Is Occupy Oakland as Bad as They Say?
Much ado has been made about recent media reports describing Occupy Oakland as a cross between Lord of the Flies and Animal House. The leftist magazine Mother Jones was furious about the negative coverage, deeming it "The Right-Wing Media Assault on Occupy Oakland," and attempting to debunk the bad press. But Big Journalism lashed back with an article entitled MotherJones: Truth To Unflattering Reports On OWS.
Out of curiosity, I decided to check out the scene for myself to settle the matter.
Occupy Oakland is a tent encampment in the park facing Oakland's City Hall. Wooden pathways wend between dozens of tents inhabited by over a hundred activists.
Saturday, October 22 was a special day for the Occupiers: A rally and march were planned at noon. A talented local artist recorded the scene as hundreds of day-protesters arrived to hear the speakers in the amphitheater adjacent to the camp.
Adding to the excitement: Today was "Bring Down Capatalism Day," so we were all eagerly anticipating the destruction of "capatalism" by nightfall. The only remaining question was: How would we bring it down? With "Group Cacases"?
This protester had the answer: Behead all the evil capitalists.
Many in the crowd, such as QPOC (Queer People of Color, for all you ignorant facsists) called for the death of capitalism in a more generic sense.
Some of the speakers addressing the rally wanted to go "the full Lenin."
But some of the protesters reminded us: If we aren't all in tune with Allah, nothing will change. As the uprisings in North Africa have reminded us: the only path to true revolution is through Islam. Maybe this will be the American "Arab Spring" in more ways than one!
One thing quickly became apparent to me: Occupy Oakland at first tried to create a completely anarchistic rule-free social utopia — but as the days and weeks pass, the Occupiers are inescapably re-creating society from scratch, and before long will have all the same rules and customs and problems that they tried to abandon. (All of this is entirely predictable, I might add.)
During the boring speeches, I strolled around the encampment and discovered that many of the reports about Occupy Oakland are, unfortunately, true. Let's look at them one by one:
DRUG USE and COMMERCE
Everywhere I went, I encountered people taking drugs — mostly marijuana. Many of them were understandably camera-shy. But this guy stood right on the main walkway and puffed away on a drug pipe.
The ground around and inside the camp was also littered with other evidence of drug use, such as this crack cocaine baggie that had been dropped or discarded.
This guy was sitting outside his tent, riffling through and counting huge wads of greenbacks. I can't say for sure that he was a drug dealer, but I found it mighty suspicious that he would have such a massive amount of cash amidst such squalor.
The City of Oakland issued an eviction notice the day before the rally, citing sanitation issues, garbage, rats and other hygiene problems at the encampment. The protesters announced that they simply wouldn't budge, and the city temporarily caved in, so for now the standoff continues, though the eviction notices are still taped up around the plaza. But as far as I could tell — yes, the city has a very good point. The place was pretty disgusting.
Paradise for rats.
Even more disturbingly, all over the camp were signs that said "Not a toilet," because some occupiers basically relieve themselves wherever and whenever they feel the urge. Disgusted campers started putting up signs so that their particular tents wouldn't be on the receiving end of any effluvia.
One tree had basically become an outside communal toilet, so the more environmental-minded Occupiers put up signs trying to discourage doing one's business au naturel.
INTIMIDATING "INTERNAL SECURITY" TEAMS
Occupy Oakland has agreed by consensus to not cooperate with the Oakland Police Department under any circumstances. But as the law-breaking and nuisance behavior within the encampment started to grow, the evolving mini-society found it necessary to appoint its own ersatz police force. Basically, the scariest looking guys, and/or those guys with with strongest authoritarian urge, have assumed the role of internal policemen. As many reporters have discovered, these guys really really do not appreciate having their picture taken, so I could only get a few surreptitious shots. In this scene, someone had found a large Bowie knife in the camp and turned it into these two Occupolice, who set about scanning the crowd for the potential owner, ready to wreak justice on anyone who broke the "no weapons"
law consensus agreement. They communicate with walkie-talkies.
There also seemed to be a possibly separate "rally security force" consisting of guys wearing Black Panther buttons on their berets.
People have often cited Lord of the Flies in reference to Occupy Oakland, and I tend to agree -- but in a good way. In the original novel about boys stranded on a desert island, it's not just that they descend into barbarism, but more interestingly they start to re-create society from first principles, instituting hierarchies and rules and customs where none had existed before. And it's quite obvious that, left on their own for a sufficient amount of time, the book's characters would naturally have developed a new society not much different from the one they left behind.
I see the same thing happening at Occupy Oakland: They reject the existence of the current police force, only to find it necessary to found a new substitute police force of their own, which were it to mature would eventually become an institution probably not much different from the original Oakland Police Force they so reviled. Here, for example, is the first incarnation of a "police station" in the emerging Occupy culture.
Around and around the cycle goes.
Remember Lovelle Mixon, the serial rapist, child molester and murderer who single-handedly committed one of the worst mass killings of police officers in American history? Yeah, that guy. Well, the anti-police sentiment at Occupy Oakland is so intense that they regard Lovelle Mixon as a hero!! Whatever other crimes he may have committed, if he offed some pigs, then all is forgiven. Fuck the Po-lice! Power to the people!
I guess there are so many crime victims at the camp that the Occupiers have found it necessary to establish a donation fund to help them -- presumably to replace stolen items. Come back in ten years' time, and this will be called "the insurance industry."
But not all is rosy in this new society. Some of the very worst customs already banned from our existing society have re-emerged at Occupy Oakland. One of the ugliest of these is segregation.
The encampment has already fractured into a series of micro-neighborhoods, just like a real city. But at Occupy Oakland, where you are permitted to live is determined by your gender and/or racial or sexual identity. Here, for example, is a roped-off "gated community" reserved exclusively for female, gay and transgender residents.
Elsewhere are tents with a "minorities only" rule.
And lest you might be so naive to think that these rules would only ever apply to the Occupy camp, and not to the city at large should the Occupiers ever take over, be aware that one of the Occupation's many demands is to "Stop White Gentrification in Oakland" -- which would mean the establishment of new laws preventing white people from moving into certain neighborhoods.
Yes, my friends, the Occupy movement has made segregation trendy again!
They aleady have this in Middle Eastern society; it's called a harem.
Didn't mean to get so heavy. Let's look at the lighter side of Occupy Oakland.
Slurp up the banality of existence with a krazy-straw of resistenc.
Finally, an idea I think everybody can agree on: Occupy Solyndra!
I'm Satanic — and I'll take bowing down to a spiritual tyrant over an Economic one any day!
To show how egalitarian and open-minded the whole Occupy Oakland movement is, they have workshops both in Marxism 101 and in anarchism. Being mutually exclusive philosophies doesn't matter -- as long as they're both devoted to destroying capitalism, we can work out the details later in a brutal post-revolution civil war. Sound familiar?
The main problem when communists and anarchists get together in the same revolution is that the communists are by nature so much more organized. As a result, they're usually more visible, and the reporters (at least the ones not trying to paper over the whole thing) assume that the communists are dominant. The same is true at Occupy Oakland -- the signage was about 50% communist/socialist, 25% anarchist/anti-authoritarian, and 25% incoherent/confused/personal. A casual observer would conclude that the protest was predominantly communist. But I suspect the anarchists and the crazies outnumber the actual communists, but they're just not as good at advertising themselves.
This sign gets it right -- socialism is basically one big across-the-board bailout of everything and everyone. Remember: If it doesn't work on a small scale, try it on a massive scale! What could go wrong?
"Possible" is a long, long way from "desirable."
Just as in a real city, the wooden "streets" among the tents were given names: the main drag was called "Free Health Care Blvd." (though somebody knocked the sign down).
One street had the interesting moniker "End Ism Rd."
The Revolutionary Communist Party even got into the act, naming the area near their tent "Red Square."
And also just as in a real city, graffiti artists had already taken to "tagging" the public streets; one funny cartoon on Free Health Care Blvd. mocked "Occuposers" who go home to Mommy and Daddy every night.
Any method for decreasing the amount of shit around here is OK with me.
A man, a tarp, a kitten, a dog, some stuff. Yes, it can be this simple. Society has been reinvented!
In a hilarious vignette that illustrates in miniature the absurd unfeasibility of the whole "green energy" scam, the Occupiers had set up a bicycle connected to a dynamo so that the computer in the media center would be powered by renewable and sustainable energy! Yeah!
Except...well, it's really really hard to pedal day and night to keep the computer running, so the media center is in reality powered by an extension cord connected to the evil carbon-belching power grid. Note the feeble and ineffectual greenish wire running from the dynamo to the computers. Oh the shame!
Multiply this problem by a billion and you have modern civilization.
And what are they producing on that not-quite-people-powered computer? Well, amongst the plethora of literature handed to me by various protesters was this orange flyer issued by the Occupy Oakland movement itself. For those who still harbor fantasies that the Occupiers really are mainstream, no really, they're just being misrepresented, the manifesto removes any remaining doubts about their revolutionary bona fides. The full text was posted on this site among others where you can read it in full. Here are a few excepts:
Occupation is nothing new. The land we stand on is already occupied territory. The United States was founded upon the extermination or indigenous peoples and the colonization of their land, not to mention centuries of slavery and exploitation.
The idea of redistributing wealth must not only be directed towards the “1%” but to all of us as well.
The problem isn’t just a few “bad apples.” The crisis is not the result of the selfishness of a few investment bankers; it is the inevitable consequence of an economic system that rewards cutthroat competition at every level of society. Capitalism is not a static way of life but a dynamic process that consumes everything, transforming the living, breathing world into objects and profit. Now that the economy has consumed every aspect of life, the system is collapsing, leaving even some of its former beneficiaries out in the cold. The answer is not to revert to some earlier stage of capitalism, such as the economic boom of the post-war years; not only is that impossible, those earlier stages didn’t benefit the “99%” either. To get out of this mess, we’ll have to rediscover other ways of relating to each other and the world around us.
Police can’t be trusted. They may be “workers,” but their job is to protect the interests if the ruling class.As long as they remain employed as police, we can’t count on them, however friendly they might act.
Don’t assume those who break the law or confront the police are “outside agitators.” A lot of people have good reason to be angry. Not everyone is resigned to legalistic pacifism; for some people self-defense is a necessary part of their everyday life. Police violence isn’t just meant to provoke us, it’s meant to hurt and scare us into inaction. In this context, resistance is crucial.
Assuming that those at the front of clashes with the authorities are somehow trying to instigate a violent situation is not only illogical - it delegitimizes the spirit it takes to challenge the status quo, and dismisses the courage of those who are prepared to do so. We all experience the effects of power differently under capitalism, and the ways in which we struggle against it will reflect that. The goal should not be to compel everyone to adopt one set of tactics, but to discover how different approaches can be mutually beneficial.
The occupations will thrive on the actions we take. We’re not just here to “speak truth to power” - when we only speak, the powerful turn a deaf ear to us. Let’s make space for autonomous initiatives and organize direct action that confronts the source of social inequalities and injustices. An occupation of public space is not an effective political act in and of itself, it must move beyond this to become a staging grounds for actions that disrupt business as usual, and it’s up to all of us to take the initiative to see this through.
Occupy. Block. Strike. Take Over.
See you on the streets!
-The Oakland Commune
Finally, the speeches were over and people started assembling for the march. Anarchists grabbed their black flags and started tweeting on their corporate iPhones: the time has arrived!
The anarchists all took their places at the front of the march, each holding an oversize cover of a book that was either banned at some point, or is popular with anarchists, or both.
And off we went on a little spin around Lake Merritt. All told, I estimate that there were about 500 of us.
Not if you keep using its ever-so-useful products, it isn't.
The first time I wrote about the recent re-appearance of the IWW black cat logo, I said "Notice the black cat in the center. It originally was the secret symbol used by revolutionary Wobblies to advocate sabotage in factories. Since no modern anarchist trustafarians work in factories any more, they've adopted the black cat sabotage symbol as a general call for sabotage against modern society." Now I just think it's a hollow gimmick to look edgy.
Not everybody was unaware of the hypocrisy associated with "using the capitalists' tools to destroy capitalism," as various New York OWS protesters justified their iPhone and iPad addictions. Or maybe she was just a Droid marketing manager?
The legendary megaphone which Mother Jones pointedly mentioned to imply that the Oakland Occupiers were reasonable and mainstream made another appearance in the march, but the guy holding it never seemed to say anything -- he just carried it around. I will say that it was just about the only pro-Obama artifact that I saw all day.
This is the reason why Oakland is in such trouble: The city has a terrible crime problem, but seemingly half the residents see the police, and not the criminals, as the problem. Any attempts to increase patrols or hire more officers are met with fierce resistance.
I think many people will be pleased to hear that.
Rule #451 of protest sign-making: If you put a unicorn on it, no one can accuse you of malice.
Rule #523: Paper lasts a day, cardboard a week; but a quilt lasts forever.
Fascinating to see how Robert Reich is now quoted by activists, like some radical revolutionary hero.
Because everyone knows that a "spanking" is the most severe punishment ever meted out to "enemies of the people" after a revolution.
And to think there are still pundits who try to claim that the Occupy movement isn't anti-capitalist.
It's rare that I see a protest message I've never encountered before; this one certainly is unique. Anti-foreigner protectionism in the Occupy movement? Who knew?
Eventually we walked all the way around the lake, but my camera battery conked out right around here. There were a couple of futile "group pout" sit-in-the-street moments, and a couple attempts to shout slogans in a bank branch, but nothing particularly exciting before we made it back to base camp.
Well, I guess that depends on your definition of "exciting": here's a video taken by one of the Occupiers of the bank invasion later in the march:
(This video is a replacement for an earlier similar one that was taken down after various unsympathetic sites linked to the video. All that remains of that original video is its YouTube description, which pretty much describes this one as well:)
After marching from Oscar Grant Plaza and around Lake Merritt on October 22nd, Occupy Oakland occupiers and supporters stopped in front of the Chase Bank branch on Lakeshore Avenue. Demonstrators began to stream into the bank, filling the branch and chanting, "Chase got bailed out, we got sold out." Bank withdrawal and deposit slips were thrown into the air and within a few minutes demonstrators exited the bank and returned to the thousand-plus marchers in the street. Several protesters remained behind to pick up bank slips from the floor and were locked inside when police moved in to secure the bank. With loud chants of "Let them go, let them go" from the street, those inside were allowed to leave and the march continued on to shut down a Wells Fargo Bank branch by surrounding it before returning to Oscar Grant Plaza.
More info on the video here.
Also see interviews with Oakland Occupiers (taken on an earlier day) in "The Revolutionaries' Revenge."
For dessert, here are a few bonus pictures to round out your Occupy Oakland experience:
As bloggers have noticed at various Occupies around the country, over the last two weeks Robin Hood has emerged as the movement's latest hero-du-jour.
And don't forget about the precious bodily fluids!
It's almost refreshing to see some home-grown Marxism for once, instead of these slick operations with their own printing presses and design departments.
The upside-down flag says "Indian land." Funny, though, that none of the non-Native American protesters seem to be making any plans to de-colonialize themselves back to wherever their ancestors came from. Note also the fashionable jacket. Occupy chic will be in Old Navy next year, I guarantee it.
No post-9/11 protest is considered to have a minyan until at least one Truther shows up.
Even the nihilists had their views represented -- or in this case kinda Marx-o-nihilists.
The Che quote, the coolie hat -- now that's dedication.
You don't need to be fluent in Spanish to translate this sign.
The divisions and subdivisions in the identity politics movement have gotten so specific that you can no longer refer to minorities as simply "people of color," because the gay minorities might then feel left out, as one of the minority identifiers (color) subsumes what might possibly be a more important minority identifier (queer); but on the other hand, you can't refer to all minorities as "queer people of color," because some of them might not in fact be queer. Solution? The proper term for minorities is now the all-inclusive-but-not-presumptuous "POC/QPOC" -- People of Color/Queer People of Color. Do not forget this, as it will be on your next revolutionary test.
To this day, I still can't tell if some of these people take themselves seriously or not.
Here's the official eviction notice, to be complete.
So: Is Occupy Oakland as bad as they say it is?
You saw the pictures; you decide.
Late in the day on Monday, October 24, the Occupiers sent out emergency press releases saying that they were tipped off that the police would follow through on their eviction orders in the upcoming hours:
OAKLAND, CA [October 24, 2011]--
An Oakland city official has tipped off the Occupy Oakland protest group that a raid tonight is "highly probable." Such a raid would happen after midnight, and would most likely occur between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.
Oakland officials have delivered notice to the protesters at Frank Ogawa Plaza and at Snow Park that the protesters are no longer allowed to stay overnight in the public parks. Today's announcement comes on the same day as Occupy Oakland's two-week birthday party, with cake and celebration planned for 5 p.m. tonight at the corner of Broadway and 14th.
"Our goal is to facilitate individuals to remove their tents, cooking facilities, and belongings, and to leave cooperatively," wrote city administrator Deanna Santana in an update to Oakland city staff earlier today. "We do not anticipate that our efforts to facilitate the departure of overnight protesters will disrupt your work or require changes to your work schedule."
The Occupy Oakland group has established significant infrastructure in the past 14 days. An occupation-run kitchen feeds the more than 400 protesters staying in the two parks, while workshops and organizational meetings happen throughout each day. A children's village is available for parents and their kids, and a number of structures are in place to serve the full occupation, including a library, a school and a first-aid center.
Shortly after 5 p.m., the Oakland fire marshal confiscated the Occupy Oakland camp's propane and cooking supplies. All ability to cook food is now cut off, after a solid two weeks of meal preparation for the full camp. This follows an Oakland city official's tip to the Occupy Oakland protest group that a raid tonight is "highly probable." A full camp-wide raid would happen after midnight, and would most likely occur between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Protesters have put an emergency notification system in place; to sign up for text alerts in the event of a police raid, text "bayaction" to 41411.
The party is over:
Oakland police arrested dozens of people at a plaza outside City Hall and at a second, smaller camp nearby early this morning, two weeks after the protesters launched efforts as part of the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement against corporate greed and economic inequality.
City officials said they had been forced to clear the encampments because of sanitary and public safety concerns.
At about 4:57 a.m., officers began making arrests and removing tents and makeshift shelters at the Occupy Oakland protest at Frank Ogawa Plaza near 14th Street and Broadway. By 5:05 a.m., the bulk of the arrests had been completed, and arrestees were led away in plastic handcuffs.
Officials initially waived city laws that ban camping and allowed the occupation of the plaza. But since Thursday, the city has issued of series of orders for protesters to vacate the area, citing concerns about fire hazards, sanitation issues, graffiti, drug use and violence.
Officials said protesters had plugged power cords into city utility poles and had denied access to emergency responders who needed to get into the plaza. The city was also alarmed by the activists' decision to try to police themselves with a volunteer security team.
And here is the conclusion — video of the camp being dismantled by the police this morning:
And don't miss what happened the following night: