VI. November 19th: unpermitted anti-school closure march

On November 11th, as Occupy Oakland was being cornered by the state, the November 19th march was proposed at the general assembly. The Mayor was coordinating with homeland security to shut down the occupation. Two days later, Occupy Oakland was attacked by police on November 14th. Occupy Oakland reconvened at the main library with a powerful body of over a thousand people, and organizers started building November 19th as the next major action to challenge the state offensive.

The march was proposed to unions who wanted get involved in Occupy Oakland, including UNITE-HERE 2850, the California Nurse’s Association, and the Alameda Labor Council. Once it was proposed and passed, concerns were immediately raised that the trade-union bureaucracy could use this opportunity to take over the movement. In the building of the march, Occupy Oakland organizers including AS cadre were constantly discussing what role the Alameda Labor Council should play on the day of the march. At least one person criticized merely working with union leaderships and staffers as inherently inviting corruption into the movement. A large group of Occupy Oakland organizers, including us, didn’t abstain from working with union bureaucrats, but instead worked to prevent union leaderships from bringing their Democratic allies with them. To this end, the terms for speaking on the march were set at 3 Occupy Oakland speakers, and 3 from the participating unions, no Democratic Party speakers or promotion allowed. On the day of the march all of the predictions, positive and negative, were tested by reality.

On the day of the march, organized labor was hardly present besides small showings from ILWU local 34, and 10 and the Oakland Educators Association due to their earlier participation with Occupy Oakland. Alameda Labor Council sent an email out to all their members the day before, but did not organize to bring out the membership. The union workers who came out did so through member-to-member organizing, informal networks of union workers reaching out to friends.

The first portion of the march put bills on Banks demanding the forfeiting of profits made from Oakland foreclosures. The second part consisted of an un-permitted rally of thousands in front of Lakeview Elementary. One parent said that in his 30 years living in Oakland, he had never seen such a massive rally for public education. The head of the Oakland Educators’ Association spoke at the rally along with several parents, all in favor of a recall campaign they were organizing against the school board.

The third part of the march ended at 19th and Telegraph, taking over an abandoned lot in a planned expansion of Occupy Oakland’s space. Masked occupiers tore down the fences around the lot and set up camp, but when the thousands from the march filtered away the police moved in and evicted the camp, confiscating material and arresting many. The main stream media didn’t pay any attention to the anti-school closure character the march had and only focused on the establishment of the new camp.

So what about the concernse about threat of Democratic Party co-optation through the unions? At the end of the day, working with union bureaucrats had no apocalyptic consequences for Occupy Oakland. The OEA leadership did push a recall campaign, but were not allowed to pair that push with support for Democratic Party nominees to fill the seats. For many listeners that next step is implied of course, but Occupy Oakland as an audience had already been politicized to such an extent that people were much more likely to sympathize with kicking politicians out than bringing them in. In fact, we think that a recall campaign is a good strategy for the current level of consciousness and organization of Oakland parents and teachers. A recall is a real threat to the school board members’ personal power.

OEA, CNA, UNITE-HERE and the Alameda Labor Council did almost nothing to bring out their memberships, and it showed. But in our opinion union affiliation provided some needed working-class cred at a time when Occupy Oakland was beginning to get isolated by bourgeois media attacks and support among Oakland residents was dropping quickly. The march was massive, overwhelmingly radical in speeches with the (in no way reactionary, but also not radical) exception of the recall campaign, and very empowering for the embattled Occupy Oakland movement.

A few days before November 19th, December 6th and December 12th had been proposed as the next political days of action. On December 6th, the anti-foreclosure organizers of Occupy Oakland, along with non-profits, ACCE and Causa Justa / Just Cause, Occupy Oakland two houses for evicted families and community use. One of the houses has been up for a few weeks, occupied by a group of people who allow for the house to be used for political meetings other community activities. But on Dec 29th the house was shutdown by OPD and 12 people were arrested.

Occupy Oakland continued through the storm, even though it did not solve its own contradiction of being a dynamic social movement with class struggle language but still not developing actual class struggle from the workers of Oakland against their immediate bosses and that class’s policies of austerity within the workplace.