Friday, October 28, 2011

What Happened in Oakland -- and the Problem of Progressive Politics

Above is a picture of Marine Veteran For Peace Scott Olsen, 24, standing next to Joshua Shepherd, another VfP member in full Navy uniform holding the VfP flag, at the demonstration Tuesday night in which he was severely wounded by -- some projectile -- that came from police lines during the brutal attempt to clear the crowd from the area around Frank Ogawa (aka Oscar Grant) Plaza in front of the Oakland City Hall. [Note: Edited to add name and link to video of Navy member of Veterans for Peace.]

"Some projectile" is the best anyone can come up with at this point because there is no clear evidence regarding what the projectile was, nor even is the source entirely clear. On the one hand, Scott fell severely wounded immediately after two or even three flashbang smoke grenades were hurled by police at the crowd and landed about 20 feet away from him. Other projectiles -- bean bags, "rubber bullets", possibly wooden blocks or dowels (which Oakland police have used before) -- were also being fired into the by then largely dispersed crowd.

What exactly hit and wounded Scott Olsen is at this point unknown. But something hit him hard enough in the head to fracture his skull and knock him unconscious and leave him in critical condition from which he has only recently emerged.

From the video evidence, it is clear that once Scott was down and people gathered to lend him aid, an officer -- who has been spotted but not identified -- then threw a flashbang grenade (and a smoke grenade?) directly at the group of people attempting to aid Olsen. It exploded in their midst, mere inches from Scott's body. This momentarily scattered those who were trying to help their wounded comrade, but they rushed back as soon as they saw it was relatively clear -- if not safe -- to do so. They were then able to carry Olsen away.

No one is yet sure what agency the officer(s) who threw the grenade(s) and who may also have fired the projectile that hit Scott came from. There are indistinct video images of the shoulder patches worn by the two most likely officers. All I can make out of them indicates that they are from a police agency in Alameda County; the closest match I've been able to find to their patches is that of the Oakland School Police. If it is correct, that would be quite a revelation.

The only other one that I've found that it might be is the California Highway Patrol.

From a distance the CHP patch appears to be a somewhat closer match, and I have seen CHP at the Capitol on occasion in riot get ups, so... may be. [See UPDATE below]

At this point, it doesn't matter who exactly wounded Scott; according to reports, hundreds of people were hit and wounded by police projectiles or suffered lingering consequences from tear gas inhalation on Tuesday. The incidents of police firing on the crowds went on from the very early morning when the Occupy Oakland village in front of City Hall was first raided to late into the night of the following day when the police and demonstrators finally called it quits for the night.

Who caused Scott's skull fracture may never be known for certain, any more than who caused any of the other wounds the demonstrators suffered.

What is of more critical interest at the present time is the fact that the raid and its aftermath were ordered by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (who now wonders whether she did the right thing), was planned by Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana, and was implemented by Oakland Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan with the assistance and participation of law enforcement agencies from Alameda County and elsewhere in the Bay Area and Northern California.

There were over five hundred officers assembled in Oakland for the initial raid on the Occupy Oakland encampment at 4:30am on Tuesday. Many of them stayed throughout the day and long into the night as the demonstrations against the raid took place. They cordoned off the Plaza in front of City Hall and prevented public access. They intercepted crowds marching from the Oakland City Library to the area of the Plaza and ordered them to disperse. When they did not, the police fired tear gas and other projectiles at the demonstrators, and took several into custody. At some point during the afternoon, police officers were splashed with paint (much as has happened in other demonstrations around the world), and further rounds of tear gas were fired and further arrests were made, though so far as I know, not of anyone who actually splashed the paint on the officers, whoever it may have been.

The issue is the order for and the implementation of plans for violent clearance of the Occupy Oakland village, and the violent suppression of the protest thereof.

As I've pointed out in other fora, this is Oakland, California. Violent suppression of protest and dissent is a way of life there, as is the nearly constant activism of residents against the suppression. There have been many demonstrations and occasional riots which have been brutally put down by Oakland law enforcement with the support and assistance of many other Northern California police agencies. The situation has been especially tense in Oakland since the shooting of Oscar Grant by a BART cop on New Year's Day 2009.

In a very real sense, Oakland has been under some form of martial law for years. While the events of Tuesday are shocking to the conscience of anyone who has a conscience, they are not at all surprising to anyone who is aware of the nearly constant outrageous actions of the police there and the almost constant demonstrations against the outrages.

Jean Quan was elected mayor last year as a reform candidate. She has long been known as a "progressive" activist, and she won office against the wishes of the Democratic Party apparat.

She ordered this? What the fuckkity fuck?

Yes, yes she did. She ordered this, and she approved the action while she was in Washington, DC, lobbying principally on behalf of Oakland business interests.

Which may give you a clue as to why it was done the way it was done and when it was done in the first place. There are few accidental actions like this. They take long planning and coordination, and they must have a date certain and a time for implementation. They are not ad hoc at all.

Bluntly, it seems clear she was trying to make a show for the White House's benefit, much as Kevin Johnson is trying to do in Sacramento.

The point being that these mayors are trying to demonstrate just how to successfully thwart and suppress the Occupy Movement.

The 'baggers weren't nearly the threat to the Powers That Be that the Occupiers are -- for the simple reason that the 'baggers were co-opted from the get, and their program was essentially no different than that of the Overclass. So far, the Overclass has barely been able to penetrate, let alone co-opt, the Movement-becoming-Revolution, and so the issue for the 1% is to figure out how to suppress it without looking too much like Mubarak's thugs in Cairo.

It's apparently up to mayors all over the country to show how to do it, ratcheting up the pressure on the Occupiers, while experimenting with various tactics and techniques to find something that works.

Jean Quan was doing her part, but maybe now she's having some second thoughts about it, for she has come under withering criticism and has been forced to issue a statement is almost -- but not quite -- contrite regarding what happened. [See UPDATE for more information]

The police chief and the city administrator have also come in for their share of criticism -- including criticism of the fact that they blatantly lied straight out about the weapons and tactics they were using against the demonstrators.

Wednesday night, thousands of Occupy Oakland participants and their supporters returned to Frank Ogawa (Oscar Grant) Plaza, conducted their General Assembly on the steps of City Hall, decided to call for a General Strike on November 2, and then they danced.

They also tore down the fencing erected to keep them out of the Plaza itself, reestablished part of their campsite on the Plaza and several of the participants spent the night -- without being harrassed by the police. In fact, reports were that the police were nowhere to be seen near the Plaza by Wednesday night, and the City had ordered a temporary stand down.

Yes, well. What else could they do? Without looking like Mubarak's thugs that is...

By Thursday night, the Oakland General Assembly was attracting over 2000 participants, as union members arrived in solidarity and support.

The City now says they want to listen and negotiate (ah, the KJ approach).

But in my view, it's too late. They screwed up so badly with the raids and failed attempts at suppression that there's little chance of productive negotiation at this point.

They only have two options now: Yield or go to full on conquest and rout of the demonstrators. And the second option is not going to work over the long term. You can't kill a revolutionary idea.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan's letter to Occupy Oakland regarding her absence from the GA last night: "Mayor Jean Quan's Statement to Occupy Oakland"

I did some additional research, and now there's little doubt in my mind that the officers fingered by Occupy Oakland as the ones responsible for wounding Scott Olsen and tossing at least one and possibly more flash/smoke grenades at those who came to help him were CHP officers. I've seen CHP officers in black riot gear at the Capitol here in Sacramento on occasion, but I didn't remember their exact uniform, and I can't find any pictures I may have taken of them. But I did find this picture of a line of CHP officers in riot gear at another protest in Oakland last year (the issue was the killing of Oscar Grant at a BART station.)

That's pretty much a match for the uniforms on the officers in the Tweet from Occupy Oakland.

Further, there is this extraordinary split screen video showing the events from above and simultaneously on the ground. While it's still impossible to say exactly what hit Scott Olsen, the number of grenades and tear gas canisters seen from above is astonishing. Police were also firing "rubber bullets" and other projectiles at the same time.

The demonstrators did not provoke this response by police. The application of overwhelming force by the police was planned all along. The upshot, however, was not.

This is a global movement, and everything that the authorities say and do to squelch it is closely monitored and made immediately -- and in this case very graphically -- visible around the world. The Oakland Debacle will probably not be the last violent assault on the Occupy Movement. And we can assume that "Lessons Learned" is being debated in the Halls of Power right now.

It didn't go well for Authority in Oakland. No, not much.

Edited for clarity and to provide more information as it became available.
Additional Bay Area LOE shoulder patches:

San Francisco County Sheriff's shoulder patch:

San Ramon police department:


  1. The key, as you demonstrate, is to get so-called "progressives" to do the dirty work for them. Which thoroughly demoralizes anyone who still believes in the two party system, even those who want one of those two parties to be radically changed by progressives.

    Capitalism co-ops virtually everything that moves, on both the left and the right. The only thing, by definition, they can't co-op are those of us who want capitalism itself crushed, overturned and replaced.

    Neither party is even remotely talking about that. In fact, if you listen to "progressive" radio or TV, the talking heads there -- who are, admittedly, still head and shoulders better than wingnut talking heads -- go out of their way to assure everyone that OWS is not "anti-capitalist", etc. etc.

    Some even say it's not even "anti-corporate"!!

    My goddess!! What the hell is this movement if it isn't AT LEAST anti-corporate!! And who in their right mind WOULDN'T be "anti-corporate", given the set up and the obvious results?

    . . . .

    The old saying applies:

    With friends like these . . . .

  2. I don't really know that much about her. She was elected last year when Jerry Brown, the former mayor of Oakland, was elected governor. During Brown's tenure as mayor, there was an incident at the Port of Oakland in which the police fired on demonstrators (against the Iraq War) who were actually leaving the scene. Many were hit in the back, and the injuries were ugly to say the least. The city of Oakland eventually settled with the victims for $3 million, I think.

    Everything I've been able to find out about Quan points to two specific things: A) she has along record as a union supporter and progressive activist; and B) she is grossly incompetent in a leadership role. She has screwed up a lot of times in the past. She seems to have a conscience, but not much skill. Many of those who have known her for years are devastated by this unwarranted action that she ordered against the Occupation. "It's not like her," they say.

    As you say, the PTB get the "progressives" to do their dirty work, thus discrediting them in the eyes of the Movement (whatever movement.) The question I'd raise is why "progressives" are so easily convinced to do this dirty work?

    For they certainly do their part in making matters worse.

  3. Well, the thing is, in Europe where actually openly "socialist" parties have power (like PASOK in Greece or Labour in Britain) we see a similar pattern. They have become tools of the ruling financial class.

    In America where the Left has suffered from years of pogroms and purges by the most ruthless capitalist class in the developed world, it's not as hard to understand.

    I mean it's because these systems are so badly broken everywhere that it will take some kind of revolution to fix them, normal democratic means have failed badly. (Mind an economically Left wing take over of a relevant political party in the United States would count as revolutionary, provided it happened and was able to stick. That seems pretty unlikely to me, but who knows? Something is going to change, I know that much.)

  4. There is a real left in this country, but it is not politically engaged, I'd say because real leftists recognize that the only way forward is through revolutionary means. So few are prepared for that; it's not worth it... yet.

    But just as what happened in New York when those women were pepper sprayed, and then when hundreds and hundreds were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, what happened in Oakland is another turning point in the process of making Revolution worth the bother.

    OWS is not particularly leftist, though, and I think that needs to be clarified. There are leftists involved with it, but it's really not a radical left movement. Certain issues that the Occupations are concerned with -- like social and economic justice and the details thereof -- are appealing to the left, but they appeal to people who couldn't care less about political affiliations too.

    The utter failure of "progressive" politics is manifest, though, in repressive actions like those in Oakland -- or even here in Sacramento -- where the "progressive" tradition simply can't keep up with what's on the minds of growing numbers of people.

    There is remarkable fearlessness in the Movement, and yet there's an undercurrent of paranoid dread as well. That to me signals that the reality of the Revolution is reaching deep into the participants' minds and hearts.

    Yes, this is "it." It is happening. Right here. Right now.



    Mind boggling.

    So many disparate threads to be woven together.

  5. I've been looking at the designs of the shoulder patches and badges, and, based mainly on the latter, I don't think those are OPD officers, CHP, or SF deputies (like Oakland claims). As far as I'm aware, Oakland School Police are OPD officers on loan to OUSD; regardless, the badge doesn't appear to match. Furthermore, it's not at all clear that these officer belonged to a police agency in Alameda County; most police departments in the Bay Area (and probably in California) use the seven-pointed star badge and shoulder patch design. I say they're not OPD or CHP because of the lettering on the badges; on CHP badges, from what I can tell, the words are written in a circle, and the top word on OPD badges is shorter than the bottom word, which is clearly not the case here. The layout of the wording on the badges is strongly suggestive of a city police department; it's not SF, though, and it doesn't seem to be any of the cities neighboring Oakland in Alameda County.

    One possibility, which appears to match the badges and shoulder patches reasonably well (given the poor quality of the image), is San Ramon PD. It's the only Bay Area police agency that seems to even come close.

  6. Could be.

    The point I think is to be careful about making accusations without backup evidence, and especially be careful of scapegoating.

    The initial accusations fell on OPD. Ultimately, the city of Oakland bears responsibility because they are the ones who called in the reinforcements, and their police chief was in charge of the operation.

    But who actually fired on Scott Olsen and what agency he was with (I assume it was a he) is a mystery until a real investigation is done or someone comes forward.

    I'm so cynical about these things, I don't think either one will happen.