Who is Oakland: anti-oppression activism, the politics of safety, and state co-optation

An extensive criticism of anti-oppression politics, their relation to non-profits, capitalism and the state, as well as how they play out in movements such as Occupy.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on May 8, 2012

This pamphlet – written collaboratively by a group of people of color, women, and queers – is offered in deep solidarity with anyone committed to ending oppression and exploitation materially. It is a critique of how privilege theory and cultural essentialism have incapacitated antiracist, feminist, and queer organizing in this country by confusing identity categories with solidarity. This conflation, we go on to argue, minimizes and misrepresents the severity and structural character of the violence and material deprivation faced by marginalized demographics.

According to this politics, white supremacy is primarily a psychological attitude which individuals can simply choose to discard instead of a material infrastructure which reproduces race at key sites across society – from racially segmented labor markets to the militarization of the border. Privilege politics is ultimately rooted in an idealist theory of power which maintains that psychological attitudes are the root cause of global oppression and exploitation, and that vague alterations in consciousness will somehow remake oppressive structures.

This dominant form of anti-oppression politics assumes that demographic categories are coherent, homogeneous “communities” or “cultures.” This pamphlet argues that identity categories do not indicate political unity or agreement. Identity is not solidarity. The violent domination and subordination we face on the basis of our race, class, gender, and sexuality do not immediately create a shared political vision. But the uneven impact of oppression across society creates the conditions for the diffuse emergence of widespread autonomous organizing on the basis of shared experiences, analysis, and tactics. There is a difference between a politics which assumes identity categories indicate shared political beliefs, and autonomous organizing against the forces which impact marginalized groups in different ways.

We hear endless nostalgic appeals to civil disobedience, deescalation, and police-enforced pacifism, often from 1960s-era activists who have been seamlessly absorbed into positions of power within municipal, state, federal, academic, and nonprofit institutions. Free speech is “allowed” or “facilitated” by the state and used to justify continued beatings, surveillance, and paramilitary raids of protests across the country.

Demanding increased cultural sensitivity and recognition has utterly failed to stop a rising tide of bigotry and violence in an age of deep austerity. We argue that one of the lessons of the history of anti-oppression, civil rights, and decolonization struggles is that if resistance is even slightly effective, the people who resist are in danger. The choice is not between danger and safety, but between the uncertain dangers of revolt and the certainty of continued violence, deprivation, and death. There is no middle ground.

Originally posted: April 30, 2012 at Escalating Identity


whoisoaklandsyn.pdf (728.47 KB)


Juan Conatz

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on October 12, 2012

PDF of pamphlet added.


11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Hieronymous on October 12, 2012

IMO, this is the best critique to come out of Occupy Oakland.