We heard about Occupy Oakland's Move-In Day and read about their plans to occupy space and convert it into a community center. I was excited to participate in their actions, for both the learning experience and as a way to start connecting better with other occupations. In reference to Occupy Oakland, we are one and the same movement. We are all occupiers. We are brothers and sisters. And solidarity sees no regional difference.
A caravan of people who wanted to participate drove up to Oakland. I went because I wanted to learn how they defend and how they move en masse. I wanted to learn what it was like to take a building, perhaps, so we could create our own community space one day. To clarify, my (and to my knowledge -our) intent was never to represent Occupy LA. I went there as an autonomous individual, to support Occupy Oakland in solidarity and action, to follow their lead, to lend my body where they needed support. As always with careful considerations- lest we impose our structure/tactic on an action whose tactics/structure has already been determined.
I say all of the following knowing that there are terrible misunderstandings of why individuals are choosing to take more revolutionary roles in the occupy movement. I say this knowing that there is controversy over 'diversity of tactics' and many do not understand that diversity of tactics is a principle recognizing personal autonomy, responsibility and the idea that we cannot internalize the language of the oppressor to control or divide a movement. I say this with the consideration that fear of PR backlash sometimes leads to broad smearing and assumptions of any who defend these controversial tactics or asign them any merit. That being said, I will include in my debrief my perceptions of the role of the black bloc on #J28, which I found to be one of the most peaceful black bloc's I've ever seen... (which isn't saying much since I didn't even know about bb three months ago).. similar to the bloc at the Long Beach Port Shutdown.
The march continues without any police interference, but they are definitely aware we are on the move. Helicopters, police just waiting to form lines to control our peaceful crowd. The air is tense, and in that moment I know that our action is almost impossible. Some of the same criticisms I've seen about Move-In day cross through my mind... how they announced their intent, the inability to trust communication flow in a mass group, why waste time at a building that is already surrounded by police? In retrospect, whatever we did that day, it feels like the police always meant to mass arrest us.
By the time we arrive at the first building site, the abandoned Kaiser building, the cops have already surrounded the building. There is no hope for overtaking the police line, even though the bloc has set up the barricades and pushed down the fence. If we would have taken the building, the bloc would have been where the police were- defending the reclaimed space. They never got that chance. The police fired smoke cannisters and aimed their rubber bullet guns at particular people by pointing them out.
The march moves along past the skirmish line near the Kaiser building. There are already lines of cops ready to kettle us on many sides. We continue and make a left on Oak St. towards the second building. A riot line forms and the police begin to fire tear gas, flash grenades, smoke cannisters and paint lead tipped bullets at random everyday marchers. The bloc forms, since they were still hung up at the Kaiser building and they march slowly with the crowd, then stop. They form a defensive line to resist the police violence being inflicted upon peaceful protesters. They advance five feet, then stop. They repeat. Immediately as the bloc gets closer the police begin firing directly at the protesters. They were aiming at people running away.. If the bloc did not have their shields and barriers, their bodies would have had the dents and burn marks that their barricades had. I know, because around this time I was hit with a flash grenade. And I wish I had a shield. It hit my right shoe, exploded up my leg onto my thigh, and ricocheted onto my right elbow. It was painful, but more shocking and traumatizing than anything else. Along this time, I was a bit lost, searching for the rest of the LA occupiers who I heard had been tear gassed.
Later, in my cozy jail cell filled with Oakland, Cal and Santa Cruz occupiers -refusing bologna and eating oranges with my tear gas tasting hands- I learned that the amount of tear gas used was NOTHING compared to the previous actions. And in that moment, I wondered if you grow a tolerance.
We regrouped at Oscar Grant Plaza and licked our wounds. Treated an LA occupier who had been hit with a rubber paint bullet. Wiped our stinging faces clear of the tear gas. I did not have time to think. In half an hour we set out again to try to take the third building. We marched like we were invincible; we took streets with our power and did not apologize for it. We stuck together. We asked, "whose streets?". We were peaceful. Though we had started out with more than a thousand, we only had about six hundred people left. We marched as the police scrambled to decide a tactical plan. They kettled streets and funneled us into a courtyard in which they blocked off all four exits. People ran casually from corner to corner asking to be let out, asking to be asked to disperse, wondering if there was a way out. There wasn't. A group using barricades tried to test the thinnest line. Tear gas was fired.
Our escape was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, evading their entrapment, resisting their insistence that we must be kettled, controlled, stopped because of their 'authority'. We were once again, undeterred. And this time when we continue the march, it becomes an FTP march.
I didn't have to wonder very long at what they would do if we hadn't been able leave. The second kettle was much quicker, and the police spent less time worried about moving in their lines at a reasonable rate. We were marching, to my knowledge (since the third building was locked and inaccessible) back to Oscar Grant Plaza, when yet another police line formed. I looked to my rear, and saw another line closing in. They tightened the space to mass arrest us because we had escaped the larger courtyard earlier. A group escaped through a rod iron fence by scaling it.. another group starts for the YMCA building.. requesting for the workers there to let us in. They opened the doors.
After the second kettle in which I was arrested, I cannot account for what happened in terms of people blocking some of the police buses from leaving or breaking into City Hall and vandalizing it, or burning the American Flag. I was for all intents and purposes during J28 "unarrestable" since I have pending charges in LA. But what I saw on J28, the blatant police repression, the lack of any sort of hesitation in firing on peaceful protesters, the strategic planning to use protesters as pawns to experiment with urban warfare, kettling and mass arrest.. exposing our 'freedom and democracy' for what it is- an illusion. I have no qualms about the burning of the American Flag. Whereas before I may have cringed, or wondered at the PR viability, it is clear to me that we must call and expose their actions to our fullest capabilities. If this means burning the symbol of freedom, democracy and civil rights in this country- after a day of our civil rights being assaulted, then yes. And please, this can and should be a point of diverging opinions. I see no need to argue the merits of flag burning. All i'm saying is after what I saw this day- it seems very appropriate.
To be fair the property destruction that happened at City Hall did not occur until much later that night, after the attempted liberation of three buildings, two kettles and the mass arrest of 400 people. It cannot be used to justify the mass arrest because there was no property destruction during the day. The flag burning was done by a man who apparently burns flags at almost every event he attends.
Please stay tuned for Part 2: Why Resistance? an account of the Oakland Black Bloc on #J28