The #Jan28 action when #OccupyOakland attempted to take over a vacant building, led to nearly 400 arrests, and has since endured attacks from multiple fronts. In addition to Oakland police once again using tear gas and other chemical weapons, on largely nonviolent protesters, who were then kettled, arrested and mistreated in prison, what is the most hurtful is the blame being slung around by once supportive community members.
During the mass arrest that took place that night when we were illegally detained for the charge of “failure to disburse”. Illegally, because the order I can assure you, WAS NOT GIVEN at that time. In fact, I came to later find out my arresting officer (who was an old family friend) was told we were given dispersal orders. And apparently there were orders to disperse given earlier in the day – however I was not there until later in the evening, so did not hear it. Plus the law states for the order to be repeated, for each related incident, which it was not. As we were peacefully marching to City Hall, we were blocked by police from all sides and prevented from proceeding. Had it been, I would have been the first to evacuate.
Because the media was prevented from entering, there is almost no coverage of this fact- making it ultimately the word of the police, against the protesters. After closing in on us from behind, someone at the YMCA told us to enter there for safety. Using their batons, the police forced the rest of us into a corner and violently pinned us in. Terrified, we immediately began chanting “LET US DISBURSE”, for several minutes–to no avail.
After being held and then handcuffed on the sidewalk, many in excruciating pain, for several hours many of us were transported with the painful handcuffs for nearly 40 miles, then proceeded to spend 50 hours changing cells, with up to 24 others in a 10×10 cell (made to hold 3!), in inhumane and cruel conditions. I saw people being denied medication, including an HIV patient. I saw people with allergies to the food provided refused any substitute and unable to eat. Many arrested were covered in tear gas and pepper spray, and the chemicals continued to permeate the cells the entire time.
We were also not given a phone call until nearly 24 hours after our detainment, not read our Miranda rights, not given any pillows blankets or warm clothing –everyone was freezing (with one woman in shorts!) and most in not nearly enough clothing, for the cold temperatures they set the room to. Also in our cell were two young women who we later learned, were swept up while walking home after grocery shopping with their two friends, and held the entire time – because they happen to be in the city’s war path!
This was a clear attempt to beat and bully us into submission-and violently suppress the people’s yearning for justice. Yet most disturbingly, it also worked to effectively divide the movement, with arguments moving away from police brutality and systemic injustice-to heated debates of tactics, namely self-defense versus pacifism. Even the once staunch supporter of occupy, Chris Hedges, came out with his now infamous critique of Occupy Oakland and the black block titled: The Cancer in Occupy https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/02/06-3. During the mass arrest, I asked why no one was going limp, a common non-compliance tactic used during the civil rights movement–which to do so I was informed, comes with a felony charge. By far the best response I’ve seen, is by non-violent practitioner Neil Frazier, in an article titled A Call To Oakland’s Non-Violent Movement: We Must Lead By Example in his response to the incredible backlash against occupy Oakland and the January 28th action:
“We must be the change we wish to see within the movement, even more so than in the world at large, and we must provide an example, not of the condemnation of violent activists — which is an argument all too easy for those opposing the movement against economic inequality to use to their own advantage — but, rather, of a path forward for those in the struggle beside us. Only when we begin to lead by example will people once again come to understand the meaning of “we shall not be moved” and “we shall overcome.” And if we can find the courage of our convictions, we surely will overcome their morally bankrupt violence and achieve Dr. King’s dream of equality.” http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/02/02/18706448.php
Looking at the larger picture, I also view this as part of the escalating attack on, and ongoing erosion of our freedom and rights – as most recently evidenced by the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Lessons in resistance from Egypt
I spent 8 months in Egypt in 2011 (and am back here now), where I witnessed the counter revolution in full swing – due to almost identical tactics being used by the Egyptian army, (of course, completely armed and funded by the US government) to suppress dissent and political expression. Just as the US government supplies, weapons and funding to military dictatorships throughout the world to eliminate opposition to the regime, the US is moving slowly but ever so surely towards a total police state using the same laws, policies, tactics and weapons!
Perhaps most worth noting and dangerous, are the divisions within the occupy movement itself, are found the same criticisms of those once supportive of the Egyptian revolution, which serve to counter gains made by revolutionaries. For example, in an article titled: The pseudo-left in the Egyptian revolution
“The attitude of the entire official Egyptian opposition to the Egyptian revolution was summed up in a statement by ElBaradei shortly after the overthrow of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as a result of mass protests last January. Hoping that “change would come in an orderly way and not through the Tunisian model,” he said, “Things need to be organized and planned properly. I would like to use the means available from within the system to effect change.”
Only a week later, there was a revolutionary confrontation between the workers and the Egyptian “system”—that is, Mubarak’s police thugs and the army. The mass response to protests called for January 25, which stunned the political establishment and the police, led to street fighting and the defeat of the police in Cairo on January 28. The next day, Mubarak ordered the army to surround protesters in downtown Cairo. After refusing to step down on February 1, he sent thugs mounted on horses and camels through army lines to attack Tahrir Square. Protesters beat back the thugs.”
Just as ElBaradai (supposedly a leftist political figure) attempted to restore calm, many in the US liberal camp, who are opposed to using self-defense and hope for ‘orderly’ transitions of moderate change. By doing so they undermine and show complete lack faith in the people to be an agent of real, systemic change, versus a few meaningless reforms.
During this time of mass global unrest, people from all over the world (the 99%) are waking up and realizing that we have far more in common with each other, than with our so called leaders (the 1%). In the US, the occupy movement is attempting to break free, and take power into our own hands. It is not to say that occupy activists did not and will not make mistakes, nor have many lessons to draw from. However, those who dismiss Occupy Oakland as a bunch of violent outside agitators, fail to take into account the deeper moral questions of social justice and institutional violence, and take personal responsibility. If we believe in justice, freedom and are truly committed to achieving these aims, we must support those who are quite literally risking everything, and engage in the people’s brave movements, otherwise, step aside and let us lead the way!
To Mayor Quan and OPD, and all those who think they can beat and bully us into submission-and violently suppress the people’s yearning for justice, truth and freedom – and I can’t over emphasize us enough – you are truly and sadly mistaken. Despite the trauma from the police abuse and first hand experience, of the total erosion and loss of personal freedoms and rights -this is just the beginning. Every.attempt to break our will and drive a wedge in our resistance into submission, will only make us.bigger, better, smarter and stronger.
Since the media is full of their own explanations of what happened, wo hearing from those present, here are a few more accounts:
Response to Mayor Quan’s to OWS ‘leaders’, by someone from OWS: http://www.facebook.com/notes/daniel-marcus/one-of-many-open-letters-to-mayor-jean-quan-from-occupy-wall-street/314664571903053
SocialistWorker detailing the events of the day/night, and some of the reasons behind why we felt the need to support the important action: “Meanwhile, the media defended the repression, repeating wild accusations about protesters without questioning the brutality of police.” http://socialistworker.org/2012/01/31/oakland-police-attack-occupiers.
Another great article by OWS titled, ‘Regime Change in Oakland’: “The Police, under orders from Mayor Quan, responded to this peaceful demonstration of direct democracy and community building by arresting around 400 people. Hundreds more were injured when an army of officers marched on these unarmed families, raised their guns and fired bullets, tear gas canisters, smoke bombs, concussion grenades and other explosive devices into the crowd. Mayor Quan, on the same day as solidarity marches were organized by dozens of occupations across the nation, has called on the Occupy Movement to denounce Oakland’s show of bravery under fire and community strength. We stand with Oakland and call for the immediate resignation of Quan, who on Saturday made it clear that the state has abandoned democracy and joined the 1% in declaring war against the people.” occupywallst.org/article/regime-change-oakland/