by James Vann
The following guest post is from longtime progressive activist James Vann of Oakland:
At the general assembly of Occupy Oakland last Friday night, November 4, a task presented from the earlier facilitators' meeting was open discussion by the assembly — in small groupings — on the question: "How to Grow Occupy Oakland into a Long-Term Sustainable Movement."
I was asked by a contingent sitting to my right to join with their group. I was soon aware that most of the people who constituted our small group were an interrelated faction. An early idea of one of the faction members was to take OO to the "next level" by "taking over vacant buildings." I injected my disagreement with the idea, that the remarkable success of the entirety of Wednesday's general strike day had already become subsumed in the media by the post-event "violence" of a small dissident contingent's breaking into a nearby vacant building. (An act that led to the day's first police appearance, a massive descent of cops in riot gear — replicating the defamed October 25 assault, complete with tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and bean bag projectiles. A three-hour riot through surrounding blocks ensued, with dissidents setting fires, breaking store windows, and widespread spray-painting of graffiti, ending in some 100 arrests and the serious wounding of yet another recently returned Iraq War veteran on the scene as an innocent bystander.)
Others of the small group chimed in, stressing the need for OO to set an example that other #Occupy organizations could duplicate by appropriating indoor space for continuation through the oncoming rains and snows of winter of movement activities.
I suggested, in place of 'strike-day-like' events — which can only be infrequently carried out — that OO implement a series of targeted small assemblies and marches in various neighborhood business districts around the city. This would have the effect of educating and recruiting new adherents to the movement from throughout the city. A recent transplant from a southern city told of the dispersed nature of that city, not suited to a centralized general assembly, but rather regional assemblies, and suggested that OO look into a regional-type structure. Our group's report was an amalgam of these ideas.
During the report-back session, few small groups made what I considered positive or doable suggestions ("take over city hall;" "make city pay for meals and housing;" "displace the city council," etc). However, in what appeared an orchestrated tactic, each time a small group recommended "taking over vacant buildings," it drew the loudest applause. Alternately, when there was any criticism of violence, or mention of nonviolent actions, the dissident members, and their compatriots dispersed throughout, yelled out almost in unison, "diversity of tactics, diversity of tactics." It is clear that the dissident anarchist group of some 150 or so is deeply embedded within Occupy Oakland. (The morning's news programs gave the police breakdown of Wednesday's arrestees as about 31 percent Oakland residents, approximately 10 percent out-of-state, and the majority from other cities and communities.)
On returning home, I read an unidentified quarter-size blurb that had been handed out during GA. The neatly printed blurb rationalized Wednesday night's illegal takeover as the "logical next step for the movement," separated the question of "violence against property" (tactical) vs "violence against persons (harmful), and proclaimed that "property violence" occurred only after the cops arrived to dispel them from the appropriated building. The blurb concluded with: "The point here is obvious: if the police don't want violence, they should stay the hell[sic] away."
Meanwhile, Oakland's embattled mayor forcefully stated at Thursday night's special speak-back session of the city council that "immediate control of its violent members" is a primary condition for the Occupy Oakland encampment to remain in Frank Ogawa Plaza (nee Oscar Grant Plaza).
Clearly, the present situation poses an extremely serious problem for Occupy Oakland. Moreover, a wide disconnect exists between #Occupy goals and anarchists' objectives. The anarchists see #Occupy as a "resistance movement" requiring a vanguard to wage war against oppressive forces (the police). Alternately, #Occupy's basic objective is to expose the greed, corruption, and attendant policies of Wall Street investors, bankers, and mega-corporations that extract more and more the wealth of the country, while the 99% and the needs of the many increasingly suffer with less and less — and to cause policy and program changes to restore equitable wealth and resource distribution.
During the dissident actions on "General Strike Day," nonviolent OO members who attempted to halt acts of property destruction being perpetrated by the anarchist group, had their own safety threatened with claw hammers. The dissident anarchist faction is deeply embedded throughout and has strongly expressed its integration and inclusion as a legitimate part of OO.
Given the open nature of OO; its consensus decision structure; and the lack of endorsed "leaders," it is unclear how OO will deal with an internal situation of a faction that is structurally committed to an agenda of "resistance," inherently contradictory to the aims of the #Occupy movement. Unaddressed, this dilemma threatens the existence of at least Occupy Oakland itself. Clearly, #Occupy, and specifically Occupy Oakland, is faced with a dilemma moving on incompatible paths that at present seems only likely to continue diverging.