Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Transparency is a four-letter word

"For the record, I don't hate livestreamers. I just don't trust transparency."
--Comrade Kalamity on Twitter, March 27th 2012.

This could just as easily have been an off the record statement attributed to an anonymous Obama administration flunky, but this is where we are: some Occupy supporters are now eagerly mimicking the high-security, everything-is-classified government they supposedly hold in such contempt. Remember when the future President promised his would be "the most transparent administration ever"? Well, welcome to Occupy Oakland 2012: the populist movement so terrified of its own shadow that everything must be negotiated in a windowless room with the lights off.

How did we get to the point where someone filming a picnic can be threatened with bodily harm? It's been a slow, but inexorable process set in motion, I believe, when the Occupy Oakland GA failed to endorse non-violence back in November, thus setting the stage for the entire movement to serve as a shield for the tiny sub-set of black bloc practitioners and fuck-shit-uppers now in control. I've written before about how this presented a massive challenge for OO, but I was naive and optimistic at the time and thought that cooler heads would prevail. As the disastrous March 31st FTP walkabout proved, however, the seeds planted on that November night have now come into full bloom.

Quite simply and obviously, it is transparency and livestreaming that gave birth to Occupy in 2011, and it is opacity and embedded journalism that will be its death in 2012. Many livestreamers have already accepted the narrative and will no longer film revolutionary actions that could be misconstrued as vandalism. Others have been neutered to the point of ineffectiveness by filming only those who give consent--an impossible standard that results in endless shots of marching feet and little else. (A blessed few have been anointed as the chosen ones by the OO hierarchy, but quite how such decisions are made is another deep mystery. I’m sure smoke-filled rooms must be involved.)

Before Occupy, I had never supported any political movement or party in my life; it was the livestreaming of October 25th that convinced me, and many others, that this was a movement worthy of support. To discover that this movement has now forsaken two of the attributes that made it so attractive in the first place--transparency and non-violence--has been deeply disappointing.

Let me conclude with a personal statement for the sake of both clarity and transparency. I plead guilty to the following charges: I am a 49-year old white middle-class male with a full-time job, three writing gigs, three cats, a blog, a spouse highly skeptical of Occupy, and a son in high school. I am a pacifist. I am also a socialist who believes that one of government's greatest responsibilities and duties is the redistribution of wealth. I am not opposed to direct actions; I supported the General Strike, the Port shutdowns, and Move-In Day (I marched to the Kaiser Center and beyond). I am not opposed to flag burning, as long as you're burning a flag you bought or made yourself. I still consider myself a community ally of Occupy Oakland and I will be out on the street on May 1st. Keep the faith, baby, and Occupy Everything—but keep the cameras turned on!

(Cross-posted at Occupy Symposium)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Peace Police

Just typing those words makes me cringe.

I suppose there are worse things to be called at Occupy Oakland, but 'peace police' is an especially nasty pejorative in these parts. When used by those of an insurrectionary persuasion, it suggests not only collaboration with the powers that be, but a whole litany of other unpleasant stereotypes: the typical peace police officer is a muesli-eating, middle-class, censorious, wet white liberal in Birkenstocks. For bonus points, you might also be an aging hippie who's trying to relive the glory days of the '60s.

If you're a pacifist, or are simply convinced that non-violent civil disobedience should be the Occupy movement's preferred tactic, you might even consider the phrase 'peace police' fightin' words--only, being the people we are, we're not actually going to start a fight about them. So what are the options?

One could, of course, sit at home (preferably in the dark) and steam about the unfairness of it all--I admit that's generally my first reaction in such situations. Steam about something long enough, however, and sometimes the proverbial light bulb goes on--and not just when your spouse enters the room and flips the switch to the on position.

In such fashion did my own light bulb illuminate. To wit: I'm no longer going to be embarrassed by the label 'peace police', I'm going to embrace it.

Picture this: it's Move-In Day 2.0. After gathering at OGP, three thousand plus Occupiers embark on a march to the long vacant C. Europa furniture store near Broadway and 51st. A cadre of faith leaders, civil rights activists, elders, veterans, and other clearly identified Peace Police lead the way north on Broadway, shielding the crowd from the Violence Police. Masked anarchists are still out in force with their trash can shields, of course--remember, this is a radically inclusive movement--but they're now the second line of defense, and are, in fact, being protected by the Peace Police whilst sampling the schadenfreude entree with a side order of poetic justice.

What would the Violence Police do when confronted by the Peace Police? Would they repeat their mistakes of October 25th and eagerly beat the crap out of them, or teargas them, or shoot them with 'less lethal' rounds? Or would they have second thoughts about once again attacking protesters in clerical garb, or in military uniform, or in wheelchairs? I honestly don't know, of course, but I do know this: the tactics of J28 didn't work, and arguably exacerbated the situation. The Peace Police would, at the very least, force the Violence Police to adjust their tactics, and would make it that much harder for them to win the PR war. And who knows--they might even win the grudging admiration of the masked and anonymous crowd.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Paranoia strikes deep

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

I've been thinking for some time that Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth should be the official Occupy Oakland anthem. Despite being written by the appalling Stephen 'Love the One You're With' Stills, it remains the most evocative song of its era, its timely lyrics presciently describing exactly what's been happening here in Oakland over forty years later. It's a song that still sends a shiver down my spine--even though I've probably heard it a thousand times.

As the media committee drama played out over the last few weeks, the already high levels of paranoia at Occupy Oakland seemed to scale new heights. Whether or not someone had actually infiltrated OO on behalf of the Feds was almost beside the point: Occupational Awareness unleashed a wave of suspicion, anger, back-biting, fear, distrust and division--much of it in the form of inelegant and snarky 140-character Tweets--that surely delighted our local and national law enforcement agencies. It's yet another unfortunate and energy-sapping turn of events, once again putting the movement on the back foot.

As an Occupy Oakland community ally, I've experienced hints of this paranoia first hand. My efforts to reach out to the movement have generally failed. OOers don't seem to reply to e-mails from people they don't know, a precaution I can understand: after all, I choose not to communicate via phone, Facebook, or Twitter. At the same time, however, I think it's unfortunate that the atmosphere has become so poisonous that many Occupiers don't even bother to tell me to go away and stop bothering them. It also stands in sharp contrast to my outreach efforts to other Occupys, which have proven considerably more fruitful.

Things are a bit better when I show up in person. While I've had some genuinely enlightening conversations with Occupiers, however, many seem to look askance at me and hold back. Is it my mild-mannered, middle-aged appearance that suggests I might be a cop or an informer? Or is it simply the normal suspicion tightly connected insiders hold towards outsiders encroaching on their territory? There's more than a whiff of Dick Hebdige's subculture theory in the OO air, and I am definitely on the outside looking in: for those of us who weren't in OGP camps 1 and 2 or didn't get tear-gassed on October 25th, we'll never have the necessary street cred. I'm--quelle horreur!--a poseur.

At the same time, there's so much good stuff currently going on at OO that it's hard to get too downhearted about things. The Occupy4Prisoners event at the Grand Lake (which even included a Hayward teacher's rendition of For What It's Worth)--though not strictly an Occupy Oakland event--was an amazing, moving, and powerful evening. With foreclosure actions, community barbecues and the efforts of the Occupy Brooms Collective all ongoing, there's a lot for those of us in the movement's nefarious non-violence wing to be happy about. Perhaps I just need to grow a thicker skin about the other stuff--or perhaps I'd better put the Buffalo Springfield records away for a while.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Piedmont Avenue Three

Well, this seems to be a new low--even for the Oakland Police Department.

Three supporters of Occupy Oakland--Michael Davis, Nneka Crawford, and Randolph Wilkins (aka Teardrop)--have been charged with robbery and hate crimes. You can read OPD's press release here:


As I noted in my previous post, I was outside the Wells Fargo Bank on February 22nd, between approximately 5:15 PM and 6:00 PM.

I simply cannot imagine how these three people could have committed these crimes in broad daylight, on a major thoroughfare, without me (or apparently anyone else) noticing.

First of all, nobody was calling for a riot. That statement is ridiculous on its face.

I never saw anyone from Occupy Oakland cross to the other side of Piedmont Avenue.

OPD were present to escort bank employees to their cars after closing. I didn't see them arresting anyone.

I can testify that I was standing next to Michael immediately outside the Wells Fargo Bank between 5:45 and 5:55 PM. In addition, I saw Teardrop on the Wells Fargo side of the street shortly before then.

I am not going to state categorically that these crimes did not occur, but for those 45 minutes, there was certainly no visible evidence of anything being amiss on Piedmont Avenue--other than the upset customer I wrote about in my previous post.

There is something very, very wrong with this story.

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I am a semi-aquatic marine mammal who enjoys eating fish and krill, as well as taking long underwater swims