read and learn, if you set up bathroom facilities provided by organizations supporting your activities, if you show solidarity with struggles against police killings and police violence against people of color, against the poor, against women, against queers and transpeople, if you state your determination to defend the space you have created against the threat of eviction, in short—if you work toward organizing ways of living and relating to one another that might challenge those mandated by capitalism, your efforts will eventually be crushed by the police.

We know this because we know that the question is not whether the police are “part of the 99%,” on the basis of their salary. What is called the 99% is ruptured by many divisions. Among these is the dividing line that runs between those who want to change the world and those who uphold the status quo, between those who work to undermine the brutal order of property and those who work to enforce it. For those who transform the world by challenging capitalist economic and social relations, working to displace and overturn them, the police are one among many enemies. We know it is their job to destroy what we create, and it is no surprise when they do that.

At 4:30 am on October 25, Occupy Oakland was raided by more than 500 police from multiple counties. From a comrade who was there:

At the time of this writing I am filled with rage. Occupy Oakland, on its second week, was raided by an overwhelming force of approximately 800 police in riot gear. I was there, ready to defend when police from all entrances to Oscar Grant Plaza rushed in with sticks and began beating people. Their tactics were simple but effective: rush in with overwhelming numbers and push out those that intended to stay for a fight, slowly crush resilience of those who took up the tactic of civil disobedience by linking arms and protecting the camp. They beat people with sticks, shot people with rubber bullets, obliterated ear-drums with flash-bang grenades, and choked them with tear gas.

What wrenches on these mornings (so many, for so many of us), what presses out on our temples, constricts our chests, fills our throats so that it can’t be properly spoken is a contradiction: we knew that this would happen; we can’t accept that it has happened. We know, insofar as we struggle, that our struggle will be repressed. But no amount of knowing can fortify against the sickness that we feel every time an army of cops rolls in to brutalize and arrest our friends and comrades.

All the tents are down, pots are strewn everywhere, the library scattered, the garden stomped, the Commune is in ruins. “Though it fed thousands for free and welcomed the city’s desperately poor homeless population, this public park can hopefully now return to its natural state of being completely empty.” Dozens of smug assholes and their batons surround the emptiness they prefer to the fragile possibilities that were created, getting paid overtime to chat across their barricades with idiots who think the cops are on the same side as those they just attacked and threw in jail, while others hurl insults against dead ears.

The Oakland Commune matters not because it could have lasted any longer than it did and not because of how many cops it took to tear it down. It matters because for as long as it was there it was evidence that the impossible resides in the heart of our cities, amongst those who already live together on the streets, amongst those willing to live with them. It isn’t that this is “Round One” of a longer fight. It isn’t that those who lived and worked there all day and all night “will be back.” It isn’t that this is “just the beginning.” It isn’t just the beginning because it’s been going on for a long time, because the history of struggle is the history of capitalism. Because the history of capitalism, in its unfolding, in the movement of its contradiction with itself, is the coming into being of communism. If we won’t be back in Oscar Grant Plaza, if the Oakland Commune won’t be there as it was for two weeks, that is because we are everywhere, and the substance of history articulates itself unceasingly across the movement of what it creates. That is not an abstraction; it’s a letter of solidarity from Cairo, arriving the afternoon before the tents are torn down: “An entire generation across the globe has grown up realizing, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future in the current order of things….So we stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down the old but to experiment with the new.” Our true loves are everywhere, a friend replies. We won’t be back because we’re not going anywhere.

For a long time we have dreamed the end of capitalism. The twenty-first century is the time in which that dream will come true. We are waking up, and we are learning again, among one another, how to use our tired bodies. This is what it feels like to wake in a tent on the grass of Oscar Grant Plaza. Comrades in Baltimore write, “this occupation is inevitable, but we have to make it.” Nothing of that dialectic can be displaced by the police.

“The revolution” does not exist. It is not a horizon to be struggled toward, and no movement in the history of struggles has “failed.” The real movement is the movement of bodies, working on what exists. If the occupation is inevitable, it is because it is what is happening everywhere, now. If we have to make it, it is because our bodies are the material collective that it is. If it is repressed, its inevitablility remains. The twenty-first century is the time of that inevitability, because the limit it surges against, repression, is also the dynamic of its movement: in its death throes, the openly repressive forces of capital are the manifestation of its own weakness, returning people to the destitution from which they revolt. “This occupation is inevitable, but we have to make it,” because in a time of mass debt, of mass foreclosures, of ruthless austerity, of sprawling slums, there will be no alternative to the material necessity of taking what we need and using it amongst ourselves.

None of this makes a difference this morning, while the enemy guards its ruins and our comrades are in jail. But if we knew this morning would come, we also know that the clocks have already stopped, that the real movement continues, and that time is on our side.

Video of Occupy Everything, Liberate Oakland March

Saturday, October 22 2011

ALSO: check out these galleries of images from indybay
part 1 & part 2

Days We Will Never Forget: Images from Oscar Grant Plaza, Liberated Zone

Entrance to Oscar Grant Plaza off 14th & Broadway, downtown Oakland

the occupation viewed from above

The Raheim Brown Free School and media communications tent

serving up food, 24/7

Anti-capitalist march on Friday, October 14 2011

Occupy Everything! Liberate Oakland! Saturday, October 22 2011

Book Bloc passes Lake Merritt on Saturday, October 22 2011

Listening to speakers during events for the 45th anniversary of the Black Panther Party

The Occupy Oakland General Assembly, every night at 7pm

Hot Tub performs at Oscar Grant Plaza

Goodnight Oakland Commune

Occupy Oakland Saturday March – Let’s make this huge

All out for the very first official Occupy Oakland action!!

Saturday October 22 2011*

11am Rally
Amphitheater of Oscar Grant Plaza (formerly Frank Ogawa Plaza)
14th and Broadway, Downtown Oakland

12 noon March
Through Downtown & around the north side of Lake

We live in a world where unemployment and staggering levels of debt are the new normal, where poverty and homelessness are met by police violence and incarceration. The entire global economy is broken, and politicians in the US and elsewhere remain powerless to do anything about it. It’s time to take power into our own hands, to occupy the spaces from which we have been excluded and reclaim everything that has been stolen from us.

- Solidarity with the worldwide Occupy movement
- Opposition to an economic system that has never worked for us
- No gang injunctions, no youth curfews
- Keep Oakland schools and libraries open

*Please note that this is not a permitted march but is being organized to encourage maximum participation*

#occupyoakland
facebook: Occupy Oakland
*OCCUPYOAKLAND.ORG *

*March agreed upon by the Occupy Oakland General Assembly on October 19, 2011*

#OccupyOakland – One Week Strong at Oscar Grant Plaza

Social rebels from around Oakland have descended upon Oscar Grant Plaza and have created a genuine, autonomous space free of police and unwelcoming to politicians. Whereas other occupations have invited the police and politicians, or have negotiated with them, Occupy Oakland has carved a line in the cement. That line of demarcation says: if you pass this, if you try and break up or over shadow this autonomous space, you are well aware, as observed over the last couple of years, what we are capable of.

This article is a report back on the first week at Occupy Oakland, a reflection on problems we have been facing and some thoughts on moving the occupation forward; onto some next level shit.
(more…)

In San Francisco, the struggle for housing continues.

          Wednesday night’s occupation of the Hotel Sierra in San Francisco’s Mission District marked the continuation of a week of housing takeovers in the city. The 40-room hotel, which has stood vacant for years, has become a highly contested space in the struggle between San Francisco’s low-income community and the building’s owner. This occupation, the third takeover of the landmark hotel, follows Monday night’s action where a roving march roamed through the Tenderloin, taking over 3 buildings in the struggling neighborhood in a desperate attempt to create housing for people who can no loner afford the rising rents of the city. The doors of the 600-room Cathedral Hotel were opened to the crowd by an ambitious group of masked homeless and precariously housed people who stormed past the security guards that were attempting to prevent their entrance and ran straight to the roof, dropping banners from the windows on the way up. A block away and 2 hours later, a 17-room abandoned hotel and an adjacent vacant building were occupied by the crowd, with free food being served on the street in front of the building.

          This bold approach, to directly take what is needed without asking, may prove to be the only way the emerging social movements will be able to withstand the rising poverty rates and continued budget cuts in the deepening of this recession that we were told was over.

These types of housing actions are nothing new for San Francisco, despite the fact that these most recent demonstrations occurred during the era of the Occupy Wall Street-inspired movements. While many in those movements have consistently insisted on being part of a common struggle of the 99%, the marginalized people who took part in these housing takeovers realize that theirs is not a struggle of the vast majority of Americans, but of those who, having been excluded from the relative wealth of American society, have taken directly what is needed for their survival.

Despite the eventual eviction of these publicly occupied spaces (dozens of police spent hours searching the 600 rooms of the Cathedral Room hotel unaware that the occupiers had already moved on to take over another building), every month countless people are housed in covertly occupied squats by housing militants in San Francisco.

It is unfortunate that, despite being alerted of these actions and encouraged to participate, very few people from the Occupy San Francisco encampment were present. If the nation-wide “Occupation” movements intend to become a social force with the strength to reshape the course of history, they would do well to consider occupying not merely sidewalks and parks, but to begin actually taking the spaces that allow people to live and operate with dignity. With over 50,000 homes in foreclosure in California and hundreds of thousands going through the process across the country, it is only rational for any social struggle to support and encourage people to stay in their homes in defiance of eviction notices and to begin using vacant buildings for our own purposes. With increasing rents and rising tuitions, a property that was abandoned when the banks could no longer profit from it would be put to better use as a social center or free school.

Only the course of time will tell if the emergent “Occupy” movements of parks across America will become more ambitious and start taking over more useful spaces, but regardless of what they decide, the building takeovers that began long before the inception of these movements will continue, with or without their participation.

Selected Writings

Stay Calm: some tips for keeping safe in times of state repression

pdfs for printing and viewing below The spectre of state repression has been growing over Bay Area radical... 

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Occupy Oakland is Dead. Long Live the Oakland Commune.

May 1, decomposition and the coming antagonisms THE COMMUNE For those of us in Oakland, “Occupy... 

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Days We Will Never Forget: Images from Oscar Grant Plaza, Liberated Zone

Entrance to Oscar Grant Plaza off 14th & Broadway, downtown Oakland the occupation viewed from above The... 

Read More