III. Political origins

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 2, 2012

From its beginning, Occupy Oakland has demonstrated a different political character from most other Occupy movements. This one was initiated by a self-consciously revolutionary milieu of Anarchists, Marxists and Black nationalist radicals, many of them talented activists. These activists taken as a whole have organized building occupations against the 2009 budget cuts, marches (and riots) against police brutality and gang injunctions, alternative media, immigrant rights demos and the list goes on. Some had decades of political work in Oakland with roots in the community, while others had recently moved to Oakland bringing organizing experience from other key places like Santa Cruz and New York. These latter have been wrongly demeaned as “outside” agitators by the media, local bourgeoisie, and some political non-profiteers.

Many in the informal networks that helped start the Occupy Oakland movement were steeled in the experiences of the Oscar Grant movement of 2009-2011 and the budget cut movement leading up to March 4th 2010, but an array of other struggles were also represented, such social justice activists for housing rights and employment programs. The collective experience embodied in these overlapping circles of organizers offered skills, political intuition, strategic-tactical thinking, and a tendency away from sectarianism and towards horizontal camaraderie against a common enemy labeled by Occupy Wall Street as “the 1%”.

The early October struggles of Occupy Oakland began building inclusion of a broad, diverse, cross-section of Oakland’s poor and working class, within anti-capitalist and anti-state parameters. Many (but by no means all) political divisions within the left were temporarily eroded away in the period of October 25th to November 2nd, 2011. Marxists, Anarchists, Black Nationalists, unionists, media and social justice activists, and independents of all sorts found themselves working side-by-side in political processes and decision-making spaces, building a comprehensive yet still incomplete radical social movement. This political diversity is a sharp departure from the normal “one-tendency” and “single issue” projects that tend to go on around the Bay.

Diversity of political opinion and social strata also made the task of creating political spaces for all – citizen, immigrant, employed or not, any (or no) gender and any race – imperative. Importantly Occupy Oakland left liberal tolerance in the dust, and moved on to openly attack racist, sexist and hetero-normative behaviors within the movement, grounding the attack on the insight that horizontal violence amongst the oppressed is a reflection of the vertical violence we are subjected to in the overarching system of domination maintained by capital. This militant anti-oppression politics, carried out inside the movement itself, is (for many a no-brainer) a prerequisite to any mobilization of many different types of people that plans to last longer than a week without splitting. The courage of those who raised their voices (led mainly by women and queers) to make sure the movement didn’t attack itself must be acknowledged and praised.

Occupy Oakland addressed oppression within the working class as a part of a self-defined anti-capitalist and anti-state movement. It is not calling for a new New Deal and does not believe the Obama Administration can fix the contemporary problems because Occupy Oakland condemns capitalist as untennable and unjustifiable in principle. The Occupy Oakland movement does not have demands that it asks the system to meet as a condition of demobilization, but it has demanded changes from government and private entities. Occupy Oakland has demanded, at individual actions and through specific literature, an end to school and library closures, housing foreclosures and police brutality, so in fact it has not embraced the “demand nothing” ethic. Occupy Oakland is challenging the traditional framework of laying out demands to the system to justify our organizing. Instead the spirit that animates Occupy Oakland is related to the slogan “Occupy Everything!”: that we should be taking back the world from the 1%, rather than pleading with them to treat us kindly. We are proving that the slogans, “Occupy Everything” and “Demand Nothing” can and should be uncoupled.

Occupy Oakland’s actions on November 2, November 19th, and December 12th created national and international media attention aimed at the longshore struggle in Washington, BofA’s relationship to Oakland school closings, and real estate profiteering off of Oakland home foreclosures. Before Occupy Oakland mixing such far-left politics with the intolerance of common blind-spots would have been denounced as going “too far” by some socialist and left organizations who justify watered-down politics on the pretext that “we have to meet people where they’re at.” But Occupy Oakland met a lot of people on November 2nd by doing just the opposite: leading a movement that draws people inward and onward, not just toward a New Deal, but toward a new society altogether.