Occupy Oakland Move-In Day Account
<table><tr><td>I don't really know how to write this. All i can do is attempt to recount my experiences, my feelings and be clear in saying that these are my personal recollections on J28 and do not reflect the experiences, ideas or reasonings of my comrades. My actions are my own. It's pretty long...
Upon visiting Occupy Oakland we learned that they were planning on taking a building the following weekend. Many of us came together in a caravan and drove up to Oakland. Personally, after my previous trip to Occupy UCR, Occupy San Francisco and #oo i felt that going to other occupations and participating in other regional actions are extremely valuable learning experiences. As well as bridge building opportunities, which I can say in reference to #oo that we are one and the same movement. We are all occupiers. I wanted to learn- how they mobilize, how they defend and how they move en masse. I wanted to learn what it was like to take a building, perhaps, so we could create our own community space one day. </td><td><img title="Dream bigger" src="http://anarchistnews.org/files/pictures/2012/pitchvibrato.jpg"></td></tr...
I say all of this knowing that there are terrible misunderstandings of why individuals are choosing to take more revolutionary roles in the occupy movement. I say this knowing that there is controversy over 'diversity of tactics' and many do not understand that diversity of tactics is in direct reference to autonomy, personal responsibility and the idea that we cannot internalize the language of the oppressor to control or divide a movement. I say all of this knowing that criticism of individual actions and fear of PR backlash leads almost inevitably to broad smearing and assumptions of any who seek to defend these controversial tactics based upon their merit. That being said, I will include in my debrief my perceptions of the role of the Oakland Black Bloc, which i found to be one of the most peaceful black bloc's i've ever seen... (which isn't saying much since i didn't even know about bb three months ago).. similar to the bloc at the Long Beach Port Shutdown.
The march started out like a party. Very peaceful. A masked clad woman dropped a bag of shields on the floor. Quickly many people looked around at each other as they grappled with the idea of walking onto the scene carrying shields.. "If you pick it up, just know that you are expected to be in front", she says. She's normal, just like me. Five more brought out barricades. The march starts with a bloc of media... cameras everywhere.. we are all excited as we set out to do exactly what was promised to the city government, the police, and the community- Reclaim Space.. take a building. Nothing could be more occupy appropriate.
The march continues without any police interference, but they are definitely aware we are on the move. Helicopters, police just waiting to form lines to control our peaceful crowd. The air is tense, and in that moment I know that our action is almost impossible. Some of the same criticisms i've seen about Move-In day cross through my mind... how they announced their intent, the inability to trust communication flow in a mass group, why waste time at a building that is already surrounded by police? In retrospect, whatever we did that day, it was always a trap.
By the time we arrive at the first building site- the abandoned Kaiser building- the cops have already surrounded the building. There is no hope for overtaking the police line, even though the black bloc set up the barricades and pushed down the fence. It's my understanding that if we would have taken a building, the bloc would have been where the police were- defending the reclaimed space. They never got that chance. The police fired smoke cannisters and aimed their rubber bullet guns at particular people by pointing them out. It was also said that there were undercover police and other cops with a book of occupier pictures trying to find and arrest people before the march. The march moves along past the skirmish line near the Kaiser building. There are already lines of cops ready to kettle us on many sides. We continue and make a left on Oak St. towards the second building.. a riot line forms and the police begin to fire tear gas, flash grenades, smoke cannisters, paint lead tipped bullets, at random everyday marchers. The bloc forms, since they were still hung up at the Kaiser building, shields/barricades/bb hold together and march slowly, with the crowd, then stop. A defensive line to resist the police violence being inflicted upon peaceful protesters. They advance five feet, then stop. They repeat. Immediately as the bloc got closer the police fired directly at the protesters. They were aiming at people running away.. If the bloc did not have their shields and barriers, their bodies would have had the dents and burn marks that their barricades had. I know because around this time I was hit with a flash grenade. And i wish i had a shield. It hit my right shoe, exploded up my leg onto my thigh where i still have a bruise, and ricochet onto my right elbow. It was terrifying. Along this time, i was a bit lost, searching for the rest of the LA occupiers who i heard had been tear gassed badly.
Later, in my cozy jail cell filled with Oakland, Cal and Santa Cruz occupiers refusing bologna and eating oranges with my tear gas tasting hands, i learned that the amount of tear gas used was NOTHING compared to the amt. that has been used regularly on Oakland in the past. In that moment, i wonder how they do it.. because it was too much for me. I wonder if you grow a tolerance. We regrouped at Oscar Grant Plaza, licked our wounds. Treated an LA occupier who had been hit with a rubber paint bullet. Wiped our stinging faces clear of the tear gas. I did not have time to think. In half an hour we set out again to try to take the third building. We marched down the streets... as the police scrambled to decide a tactical plan. They kettled streets and funneled us into a courtyard in which they blocked off all four exits. People ran casually from corner to corner asking to be let out, asking to be asked to disperse, wondering if there was a way out. There wasn't. A group using BB tactics (aka barricades) tried to test the thinnest line. Tear gas was fired.
On the other side of the courtyard, a group (i'd assume using bb tactics aka untying the fence) pushed the fence over. A mass of people, peaceful, beautiful people run free through the green space breaking the kettle imposed upon us by the OPD (not to mention.. our national security apparatus.. ) In that moment, it felt as if their actions were the only way we would remain liberated. I say remain, because we are already liberated with the spirit of this revolution. Why else would they come for us? We are peaceful. Yet they are on all sides. It's scary because at some point they will stop just kettling and arresting us. I was already worrying about being kettled, then tortured with tear gas and projectiles. Our escape was the most beautiful thing i've ever seen, evading their entrapment, resisting their insistence that we must be kettled- controlled- stopped because of their authority.
I didn't have to wonder very long at what they would do if we hadn't been able leave. The second kettle was much quicker, and the police spent less time worried about moving in their lines at a reasonable rate. We were still just marching, to my knowledge (since the third building was locked and inaccessible) back to Oscar Grant Plaza, when a line of police formed. I looked to my rear, and saw another line closing in. They tightened the space to mass arrest us because we had escaped the larger courtyard earlier. A group escaped through a rod iron fence by scaling it.. another group starts for the YMCA building.. requesting for the workers there to let us in. They opened the doors.
People rush for the doors upon realizing that we are surrounded. As soon as this rush happens, the police riot line at the rear rushes in at people. Panic ensues. I try to remain calm as i realize we are probably all going to be arrested. I run away from the cops, not towards any escape.. but to be as far away from their batons as possible. There is a corner in between the steps to the YMCA and the building itself- a corner- a tiny corner with a tree. We trip over each other, herded, running, fearful of trampling one another, into that corner. They beat us anyway. We huddle pressed into the wall of the YMCA as they beat people on the outer rim. Slowly, row by row they arrest us. 150 people huddled in a corner. Many around me had not been arrested before- they kept repeating- "they can't arrest all of us can they?". In my head i know they can. Eventually I find, because the space is small but the crowd is thick, some comrades from Los Angeles. The tense situation becomes realized. We are all going to be arrested. Why give them the satisfaction? Everyone decides to smoke whatever is on them, it turns into a chant fest. "We all live in a terrorist regime".. "this is a hostage situation"... "Another world is possible". We were never given a dispersal order. We were notified by megaphone that we would all be arrested.. hello.. unlawful detainment.
At this point, as an aside, i'd like to clarify that my (and to my knowledge -our) intent was never to represent Occupy LA. I went there as an autonomous individual, to support Occupy Oakland in solidarity and action, to follow their lead, to lend my body where they needed support. As always, one must be very weary and sensitive when you are visiting another occupation- lest we impose our structure/tactic on an action whose tactics/structure has already been determined. Amongst the group that went from OccupyLA, we did take certain precautions in terms of checking in with one another, making sure we were safe, etc.
After the second kettle in which i was arrested, i cannot account for what happened in terms of people blocking some of the police buses from leaving or in terms of breaking into CIty Hall and vandalizing it, or burning the American Flag. I was for all intents and purposes during J28 "unarrestable"... since i have pending charges in LA. What i saw on J28, the blatant police repression, the lack of any sort of hesitation in firing on peaceful protesters, the strategic planning to use protesters as pawns to experiment with urban warfare, kettling and mass arrest- all these things violated fundamentally the illusion of freedom this country is founded upon. I have no qualms about the burning of the American Flag. Where before i may have cringed, or wondered at the PR viability, it is clear to me, that we must call and expose their actions to our fullest capabilities. Our irrepressibility is key. There are many people.. who see what we see. Who are aware of struggle, corruption, the elite and the powers that will work against us. They are waiting to see vigor, to see persistence. You are not just fighting a PR war, you are not just fighting for people's minds, you are fighting for their hearts. Sometimes words are not enough- dissociated words are not enough. If this means organized defensive resistance, then yes. If this means burning the symbol of freedom, democracy and civil rights in this country- after a day of our civil rights being assaulted, then yes. Perfectly suitable. And please, this can and should be a point of diverging opinions. I see no need to argue the merits of flag burning. All i'm saying is after what i saw this day- it was appropriate in my opinion.
That was the day- but let's not forget what we were trying to do. We were trying to occupy an abandoned building to create our own community center. It's interesting how the police chose to escalate, derail and repress such a peaceful intention. They used violence because our action threatened to redefine local government's ownership of what is 'public' and their control of our resources. We want autonomy/community/freedom. They can only ever respond in violence. We can only ever hope to be organized, prepared and to respond in solidarity with one another.
As for the black bloc, people ask why they have shields.. why they have barricades.. and the answer is.. because of Scott Olson. The idea of there being a 'perceived threat' because there are shields should never be an acceptable excuse to fire on peaceful activists. TO my knowledge, the reason there were shields is because Occupy Oakland in particular has experienced blatant police violence in response to their organizing. So why shields? Because police brutality is acceptable when it comes to squashing the occupy movement. And someone needs to stand up and say it is NOT acceptable. Do you hear your representatives saying anything? Do you hear our supposed leftwing president saying anything about our civil liberties? After all, how do you get out of a kettle other than to break an unjust line? How do you get out of an unlawful declaration of unlawful assembly? Do you just comply? Do you permit them to abuse your fellow protesters, those who are peaceful, those who did not come prepared to defend themselves and be in the line of fire? All things running through my head as I look for ways out of the first kettle for myself and my new 300 friends. But one thing is for sure, we have power in numbers. And for some the answer is yes btw- we are peaceful, always. Even in the face of utter fascism.. even to the point of the black boot of state repression stepping on people's faces. But i am not Gandhi. For others, nonviolence is not that simple. Some of us believe in nonviolent resistance. Some of us will acknowledge that confrontation is ingrained in this struggle, we cannot evade it, we can only grapple with it in as nonviolent a way as we can. We cannot be pacifists in this world and we acknowledge that the new world may not be there for us. Some of us, still, believe in throwing tear gas canisters back.
The BB is not a group, it is a tactic employed by any anonymous person engaged in resistance. There is no stated or specific, or long enduring goal of the black bloc other than defending the people's right to march and take space depending on whatever action they are deployed at. There is no head or tail, it is made up of autonomous beings and the only understanding is solidarity. Tactics i've seen used are barricades, holding lines against police, creating escape routes, tactical units to protect others. They are not a color, they are an idea. The color is just to protect their identities.. not only because some of their actions are illegal but because the state will come for them first. And they know this. In terms of BB and the occupy movement, i hope that as with everything else that we are unlearning/deconstructing/redefining.. black bloc tactics are being challenged and analyzed to see how we can create hybrid tactics evolving to meet our needs today and going forward. Whatever color bloc- clown, plaid, black etc.. i truly hope you respect the election of anonymity and recognize it's importance.
As for their hurting the movement in terms of PR: Will you defend and perpetuate the dominant narrative the elite seek to employ? Will you equate water bottles, fruit and the like with tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades? Will you say that those who resist, those who speak truth to power, who lecture cops in righteous anger, bring upon violence onto themselves? How can you prompt violence with words? How can your prompt violence with shields? The two are not very different. Instead of enabling this narrative...we should be tackling exactly what it means to resist repression in this Fascist state. Do not try to make occupy manageable to the mainstream narrative- because resistance never has been easy to swallow. Move the dialogue, while we have it. They will use every little thing- from the grass to a thrown water bottle- to justify their reasoning for brutalizing us, and then one day, murdering us on the streets. It's not easy to defend tactics that make people uncomfortable when out of context, especially when so many assumptions go into it. Even if you only want reform here or there, do you think they will give it to us without resistance? Because we can only, at the least, expect radical reform. Why cause this ruckus for anything other than radical reform or revolution? They won't even give us the streets that we paid for, that our father's bled for.
In Oakland it was clear that the bloc leads the way through the streets, or stays on the sidelines in case of emergency, which leads to "shields to the front" as the bloc runs to hold the line (while occupiers from all walks of life.. yell thank you as they run past). The police.. are just the orcs that carry out the orders... they intimidate.. they hide behind the constructs of legality and expect you to uphold those constructs yourselves- to villify those who use a diversity of tactics and demean occupiers as somehow less than human. Somehow.. less deserving of rights. Somehow, deserving of police repression. They are right when they say there were kids on the front lines. In fact even if you disagree with the idea of pushing tactics, the idea of a strong defense, the idea of militant aka organized strategic defense, these people... should be protected by you when they are not on the streets. Take what you will. Disagree with what you will. But please remember that these people, willing to engage in defensive strategy on the front lines, do not do so for their own health or themselves. They are necessary in some cities, whereas they may not yet be so necessary in other cities or occupations.
Personally, i know that my friends and I happen to find ourselves floated to the front lines. What is the difference between being on the front lines in our clothing or in black? I wonder. I know that some worry about us, while others worry about the image in the media. That we are young- rambunctious, angsty and that perhaps it reflects in our actions and we are hurting this movement somehow by our quick radicalization. But this is not a nonprofit organization, there is no permissable pace to keep. There is no break from this movement for some of us, a personal life to cultivate, some sort of stability to get back to.. I'm 22. I've never been 'stable' as defined by societal standards, and i have no stability to get back to. All i have is this. All we have is the future we are building for ourselves. We are literally putting our lives on the line, and i don't know how else to communicate that. We are already a threat- they are already coming for us. The propaganda war hasn't even started yet. Right now they don't know what to do with us, but they can only resist the temptation to stamp us out with the heel of their boot for so long. We might as well resist to expose contradiction, corruption, power and repression.
I've written what I can and i am no expert on BB tactics or BB in general. I am still processing my experience in Oakland, after being in jail for days I only watched the videos when i got home to La on Wednesday Morning. The videos look like a different country, it's difficult to reconcile. When i was arrested, my picture was taken twice. Once, in normal booking for my mugshot. Another time at the scene of the arrest, before getting on the bus. It is my opinion that the first picture before getting on the bus was to compile a book on occupiers involved in the protest. I think that they have finally understood that we will not give up, and are now taking the opportunity to plan these mass arrests to compile a database.
On a side note, don't we have the right to a militia? So maybe we have an unarmed, nonviolent defensive militia? Have you thought of it that way? That we have a right to protect our people from an abusive and overreaching government?
With love and solidarity,