Fuck the Police, Long Live the Commune
An enormous banner reading “Occupy Oakland — Fuck the Police” was unfurled at the corner of 14th and Broadway, in preparation for the first of a weekly series of marches against the police and their repression against the Oakland Commune. From the hours of 7 to 9 pm on Saturday, January 7th, the crowd kept growing – notably different than many of the largely white, activist groups that have become so predominant in the Occupy movement. This had a completely different character: a rowdy, largely young group of people pissed off about the recent police repression. The police were taking this night more seriously than other demos – whether it was because the night was the 3rd anniversary of the Oscar Grant Rebellion or simply because they knew that the pigs’ current campaign of harassment and arrests was fostering a culture of resistance and anger against them. All evening there were unmarked SUVs full of Oakland police cruising around the downtown area, as well as sheriffs and motorcycle pigs hanging around the periphery of 14th and Broadway.
The energy built up with chants, heckling of the cops standing in lines across the street, and a ferocious freestyle session. Soon after 9, the group flooded into the street, heading south on Broadway. Banners declared “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees”, “Not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck OPD” and “Police nowhere, liberation everywhere”. People donned masks as we neared the OPD headquarters, Wiley Manuel Courthouse and Glenn Dyer detention center on 7th St. Upon arrival, it was clear the pigs weren’t going to allow a fireworks show like the New Year’s Eve noise demo. Up to 50 pigs were stationed in one-deep lines, directly in front of their headquarters, with more pigs down Washington Street defending their vehicle lot, and others near Clay St. Judging by their arrangement, they were ready to surround and arrest us, to kettle the confrontational crowd. The mood was strange, quiet as we stood before the OPD’s fortress. The gap between the rage we wanted to unleash on the police and the reality of our suddenly indecisive crowd facing off a line of armed cops was unsettling. Our lack of confidence, of memory of overt collective resistance weighed heavy on us that moment. We milled in the street, someone shoved a shopping cart towards the cops. A few bottles were thrown. The hostility towards the police was too diffuse and they were too prepared in their defensive position for the immediate situation to escalate in a way that could benefit us.
Soon the decision was made to stay mobile, and we headed back to Broadway. The crowd took a left, and as we headed up the street several black-clad hooligans attacked two police cars that were stopped on the street, slashing their tires, and bottles were thrown at the pigs once more. At this point the divide in the crowd became evident — with OakFoSho who livestreams many Occupy Oakland demonstrations shouting “I wish I could catch the motherfuckers who are throwing shit on film”, and a few others decrying the bottle throwers. While militant tactics are not above critique (and there’s definitely much tactical learning and evolution to be done), threatening or filming people fighting back against the police is doing the pigs’ work for them.
Despite the unclear intentions of the group as a whole, some agitated for the march to turn towards the cop shop again, and ultimately it took a left on 9th Street and headed back to Washington. Strolling among the holiday-light bedazzled trees of the Oldtown commercial district, the chants of “Kill Pigs” and “A.C.A.B — all cops are bastards” lent a dissonant affect to the moment. Yuppies gawked from the upscale bars and restaurants as the active minority of a discontent populace streamed past them. We can only hope they enjoyed the sound of the Starbucks plate glass window shattering as much as we did. A few blocks down a Wells Fargo received an equally warm embrace. Shortly after that we passed a KTVU news van. It was swarmed by several people, some puncturing the tires, some scrawling a circle-A on the façade and others tearing the cables from the exposed switch board. This gesture should illuminate our relationship towards the media – they will never be our allies, we are not interested in pandering to them. This is war, and they are on the wrong side.
On this second approach, riot cops had formed a line blocking the way down Washington to the court. This was their technique in the early days of Occupy Oakland, when there was often almost no police presence at marches, until they approached 7th and Washington. But at this point we had more momentum than before, there was no way we would simply turn back. The “Fuck the Police” banner-carriers stepped up directly to the line, behind them a small bonfire was lit, and people let fly more bottles. But even though the energy had been high, there was no solid black bloc and those who were more confrontational were vulnerable to identification. Soon, the cops advanced, pushing the banner back and stomping out the fire. After they advanced, they began clearly pointing out and shining lights at those they wanted to target for arrest. Whether because of the fire or having sensed the tactical weakness of the group, the pigs suddenly charged.
It was a flurry of huge men moving faster than one would think possible. They clearly went after specific individuals, as well as those who were trampled or fell behind. They beat a few people badly with batons, and shot others with rubber bullets and bean bags that left a colored mark on clothing. The crowd was generally pushed north, and many escaped, but a group was kettled on 9th Street between Washington and Broadway. This kettle was eventually given a dispersal order and allowed to leave, although there was another police charge as people were walking north on Broadway. After this, the night ended uneventfully, though there were still cops posted up en masse at the North end of the plaza for some time. 6 people were arrested, 3 of whom were released without charges, and one of whom who is facing five felonies and one misdemeanor. Saturday night was a change of tactics for the OPD. In keeping with the intensifying direct repression of the Oakland Commune, this was the first time they had relied on snatching and kettling. Their sudden charges also seemed out of character, as though our stubborn resistance enraged or unnerved them. The OPD also tailed one person as they were leaving the march, and pulled them over to harass and search them.
The apparatus of the police is what holds us back from so many of our dreams. It is only logical that occupiers and other rebels have made a habit of marching between the plaza and the bastion of law and order: the former a hotbed of subversive conversation and anti-capitalist scheming, the latter the organizational center of a reactionary, murderous force and a node in the network of confinement and criminalization. By establishing a circulation between the radical social center of our city and the compound where the attack on that dangerous sociality is staged, the occupation has expanded on territorial battles that were already present in Oakland. In dead urban space, Occupy Oakland created a flourishing social space that was — is — antagonistic to the city’s control. While OPD asserts their sovereignty in East Oakland by murdering and beating people of color, in downtown they do it with tear gas and rubber bullets.
But while it is useful to encroach on the pigs’ territory as much as we can, there’s a danger of falling into an unthinking pattern. 7th and Washington isn’t the only place that crystallizes the relationship of power between us and the state — what we’re up against not only goes far beyond those buildings, it’s more than the police. It remains to be seen if these weekly marches will become something else entirely or fizzle out, but either way we need to think through our tactics and strategies. We cannot take on a fully armed counter-insurgency force directly. If we want to keep our commune alive in the streets and foster rebellion in the metropolis of the Bay Area, it will take some serious discipline and creativity. Our demonstrations must shift in form and content, and be able to adapt to contemporary circumstances. The time has already come to attack what represses us, seize what we need, and strike in unexpected ways. If we cannot provide for ourselves and create new forms of living in Oscar Grant Plaza, we will do it elsewhere. Now that we have tasted the joy of gathering defiantly in the open air and molding our own worlds, we can’t go back. In the words of some Spanish comrades, “the greatest violence would be returning to normality”. The police intend to enforce that normality. We, however, refuse to accept it, and wager instead on the rebels of Oakland.
Long live the Oakland Commune, freedom to our comrades and all prisoners!
Here is some footage of the January 7th demonstration.