What are the lessons from the conflicts of the latest Occupy Oakland action?
In recent decades, other radical groups, notably the Black Panthers, insisted that their community lacked basic needs because the city of Oakland refused to prioritize them. The Black Panther free breakfast program served food in a strikingly similar way to Occupy Oakland. Black Panthers were also notorious for carrying guns to defend themselves against police violence.
Occupy Oakland protesters (unlike Tea Party members) certainly don't carry guns. But, more and more, they cry "fuck the pigs" as much as any Panther.
For much of the Occupy movement's 99 percent, unjust actions by banks, corporations, and the government officials that they have often bought and paid for are the worst problems facing the United States today. For others, particularly the poor and people of color, these problems are magnified and exacerbated by the fact that they feel the threat of police harassment every day. For years, they've understood that police disproportionately do not investigate or solve crimes that happen to them and their families.
THE RADICALS AND THE BROADER MOVEMENT
The Oakland General Assembly Jan. 29 was the biggest it's been in weeks. While there were still over 300 people in jail, 300 more came out to get involved with the meeting. That happened at the same time that many who felt that inexcusable violence and property destruction occurred Jan. 28 and concluded they could no longer have anything to do with Occupy Oakland.
It's a challenge for the movement nationally, too: How do you accept and encourage the people whose legitimate anger at economic injustice and police abuse turns them toward more radical responses — and at the same time make room for a people who want nothing to do with the black bloc Fs, vandalism, and confrontation with the police?
There are tactical issues with the way the building occupation was planned. Many who were completely in line with the concept felt unsafe and uncomfortable with the secretive nature of the organizers who planned it. The location of the building targeted for occupation was kept secret for practical reasons; police could easily prevent a successful takeover. Supporters must often be led to the locations of planned takeovers without knowing where the action is and how they'll get there. But how do you reconcile this with the transparency required when organizers are leading more than 1,000 people who want to use tactics they feel comfortable with and make their own choices?
Occupy Oakland is asking the people to imagine a world where property rights wouldn't prevent them from doing all the good that they could do with a building like the Kaiser Convention Center. They must also ask themselves to imagine a world in which goals like a building occupation can be achieved in a way that everyone involved is able to consent to their involvement.
These debates continue to occur at Occupy Oakland. Some will leave the movement, some will join. Some will take the ideas and try to manifest them in new and different ways. Participants in Occupy Oakland desperately want basic needs of food and shelter met for their community members, and for the system that governs the city to do so in a way that allows people to thrive when it comes to health, education, and opportunities for creativity and growth. They think that they have the beginnings of a community and a process that can achieve those visions, better than the city government ever has, and they care more about achieving it than respecting the property rights of the owners of abandoned buildings.