Reflections on Violence and Property Destruction at Occupy Oakland

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.

  1. I firmly reject the notion that property destruction is tantamount to violence.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

One thought on “Reflections on Violence and Property Destruction at Occupy Oakland

  1. Hi there, I’m one of the protestors that defended Whole Foods and other locations against acts of property destruction from the Black Bloc Anarchists.

    For those of you who’ve watched the videos I’m the guy with the yellow ski (some say retard) helmet.

    I want to put this out there that I’m not totally against capital destruction. I think that it can be an effective tool if used correctly. For example, shutting down the port destroyed over a million dollars in capital!

    I’ve been to OccupyWallSt, OccupyPortland, OccupySanDeigo, OccupySF and OccupyOakland. My gig is that I show video to the occupiers in an information campaign to explain why the system is fucked up. I collect youtube videos and play them on a portable sound and video projection system. My goal is to give an alternative narrative than what is presented in the mainstream media to show what is REALLY going on in our world.

    Let’s just say that I’ve seen my far share of videos.

    The one thing that I’ve noticed is that these protests grow in response to (somewhat) unprovoked police violence against protestors. I believe that the shooting of Scott Olson made the General Strike on Nov. 2nd possible. The important that videos circulating on youtube are to the movement cannot be under stated. For example mainstream and independent news commentators are looking at the stuff that we generate and reporting based off of the content.

    I’ve seen video shot at the Oakland protest end up on very liberal and very conservative commentary. Now obvious we can’t control the narrative of individuals that want to see us fail, but the video capturing our actions are giving our enemies evidence that their extremest narrative is correct. Keep in mind that the conservative elements in our society have always had a reality problem. Their narrative is very discognizant of how things actually work, for example many still believe in Christian Mythology and that the world is 10,000 years old. The amount of mental gymnastics that one has to do to keep that state of mind is pretty fantastic and any confirmation of their ideology is going to reverberate in their echo chamber, aka MemeSpace.

    So where do I come in?

    I’m a “Culture Jammer” for the OWS movement. One of the tactics I do is paste links to OWS video to “cross pollinate” our message to people that otherwise wouldn’t get it. My goals include for them to support the movement (or at least neutralize their opposition) and for them to become skeptical of their main stream media source. With the right video, I can effectively disrupt an entire forum into one that becomes MUCH more informative for the participants. I’ve seen a stream of hate comments transform into informative debate. It’s amazing!

    In my experience the best way to disrupt the conservative narrative is with the kind of video showing Scott Olson getting shot. A veteran of the war, doing nothing but standing there and then being shot point blank range with a “sub-lethal” weapon by a police for denying him the right to peacefully assembled as guaranteed under the constitution is symbolically powerful and motivated a wave of support across America.

    I saw Scott Olson get hit on the video and that is what compelled me to take the day off and come down in solidarity with the OWS strike.

    Now why was I wearing armor?

    One of the big problems that I’ve seen is that the people holding the cameras are ill suited for tear gas and rubber bullets. So using my own cash I bought armor and a gas mask to protect myself so that I could film in the fog of tear gas and take a few hits without being sent to the hospital. If you look at my videos attached to the website you’ll see that I had a full backpack. That backpack was full of camera equipment and other support materials for neutralizing teargas.

    Confrontation at Whole Foods

    I’m going to be blunt, this was an unequivocal media disaster for the OWS movement. It was a really really terrible symbol to target. I don’t care what elaborate bullshit reasons people give for targeting it – most of the reasons turned out to be unsubstantiated rumors anyway and the adjacent stores were attacked too. No one outside of your academic circle will understand why you targeted Whole Foods and this should have been a consideration … but it wasn’t.

    After the attack on Whole Foods, I realized that the protest that day had lost the moral high ground – we were no longer a “Peaceful Assembly” with constitution protections under the law. And with that I left. Police action followed which was largely justified in the eyes of the public due to the disorder and vandalism.

    People have to realize that the attack of whole foods was a big win for the ruling aristocracy that runs this country because right now it’s being endlessly played around the web-o-sphere. It’s very likely that you have INFILTRATED by law enforcement acting as agent provocateurs to help goad the attack. It’s likely LE started the rumor, was part of the decision making process to target it and also coordinated the police so that they would not respond to any of the vandalism.

    In closing I want to say that the closing of the docks destroyed HUGE amounts of capital and made you LOOK POWEFUL! Breaking windows destroyed very little capital and made you look weak.

    Anyway, thats what I have to say. I’m sure that this response will generate a wave of name calling. I want to also put this out there that I am willing to do a physical in-person meeting to any group that wants to talk to me in person.

    I also want to apologize to anyone that I inadvertently hurt while defending Whole Foods.

    Thank you for your time,

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