Friday, November 4, 2011

Black Bloc in Oakland

I still haven't had a chance to catch up on all the news regarding what happened in Oakland on Wednesday and into Thursday, but much of what I have been able to look at concentrates on the Black Bloc tactics employed during the day and into the night culminating with the police crackdown, more tear gas, arrests, and the usual injuries from "non-lethal" projectiles. Oh, and the Mercedes that ran two people down when they wouldn't get out of the way. Driver not even cited, released to go about his business.

The vandalism and squatting have become the major issues -- not just in Oakland but apparently throughout the Movement, at least from what I can tell. What the Black Bloc did is Topic A; what to do about it is Topic B.

If the reports are accurate, the vandalism was quite minor -- some 18 windows broken, some spraypainted slogans and symbols, some dumpsters set alight, etc. A vacant building was briefly taken over and barricades were erected and burned. I'm sure there has been much more damage during demonstrations over the death of Oscar Grant, among other incidents.

There was no riot.

A lot of people were arrested and held on trumped up charges. Some of the reports tried to assert that the arrestees were all Black Bloc, but accounts on that issue are confused. Some probably were; others were journalists, or people who were trying to get away from the disturbances.

A homeless man was apparently shot and severely wounded by a "rubber bullet" -- some kind of projectile -- near the Plaza; another man -- yet another Iraq War vet -- was beaten by police when he didn't move fast enough or in the direction they wanted or something. He was taken to jail with a ruptured spleen, and was only taken to the hospital after many hours in agony.

I haven't linked these stories because they are still in flux.

There is a great deal of outrage and animosity toward the Black Bloc at this point, mainly because they spoiled what had been a triumphant day for Occupy Oakland. Many people seem to support the goals of OO and even support taking over vacant buildings, but they also believe that the Black Bloc tactics are alienating supporters.

Well. Yes. They are.

Many people get very nervous at the thought of taking serious physical action that includes vandalism and squatting. That's going "too far." Peaceful protest, in their minds, may involve the protesters being subjected to violence, but never taking active part in violence itself.

Here's the thing, as I see it: All through the nonviolent resistance/civil disobedience period in India and the United States there were other actions going on, some of which were not necessarily nonviolent at all. In other words, both nonviolence and more assertive actions going on simultaneously can have a very powerful effect.

And what I've noticed in news coverage of the General Strike is that it is mostly very positive about Occupy Oakland and the many activities it coordinated on November 2, including shutting down the Port of Oakland at least for the night shift, and most of the coverage makes a clear distinction between OO's activities and what the Black Bloc did -- indeed, some of the coverage makes clear that the Black Bloc was not even part of the OO demonstrations but was organized and implemented separately.

You would not know that, though, from reading and listening to all the keening and garment rending of some of the demonstrators who feel so mortified and betrayed by the violence.

At some point, they may come to appreciate what the Black Bloc was doing. The contrast between the Black Bloc tactics and Occupy Oakland was heightened, making OO look very good, better, perhaps, than they otherwise might have. Much the same thing happened to the Indian Independence movement and the Civil Rights Movement. By comparison to some of the more militant activists, Gandhi's and King's movements looked better and better.

So, I urge those who feel so despondent about the Black Bloc activists to lighten the fuck up.

Take a deep breath.


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