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Group dynamics in Oakland

Josh Harkinson:

On Sunday night, a day after the mass arrest of some 400 Occupy Oakland protesters—and journalists including one of my Mother Jones colleagues—many of those who'd been released met outside City Hall to let off steam. Broadcasting through a speaker in a bicycle trailer, members of Occupy Oakland's Anti-Repression Committee denounced the use of "teargas, rubber bullets, and assault grenades." The crowd chanted, "Fuck the cops!" But anger at those who’d encouraged police violence by throwing rocks, ransacking the inside of City Hall, and burning an American Flag was hard to find. A veteran member of Occupy Oakland later told me that proponents of nonviolence had largely quit speaking up at Oakland meetings for fear of being shouted down.

The militancy of Occupy Oakland contrasts sharply with the culture of Occupy Wall Street in New York City, where I was embedded this fall. In the weeks leading up to the occupation of Zuccotti Park in September, experts schooled groups of young people in peaceful protest tactics. Calls to occupy the park invariably stressed nonviolence, and the movement's official "Declaration of Solidarity," adopted later that month, proclaimed that "we have peaceably assembled here." Occupiers took turns waving an American flag on the night of the eviction, and even during the most confrontational demonstrations that followed, enforced a code of restraint. During an effort to shut down the New York Stock Exchange, for example, I saw garbage bags that had been tossed into the street by a few rogue protesters get picked up by other activists and put back on the sidewalk. A young anarchist I was shadowing denounced the incident as "stupid black-block shit," showing his disdain for anarchism's militant wing.

The same nonviolent tenor defined the movement's early days in Oakland, as when some 10,000 people blockaded the city's port on November 2 in a tour de force of peaceful resistance. But that was then.

Saturday's mayhem may have helped energize the national Occupy movement. Occupiers in dozens of cities held rallies in solidarity with Occupy Oakland the next day, and have shrugged off a call by Mayor Quan to reject the Oakland contingent for its embrace of property destruction. Still, Occupy Oakland's "diversity of tactics" may take its toll on the diversity of its supporters. On Twitter and on Bay Area radio shows, many Oaklanders were as critical of the protesters as they were of the police. "The Occupy people have totally lost a sort of one-direction focus of economic equality," said Ken, a self-described middle-class resident and one-time Occupy supporter, on a Monday morning Public Radio call-in program. "They are trashing my city and bankrupting my city, and to the fellow who said these marches are a direct result of the OPD, I'm just saying, 'What? Where did that come from?'"

From the Barcalounger:

Leaving the rights and wrongs and class biases aside, it's clear that the Oakland model isn't an "all walks of life" model.* Is that a recipe for success, if success be defined as anything other than self-actualization through aggro? Why?

NOTE * Unless they're collapse super-bears. But I don't see the argument for -- let's dispense with the mush-mouth "diversity of tactics" and use the right name for the right thing -- violence being posed that way. I see lots of "eye for an eye" stuff, and not much else. And if there were a more considered rationale, it would be tactical madness to publish it. So where does that leave us?

NOTE See this guide to group dynamics prepared by Spanish anarchists. Clue stick: The definition of "anarchist" is not "violence fan boi."—By Josh Harkinson

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jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

but it sounds like they need to rediscover their spines. If they don't like the Black Bloc monopolizing the proceedings at Occupy Oakland, they need to start pulling together with like-minded nonviolence supporters and leveraging their own numbers. What the Black Bloc has on its side is cohesion and focus. The nonviolence supporters need to get the same thing, even if it's not for the same ends.

Submitted by lambert on

Though group dynamics are a funny thing. Remember the 2008 primaries?

In a way, I see Chenoweth's research and this small post as a way to help that happen. One thing I've noticed is that many in the culture at large, not just black bloc, see violence as normal and rational, and the idea that it might actually be harmful and counter to its intended effect creates tremendous cognitive dissonance.