The ongoing Occudrama in Oakland, (and my role in it)

In the beginning..pre drama

By Zappa Montag
With the recent publishing of an eBook titled “A People’s History of Occupy Oakland” by myself and a few others, has come some of the predictable drama and denunciations that have characterized much of the interactions between certain segments of the movement locally since the inception of Occupy Oakland.  I already know that some Occupy Oakland folks don’t like me and some of the other folks who participated in the project, so I expected there to be vitriol and anger, but I have been surprised by what has been the most persistent and heated accusations against those of us who chose to publish this book.  The most contentious of the online attacks that have been made on us for publishing the book have been centered on the fact that we are charging money ($2.99) for the book, and that we are making money off the movement.  Furthermore the attacks have repeatedly come with claims that those of us who participated in this book were never part of Occupy Oakland, and are violating agreed upon codes of conduct that all “real” OO members have agreed to regarding use of the name or the movement for personal gain.  I have, as of a couple months ago, disengaged nearly completely with these elements within the local movement, but I felt the need to respond to the attacks and to clarify a few things.  I do not intend to continue expending time and energy debating the past after this, as there is much work to be done, and little to be gained from ongoing debate.  This may be the last time that I address any of this.

The most frequently cited justification for the vitriol against us is rooted in one of the most fractious episodes of Occupy Oakland’s apparently short life.  The events in question happened around the Media Committee regarding the posting of a controversial article about a controversial person, by several people in the media collective.  The article either characterized the individual in question as a terrorist, or as a possible government informant depending on whom you ask.   The article’s publishing exposed deep philosophical and social differences that had festered in OO since its inception.  Foremost, the use the GA as a tool for punitive, rather than reconciliatory, actions against those who published the article had far reaching consequences.  For those of us who were around from the beginning of OO, it was not a surprise that there were serious racial fault lines that were laid bare by the action of the GA. The resolution resulting in the banishment, and a unspoken but clear, policy of political and social isolation and shunning of several black members of Occupy Oakland, carried out by a white dominated core of Occupy Oakland, who all shared similar political views, began the dissolution of the last threads of unity that had existed.  New unity has come about though, and it is partly because of these fault lines that those of us who published this book found each other and began working together.  I hope to see a time when we all come full circle, where even the most bitter rivals can come back together and usher in the new times, but there is struggle, or at least a journey, that must occur before that happens.

So let me back up.  I was in OO from the beginning.  I awaited the arrival of Occupy Wall Street’s Oakland version, and attended some of the first meetings at Mosswood Park before the encampment was ever formed.  I was enthusiastically supportive at first (despite skepticisms, and questions), and was among those who were tear gassed by OPD after the first raid during the events of October 24 and 25, 2011. I tend to follow intuition and energy, to learn my place in certain new social re ordering, and I found myself in an updated role as an experienced activist, and longtime Oaklander.   I felt protective of the movement, both as a young elder, and as a lifelong radical who recognized the profound potential of this round of social upheaval.  Being that I was already broke, and mostly unemployed, and a full time single dad, I had time and motivation to be involved, so I threw myself into the cause and looked to find ways to strengthen the organizing capacity of the young movement.

It was my strategic and organizing ideas, and willingness to state and defend them, that first led me into conflict with certain strong tendencies within Occupy Oakland.  I saw what I felt were missed opportunities, and misguided tactical and strategic decisions being made, and found myself embroiled in debate.  The General Strike on November 2, which was marred by messy, divisive,  street actions, carried out by autonomous, secretive,  sub groupings, caused the first rift in the movement.  I found myself, an old time anarchist, who believes in what Malcolm X termed “by any means necessary”, aka “diversity of tactics”, more aligned with the strategic nonviolence camp.  The time for symbolic violence such as property damage, was not at hand, and I felt that the mostly white, young, unfamiliar to me and my folks, group of anarchists who seemed to be calling the strategic shots were misreading the socio-political climate in Oakland.  It seemed like a clear call at the time, and I became somewhat outspoken.  The debates I was involved were mostly online, but I also attended some early GA’s. I made a short, particularly pointed GA speech after one of the Nonviolence debates, in which I questioned the relevance and wisdom of, what I felt was, the radical political posturing being done by a mostly white crew of radicals who wanted to preserve a stance tacitly condoning “violence”.  For many reasons pertaining to race, and social issues, and timing, I felt like this was stunting growth of a movement in a city like Oakland.  I spoke as someone who had participated in property damage and other forms of symbolically militant and violent tactics in the past, and who sees the benefits that all tactics can bring, when used judiciously, or within a cultural context that is truly appropriate.  It was after that speech, that Tim Fong and I talked at length for the first time.  We had met previously, and had both been involved in OO from the beginning, but in far different capacities.  He appreciated my speech, but most in attendance did not.

Early on I also met Samsarah, who was someone whose name was familiar to me from common Facebook friends, but who I had never met in person.  She was an OO fixture at the Children’s Village, which I was interested in as a single dad.  It turned out that we were close neighbors, and we became friends and started working together in the Children/Parents/Allies Committee, the beginning of what has been some great collaborative work over the last year.   This is not to say that any of us agree on everything, or have the same political outlook, but we have found camaraderie and common cause to work together.  To me radicals, and dreamers of differing styles, and political beliefs coming together to build, has more revolutionary potential than does groupings of like minded radicals who all espouse the same ideology and brand of rhetoric.  I was always skeptical of the younger anarchist set in OO that seemed to disdain everyone who did not express the same type of radical fervor that they did.  To me this type of political conformity, and homogeneity was not what I believe anarchy to look like in practice, but more on that later.                                                                           .

I had a series of very negative and personal interactions with some of the dominant figures in OO around the time the downtown encampment was proposed to move to 19th and telegraph, which was right by my daughter’s school.  First there was a bizarre press conference held by OO at the school, which I attended, followed by a series of strange encounters when I went to the facilitation committee to get an emergency proposal to rescind the camp move written. This culminated in a really nasty GA, in which myself and fellow proposers were treated with derision and disdain, and in which community members, including children, were booed, threatened, and treated as the enemy rather than community.

That was a day that left me unsure about Occupy Oakland, and suspicious of some key people.  It was at that time the Occupy Oakland Media Committee became my main focus for my concerns and suspicions.  While some people from OO who spoke at the press conference sounded reasonable, there were a couple folks who said some things that stood out to me as particularly misinformed and divisive, and one  was someone I was seeing quoted regularly in mainstream news articles, and even listed as an Occupy Oakland organizer.  Furthermore, he played a key role in the GA in various ways which seemed to be a clear conflict of interests, and in general appeared to have special OO privileges. This seemed to contradict two of the rules that had been imposed rather forcefully on us by dominant personalities, that we don’t do interviews with the mainstream media, and that we have no leaders.  I started checking up, and asking around, as I had never heard of either of them before Occupy, and began to find all kinds of interesting connections within the emerging OO hierarchy.  Many previously unknown alliances came to light. I began to feel that an organized domination of Occupy Oakland was taking place by a secretive group of somewhat unknown numbers and origin.

I was not the only one who had questions.  The local history of repression against radical and revolutionary forces in the East Bay weighed heavily in the analysis of many old time activists and community members, and most people were convinced that infiltration was rampant.  There were also general questions, and rumors as to where all of the unfamiliar young leaders had come from (including the persistent rumor that a large crew of “white anarchists” had come from Santa Cruz to set up Occupy Oakland).  This was a phenomenon that was taking place behind closed doors mostly, and the level of paranoia, and mistrust being felt by some of us, was probably not clear to some of the younger and more active OO folks, who seemed to place faith in the ferocity of ideology as a true measure of one’s integrity and commitment.  For myself, I began to organize amongst longtime friends and allies, and grew to doubt that I could use the GA system to organize or pass proposals.  Every important Occupy Oakland proposal I supported at the GA lost, even while actually easily gaining a majority of votes, leaving a thwarted majority, and showing the flaw in our modified consensus.  Without commitment to consensus, our GA system was mob rule.  There seemed to be a unified core who wanted a certain flavor of action, and they already didn’t care much for me, so passing anything through them seemed an unlikely, and unpleasant undertaking.

I continued to support the big Occupy Oakland actions, such as the 2nd Port Shutdown, and I even took a supportive, but uninvolved stance with the J 28 “move in day” plans despite skepticism of the integrity and wisdom of the core group of Occupy Oakland organizers.  When it came to organizing support, during that time, it made sense to work with friends and allies, and stay out of mainstream Occupy Oakland culture, where I wasn’t really wanted.  Especially after I co-wrote a controversial article after the J28 action, which was meant to cause controversy and draw attention to the rising divides in OO.  The article was written with blessing, and input from people in my community, and with a strategic mission, but it was also written in a way that was secretive enough to leave me open to some serious critique.  I had broken part of the unwritten activist’s code by revealing movement secrets, which some people were quite unforgiving of me, and again I was something of an outcast within the ranks of hardcore Occupy Oakland, albeit with a growing number of people independently voicing some of the same concerns I was feeling. My co writers also took some grief, but in the end it was mostly my heat to take.  I had done what I did by my own code, and with reasons that I could live with, so I could accept the negative consequences as well.  I am still open to explaining my actions to those who really want to know.

The reality however is that after J 28, Occupy Oakland had been steadily losing support, especially amongst POC, and local, Oaklanders, and it was already a kind of dying brand for only the true believers.  The disagreements were not all racial, but there were fewer and fewer POC who felt like navigating the difficult and often unpleasant interactions that were endemic to OO, and many felt resentment at the large white majority who made up the more visible aspects of Occupy Oakland, and felt disrespected on various levels.  For some of us POC, and for myself as a black person, it felt like racial tension was built into the political culture of Occupy Oakland, since a city that was used to being black/poc led socially and politically, suddenly had a loud and unapologetically white grouping, leading the charge as the militant vanguard wing of the Oakland movement.  Political disagreements seemed to have a racial element to them in many cases, and those of us POC who remained who voiced any strong critique of the dominant OO culture felt pushed together by the frequent personal attacks we faced during strategic and tactical debate. We were aware of each other’s experiences.

It should be noted that some black people and POC continued to remain part of the inner core, and they probably had an entirely different view of things.  I am not ashamed to admit that I have more empathy for the black members of Occupy Oakland as a whole, including those who have never agreed with me or liked me.  I don’t doubt their views, and I admire how many have represented themselves in a role that is no longer really mine to play. I feel like their personal views and stories should be heard, and understood.  In the end, black folks have more to gain, are more at risk, and put more of our all into the movement, from wherever we are coming from.  I don’t apologize for prioritizing black participation and leadership in the movement.  I also feel a sense of duty, or necessity that stems from my childhood, or something deeper, to fight for the rights of indigenous people, especially here at home. If the movement doesn’t put justice for black and indigenous people at the forefront, it is a pointless movement.  Those are two biases that I am willing to admit to without apology.

I know that I personally felt shamed and angered by, among other things, double standards in which white women were protected from sexism and patriarchy and their contributions celebrated by the dominant core, but some black women were allowed to be ridiculed, intimidated, and dismissed by the white dominated angry group of “comrades”.  Similarly, white men who were in the “in crowd” who said and did offensive, racist, sexist things were excused by their peers, and those of us who took issue were essentially told to “get over it”.  Just as in mainstream society, we were left to protect our own. This was disempowering to say the least and I felt sabotaged by the constant minimization of the problem by influential white activists. There was also constant use of POC against each other, as examples proving that there was no racism in OO, to cancel out any complaints.  The inability to acknowledge the problem existed, and the failure to show proper humility and respect that seemed appropriate was damaging to all.  Of course I don’t represent all blacks in OO, or Oakland or anything, but I know that there is a race problem in OO.  It seems to have gotten worse.  So much so, that I question whether Occupy Oakland really even exists as a viable group in Oakland anymore.  It is possible that history will judge Oakland as the place where white radicals failed to allow for an anti-racist, POC led movement to blossom. However this would make the mistake of equating Occupy Oakland with the larger movement.  Most of us who have found ways to work together outside of Occupy Oakland have been able to connect and continue to build across social differences.   Somehow the segregated, angry, white dominated mainstream society, which punishes blacks in a widespread, unequal manner, was recreated by Occupy Oakland.  Sadly many good folks failed to see it, and many white activists have only dug deeper into their problematic, defensive mind state, and refuse to acknowledge the racial antagonisms that are pretty clear to most everyone else.   These folks will be labeled by many as racists, when in reality many of them are just stubbornly clinging to unhelpful views.  I believe that many of the defensive folks actually see the problem, and would like it solved, but without having to admit they were wrong to ignore issues raised about race and racism by people with who they disagreed with politically or personally.

Given the unwillingness to discuss localized racial tension, I, as one of the few who regularly discussed these issues, became known as the angry black man voice of dissent in OO.  Many times I was referred to by people who know little about me, (often anonymously online) as someone who hated white people, and white anarchists (despite my half Hungarian ethnicity and anarchist tendencies).  Due to the issues of racism that came up when the media committee fiasco went down, it was no surprise that I ended up on one side of a permanent divide.  When I first heard that the article that led to all the drama was published, I was surprised because I had always assumed that the media committee was unified in what I saw as corruption and deception.  I lumped Shake and Cami in with all other media members, as suspicious, and un accountable.  The unauthorized J 28 press conference in which posturing radicals threatened to commit mayhem in the name of the movement had cemented my belief that media was the rogue committee.  I didn’t know that they had been battling internally for months, that many of the people that acted as media were not even in the committee, and that things had finally boiled over the top.  I did know that I didn’t like how  many of the OO the white people who had refused to discuss racism in Occupy in any kind of meaningful way before, were now eagerly calling 3 black people racist for printing an article which they said labeled an Arab man as a terrorist.  This charge of racism seemed to liberate pent up feelings of hate and anger which was now directed at the people who had published the article.  The bulk of the animosity was directed at Shake and Cami, who were well known in Occupy Oakland.  The level of anger and hate directed at Shake and Cami seemed too stoked by anti-black feelings to me.  It seemed like whites were enjoying being abusive towards black people under the guise of punishing the “racists” who had supposedly endangered someone by linking him to terrorism.

I felt like, first off, white people need to shine a light on their own racism and not go about calling blacks racist.  Especially in a radical/revolutionary movement based in Oakland, in which clear issues of white racism, both passive and aggressive occurred regularly.  Secondly it was pretty clear to me that the article was implying the possibility of government infiltration, not accusing someone of being a terrorist.  This was right after articles discussing how sexism, and abusive behavior were used by government agent provocateurs to divide the movement, had been circulating through activist networks. Many of us were on heightened alert and were on the lookout for this type of divisive behavior, but we had no way of confronting this issue as a group, so people were left to their own strategies for dealing with suspicious characters.  It was within that climate that the article was published.

Since the person who was the subject of the accusations brought out by the article was someone who I had frequent reason to dislike, and about whom I had heard tales of scary, abusive behavior directed at women friends of mine, and since this person had long been speculated to be a plant by many people I knew, I probably had less sympathy for him than I should have had.  I felt like people with little movement activist experience had violated another activist principle which is never trying to out an agent directly and have rock solid evidence if you do.  I felt that while they had messed up, they probably had good reasons for what they did, and none of them were ever known problematic people in the past.  To me it seemed like they should have been given opportunity to make amends, and explain their actions.  The hatred, and anger, and self-righteous denunciations from the “in crowd” surprised me.  For them, this, accusing a “comrade”, was the worst thing anyone could do.  After the GA which I didn’t attend in which Shake, Cami, Ben, and Noah, were basically voted out of OO, I heard from several friends that it was an ugly situation.  It was clear that my friends who went to or watched the GA, that it had shaken them, and that they were concerned, especially for Shake and Cami.  None of these friends were black, and I think they sensed that something was profoundly wrong with that scene, and that I might be able to say or do something to address the racial connotations. I reached out, and was happy to find out that steps were being made to mediate.   It was from then that our mutual friendships brought us all closer together along with some of the other authors of this book.

One of the things that isn’t mentioned as much about the fallout from the Media Committee blow up, is that not only were Shake, Cami, and Ben kicked out of OO according to the dominant group (whether anyone can be Kicked out of Occupy is debatable), but a campaign of social shunning was also put into place targeting the folks who had been banned.  It seemed clear that all people were to follow the shunning or face shunning and social isolation themselves.  I was already roundly disliked at that time, and I became part a target of subtle shunning tactics myself.   Even on Facebook it became clear that shunning and ignoring was taking place.  Shake and I had our first long discussion on the outskirts of the West Oakland OO bbq, and Black Panther celebration at Defermery Park.  Neither of us felt comfortable attending the picnic, but as we talked we realized how ridiculous it was that two black men with  peaceful intentions, one who was from West Oakland, and one who had been organizing with old time Panthers and other radicals in the East Bay since long before Occupy, felt uncomfortable attending a function in Oakland due to the hatred directed at us by a bunch of 20ish year old white kids with no strong ties to Oakland.  Sure enough when we decided to walk up in the middle of the crowd, it seemed that many members of white dominated OO were uncomfortable in the largely local, mostly black crowd.  Conversely, Shake and I were greeted with warmth by many non OO folks who were there for the Black Panther activities.  This was hardly surprising since we are both people who have been part of the community for a long time, and have many friends all over the place. It was a reminder to us that we had larger work to do than to get bogged down in OO drama, and that ultimately OO was only going to be relevant if it became more about Oakland, and specifically relevant to, and led by, blacks and other POC.

Even then, however, we were still amongst the OO outcasts and felt more comfortable organizing in smaller, friendlier settings with people who liked us, and so we began having our own gatherings in an attempt to build a different political pole for us and allies.  This was work that we felt like Occupy Oakland needed to do anyways, and it allowed us to carry on work without dealing with the hate and animosity that was palpable. Even so, I did join the Occupy Oakland May 1st organizing efforts, and proceeded to have a big argument with many key OO organizers over a proposal to take over the Golden Gate Bridge in solidarity with striking workers.  I found the plan to be bound to fail for various reasons, and thus a waste of time and energy. Of course, my critiques were met with anger and dismissal by the mostly white, leadership and core, and my bad rep grew worse.

May 1 is a very important day for the worldwide movement, and the call for a General Strike was an international effort, and despite the disorganized flailing of those running the OO efforts, my circle of folks wanted to see it go off big.  Since so much energy was being spent on the Golden Gate Bridge idea (which never happened btw), we got a small team of friends, all non or former occupiers, to do postering for May Day several nights a week.  My friend even paid for a wide array of color posters that appealed to various demographics, and the other needed supplies, which cost him hundreds of dollars.  This was not the only time when we did OO related work without recognition or reimbursement.  I say this because one of the frequent critiques leveled at some of us is that we didn’t take part in Occupy Oakland actions.  Not only was I a participant in all of the major days of action, but I was also one of the folks who was organizing continuously last year for OO.  I am angered by people who don’t know me making assumptions about my role, or my politics.  Disagree strongly with me, but don’t lie about my involvement or commitment, or declare yourself judge of my authenticity.  Especially when you are in an area in which I have been active in for years, and you are unknown to many local activists, and the rest of the community.

I think that many of us OO outcasts and dissidents would have been ok with being relegated to the fringes of what was a rapidly shrinking Occupy Oakland movement, but a couple things happened that really forced us to respond.  First of all were the events of May Day, in which OO held a small, pointless, but determined, black block smash in, downtown in the morning.  A much larger, and more diverse coalition headed by folks from Decolonize Oakland, as well as several other groups and coalitions, held a large march and rally for Dignity and Resistance in East Oakland.  Originally the radical hardcore of Occupy Oakland were entirely focused on their downtown actions  and seemed to want to have nothing to do with the march which they deemed as “liberal identity politics”, but when they drew too much heat downtown, they decided run to East Oakland to use the march as cover to escape the police .  However, a group of 100 black clad kids in masks do not blend well with a family friendly East Oakland crowd.  With the tensions between factions of the local movement already high, the fallout from this bizarre series of events on May Day ultimately led to abusive behavior/attacks online by a group of Occupy Oakland people against some friends who are women of color, and an act of mass censorship by admins of at least one of OO’s open Facebook groups.  More mistrust and recriminations followed, and there was increased open resentment of dissident people of color within OO, and of Decolonize Oakland, by some OO activists, which continues to this day.

It was unclear which direction things would take after May Day and the fallout, but a series of events in early summer made it clear that big inter movement issues still existed.  For one thing, Samsarah and I joined a working group of OO with a goal of “reimagining the GA”, and making it function for everyone.  To me this was a beautiful endeavor, with good intent, and a true attempt to solve OO’s issues rather than just complain.  However some people knowing that I had been organizing with Shake and Cami used that as a way to attack the Reimagine concept, even though Shake and Cami had nothing to with Reimagine, and even though several of their trusted comrades were part of the Reimagine committee. Without bothering to check facts or ask anyone, they went on the attack through social media.  The usual twitter hater campaign was started, and I saw people calling me names, and even discussing where one of my kids went to school, as well as denouncing my association with Shake and Cami. The twitter campaign didn’t derail the Reimagine event, which was a beautiful, inclusive, organized, well attended event at Mosswood Park.  However, some of the people who attended were apparently part of the OO core, and they absolutely hated the Reimagine apparently (even though they said nothing to us at the time to indicate their displeasure)  It was too peaceful, and encouraging of self-expression, and there was wide spectrum of community folks there, not all of whom shared the same ideas on strategy and militancy that the angry core at OO favors.  All of this led to the Reimagine being denounced as “liberal feel good cooptation”, by the Occupy Oakland self-appointed deciders of policy and style.  The Reimagine was effectively derailed, and there has been no real GA since then.

With the collapse of the GA, there was nothing else that I was directly working on with Occupy Oakland, and I was pretty done with the whole scene.  However, a series of articles written by two dueling, white led factions of Occupy Oakland led to some of us deciding that we had to keep trying to make OO change to become an Oakland friendly, locally led, organization.  The anonymous articles posted in the Bay of Rage anti-capitalist website were often antagonizing to many of us, and the ones that came out early summer were no exception.  However, the articles about local events written by Mike King, a white UC Santa Cruz Graduate student from the East Coast, for Counterpunch magazine, were even more aggravating.  He wrote articles with an air of fairness, and objectivity that fooled many, but he actually repeated the worst lies about some of us.  He repeated the very charged claims that the media committee had called someone a terrorist, and that it was an act of racism, but that the race of those banned by OO was irrelevant.  Furthermore he bashed the Reimagine campaign, and repeated the lies that those of us who organized it were never really active in OO and that we were liberals who wanted to take over OO.  He also completely misrepresented the issues around the May Day actions, and typically blamed POC, and Decolonize Oakland.  Despite the fact that he had easy access to many of us who could have clarified his errors, he didn’t ask for any feedback or quotes from us.   For these types of lies or fantasies to be put out, yet again, to the larger public through a well-known leftist magazine like Counterpunch, angered many people, and some of us decided to compile our own writings to publish, which is when the book idea was first discussed.

Some detractors claim that we are always stirring up shit, without pausing to think that maybe we are responding to lies and misrepresentations of our work, and blatant attempts to cut us out of the Oakland movement.  Interestingly many of these same detractors who question our right to speak our truth in print, praised Mike King’s articles, and never raised any questions about his use of the movement for personal gain.  The constant double standard, with the underlying race and class implications was never more apparent then, and it is part of what stirred us to write our own stories to counter balance the far reaching spread of misinformation by privileged, unaccountable elements within the movement.

I would now specifically like to address some things that our detractors may need to hear if any of them are interested in some insight regarding our problems.  For one thing, Occupy Oakland has a race issue and specifically an issue with black people.  There are many issues, but I would prefer to focus on race in regards to black people and OO.  Other groups have their own stories that should be told as well.  This is not to say that all black people feel like I do, but many blacks in the Oakland area feel skeptical at best regarding OO. Continuing to seek conflict with, and to demonize, some of the few visible Black OO folks is only going to lead to more bitter feelings about OO in some Oakland communities.  Many people have very positive feelings towards me, Tim, Shake, Cami, and Samsarah in the larger Oakland world.  That four of us editors of the book are black, and that our writers and editors include other black activists, and other POC, as well as some white people, is important.  That the most marginalized and denounced people on in Occupy Oakland were mostly black, is important.  What some white folks may not get is that black liberation is a global movement, and that by deciding to do your occupying in Oakland, you are placing yourself in the middle of a larger conflict, and that the activist, “security culture” rules that you wish to enact may not be relevant to us.

In other words, to many of us, Occupy Oakland should be, at least partially, a tool for black liberation, and so the social struggle, the politics, and the inter personal dynamics within the movement, are part of what shapes and defines this liberation process.  The things that happen here in Oakland will be studied, written about, and distributed, and discussed worldwide. So if we appeared to not be playing by your Occupy rules, know that black folks have a fight that is beyond Oakland, and OPD, and Occupy, and that we will not stop doing what we need to do.   Part of our mission was to make Occupy Oakland a relevant avenue for furthering the goal of black liberation, and to this end we had/have to defend ourselves against attacks from those who attempt to make us the enemy, or the fall guys. If you do not want to be part of this conflict, then you should not attempt to use underhanded tactics to derail us, or denigrate our names and reputations, or you will be included in our written history and your roles and actions will be exposed and discussed, and possibly you may be confronted here at home for your actions.  We can’t be overly concerned with white antagonists feeling some discomfort due to our actions.  Some of you may not realize that Occupy Oakland has pissed off and alienated many black people, and that our collective pride has been hit by the disrespect of the local black community by white Occupy, the demonization of blacks who speak our own truths, the ongoing abuse and disrespect of  non-conforming black women within Occupy Oakland, the angry mob type of vibe used to oust some of us from the movement, the cooptation of the police brutality movement, the unwillingness to reach out to make amends to those you have injured, the lack of courage displayed by would be white allies with a few exceptions.  That said we have realized that it ain’t about you, and you can’t tell us what to do, nor can you stop us from doing what we need to do to move forward.

We can’t worry about playing along with white activist social change guidelines, and we can’t wait for certain white folks to figure out that you all are not the key players or the most important or at risk population.  We are not seeking popularity amongst an exclusive activist scene.  We are trying to change the world, and help uplift the people at the bottom of the social ladder.  We spent too much time asking for permission from people we didn’t know, or trying not to piss people off who seem to care little about our feelings…  We let you define Occupy Oakland in a way that put the focus on you.  We let you use all of the funds Occupy Oakland accumulated for your symbolically “militant” but short sighted campaigns.  Now you also try to minimize our efforts, and exclude us for not being interested in your poorly conceived plans.  We have to laugh at being labeled as coopting sell outs for charging 3 dollars for a book, when many of you have furthered academic and career goals while participating.  You spent all of the money on actions which you approved of and made you the center of the movement, and you created a vibe in which people like me felt unwelcome to ask for support or funds from OO.  You claim that we were not in attendance at any key Occupy Oakland events, which is not only a lie, but also points to the naiveté of the young, white, entitled, academic, ideologically driven vibe that dominates your set.  Real life stuff, like children, work, and other commitments, are a reality for those of us with some experience under our belt, yet we have found the time and space to contribute.  For this we are labeled liberals, and outsiders and we are castigated for selling t shirts and eBooks to fund raise and spread the cause.

Typically you all don’t see anything wrong with how you obtain your money, nor do you see the need to justify yourself in any way, and seemingly you have never considered that you have been selfish and exclusive.  You don’t see your contributions as a waste of limited movement resources, or that other work might be just as important as your activism, and that other groups might not want to work with you, which is why you don’t see them at your events.  You judge peoples value to the movement based on agreement with you, and time spent in the streets, as if the revolution should be led by people with excessive free time and resources. (Rich people, academics, and street folks).  You may not realize that there were already many people active around here for years, that many of us have been to jail many times for the movement, and that being older doesn’t make us sell outs and liberals.   We are experienced in organizing and many of us have networks of people, and skills that allow us to organize away from your watchful eyes. While all people have a role, it should be obvious that the movement can’t be led by mostly young, mostly white, academics and adventurists.  I actually believe that many of you understand this on some level, but pride or fear keeps you from acknowledging the truth.  It is a shame, because your stubborn pride may cancel the good that you have done, and the sacrifices that you have made. There are many things that you have done that are worthy of praise, and I hope to be able to focus on those areas sometime down the road after the air is cleared of the negative vibes.  I hold on to some hope that many of you will see this to be true, and change your approach.  All of us have room to grow, including me of course…

A couple of last points regarding autonomy, anarchism, and issues that arise.  I have old school anarchist roots and tendencies.  Anarchists had a lot to do with the West Coast hippie movement that my parents were part of.  The diggers, early Bay Area anarchists, who were behind much of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture, were a group that my father used to tell me about when I was little.  Later on growing up in Mendocino County in the Redwood forests during the height of the logging wars, Earth First was another anarchist group with popular support and respect from the community where I lived.  When I came back to the city for college, I joined up with Food Not Bombs and was one of the first people arrested for serving food in Golden Gate Park in the late 1980’s…I could go on, but my point being, I have been shaped by anarchistic ideals, and my approach to political activism, agitation, and organizing is rooted in those ideals.  I believe in individual autonomy, and personal responsibility, and for agitating in ways that will possibly profoundly shake up the social hierarchies.  I recognize that I can be confrontational and non-conformist with my ideas, which I feel are hallmarks of anarchistic thinking.  Anarchists, to me, should think for ourselves, should put ourselves at risk for our beliefs even if they are unpopular, and should fight against hierarchy, and social inequity.  At the same time, I believe that we also need to work with all types of people, and accept that most may not see things in the extreme terms that some of us anarchists might.  Also, the black person with traditional anarchistic tendencies may have an element of being white washed in our past, or may be a bit of a social misfit. This is nothing for us to be ashamed of, but expecting other blacks to understand without opportunity for mutual organizing, and exchange of knowledge, may be unrealistic.

I choose to join with people I can work with, and to put my personal politics secondary to the group.  At the same time, I don’t ever agree with everything that everyone in any group believes or does, and I even may have disagreements about aspects of the projects themselves.  I believe that I can take responsibility for the project as a whole, and support my collaborators, but I don’t have to agree with what everyone says or does.  For this reason, I may contradict what others have said about the project, and may at time put out my own autonomous statements if I feel so moved.  I have tried to follow my personal ideals, and maintain my personal ethics throughout this last year plus since Occupy started.  I expect to be challenged, and even attacked, for my actions, and ideas, and I will try to remain open to critique.  At the same time, I will challenge lies, or misconceptions, and won’t back down due to intimidation or social pressure to avoid trouble, or confrontation.

I also think that money is a big issue for anarchists and activists to figure out.  We live in a capitalist society, in which our relationships are tainted by money.  We maybe anti-capitalist, but we all have bills, and we all have personal, and cultural beliefs around money.  Some of the attacks against this book, which are rooted in previous attacks against certain members of the editing team, reflect class privilege, and even racism, and I believe are indicative of the type of lack of awareness, and introspection that has been a big issue from the start of OO. Whether OO remains or not, the social dynamics of Oakland will remain.  When we mix racial issues, with class and cultural issues, we might realize that anarchism might have different focuses depending on where and by whom it is employed.  Black people might be more inclined to look to connect personal autonomy, with tribal or original culture, and see how the two fit, whereas for white people anarchy may have to do more with the abolishment of social hierarchy, and class based discrimination.  This is a larger discussion than I think I want to delve to deeply into right now, but possibly an important one for the future of the movement here in Oakland. I am hoping that this clarifies some of my actions, and views.  I do not intend to spend much more time or energy on this but I felt it necessary to write this to clarify my participation in the book project.  By no means do I speak for others, nor do I think that I covered all key points or issues.

Here is a link to the eBook and some of the attacks against us.

We are pleased to announce that the proceeds of the book through the end of Black History Month will go towards the effort to save the Marcus Garvey building in West Oakland.


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  1. #1 by David on December 31, 2012 - 4:55 pm

    I’m proud of you Zappa. The article is excellent. I had some questions early on, that you answered at the end. Keep up the good work!

    • #2 by Oakland Radicals on January 1, 2013 - 11:34 pm

      Thanks man! We’ll have to talk about some those issues you were raising about black leadership etc. I know that you had a period of time where you were pretty excited about Occupy Oakland. I am sure that folks would be interested in hearing your views sometime.

  2. #3 by John Seal on December 31, 2012 - 6:53 pm

    A thoughtful and enlightening article. Thank you!

  3. #5 by Little Rev (@LittleRevCuldnt) on December 31, 2012 - 10:32 pm

    “It is possible that history will judge Oakland,” you write, “as the place where white radicals failed to allow for an anti-racist, POC led movement to blossom.” Certainly you know Oakland better than I, and are more in touch with its dynamics of community organizing. However, I’d respectfully suggest that you underestimate the role of black agency in this. Seriously, white radicals failed to ALLOW your movement to blossom? Mr. Montag, if Oakland’s POC supported such a thing, it would happen with or without the permission of white radicals. Perhaps your mistake was in thinking that Occupy Oakland might be a viable platform for combating racism, and then wasting your time, hard work, and emotional commitment on such an unworthy group.

    • #6 by Oakland Radicals on January 1, 2013 - 11:30 pm

      I understand your critique. I think what I was ultimately trying to say was that at first Occupy Oakland seemed like it could have been a viable organization that would be able to grow, and effectively organize a movement in Oakland to address, racism, poverty, etc.. There were some mistakes made in not challenging some of the fundamentally flawed aspects of the OO early on, and not just outright refusing to go along with certain things that were not palatable. For those of us who were involved as editors of the ebook project,( 4 black folks, and and one Asian) I think all of us at one time had a very strong emotional attachment to the concept of Occupy Oakland as we thought it could be. I think now, all of us are at different places with it, from not wanting to be associated with OO, to think that Occupy Oakland should and could still be a movement for everyone. I am in between. I will always consider myself to be part of Occupy Oakland, but I think a new organization or coalition needs to come about that is more representative of what Oakland really encompasses, and more organized and savvy. I think that will happen, and I think that there is actually a higher level of organizing happening in Oakland than there was during the height of Occupy Oakland, it just doesn’t have a name, or a unified purpose.

      Some of us feel that too many people, especially POC/black folks) in Oakland, did kind of stand aside and let this takeover happen. The lesson we are taking from this is that we should not listen to and go along with a flawed agenda presented by people that we don’t know or trust…seems kind of obvious now but…. Also this article was framed to highlight the internal tension specifically around issues of some black and some white people within Occupy Oakland. It is my belief that these tensions are relevant to the larger community and to the “movement”, but they don’t cover the nature of all the dynamics that exist within Occupy Oakland or the Movement in regards to race issues. Thanks for your comment.

      Zappa Montag

  1. The ongoing Occudrama in Oakland, (and my role in it) « Oakland Radicals

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