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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.


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