We are a group of radical Oakland activists who have been involved with Occupy Oakland from the very first days. We were previously unknown to each other and met as a result of our frequent participation in OO events and GAs. Two of us (a married couple) moved in to the encampment on the second day at Oscar Grant Plaza (OGP) and have attended all daily camp facilitation meetings and most OO events since then. Another has been active in the POC Committee and Children’s Village/Children Parents, and Allies Committee. Another was involved within the labor community and in the early days of the Move-In Committee.
In our individualistic culture, it is rare when radical activists are able to pitch a big tent and draw in masses of people to the cause. The early days of the Occupy movement provided one of those rare opportunities. Occupy was the spark for the emergence of a broad wave of anti-corporate, anti-repression sentiment in our society. We are concerned that the inclusivity that began this movement and contributed to its rapid growth is dying in OO as a result of the dominant insurrectionist tendencies and the “vanguardist” maneuvering and manipulations of some of its proponents. Dramatically shrinking numbers reveal that this ideology and organizing style either misreads the real political situation in Oakland, or else underestimates the importance of consolidating and advancing a broad, united and popular front. We all collectively must take responsibility for this “hardening” and shrinking of the OO ranks, and we must recognize that in trying to re-make OO in an ideologically purist vision, we are destroying our ability to garner the wide base of support and goodwill that will be necessary to successfully resist corporate and state domination.
Occupiers who have begun to question the decision-making processes involved in recent actions like J28 are being asked, in the name of unity, to maintain silence. We have been told that our concerns will be dealt with, that there’s nothing to worry about, and that we shouldn’t speak publicly about them. Yet we feel that without transparency and open dialogue, the problems will only get worse. We are speaking to everyone who still believes in Occupy Oakland, but especially to those most active in the GA and various committees who have the ability to help us make the kinds of changes that would reassure the larger Bay Area community that Occupy Oakland is still a wise place to invest its energy.
The four of us decided to speak out because we have each been pushed to the margins of OO by ugly, ideological purification behavior that often now takes place at the GAs and in groups like the Move-In Committee, where dissenting voices are booed and jeered and “group speak” and in-group relationships now dominate. Please do not mistake our concerns as yet another attack on anarchism or Black Bloc; it’s not about that at all. It’s about the exclusionary strategies and tactics that alienate those of us who are interested in a slower, more solid, more inclusive approach of mass movement building.
What we are attacking is the acceptance and even rewarding of undemocratic practices, and the lack of a system to repudiate both these practices and the people who engage in them. It has been clear for some time that a small group of people with similar insurrectionist leanings have been actively manipulating the process and promoting their own agenda. They have previous ties to each other and many have careers in academia which provide them the time and resources to devote their lives to the Occupy movement in Oakland. These academic insurrectionist leaders thrive in a climate of secrecy, and use vanguardist rhetoric and practices to seize control of actions and messages with which OO engages the public. Many of the most divisive and undemocratic actions undertaken in the name of OO can be traced back to this group, including: two non-sanctioned press conferences, including the one for J28 in which outrageous threats and juvenile rants were made in the name of Occupy Oakland; the secretive and exclusionary planning of the strategy for J28 in which community voices were systematically excluded from the inner workings; the hijacking of the General Assembly during the second Port Shut Down; and many smaller examples of non-democratic behavior. The propaganda produced by these insurrectionist leaders reveals a very narrow scope and embarrassingly juvenile self-aggrandizement. They even brag of trashing City Hall in this piece. We strongly believe that the struggle in Oakland should not be used to produce what amounts to riot porn. This only serves to subvert the will of the people here who are spending our time and energy to make OO something that serves the community. It is safe to say that many of us local activists and community members feel a sense of anger and betrayal regarding the continued dominance of the collective agenda by these forces.
Many in leadership positions don’t seem to want the discussion about the future of OO or the Occupy movement to be about Black Bloc tactics. We don’t want the discussion to be about some false choice between Gandhian non-violence and “anything goes.” How about if we all agree to change the subject?
Let’s talk about our visions of what OO should be. We have one: OO could and should return to its origins as a broad mass of anti-corporate, anti-repression forces. Our vision for the future of Occupy Oakland is one of true radical inclusivity. We should think of creative ways to include, democratically represent, direct the energies of, and, yes, increasingly radicalize this amazingly diverse group. OO could evolve into a coordinating council for autonomous affinity groups, vetting, approving and organizing coordinated actions in OO’s name. This would allow political tendencies to form ideologically pure affinity groups if they wish, and to have a seat at the table. But we should all agree not to try to control the table.
We are asking for help from those of you who have been at the center of OO from the beginning and love the potential this movement has to create lasting, real change. We understand that you all played a big role in pitching the Occupy tent, one that is unfortunately smaller now than it should be. Help bring us all back inside. This is not a matter of individual personalities or power trips. This is a profound historical moment in our community. This is a real political and ideological struggle with real consequences. The time has come for us to make choices, make the correct ones and make them now or the moment will pass. We are ready to help bring people back into the OO tent with you. We are excited about this moment, and our future.