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The Fate of Occupy Oakland — A Response to Nick Robinson

February 3, 2012

It’s no fabrication that Occupy Oakland’s Move-In on January 28th was imbued with various tactical failures that had resulted in a highly unfavorable outcomes: the deterrence of a building take over, and, worse still, the mass arrest of over 400 individuals. Yes, outside of those drunken moments of celebration where comrades, both known and unknown, are released from jail, it remains important to admit that there had been a clear on the ground defeat. This fact really comes as no surprise. Innumerable articles have emerged with criticisms that come from all different political positions espousing both interesting and frankly dull comments alike. However, among these, none have been more seductively insidious than that of Nick Robinson’s article Finding Power in Solidarity: Occupy Oakland After the Crackdown, where Robinson seems to make the case for a reduction in the movements antagonism in exchange for, what he seems to think, is a rebuilding of once-held solidarity within the “community”. What constitutes this so-called community eludes us, though this is one less important criticism among others, and, in the end, it seems clear that Robinson’s assessment is one which seeks to crystallize the structure of Occupy Oakland in the face of impending reconfigurations.


Most prominent of Robinson’s criticisms are what he constitutes as a series of fallen solidairties with other groups. These groups remain elusive within the context of his article, though one can only imagine that he is speaking of various groups whose composition span both race and gender lines. On multiple occasions Robinson alludes towards the equation of aggressive political tactics and positioning, and masculinity/patriarchy: “A patriarchal value system with skewed interpretations of integrity, honor and courage is packed deeply within the baggage which we all carry on board our movements.  A fundamentalist attachment to macho tactics which reinforce this destructive system of values is as damaging as the state violence imposed from above.”


The insinuation here is clear: that aggressiveness, the attack, physical drawing out of contradictions, or in other words, a positioning that is intrinsically antagonistic, is inherently linked to patriarchy. This trope, tired from being drug through the historical narrative of those whose gender lies outside of normative maleness, could not be farther from reality. To make this assertion is simply to reinforce the false binary that glues maleness and assertiveness together, and, by proxy, artificially concretes femaleness and passiveness.

Does Robinson really believe that aggressive tactics, however confused or nonstrategic they may be, is simply a tool of patriarchy? The irony is apparent to anyone who had spent a substantial amount of time within the Occupy Oakland actions. This is because most active and aggressive constituency within the movement has by and large been the Feminist Bloc. The Feminist Bloc–queer-feminists with varying political alignments range from anarchists to communists–led the march to the port shutdown, has had a presence at every Fuck the Police march so far, and has had a hand in the overall tone by which Robinson attributes as “macho”. That he cannot remember them, or, by some measure of personal opinion chooses to forget, seems strange when considering his argument. Far from simply a triad of male-testosterone-machoness stands the fact that among the most militant of those within the Oakland movement has been the exact group that Robinson chooses to not recall.


Sidestepping Robinson’s flagrant abuse of gender tropes, the racial and class element of the article is also strikingly awkward, especially when one considers that solidarity, especially among those who are of historically subjugated backgrounds, would often require exactly the opposite type of strategic advancement than the one prescribed by the article. Oakland’s history stands a testament to this; be it the Oscar Grant riots, or the development of the Black Panther Party, it is clear that a confrontational positioning is itself part of any proletarian social movement that aims to dislodge the current economic and social norm. Solidarity in such cases would require street battles, uneven run-ins with riot police, and most likely a large amount of small scale tactical failures that may potentially lead up to tipping points.


To argue, as Robinson does, that “resources, property, and land can be acquired through an array of tactics” while simultaneously disavowing more radical or confrontational modes is to fail to understand the predicament of many working class or lumpen peoples within the range of Oakland’s city limits. With nation-wide African American unemployment as high as 15.8 percent in December 2011, one might only guess what the rate is within economically deprived Oakland. What, then, is there left for those who have been evicted, foreclosed, fired, or rendered precarious to use but their own volition? And, what recourse might one have if more confrontational configurations are ruled out? Are we really assuaged to the point of finding solace in equality among a collective pittance? The result is as bleak as the prospects for those who are subjected to the extreme limit of capital; failing again and again, as one would in a disarmed heist.


A turn towards insularity, and to attempt to build some sort of perfect equality within a social movement as an end it itself is absurd. Just as Castro’s Stalinist island stands no chance of attaining a sanctuary status within the rough sea of capitalism, so too will Occupy Oakland flounder within its own self-importance if it’s sole goal is redirected at a hazy internal self-redistribution. This is not to say that equality is not important within a movement, but one must be pragmatic in knowing that with broad based action also come afflictions that are facilitated and maintained within the broader context of capitalist society. As seen in the liberal attempt to utilize and institutionalize multiculturalism, the contradictions that many look to destroy cannot be voluntarily eliminated, except for in the most fictitious of ways.

What was witnessed on January 28th could mark a flagging of the overall Occupy Oakland situation. It remains to be seen if the movement is in a steady decline, or if it is about to burst into a new phase of intensive struggle. What one should avoid doing is what we see in Robinson’s essay–a knee jerk reaction to save what has been thus far created. Some things are meant to pass, and if this is the case for Occupy Oakland, so be it. Moments of rupture explode and wane, but only to recast the next cycle of struggle in a different, and hopefully more invigorated, mode. With a dysfunctional economy that shows no signs of abating, one might expect ongoing activity within the political field. Let’s hope that Occupy Oakland’s days are not yet numbered, though if they are, perhaps it is best if its left to die.


Some Notes on Occupy Oakland and the Police

February 1, 2012


Just a quick look into the recent throng of Occupy protests is enough to conclude that Occupy Oakland has been an interesting outlier, if not prophet, into what is plausibly going to appear in the very near political terrain for other sites of struggle. Augmenting this conclusion is a demonstrable local history that, due to flagrant police abuse that spans across decades and a longstanding economic hemorrhaging of the local area, has allowed for a semblance of radical agency to appear. But, as history often shown, these moments of opportunity leave us just as quickly as they come. What’s important are the strategic determinations that are made in the moment: those brief passages of time that soar by leaving no traces outside of the decisions of political agents. It is within this realm that Occupy Oakland has accelerated, as the political decisions made have aided in the elucidation of antagonisms that, within other Occupy sites, are typically more incoherent and less defined. As we we have seen with Occupy Oakland’s unsuccessful move-in that occurred this past weekend (Jan. 28th), this does not mean that Occupy Oakland has effectively sealed its fate. However, for other regions of struggle whose material world will most likely find itself in a situation similar to that of Oakland (ie ongoing economic depravity coupled with an increase in police repression) the strategic decisions are important to investigate, as they contain important insights for other regions of struggle. Of those decisions, most decisive has proved to be Occupy Oakland’s antagonistic positioning towards the police–a relation that has proved to be foundational for it’s ongoing success. Without it, tomorrow’s large scale take over would certainly not have materialized.

Since Occupy Oakland’s inception, it was decided that law enforcement officers, along with anyone who had actively worked with them, would not be allowed within the space. The legitimization for this was clear: that contrary to the PR campaigns espoused by police organizations, the cops had actually made for spaces to be less safe. For Oakland, this came as no real revelation. Such was particularly clear in the aftermath of the execution of Oscar Grant by BART police officers and it’s subsequent explosion into social unrest. Police presence, with their long standing history of racial, gender, and class discrimination were correctly viewed as a deterrent for those aforementioned subjectivities.

Largest at stake, then, was the potential for a highly racialized class-based split between the diffuse compositions of what now makes up Occupy Oakland. The Occupy movement in general has benefited from the degeneration of formerly white, middle class individuals who, prior to 2008, would not have associated themselves with any sort of economic criticism. Living the “good life” prior to the economic meltdown, their rationality to police has been marked with a tenuous yet ongoing affinity. As the arbiters of class privilege, the cops acted as a buffer between their middle class lives, and the others who, as Marx had called them, were among the “lumpen” or down and out sector of the working class.

In the end, the anti-police policy was successful in that it allowed for a certain radicalization to occur within the camp. The atypical white-middle class-liberal triad that has plagued American politics for quite some time was effectively destabilized and continually challenged by those who had much more experience with oppositional forces such as the police. Simultaneously, the confrontational positioning of the camp towards the police allowed for a playing out of those very antagonisms that are perhaps difficult to see from the perspective of those whom had previously been thickly shielded by class privilege. The result was an accelerated radicalization of those who are often among the most reactionary, as the liberal myth of civil society quickly found itself entirely unassailable when the police were pushed to their structural limits.

The strategic determination to exclude police from the space of the plaza was essentially a decision that made lucid the antagonism that exists between state power and a social movement whose focus rests on economic inequalities that cannot, and will not, be ameliorated within capitalist social relations. With this principal instituted, every interaction with police became transformed from an everyday interaction, indeed a ritualized affair in Oakland, into a highly politicized one. The result of this was clear: that police could no longer function as they typically might have, and their subsequent hassling of anyone inside or near the camp was deemed as unacceptable. Sorely lacking within other occupy sites was just this fact, as scores of individuals succumbed to the seductive liberal logic of equating the police as those who exist within their own ranks.

It remains to be said that without this principal, the current movement towards the illegal taking over of abandoned buildings would continue as it has now. Legality, the police, and, more seductively, the representative political apparatus, find themselves more integrated into capitalist social relations than ever before. There are many entryways into bringing out this reality, and we’ve seen it happening on an automatic basis in regards to foreclosures and unemployment. Silent, however, are those instances where due to systemic economic problems also come new strategic possibilities, and perhaps we have just arrived at yet another–the attack on private property relations, and thus the further exposure of the role of the police in its maintenance.

Occupy Oakland and Commodities With Feet

January 13, 2012



December 22, 2011
“Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas Los Angeles [is] no longer real, but belongs to the hyperreal order and to the order of simulation.” – Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra & Simulation, 1994

Those fake cities with tree-lined cascading boulevards and perfectly designed flows of traffic, how beautiful they are when they become abandoned and consigned to a rotten fate. It can’t be helped to notice that this resembles a dead husk of Baudrillard’s dream: of entire cities whose principal rests on artifice or simulation, indeed that cathartic dystopia that one might attribute as the essence of Los Angeles. Dystopia because it’s emergence from history represents a reoccurrence, like an episode of Marx’s 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, except this time ceaseless in its reproducibility. Cathartic because it represents transcendence beyond tropes of liberalism that have entrenched themselves within us: those normative functions whose previously natural composition become ridiculed, dismembered, and eventually trivialized in that they serve a simply aesthetic and/or preformative role.

But, as the tide of capital’s strength recedes, it bequeaths us skeletal remnants that had once served its purposes. Peer into the distance with enough attention, and we can now begin see the marks of its once high-tide. The seizures of these remnants have manifested in a plausible first step. And, with ongoing intensifications of struggle and economic uncertainly, it’s very unlikely to abate.

Of Riots, Bukowski, and Levi’s Jeans

August 11, 2011

The waves roll in and pummel a single rock, it is overtaken easily. Young people, depicted as living affective moments of longing, gazing into the classic tropes of abyss–oceans, city scapes–with that very abyss most certainly gazing right back into them. We, especially the young, peer into the abyss of capital daily.

It peers back into us, and as a result we are changed. We try to find our hustle, are keen on opportunism, we have no fidelity to anything–pure nihilism. We are changed, this is a fact, and when the opportunity comes, when that moment of rupture elucidates itself, makes itself real or felt, however brief, we pounce. We are opportunists, hedonists, degenerates, criminals. We lust for televisions, and nice clothing. Long for 100 thousand dollars of jewelry, cartons upon cartons of cigarettes, or liquor that doesn’t have the taste of urine. Yes, capital has changed us. And it is in and through this change that we too might change capital.

even Levi's marketing knows that one day we'll be lead by a single red flag

This is why London must burn, why there is no affinity with those pathetic local businesses, and why we might even stab each other in the midst of a flurry of reckless euphoria. With capitalists subjects turned loose on itself, it’s no wonder why one might go ahead and smash a storefront in order to steal hundreds of dollars of Levi’s. This is “our life” and, as the ad quotes from Bukowski, we’d like to avoid allowing it to be entirely clubbed into dank submission.

Poem from the ad:

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

The Laughing HeartCharles Bukowski

“An open letter to those who condemn looting (Part one)”

August 10, 2011

The media has exploded with resentment towards those innumerable masses who’ve gone ahead and helped themselves to a free television set, fresh food, video game consoles, or even clothing in the now four day long riots in London and its surrounding cities. This letter has come out in response to these condemnations. It contains excellent points, and it comes highly recommended. Here’s an excerpt:

Dear you all,

I fear we have nothing to say to each other.

What follows may therefore represent one half of a dialogue in the way that yelling at a jukebox made of ice does.  Perhaps the sheer exertion of speaking – a certain quantity of hot air – will soften the surface a bit, but it’s a pretty one-sided discussion. And it doesn’t mean you can or will stop repeating the records you have been given to play, those looping phrases and evasions.

After all, we’ve heard what you have to say.  We too know the words by heart.  We find it, at best, deeply unconvincing, and, at worst, bilious, evasive, racist, average, murderous pap not fit for mouths or ears.  And there is very little that is best these days.

I expect you would say the same about our position, albeit with a different set of adjectives. Juvenile, destructive, unreasonable,and naive come to mind, if your previous history of accusations gives any indication.  Unfortunately, given the structure of the media and the flow of information, we cannot but hear what you say while you can very easily continue to ignore what we do.  Until lots of angry people are burning your city, at which point you might, in a fit of weakness, concede to listen to those who have some opinions on the matter.  Unlikely, though.  We live in noisy times.

It is too bad, though, because we actually agree on a few things.  For you say of these riots, and this looting, that they are opportunistic.  That they are unreasonable and stupid.  That “this isn’t a protest, this is a riot.”  That they are “not political.”  That “this is about individuals using the excuse of what happened the first two nights to make sure what happens the third night is worse”.  That this is “havoc.”  That this is “criminality pure and simple.”  That they do not “have the right” to do this.  That “no benefit will come in the long term,” from “looting a local shop,” “setting a bus on fire,” or “nicking a mobile phone.”  Above all, as you, Home Secretary put it, “There is no excuse for violence.  There is no excuse for looting.”  (For a further litany and bestiary of speech, see here.)

And we agree.

Click here to read more. 

Much like Oakland, Tottenham has also Burned.

August 7, 2011

Today, in response to the killing of a young person by police, Tottenham in North London erupted in riots. Two buildings were burnt to the ground, various police cars destroyed and torched, along with one of the classic red double decker buses. The killing of a young man by police, much like that of Oscar Grant, obviously now faces the population in a new way. It seems unlikely that this is due to more killings than usual–such killings have frequently occurred for some time. Instead, perhaps we are witnessing the emergence of a new relation to state violence, a new reaction to the biopolitical field, one that has become increasingly odious due to the casualization and/or disappearance of work.

Tottenham Riot - burning the grocery store

It’s almost counterintuitive–that in a time like ours, an age of worldwide economic turbulence, there would exist a relation that politicizes the states functions, especially when it comes to police, as opposed to that of the workplace. Why is this? It is not, after all, the case that state violence now finds its place in history. No, for there is a long standing qualm between people and the state, and it goes back very, very far.

What we are now witnessing across large swaths of the planet is a new relation that is coming into bloom. Perhaps a healthy suggestion for why such relations between the various police mechanisms and populations are altering is a result of the total realignment of work. This realignment has taken place in such a way that there now exists a part of the population that must be managed outside of the workplace itself–surplus populations.  Foucault’s conception of Biopolitics, yes–something which many Marxists might fundamentally oppose–now come into full view.

Maybe this is a slight preview of what the “stationary state” really could look like–the politicization of not only those continually disappointing governmental expenditures, surplus values, state spending, etc–but also, and perhaps more importantly, the politicization of populations and groups. The gang injunction, once an action limited to those others in the hood, could now find itself cast in a much wider way.

But it obviously wont be that easy for the state. With this overt type of attempt at management also comes a new lucidity, as the relations that were once blurred and buried are now more legible, more spelled out, more infectious and certainly more unlivable.