I’ve been back a full week now. So much going on–tour reflection, planning the next one, ENGAGEMENT–but right now I just gotta jot some stuff down about Occupy Oakland’s General Strike on Wednesday. Specifically, about the property destruction that occurred. I’m really torn on the issue, but I want to try to compile some of the important observations and reflections I’ve had or heard from other community members on Thursday’s debrief. Here goes.
- I firmly reject the notion that property destruction is tantamount to violence.
- The mere fact of property destruction being illegal does not mean that it’s unethical or ineffective. It’s illegal to camp in most public parks, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.
- Occupy Oakland has not, as a body, made any resolution of nonviolence. From what I’ve observed, OO is in the minority in this regard amongst other Occupations, but how sizable that minority is, I don’t know.
- What OO has resolved to do is to “respect a diversity of tactics” and, despite strategic differences, maintain solidarity in the face of assault by the State and Traditional Media.
- There were reports of certain zealously ‘nonviolent’ protesters using actual force and violence (specifically, throwing chairs) at other protesters who were defacing Whole Foods. As one person put it at the OO debrief Thursday evening, “I don’t know what kind of fucked-up definition of ‘nonviolence’ you’re using.”
- As one protester remarked, “Respecting a diversity of tactics goes both ways.” People who want to take militant action need to recognize that their actions have a effect on everyone in the movement. This is most obviously exemplified in police retaliation, but another example I heard was if one group were hypothetically to occupy a building (thinking about the winter here) and risk misdemeanor trespassing charges, another group starting fires could potentially put them at risk for felony arson charges.
- A number of people have called upon Occupy Oakland to disavow property destruction and anyone who employs these tactics (notably, I’ve seen this mostly from folks who do not consider themselves to be part of the movement, but outside commentators). However:
a) this is pretty clearly in violation of both the letter and spirit of #3, and is (fairly, I believe) taken as a betrayal by some;
b) from what I saw Thursday, support or at least sympathy for these tactics is too widespread for this to be feasible.
- It seems to me that one of the reasons OO hasn’t committed to nonviolence is a lot of folks involved, specifically young men of color, have had to contend with violence from police their entire lives, and aren’t coming from the same mostly white, middle- to upper-class, formally educated culture that the nonviolent protest tradition is rooted in.
- On the other hand, the anarchist culture that is so eager to embrace Fucking Shit Up is overwhelmingly white and male, as were most of the folks I saw speaking out in favor of it on Thursday. If the voices of women and folks of color were being sufficiently encouraged and amplified (and keep in mind that Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the country), would this approach seem quite so popular?
- I want this movement to be inclusive, but I think there’s a distinction between inclusivity and mainstreaming. I’m not sure that I think property destruction is an effective tool for change, but if it’s not unethical (I’m not sure on this one, but let’s assume for the sake of this argument that it’s not), then I think it’s a legitimate expression of anger. Compare this to certain incendiary verbal expression: the statement “Fuck The Police” may alienate some people, but I’m firmly opposed to repressing passionate speech in interests of being more palatable to a mainstream audience. We need to be seeking solidarity on what we stand to gain from transforming/toppling the system and knowing our common enemy–not how we express our outrage.
- All I feel (sort of) sure of is that it’s important for all of us in the movement to be conscious of the effects that one’s actions have on all of us, and on our future as a movement.
If anyone thinks any of these notions are rationally or ethically flawed, I certainly welcome your comments. Though I reserve the right to take a long time to reply because I’ve already out-debated myself for the day/week. Seriously though, let’s dialogue on this.