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(en) Anarkismo.net: US, Oakland 'General Strike' - Eyewitness account & analysis by Gayge Operaista
Tue, 08 Nov 2011 13:18:19 +0200
Autonomous Struggle of the Glittertariat - The Oakland General Strike, The Days Before,
The Days After ---- This eyewitness account of the build to and events of the 'Occupy'
Oakland General Strike of Nov 2 describes how momentum developed in the aftermath of the
violent eviction of Occupy Oakland, the events of November 2nd itself including the shut
down of the port, the attempted occupation of the Traveler's Aid Society building and the
black bloc's attack on bank buildings. The author looks at the controversy around these
last two actions in the aftermath of November 2nd and warns that "If the Oakland Commune
does not continue to accelerate the process of communization, it will fall back into
either pure symbolism, or assume the counterrevolutionary form of reformism (two processes
already in progress)"
What follows is my personal account of the events that led up to the Oakland General
Strike of the 2nd of November, 2011. This takes the form of much personal narrative mixed
with analysis, while I'm still analyzing and thinking through the events, and while the
longer term effects are unknown, to get these experiences in writing while they are still
fresh. I apologize in advance for any rambling or roughness in the narrative.
The Days Before
After the eviction and severe police repression, two things occurred: a massive influx of
people and energy,and a shift from mostly symbolic holding of a plaza to a need to push
out and directly attack capital relations, with the call for a general strike.
The week between the call for the General Strike and the General Strike itself was
bustling with activity. Just like multiple formal organizations and informal groupings
pushed hard for a general strike in the first place, many groupings agitated and organized
hard for it.
In the IWW, we couldn't help but have conversations with people, and we couldn't keep
flyers and posters in our hands - giving out thousands upon thousands. Fellow Workers had
been playing a key role in Occupy Oakland both at Oscar Grant Plaza and outside of it.
The General Assembly passed several key motions leading up to the General Strike - a
motion supporting autonomous actions that occupied buildings for the purpose of
expropriating them, a motion that reprisal pickets would be sent out where requested
against schools and businesses that disciplined their students or workers for
participating in the general strike, and that health and safety pickets would be sent out
early where requested, so that workers would have a picket line to refuse to cross.
Personally, I had some of the easiest agitating in my life. A class on Monday started with
the instructor talking about how he wasn't sure what was going on, but since getting to
Alameda pretty much requires going through downtown Oakland, he was cancelling class on
Wednesday. Then he goes on about how all the community college instructors are looking
forward to this, because most of them are getting hours cut or losing their jobs.
Then I said, "oh, I have flyers with more info, a lot of unions are endorsing this, it's
going to be big, everything is going to shut down for the day" and everyone took at least
one flyer - quite a few people took a few, one student took ten Spanish flyers for his
coworkers so they'd know what's up.
By Tuesday, the community colleges had large, public walkouts planned, most instructors
had cancelled classes, and it all just seemed to arise out of the air, as the organizers
and agitators had become a critical mass - nearly every person who heard about the General
Strike became another agitator.
The idea of shutting everything down for a day had become completely reasonable to the
average working class person in the East Bay.
The Oakland General Strike
I had stayed up until the wee hours of the morning the night before, checking my medic kit
and with anticipation, and tried to make sure to get rested up for the day. So my day
started with the early morning word, as I was heading out the door, that the longshore
workers had already shut down the port. The truth of the matter was that many of them had
called out and it was running at a greatly diminished capacity, and we still needed to
shut the port down. The longshore workers could not just strike and join us, but would
have an arbitrator come out and declare any picket line as "unsafe to cross" and they
would be able to go home.
I headed downtown, arriving shortly after 10 am, and it was already far more people than I
had expected. I checked in at various places, found my medic buddy, and we started going
on small marches to shut down banks. Many banks and businesses were shutdown that morning
- generally easily. Every shutdown turned into a party. Meanwhile, thousands would come to
Oscar Grant plaza with each feeder march during the day.
My medic buddy and I decided to rest our feet a little during the anti-capitalist march,
as we expected that the situation at the port might get really intense, despite the fact
the police had been thus far absent. We were sitting, listening to Unwoman play with some
street perfomers, keeping an eye on 14th and Broadway, when someone ran up, interrupted
the show, and stated that anarchists were smashing windows and were intending to bring the
police down on us all. He tried to people's mic it, and while he did get plenty of chants
of peaceful protest, he didn't get many people to echo his desire to stand against
anarchists and forcibly stop them.
My medic buddy and I then went back to moving around the plaza and the area around it,
worried about tensions developing and bursting out into some sort of confrontation, but,
that did not seem to occur. Our numbers, however, were swelling rapidly. Two marches would
leave for the port, at 4 and 5 pm, the first, from reliable estimates consisting of at
least 10,000 people, the second consisting of 15-20k people. Plus many more people went to
the port from elsewhere. The best estimates I have seen for the numbers at the port were
35-50,000, which I can easily believe. My medic buddy and I marched with the feminist
block in the 5 pm march.
The march to the port was the first time we saw cops, but the largest gathering of cops we
saw was nine CHP officers on motorcycles setting up to direct traffic away from the march.
We arrived at the port to an atmosphere even more festive than the rest of the day, with a
sea of people that, like every other event that day, was as diverse as Oakland. The
Oakland port complex was literally fully of people, which, for anyone who knows how big a
port Oakland is, is very impressive.
We wandered around the port for a couple of hours, running into comrade after comrade; I
also ran into many classmates from the community colleges. This is remarkable as my
classmates are much like me - not traditional student aged, working at least one job, all
going back to school to become nurses, physician's assistants, optometrists, physical
therapists, nurse practitioners, and the like.
I was also surprised at how friendly people were at the port, and eager to talk - I'm used
to getting approached and thanked for medicing by obvious radicals, but, I had countless
people who don't normally ever go out to a protest thank me, including a Marine who gave
me really heartfelt thanks for being a medic, and being out there (this being really
significant with the traumatic injury Marine veteran Scott Olsen suffered from the police
hitting him with a tear gas canister in the police riots that led up to the call for the
My medic buddy, having obligations in the city, and my body reminding me that my health is
not good and that eleven hours on my feet is quite enough, decided to walk out of the port
to a comrade's car, to get a quick ride home. I observed that crowds of people were
happily wandering all over West Oakland, the cops having gone back into hiding after their
incredibly sparse presence during the march on the port. The night, however, would change
The Black Bloc and the Peace Police
It should be obvious, from any veteran of mass movements that had heavy
anarchist/anti-capitalist participation, that the Black Bloc's actions during the
anti-capitalist march would turn controversial. They were very targeted - attacking only
the Wells Fargo, the Bank of America, and Whole Foods. The banks were an obvious target;
the Whole Foods was targeted because word went out that they threatened to fire any
employee who participated in the General Strike.
Of course, the only actual violence during the march (as the police were not even
present), was from self-appointed peace police, who, after screaming peaceful protest,
tried to tackle and restrain members of the Black Bloc, proving that once again, to the
American pacifist, the prevention of broken windows and graffiti are far more important
that the physical well-being of other people. In the days since, this has brought about
numerous calls to kick all the anarchists out of Occupy Oakland, that Occupy Oakland needs
to be protected from being radicalized, forgetting that anarchists and Marxists have been
a major driving force behind Occupy Oakland since the beginning, and that Occupy Oakland
has already taken it upon itself to successfully shut down the Port of Oakland, causing
millions and millions of dollars of economic damage. There has been talk of forming roving
squads to forcibly restrain and turn over to the police Black Bloc or anyone engaged in
property destruction, and to kick out suspected radicals. The level of redbaiting, since
Wednesday, in Occupy Oakland, has become exceptionally high.
While we can certainly criticize certain acts of property destruction as unstrategic, we
must always be sure to emphasize that smashing a window is qualitatively different than
tackling a person, and that we (as communists, anarchists, and other revolutionaries) need
to, without exception, stand together against those who would do capital and its hired
thugs, the police's, work for them. Now is not the time to decide what acts of property
destruction we'll stand behind or approve of, but to stand up against physical violence
against and social isolation of other revolutionaries. We've been through this debate many
times in the last 12 years - while it may be repeating as farce for us, there is certainly
a dedicated minority who are perfectly willing to act as the police and to crush the
potential of Occupy Oakland.
Red Flag Waving Against Red Flag
âThe past revolutions show us only too well: âthe red flag can be waved against the red
flagâ until the freikorps arrive - Theorie Communiste
...the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. - Karl Marx
The greatest source of infighting amongst all the anarchists, communists, socialists, and
other radicals (self-proclaimed or otherwise) would be around the failed building
occupation late that night. As they explain in their statement, a group entered the
building that had been the former location of the Traveler's Aid Society, and attempted to
expropriate it so that it could become a community center. Several hundred people took
part in this action, again, a crowd as diverse as Oakland.
They were clearly unprepared for the magnitude of the police response. Line after line of
riot cops came in, swinging batons, launching containers of tear gas, throwing flashbangs,
and shooting rubber bullets. While attempts to set up barricades were made, the crowd of
people could not defend them.
A miscalculation was made about the ferociousness of the response; I think many of us
would have made the same miscalculation. Before what occurred, I would have said that the
police were on such a tight leash, that if numbers at the building could be kept high for
a bit, that they could have made the Mayor's office look horrible again when the police
finally busted down the doors.
However, even from supposed "radicals" and "anarchists", lies are being told, or at least
spread - that the occupation was solely white kids, the occupiers were outside agitators,
that police were massed up and ready to go before the occupation started, that property
destruction or violence began occurring before the police attacked, or that the police
were antagonized. Based on video footage and conversations and other communications from
several trusted comrades, none of these things are true. While we can certainly wish for a
different outcome, we have reformist elements within Occupy Oakland screaming for blood
over the threat to private property, and criticisms being made are overly harsh, spiteful,
and moralistic, implying that the building occupiers are to blame for their own wounds. We
do not need to do the work of the co-opting elements for them, and we need to realize that
two very important events for the future of the mass movement that has been occurring
happened on Wednesday: the shutting down of the port and the attempted expropriation of
If the Oakland Commune does not continue to accelerate the process of communization, it
will fall back into either pure symbolism, or assume the counterrevolutionary form of
reformism (two processes already in progress). The building was the next logical step, and
the moment taken seemed to be the likeliest and also the safest for large numbers of
people not involved, as the cops had not been seen in numbers at any point, until they
appeared and massed up to put down the already accomplished building occupation. Had the
same events occurred during the day, the disruption to the General Strike would have been
Other criticisms to be addressed, that are much more concerning, revolve around the
"undemocratic" or "substitutionist" nature of the occupation or around the need to
convince the populace of the morality of our position, and that the police will relent
through moral "struggle", that we can change things just by becoming "better people".
Morality is a bad joke; a capitalism of angels would be just as exploitative, just as
oppressive. Police officers will never lay down their arms en masse; they are the hired
thugs of capital, and unlike the risk of mutiny that capital takes when it deploys the
military against its own population, the entire training of the police molds them into a
force that's very purpose is to repress their own populace. Morality has no place in
communist struggle, what matters is our ability to out organize, out manuver, and out
As to the "undemocratic" nature of the occupation, if one really thinks the General
Assembly should be required to approve of things that occur outside of Oscar Grant Plaza,
they approved a motion that supported autonomous actions to occupy buildings. To anyone
who thinks that the General Assembly should have approved a motion to occupy that
particular building at that particular time, that would have only succeeded at, at best,
leading to a wall of riot cops around the building keeping people out at the appointed
time, or, at worst, another eviction of Occupy Oakland.
Beyond the impracticality and the existing resolution, we must be cautious of fetishizing
democracy. The majority do not want communism at this moment, and we will never convince
them through debate (ask the Socialist Party of Great Britain how successful their
strategy has been); in general, struggle precedes consciousness. People and groups must be
brought into the struggle, and through struggle, their consciousness will be elevated.
And, for the events of that day all over Oakland, why is the General Assembly to be seen
as having an authoritative voice? Far more people participated in the Oakland General
Strike than have ever attended a General Assembly. What is the good in seeing the General
Assembly as having any authority outside the bounds of time and space which it inhabits -
in other words, do we wish to see the General Assembly of those who have the motivation
and ability to get to it when it convenes to be binding outside those times and outside
that place? Or do we see it as being an advisory body and one that can promise a certain
capacity of support, that varies over time?
As for the "substitutionist" complaint, generally substitutionism involves the belief that
a smaller group authoritatively acts for a large group, rather than taking action and then
attempting to expropriate the results. There will always be a militant minority as an
informal vanguard in struggle (Bordiga's "material party"), expecting it to wait for a
unitary proletariat to emerge will have us waiting forever.
Was It A General Strike?
It was clearly not a General Strike in the traditional sense; many businesses outside of
downtown kept running, even though massive economic damage was done, and business as usual
certainly did not occur downtown. It may be more useful to think of it as a Social Strike,
where in addition to the social relations in workplaces being disrupted, the totality of
social relations in downtown Oakland were completely altered.
Furthermore, should we necessarily expect a General Strike in 2011 to look like one in
1946? The composition of the proletariat has changed greatly, and the way in which work is
imposed as a disciplinary measure has been greatly changed. The increasing imposition of
debt (which can only be seen as selling one's future, rather than present, labor power) as
both a disciplinary measure on the proletariat and as a way to ensure its reproduction has
likely changed what a mass refusal of work looks like; as struggles continue to heat up,
it will be interesting to see what new forms these struggles take as we adjust our
strategies and tactics to the new terrain of struggle.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It is clear that many of the communist, anarchist, and otherwise revolutionary elements in
the Bay have pushed themselves past their capacity to make the General Strike happen. Part
of the cooling off, the difficulty in providing a unified, strong response to redbaiting,
and the infighting may be due to everyone's exhaustion, and the collective let down we
felt when we woke up Thursday and it was far more like Tuesday than it was like Wednesday.
There are several important directions that Occupy Oakland needs to go. A way to
accomplish the expropriation of buildings needs to occur, as it is not only both one of
the most likely path to speed up the process of communization, but, the logical action to
take as the rainy season sets in. The Travelers' Aid Society occupiers certainly had the
right idea, even if they were unable to defend their gains against a police response of
While the majority feel of the participants during the General Strike was that capitalism
is broken, the start of recuperation is already there - into a recall campaign against
Mayor Quan, and into making other reformist demands. We need to learn from Madison and
other struggles how this recuperation occurs and to struggle against it.
Occupy Oakland needs to better address issues around race and gender. While the camp is
exceptionally diverse, the General Assembly too often centers the voices and concerns of
white men, and then, following that, men in general. The Feminist Bloc grew out of a Women
and Trans and Queer group, and hopefully from there, we can broaden the discourse to
include reproductive labor, sex work, and domestic work, as well as the hyperexploitation
and oppression of queers and trans people under capitalism.
We need to avoid aiming for a unified message or cohesion. The main strength of the
Oakland General Strike was that it was the Multitude coming together and struggling in
common, individuals and groups with their own experiences and their own personal position
realizing common needs and goals. Trying to form a unified vision or demands for Occupy
Oakland, rather than the fulfillment of its members' needs and wants by expropriation and
direct conflict with capital will doom it to both a counterrevolutionary character and to
fail to ever regain anything resembling the energy of November 2nd.
- Gayge Operaista
IWW, Common Struggle, personal capacity SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2011
Related Link: http://glittertariat.blogspot.com
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