Yes, it was a pretty good day for the revolution (small "r" so far this cycle) yesterday when a coordinated effort by numerous groups banding together with BlackOut Collective seized and shut down the Oakland (CA) police headquarters and held it for 4 hours and 28 minutes as a memorial to Mike Brown and in honor of so many of those killed by police in Oakland and around the country.
It was both a moving tribute and an expression of the full blown disgust and anger so many Americans share at the terror inflicted on fellow Americans by out of control and unaccountable police.
One action does not a Movement nor a Revolution make, to be sure. But the cumulative effect of all these actions all over the country, sustained by determined young people and their allies, is a wonder to behold, and that wonder can lead to revolutionary change in consciousness and behavior -- and that's the point of all these actions.
I saw an articulation yesterday regarding the underlying issues and objectives of the current actions, and I ransacked my own archives. So much of it seemed so familiar. So much of what we were going through just a few years ago with Occupy and police issues has been repeated in response to the outrage and protests over the incessant killings by police, so many of them unarmed black men. Similarity is not identity, but Occupy activists understood quite clearly that the police behavior toward them was merely mirroring what had been going on in communities of color for generations -- it was in no way comparable, but it was a reflection.
So much of what people have been yearning for -- which I have long characterized as "dignity, justice, community, and peace" -- has been cynically thwarted and subverted by a ruling elite which sees its own interests as the only interests that matter. Shooting people down in the streets, as the police so often are wont to do, is simply one of the tactics used by Our Rulers to keep the rest of us in line.
It doesn't matter who they shoot or why; it matters that they shoot, and shoot to kill, so as to serve as a warning to everyone else. It is no longer "Get outta line, the man come and take you away," it's "Bang, bang, you shot me down."
It's been happening in communities of color, especially in black communities, for as long as there has been a United States, and long before that. For as long as Europeans have colonized and conquered the Americas, the Other has been subjected to whatever torments their oppressors choose to indulge in. The original sins and some of the methods of genocide and chattel slavery live on in contemporary America, despite all the calls to "get over it" and "move on."
Shutting down freeways, shopping malls, bridges and intersections, walking out of work and school, all are effective tactics used during the current period of unrest following the repeated killings by police of unarmed and/or nonthreatening individuals by roided up rangers on a mission of murder. They are not engaged in shootouts with desperadoes. Far from it. They are hunters and killers, not protecting and serving, but seeking out "righteous battle," targeting and executing whoever gets in their sights.
Yesterday's tactic in Oakland was to shut down the police headquarters itself.
According to Bella Eiko who was livestreaming part of the action, previously it had been nigh unto impossible for protesters to get to the police headquarters in Oakland as it had been barricaded by police and traffic was diverted away from it. Yesterday morning, however, a dedicated cohort of black activists and white and Asian allies made their way to the building and chained themselves to the doors; one intrepid soul used climbing gear to successfully mount the flagpole in front of the building and unfurl a "Black Lives Matter" flag showing the images of some of those who have been killed by police in Oakland and elsewhere in the country.
So far as I could tell from the videos and tweets that I saw yesterday, the police were caught completely off guard. Their shields were down; their defenses were penetrated. And the action -- completely nonviolent -- put them in a very bad light indeed. For once, they could not even protect and serve themselves -- the only people who really matter in their universe.
Throughout the country, let it be noted, police and government offices in general have taken to barricading themselves against the public. Police stations are some of the most heavily guarded and barricaded locations, but all government offices sport layers of security and barricades to keep the public at bay. During protests, there will often be phalanxes of police surrounding their "forts" -- police stations and offices.
In Ferguson, I noted that the only places protected by police and National Guard when the Darren Wilson nonindictment was announced were the police and fire department buildings. Everything else was on its own, and where vandalism and arson were being committed, there was no police or fire department presence at all.
The police protect their "fort" and almost nothing else. It's happened again and again, in many other places besides Ferguson.
But yesterday, the Oakland main "fort" was compromised, and the police could do nothing but let it happen.
Well, they did nothing but let it happen.
Whether they could have done anything to prevent it or fight it, I don't know.
Ordinarily, under typical circumstances, they would have used gas and grenades and batons and rubber bullets, the full panoply of hardware and brutality, to break up and disperse the demonstrators and the throngs who gathered to watch.
Ordinarily they would have arrested all the demonstrators -- violently in some cases -- and they would have hauled them all off to Santa Rita where they would have been processed as slowly as possible, and more of them would be assaulted and injured by police and guards.
Though there were preparations and expectations that the police would respond to this action with their typical violence and brutality, they did not. They appeared to be slow to respond at all. Did they not notice what was going on, or were they told to stand down?
As I watched some of the action unfold, I became suspicious that something was going on behind the scenes that curbed the OPD's general penchant for violence in the face of protests. Someone was telling them to cool their jets, put away their weapons, and let this thing play out.
I assume it was the chief. But perhaps someone was telling him to cool it. Perhaps it was the City Manager/Administrator (currently Henry Garner, who I know nothing of) -- who is in charge of the police in Oakland, not the Mayor or City Council.
And perhaps someone in authority over the chief and the city administrator (who could that be?) was telling both of them to stand down.
If that's the case, then I'd say something has finally penetrated the thick skulls of the Highest of the Local Mighty and they got the message: "Back the fuck off or...?" Or what? Revolution? This time they may feel it's real or has the potential to become real if they push against the protests too much.
The point has been made, too, that this action in Oakland was planned and executed by BlackOut Collective together with white and Asian allied affinity groups who consciously used their privilege as a shield for everyone against police violence and brutality. They knew the risks of what they were doing, but they also understood that because they weren't black they would have a certain level of protection from police violence.
And so it was. Not only were they protected from police violence, most of them weren't even arrested, and those that were arrested were released apparently within minutes.
It was as stark a demonstration of the nature of privilege in this society as I've ever seen. Except for a strong presence at the beginning of the demonstration, black folk were kept in a kind of kettle or cage across the street and were allowed to watch while white and Asian allies conducted their action with little or no interference or presence by police. Only the ones who blocked the doors and the street were taken away, but it's not entirely clear that more than a few of them were arrested (25 are said to have been arrested). According to reports, all of those who were arrested were subsequently released. The ones around the flagpole and the "Flagpole Homie" who climbed the pole and stayed there for 4 hours unfurling the "Black Lives Matter" flag were allowed to leave with neither citation nor arrest, though arrests of all and charges to be filed had been previously announced by the Oakland PD PIO.
Meanwhile, in Washington DC, some of the activists from Ferguson who initially were not allowed to address the crowd assembled for the "Justice For All" rally organized by The Reverend Al Sharpton on Saturday spoke at what looked like a hotel conference room about why they shut shit down, including the rally until they were allowed to speak. They spoke about why and about how important the tactics of inconvenience and discomforting the comfortable are in this struggle.
I think they're brilliant:
Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
This is Bella Eiko's video of the last hour and a half of yesterday's action in Oakland.
Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
And a link to earlier in the day:
This is a copy of a statement by those who organized the action yesterday:
For those of yall that have seen the action today that shut down the Oakland Police Department for 4 hours and 28 minutes, that was why this was posted this early in the AM, to give context to how this came about. Local black organizers, connected to The BlackOut Collective, Black Lives Matter, and #BlackBrunch, held down the very center of the action, with their message #BlackAndBreathing. Members of their groups were giving overall political direction. Multiple Affinity Groups (teams) of about 200 non-black folks, under the name Bay Area Solidarity Action Team, locked down to doors all around the building, scaled the flag poles and dropped a #BlacklivesMatter banner with the faces of Oscar Grant, Mike Brown, Alan Blueford, and Renisha Mcbride, and Tamir Rice. Blockade team with lock boxes at the base. Other allied POC, including an Asian affinity group #Asians4BlackLives locked to the front doors. Two intersections were blockaded as well, including folks in wheelchairs using them as blockade devices. The logic was allies leveraging their privilege to support the black reclamation of space, especially in front of the #OPD, an institution known for its violence on black lives. By the end, many more people in the streets supporting. Everyone safe, everyone who was arrested is out. Action demands lifted up national demands from #FergusonAction. Lots of lessons and mistakes along the way, looking forward to debriefing and learning more from this experience to keep it moving in a good way.(h/t hotflashcarol at FDL who was in the thick of Occupy Oakland back in the day and has many stories to tell.)
The key here is that this aspect of the revolution is being led by the young. Those of us of a certain age and background are thrilled to see it. We can't tell them what to do -- and most of us won't try. The young are the ones who will find their way through this period of cruelty. And they're doing it.
They have shown a resolute intent to build a better world for themselves and for the future, and I for one cannot but be filled with respect and admiration.
Their voices have been heard, but we're not to the point of resolution. Not yet.