Occupy Oakland: In a way, it's like CDOs...
Occupy Oakland, which has never adopted a policy eschewing violence, continues to head in a militant direction. It's begun holding weekly "Fuck the Police" marches. The first, two weeks ago, was relatively tame. Firecrackers were set of in front of the police station and an American flag (apparently taken from the police station) was burned. Last week's Fuck the Police march is described here and here. Bottles and rocks were thrown at the police, a Starbucks window was smashed (wow, how impressive), a small fire was lit in the street, and a media van and police cars were vandalized. Initially, as items were being thrown at them, the police (in riot gear) just remained in formation, then they began blocking off streets, then they began chasing protesters, beat some for no apparent reason, and made six arrests.
The invitation for this week's Fuck the Police march can be found here. The Occupy Oakland Tactical Action Committee set the following guidelines for the march:
Categories of "allowed" actions: 1. Use of fire/burning stuff, 2. smashing/damaging police cars and media vehicles, 3. destruction of: banks, property of non-local corporations, political offices (including a specific reference to Democratic campaign offices), Chamber of Commerce offices. 4. "defensive actions" including "disarming cops that are beating people" (I'm sure that will end well).
Categories of actions that marchers are asked not to do: 1. damage to personal property of regular people (e.g. people's cars), 2. damage to small local businesses (and because Starbucks has been giving free food and coffee to the OO vigil prior to having its window smashed, it's not to be targeted this time), 3. people are asked to avoid frontal assault on the police (and not initiate bottle throwing, etc. until police strike), 4. people are prohibited from interfering with other people's violent actions that they disagree with - that includes prohibition on yelling for them to stop.
The Fuck the Police marches are organized by the Occupy Oakland Tactical Action Committee. The Occupy Oakland GA empowered the Tactical Action Committee to initiate and carry out actions for Occupy Oakland.
There's now some debate about whether Tactical Action Committee-initiated actions should be considered "official" Occupy Oakland actions or autonomous actions. Some have argued, essentially, that it would be legally dumb for the Occupy Oakland GA to vote on the Fuck the Police march - that Fuck the Police should de facto be recognized as Occupy Oakland, while avoiding legal culpability. Of course, the media doesn't care about such fine distinctions (and perhaps they shouldn't - since the Fuck the Police marches clearly have the backing of the large majority of remaining Occupy Oakland participants).
Occupy Oaklanders who provide saner or more moderate voices and who have hung on until now continue to drop out. e.g.
The "Occupy Aggro" culture of Occupy Oakland is driving people away.
And I suspect an echo chamber effect (along with continued police harassment and unwarranted arrests) might be contributing to consolidation of militancy among those who remain.
A couple comments reflecting perceptions of what's going wrong:
The policy of "Diversity of Tactics" and rejection of a nonviolence stance were apparently the choice of initial organizers meeting in Mosswood Park, pre-Occupy Oakland GA. A 90% GA vote would be required to alter this, which hasn't proven possible.
One serious problem is that appeals to rage/violence can be contagious (especially among people who have radicalized by police raids). Militant actions can seem heroic/defiant/romantic.
A Fuck the Police march, inspired by Occupy Oakland, has just been announced by anarchists in Seattle (announcements here and here) "We will light torches to symbolize holding [sic] in honor of our dead, killed by the police." (I'm sure the Seattle cops will respond really well to flaming torches). I'm hoping that some of the Seattle call just represents posturing. I've also heard that some in LA are pushing for OccupyLA to allow Diversity of Tactics that includes property damage, specifically citing Occupy Oakland as the inspiration.
The founders of Occupy Wall Street were very clear in embracing nonviolence, and the nonviolence stance has been further clarified in policies adopted by the NYCGA (for details, see here). The rejection of nonviolence runs contrary to the core principles of OWS. There's a question as to whether complete autonomy of occupations is appropriate - e.g. a group calling for assassinations could choose to brand itself an Occupy. With AA groups - via the 12 traditions (essentially the organizational guidelines), groups are autonomous, except in matters that affect other groups or AA as a whole. One of Occupy's most important strategic assets is a reputation for nonviolence. Would the Occupy movement be better served by an autonomy policy analogous to that of AA?
The causal mechanisms by which nonviolent campaigns work are reasonably well understood (e.g. see here, here, here, and here). The simultaneous application of violent tactics entirely undercuts these mechanisms - e.g. reducing mass participation, undermining possibility of conversion ("change of heart"), pushing people deeper into pillars of regime support (e.g. security forces) rather than inducing defections, etc.
As Lambert notes:
It would sure be nice if diversity of tactics weren't completely asymmetrical. NV doesn't discredit V but V discredits NV. In a way, it's like CDOs -- put an ounce of sewage in a gallon of milk, and what do you have? A gallon of sewage.
Otpor, the nonviolent movement that overthrew Milosevic, worked out three key principles that allow success in nonviolent revolutions - unity, planning, and nonviolent discipline. All three appear compromised in the events of Occupy Oakland.
One of my motivations for writing up this blog entry was a Twitter conversation with an Occupy Oaklander:
I had composed the following further reply, initially intending to post it via Twitlonger, but didn't get around to doing so. However, I am posting it here, since it makes some pertinant points:
@OaktownPirate On topic of learning from watching the fire - I've seen some OOers arguing online that the BB flaming barricades, smashed windows, etc. has had absolutely no negative effect on support for OO in Oakland. From what I can tell, that's frankly delusional.
But people's core beliefs tend to be intractable to change (as pointed out by W.V.O. Quine in his "Web of Belief" thesis http://bit.ly/yEXnC7 ; people are very motivated to hold onto their fervent beliefs and "Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system").
In the event that that OO does implode, the predominant inferred lesson in other Occupies would likely be that it fought valiantly but succumbed to extreme repression by the city. Some might consider the possibility of organizational dysfunction, but wouldn't have enough understanding of what happened to really draw meaningful lessons. I should also mention - a liberal-lefty blog [not Corrente] posted an item expressing some skepticism about reports of physical hostility toward MSM on the part of some OO members. I added a comment, mentioning that such incidents had indeed occurred, that OO hadn't been able to pass a nonviolence policy, and that there was substantial support for black bloc tactics. Another regular commenter on the blog (intelligent and an Occupy supporter) then wrote two long screeds claiming that this couldn't be true and that I must be an undercover paid propaganda agent to claim such a thing.
So, overall, I'm not sure that occupiers elsewhere would, on average, learn pertinant lessons from events at OO. Many would learn of events only very indirectly/minimally. And various biases/filters would color interpretation.
Yet, when I reflect from a less jaundiced perspective, perhaps @OaktownPirate is right - that other Occupies can learn from watching the fire. But learning can only occur if information is transmitted/reaches common awareness.