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Six Months of InTentCity #M17
OLA Flash occupation & street festival
12 PM Saturday March 17, 2012
Solidarity Park at 100 W. 1st Street
Help us create a world where all may thrive
It’s been six months. A sigh escapes my lips as I gaze into an empty Solidarity Park. It feels Jurassic. It’s nearing midnight in a desolate downtown LA, and I’m contemplating some tired ferns and ghostly mist. This isn’t a public square, it’s an exhibit. Where are the dinosaurs and monsters that once roamed downtown Los Angeles? Where are the psychedelic freak shows and the legions of determined youth in Guy Fawkes masks? The yoga instructors, the People’s Collective University guest professors, the pot activists, the spirited drum circles and breakout discussion groups and consensus pizza games… where are they?
The rational side of my brain knows the answer as I look to where Star Tribe used to make camp. All that remains is a scrawled anarchist “A” and a forgotten bicycle tire still locked to the City Hall grate. I remember when City Hall was more than just cold stone and rows of tired flags. I remember when City Hall was alive. Do you?
Before there was the Fascist Fence, there was Love Tribe and Kids’ Village. Before there was police tape and intimidation patrols, there was a bucket of humanity splattered around the seats of power in Los Angeles. Ninety-niners from all walks of life came to Solidarity Park for what is was - both real and imagined. It was a haven for the downtrodden, where basic medical services and food were provided free of charge. It was a boisterous declaration of what could be better, and it was fought for by handing out delicious organic carrot juice or painting a magnificent purple vampire octopus or by living in a fucking tent for sixty days.
It’s been six months. The perspective on that time frame is hard to judge, especially since my pocket watch doesn’t tell time. A cherished gift from a loved one, the timepiece is engraved with my initials and the words, “An Occupier of the People’s Evolution - 10/1/11” The damned thing hasn’t kept time since I received it - which is exactly how a revolutionary watch should be. There is no winning or losing the revolution, there is only the struggle, which is ongoing.
The false urgency the mainstream media shoves down your throat doesn’t matter. The election is a farce, that’s why we began occupying in the first place. The only true urgency can be found in the wisdom of a fellow occupier. When asked what his demand is, he replied, “Come outside.” We have an urgent and immediate duty to come outside and occupy space. We must be visible, we must speak truth to power, and we must come together.
It’s been six months. Six months since those brave few in Manhattan pitched tents and planted black flags for freedom. But its also been years for the Egyptians, decades for the Palestinians, and centuries for indigenous peoples and our comrades of color. This oppressive system is not simply going to roll over and die. We must smash it.
In these few months we’ve seen the sophomoric debt ceiling argument fade away to be replaced by mentions of capitalism and income inequality. We’ve witnessed tens of thousands take the streets. We’ve had the pleasure to facilitate over a million people move their money to credit unions and pressured Bank of America into hastily reversing their $5 debit card fee. In just six months, millions of Americans have been shocked awake to the gross realities of illegal foreclosures and police brutality. What comes next in this revolution?
It’s up to us. The rollercoaster of activism is filled with joys and miseries, victories and setbacks. Luckily for us, this revolution is also sometimes blessedly funny. It’s funny because there will be cuddle puddles and safety breaks at this festival. Emma would be proud because this revolutionary festival also has dancing, courtesy of DJ M1GS and all you movers and shakers out there. This revolution has tasty vegan food, courtesy of volunteers in our Food Committee and Food Not Bombs. This revolution has truth, courtesy of teach-outs and OLA’s Freedom School. The revolution will not be televised… you’ve got to Come Outside.
We’re still here, and we’re growing. This Saturday, Spring is here.
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* (Ed: On March 5, 2012, several thousand “occupy” protesters and their allies descended on the Capitol in Sacramento to “demand” nothing more than their human right to education. Or so many of them thought. The following is an account of the events of that day, submitted recently by an OLAASM comrade who was there. We offer this brief introduction only to give context to our comrades’ insights.)
Never doubt that a group of thoughtless, committed reformists can completely smother a radical moment.
It is a special occasion when approximately 500 people invade a State capitol, ready and willing to take direct action and risk arrest to Occupy it for the night. it is an even more awesome spectacle when the enthusiasm and the opportunity to do something politically relevant is robbed from those 500 people by a crew of dipshits like the ones who assumed control of the action once people were inside, and steer them into a dead-end “process” that subverts the goals that brought them together in the first place.
After driving all night from Southern California in a van filled with comrades, we were excited to arrive in Sacramento and participate in a highly anticipated direct action - an attempt at an overnight occupation of the Capitol.
As we “take” the Rotunda in the entrance of the Capitol building, rather than chant in victory, the facilitators quickly mobilize themselves and began an enthusiastic chant of “please…sit…down.” Please sit down?! Why should we sit down? So that our fearless facilitators can tell us what the General Assembly is going to do. However, the moment the Assembly is announced, the sheriffs move into position and block off all four entrances into the Rotunda. When questioned why, the sheriffs, predictably, do not respond. When a comrade tries to walk through, he is pushed back. This is supposed to be the day when we, students and citizens, reclaim the Capitol; instead almost immediately it becomes clear that we are not here to take back public space, we are not here to Occupy, rather, we are here for another performance of planned, civil disobedience.
It did not take long to realize that the General Assembly had been co-opted by liberal reformist, patriarchal white men and women, who spread fear mongering, misinformed predictions for how the day would unfold (you WILL get arrested!!!), turning the General Assembly into a ridiculous, tedious discussion about ‘demands.’ When we spoke up to ask why we weren’t discussing whether we should even be making demands, whether that is really what we should be spending our time on when we were surrounded by the police state, we were not listened to; we were looked at with blank or suspicious stares.
A large chunk of time, at least an hour, was devoted merely to the number of demands that we should make. 1-5, 5-10, 10-15? The option of zero demands was conspicuously missing. Zero demands, not explained, not de-constructed, finally presented as an option, gains only a fraction of the votes. What did it matter anyway? the vote was at its best symbolic; but more realistically, it was useless.
After determining the number of demands, they thank us for our patience because we are wearing thin. our bladders are full. As commands from our facilitators to “BE QUIET” echo against the walls of the rotunda, frustration settles in. Thousands of eager activists did not travel hours to the heart of the state government apparatus to be harassed by one relentless question: “What are our demands?”
The demands sprawled from ‘pass Prop ‘x’and ‘free education’ to ‘end capitalism.’ Yet the only demand (chant) that made any sense was, “CHP…Let us pee!”Coincidentally, that was the only demand that was conceded, passed only with incongruous help from Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom with his slicked back hair and photo-ready smile. After awhile, much to the chagrin of the facilitators, no paid attention except for the people speaking themselves.
At 4:20 PM, we are mic-checked in order to hear a new proposal:a moment of silence followed by an ‘om.’Absurdly, this was the second most effective proposal of the day. We had spent three to four hours in the rotunda of the Capitol building, surrounded by armed sheriffs, talking about talking. What a waste of a congregation! What a waste of countless hours and hard fought funding, organizing, and traveling! We may not have a home, we may be beaten to a bloody pulp by a police state, but at least we will have demands!
The bright side of this situation is that the CHP was subjected to stand through one of the most miserably boring and useless General Assemblies ever. Really, if the state was thinking strategically, they would encourage us to stay there making masturbatory speeches, providing us with cots and food, until the movement completely implodes and we mic check ourselves to death!
At 5 PM, the Demands are still not tallied. Repeated votes on whether or not we want to leave begin. it is clear that the facilitation team wants to leave. They continue to inform us of how scary jail is, and how long we may end up there if we get arrested. In reality, they do not want to go to jail themselves, and it will look really bad if they leave and the rest of us stay. The rotunda had quickly escalated to symbolize the asphyxiation of an attempted step in the student movement. Students trickled out of the Capitol, exhausted and frustrated at the hollow demands process.
I asked a demonstrator who requested to be mentioned only as “enonymous” what he came here to do today and how he thought it went. He said, “Fuck shit up. Which did not happen here today,” and then walked away with his head hanging.
Another activist asked me what I thought we should have done instead of demands. I replied that we could have done anything. Here was a brilliant moment: a day where angry and passionate students from across the state of California were together in one room (sort of). Another world could have been possible within those elaborately designed walls. We could have shared our collective experiences of the oppressive, institutionalized educational system and how we could free ourselves. We could have discussed a tactical plan for actually taking and keeping the Capitol, instead of once again getting arrested symbolically. We could have used the day to form relationships with one another, to bring back ideas to our campuses, to begin to build a new society out of the ashes of the old one. Why make demands to a dying monster? She agreed with me whole-heartedly and would have rather done that but had simply not understood what “zero demands” meant. For her, voting on demands was tedious and alienating, forcing her to frantically research each proposition before she voted on it. Sounds vaguely similar to a current system… right?
A General Assembly should not be utilized to formulate demands when you issue a call to Occupy. A general Assembly is a group of organized individuals who make collective decisions. to pre-suppose that demands are necessary immediately frames the conversation.
The debate of demands is a contentious one. It is not one to be glossed over. Occupy Wall Street was a success because it was radically different. It dared to question the hierarchical nature of society. It dared to be horizontal, to work based on consensus (and not vote), to be directly democratic and action oriented. It dared to be no more business as usual, punctuated by tents that sprung up everywhere. It dared to be anarchist, to demand nothing and to take what was needed.
Demands are inherently harmful to this movement. Demands invite reform and legitimize the state as an institution of power. We do not need the state.
Demands are a tactic. They are a specific strategy that can be utilized for revolutionary change. But they are definitely not the only strategy for revolution. Why should we move forward with demands? We need to critique the strategy of demands upon the state. To set an agenda with a vote on demands is top-down, and is a mimic of the system which already exists. We should have immediately questioned the authority of the self-proclaimed facilitators. We should have hard-blocked their agenda. Our first “demand” should have been for the sheriffs to release our comrades and unblock them from the rotunda.
There is a reason why, on #J28, the Oakland Police used brute force on activists and then kettled over 400 people. It was because the action threatened the fundamental power of the system: private property. If Occupy the Capitol had manifested itself as a reclamation of public space, the sheriffs would have utilized all the fancy weapons they brought that day. But Occupy the Capitol was not a threat. It was not an act of resistance. It was - at its best - an empty gesture.
We never reached consensus on the demands. We left with the perilous sense that the lobbyists upstairs were actually more effective than us that day. The pigs were bored and not threatened. Even the most staunch neo-con can wait out a day of ‘liberal’ protest.
If we are to change our world, if we are to win a better educational system, we need to dream, we need to dare, we need to shut the fuck up about demands and create, take, take over, and be free!
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San Quentin’s Dangerous Conversion Conditions
Every California male sentenced to time in prison must first be processed at one of two Reception Centers (RCs). In Northern California, they are sent to San Quentin (SQ); in Southern California, the California Institution for Men in Chino (CIM). Until 2011, the RC at San Quentin occupied four units: Donner, Badger, Alpine and Carson. Now, the majority of these units are undergoing “conversion” from RC units, which are designed to be temporary housing for all inmates, to Mainline units, where inmates serve the duration of their sentence. It appears that Donner and many other sections of RC have already been fully converted to Mainline units, now referred to exclusively as West Block. This shuffling of mainline inmates into the unacceptable conditions of RC units, is an unintended consequence of the “criminal justice alignment” stipulations in Assembly Bill 109 (AB 109). AB 109 was an unprecedented attempt to shift state fiscal responsibilities to local counties, which passed amidst controversy in the summer of 2011. Amongst the tremendous consequences of this bill, which has at its core a humane intention to reduce revolving-door recidivism and prison over-population, there are a large number of inmates and employees of the state suffering direct physical consequence without media coverage or methods for redress in sight.
While in RC, inmates are audited, classified, and processed for their placement in a Mainline facility. RC inmates are disallowed many amenities that they will receive once they reach the Mainline. They spend twenty-three out of twenty-four hours per day in their shared 5 x 11 cell and may not go to the yard, library, edification programs, make or receive phone calls, or own any property. RC units were not meant for long-term habitation. The condition of the cells, quality of the food, and general cleanliness of San Quentin’s RC are universally derided by inmates and workers due at least in part to the age of the building itself. It is a brutal stop on the way to a Mainline. Needless to say, inmates are almost eager to be sent from SQ’s RC to their Mainline assignment.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 109 after the Supreme Court cited “serious constitutional violations” regarding overpopulation in California state prisons. AB 109 attempts to address overcrowding and recidivism by shifting as many as 30,000 inmates over the next three years from state prison facilities to county jails. It allows “non-violent, non-serious and non-sex-offenders to serve their time in county jails instead of state prisons” (SQ news). One intention is for overcrowded county jails to do what state prisons refused to: parole inmates and provide reintegration programs to get bodies out of the beds, since the county jails will have to deal with these people ‘in their own backyard.’ Thus, many of the people who would be going through RC on their way to state prison will instead be sentenced to serve time in the county in which their crime was committed, in a county jail.
With less people sent to state prison, SQ is staying in business by reducing its RC and aggressively increasing its mainline population. Under Gov. Brown’s ‘Realignment Plan,” enacted under AB 109, SQ’s already-overcrowded facility is further overwhelmed with buses filled with new arrivals prepared to serve out their entire sentences there. These people are placed in “converted” RC cells. Unfortunately, no significant conversion has actually taken place, due to a lack of state funding. Mainline inmates are forced to share RC cells. According to an inmate currently incarcerated in West Block, these are tiny spaces covered in graffiti, reeking of urine, growing black mold, with no functioning electrical outlets or heat, and standing water. Access to electrical outlets is a particularly vital amenity to inmates because many of them have no access to the outside save for their TV’s, radios, and other appliances. These inmates have to go to the gym to shower (instead of their own hall) and most importantly, they have not been allowed to see their counselors for job assignments or education programs. There are reports of correctional officers (CO’s) sending inmates to these converted cells as a punitive measure. San Quentin’s official tours, led by Sgt. Gabriel Walters, now conspicuously avoid those areas of the prison.
There has been a shocking lack of mainstream media coverage on the consequences of AB 109, and the majority of the information presented here was obtained through SQ inmates themselves. However, the inmates aren’t the only ones attempting to be heard. San Quentin Prison’s labor union, the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association, (CCPOA-SQ) is outraged at the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) reaction to AB 109, known as the ‘Reduction and Conversion’ plan. The state mandated reduction of staff at SQ means that many reception center-related jobs will be cut, while some jobs will be converted from RC to the mainline. The tentative date for these layoffs is January 2nd.
The conservatives have already coordinated their predictable response: a fear campaign claiming that releasing felons out onto “our” streets will result in chaos and crime infested neighborhoods. They understand that AB 109 threatens not only the convenience of sending the bad guys far far away, but will cost their counties money in rehabilitation and reintegration programs previously considered the sole responsibility of the state prisons. To date, there has been no mobilized counter-response on the left. This is due in part to the fact that AB 109 appears to be a well-intentioned attempt to remedy the obvious failure of the CDCR’s practices. However, in order for it to be effective, we must expose its flaws, and the inhumane treatment of inmates at San Quentin is just one of them.
The following text is floating around the “Occupy Congress” Listserv. Before reading, you might want to check out How to Cure Nausea: 24 steps - wikiHow: ——- Hello! If you are reading this right now, then you are probably wondering, “Who the hell is Occupy Congress?” If not, I bet you are now. First off, we are several of things: We are an idea: We believe that Congress should be as transparent and money-free as one can possibly be. We believe it is Congress’s duty to protect the inalienable rights of our nation’s citizens, and to abstain from infringing upon those rights when dealing with people from other nations. We are a collective: Part of us is from the North, part of us is from the South. Parts of us are from the west, Midwest, and everything in between. We are a group of people who gather in the media sharing platforms of the net and in conference calls over the phone every week. We are a collective of ideas that inhabit our nation. We are part of the Occupy movement: We are in solidarity with everyone who believes this world needs to change. We support the many different cities across the globes that are standing up for their inalienable rights as human beings. Occupy Congress embraces a diversity of tactics. In fact, we embrace it so much, that we want to convert and evolve the understanding of the phrase so we can truly utilize our numbers to their full potential. On our conference call the other night, we started a working group whose sole purpose is to explore the many tactics millions of people could do in isolated environments with their computers, telephones, fax machines, printers, etc… This list does not enumerate the tactics by any means. Many people are scared and just can’t come out. Many people are too tired to attend general assemblies after working ten hours a day. Millions more are on the fence about the movement, but are disillusioned because they have nothing to hold on to in this time of lies and deceit. The only thing people outside of the movement see is the diminishing of our public relations by the most powerful media conglomerate in the world. We have no chance when you think about it, but they do not know the lay of the land like we do. We live in it. We breathe it. We gather in the chat rooms of servers across the globe nervously watching our family being beaten. We all try earnestly to keep up with the news of the movement and the propaganda of corporate media to find out where we will go next. We all live in a world of ideas that no government can evict, and we need to utilize that world in order to create a foundation that no government can absolve and no rogue can spoil. We have to embrace the technology that we are fighting against and utilize every nonviolent method of protest that we can possibly imagine to achieve the many goals we are faced with in the coming decades. The system is wrong. The system is broken, and it is our duty as citizens of this country to see sweeping change across the entire political spectrum. This is an apolitical initiative. The corruptive power of capital has made its way into both parties, so our initiative will not take sides. We are done accepting cookie cutter platforms that mean nothing in the long run of things. We are done accepting the same business as usual, and we are here to help unveil the web of lies that both parties have painted over their deformed bodies in order to make them seem right and normal. If anyone is possibly interested in any of this, email… We will answer any questions and guide you to wherever you need to go if you are interested. We are laid back here. We want to create an environment that is inviting for newcomers. However, we extremely welcome people who want to take initiative to create autonomous working groups. There is something for everyone, and the only limit is the amount of time you are willing to put into this. If you agree with our diversity of tactics, spread it around. Share it on Facebook. Tweet it out. Email it to everyone you know. We have to be the tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds. Thank you for reading this, and we hope to hear from you soon. -Occupy Congress ——- There is an organization (actually, many) already serving the above agenda, called GetMoneyOut. If this is what you think “occupy” is about - why don’t you just join any of the preexisting, reformist 501c3s that already serve this failed, reformist platform instead of organizing under the occupy name to compete with them? Oh, because you want to capitalize on the grotesque-yet-hip “brand recognition” Occupy has? Fuck you, capitalist opportunists. Go peddle your bilge elsewhere. - OLAASM
The following text is floating around the “Occupy Congress” Listserv. Before reading, you might want to check out How to Cure Nausea: 24 steps - wikiHow:
If you are reading this right now, then you are probably wondering, “Who the hell is Occupy Congress?”
If not, I bet you are now.
First off, we are several of things:
We are an idea:
We believe that Congress should be as transparent and money-free as one can possibly be. We believe it is Congress’s duty to protect the inalienable rights of our nation’s citizens, and to abstain from infringing upon those rights when dealing with people from other nations.
We are a collective:
Part of us is from the North, part of us is from the South. Parts of us are from the west, Midwest, and everything in between. We are a group of people who gather in the media sharing platforms of the net and in conference calls over the phone every week. We are a collective of ideas that inhabit our nation.
We are part of the Occupy movement:
We are in solidarity with everyone who believes this world needs to change. We support the many different cities across the globes that are standing up for their inalienable rights as human beings.
Occupy Congress embraces a diversity of tactics. In fact, we embrace it so much, that we want to convert and evolve the understanding of the phrase so we can truly utilize our numbers to their full potential.
On our conference call the other night, we started a working group whose sole purpose is to explore the many tactics millions of people could do in isolated environments with their computers, telephones, fax machines, printers, etc… This list does not enumerate the tactics by any means.
Many people are scared and just can’t come out. Many people are too tired to attend general assemblies after working ten hours a day. Millions more are on the fence about the movement, but are disillusioned because they have nothing to hold on to in this time of lies and deceit.
The only thing people outside of the movement see is the diminishing of our public relations by the most powerful media conglomerate in the world. We have no chance when you think about it, but they do not know the lay of the land like we do.
We live in it. We breathe it. We gather in the chat rooms of servers across the globe nervously watching our family being beaten. We all try earnestly to keep up with the news of the movement and the propaganda of corporate media to find out where we will go next. We all live in a world of ideas that no government can evict, and we need to utilize that world in order to create a foundation that no government can absolve and no rogue can spoil.
We have to embrace the technology that we are fighting against and utilize every nonviolent method of protest that we can possibly imagine to achieve the many goals we are faced with in the coming decades. The system is wrong. The system is broken, and it is our duty as citizens of this country to see sweeping change across the entire political spectrum.
This is an apolitical initiative.
The corruptive power of capital has made its way into both parties, so our initiative will not take sides. We are done accepting cookie cutter platforms that mean nothing in the long run of things. We are done accepting the same business as usual, and we are here to help unveil the web of lies that both parties have painted over their deformed bodies in order to make them seem right and normal.
If anyone is possibly interested in any of this, email…
We will answer any questions and guide you to wherever you need to go if you are interested.
We are laid back here. We want to create an environment that is inviting for newcomers. However, we extremely welcome people who want to take initiative to create autonomous working groups. There is something for everyone, and the only limit is the amount of time you are willing to put into this.
If you agree with our diversity of tactics, spread it around. Share it on Facebook. Tweet it out. Email it to everyone you know. We have to be the tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.
Thank you for reading this, and we hope to hear from you soon.
There is an organization (actually, many) already serving the above agenda, called GetMoneyOut. If this is what you think “occupy” is about - why don’t you just join any of the preexisting, reformist 501c3s that already serve this failed, reformist platform instead of organizing under the occupy name to compete with them?
Oh, because you want to capitalize on the grotesque-yet-hip “brand recognition” Occupy has?
Fuck you, capitalist opportunists. Go peddle your bilge elsewhere.
Post with 14 notes
My involvement in the Battle Against the State of Oakland had its roots from the aftermath of the Regents meeting at University of California, Riverside. The day that followed was coincidentally an intensely emotional experience, as we sat in our tents on the lawn of UCR, recovering from the battle we waged with the Regents, UCR police, and Riverside Sheriffs.
That day we discussed how in each of our lives the state had either violently interfered to escalate a situation or had failed to provide the support we desperately needed. We thirsted to change the system which had oppressed us for so long. We were hungry to reformulate our lives, each other and our community. It was that early afternoon, that one of us stumbled upon news of a library occupation at Cal.
By the time we arrived in Berkeley, the library occupation was over. Instead we decided to roam the Bay and learned about Oakland’s Move-in Day. The Bay Area is tragically beautiful; it is a swift breeze of salty refreshment from Los Angeles. We couldn’t stay away… and that is how we ended up in urban warfare and I ended up in jail.
The morning of Move-in Day, I woke up thrilled at the prospect of helping Oakland take a building to transform it into a community center. We had spent the night at our comrade’s apartment in Berkeley. All thirteen of us crammed into a tiny studio.
We left at about 10:30am to arrive early for a quick meet-up with our other comrades from Los Angeles. The sun shone brilliantly, promising a gorgeous day in Oakland. At 11am, people had just begun to gather. Final touches were put on signs. Art supplies were organized. Food was loaded to be used later for the dinner at our new building. We had proclaimed a whole schedule of events for the day at the building we hoped to take.
Before the rally even started, there was an arrest. Police grabbed someone from the crowd. We formed a circle around them, chanting “the whole world is watching” “let him go” and “fuck the police.” Police responded aggressively and pushed protesters with their batons. It was still early, and already the tone was set for the day. Thank you, Oakland Police.
After the rally at about 1pm, we took the streets. We spilled out from Oscar Grant plaza and to the corner of Broadway and 13th. Some of us in the crowd held shields with spray painted peace signs. Others held three large corrugated shields with spray pained messages: “Oakland Commune,” “Commune move in.” and “Cops move out.” It was a defense; November 2nd and Scott Olsen was still a recent painful memory. The image that circulated the Internet of his cracked, bleeding head was still freshly imprinted in my mind. I did not want to be tear gassed. I didn’t want to be hurt or killed. But I sure as fuck did not want to continue to live in this oppressive world.
To take the streets always feels liberating. My heart pounds, my smile lifts, as we march through Oakland. Behind us are mobile speakers and a large truck. Music is all around us. We are joyous. We are the people and collectively we have power. It vibrates within us, we are young, beautiful radicals and we will change the world.
The police follow us. They are ready to control us. It is their job. They do it so well; their consciousness was beat out of them a long time ago.
The decision to march through Laney College is made. The pathways are narrow, we slow down, we lose the music truck. I have no idea where we are going. Someone shouts out a suggestion to occupy a building at Laney. We keep walking and stream into greenery and a lake.
The police stand in a line, blocking us from leaving Laney. As usual we face off with the police, then walk around, across the bridge and emerge to see the first building we want to take. The fucking Kaiser Convention center. It is a magnificent building. It would have made a wonderful community center.
As we walk the perimeter of the building, the police are already lined up around it. The fence is torn down. I am in awe, I am pregnant with hope. When the first canister hits the ground, I am talking to my friend. I hear her scream. I think it’s tear gas and I prepare myself for stinging eyes. I have not experienced tear gas, I’m not sure what to feel. Nothing happens, more canisters, more flashes, more screams, and people rush the fence opposite the building, knocking it over in a mad dash to escape the smoke that we all believe is tear gas. It’s not. They are smoke and flash grenades. My friend disappears in the crowd. I look for my comrades to ensure their safety.
The police draw their paintball guns. I am standing behind one of the barricades. They point to us. Bile piles into the back of my throat. I am their enemy. Through their megaphone they announce that the “State of California” declares us an unlawful assembly. I have lost count on the number of unlawful assemblies I have been a part of since October. I am an assembly, I am peaceful, I am here because this is my world and I want to change it. They don’t care. We duck behind the barricade, unsure of whether they will fire, whether we should stay.
The crowd begins to trickle out. The police presence is heavy. The situation is impossible, the people are not ready.
Our march moves to where the Battle of Oak Street begins.
The Battle of Oak Street occurred in front of the Oakland Museum of Natural Science in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday. This was not your usual battle zone. Another face-off with the police. The shields are asked to advance to the front.
The shields advance, I stand behind them. All of a sudden, there are flashes everywhere around me and the street is filled with smoke. Car alarms erupt from all sides. There are yells and screams - “Medic!” My eyes start to burn, I can’t breathe; my face is on fire. It is tear gas. I gasp for air and begin to retreat away from the smoke. A flash grenade explodes in front of me. I stumble to the sidewalk, and look up to see a dizzying array of families standing on the steps in front of the museum in shock. There are more whistles and shots. A heavy smoke hangs in the air. People are milling around in shock; many with Maalox and vinegar on their faces. The burning on my face continues but at the moment it doesn’t matter. I am in shock. I am given a gas mask, which I slip on with shaking fingers. We return the front line. Then the police start to fire bullets. I huddle behind the shield. I can feel the impact of the shots as they hit our barricades. More tear gas. The gas mask is not tight enough; my lips are burning. We begin to retreat.
Days later when I watch the youtube videos of the Battle of Oak Street, it didn’t make any sense. It is so different to be on the inside, then it is to see it displayed from the outside. I have no perspective, it’s all a hazy smoke; all I know is that we must put our bodies on the line against the police state. It is only by being fearless in the midst of fear that we can win. What else can we do when they start to fire at us? We are not violent; we want to change the dominant narrative of private property. The Convention building currently lies vacant, we want to turn it into a useful space for the community and the movement. We don’t want to ask permission; this is a revolution - did Rosa Parks ask permission to not move? Did she check with her local police force before she committed her act of disobedience? At some point we must no longer obey because we are told to do so, we must do what is right. If the State responds violently, we must not back away, we must continue to fight; it is our duty.
We return to Oscar Grant Plaza to recuperate. We are hungry. We are high on adrenaline. We are soldiers in the fight for justice and equality. It feels surreal to return to the sun, to sit, to laugh, to smoke a bowl. Was I just tear gassed? Are we doing it again?
My face still burns and I need to go the bathroom. I go with my comrades to find a restroom, which is almost impossible, as we go from business to business hoping someone will let us use their facilities. “Please, we were just tear gassed,” we plead at a dentist’s office. The workers look at us in shock, but refuse us. “It’s part of the rules,” the young man informs us firmly. Finally Oaksterdam allows us in. My comrade gives me some vinegar to put on my face to help with the burning. It soothes the skin and makes me feel ready to take the streets gain.
We rest for almost an hour and then we take the streets. The sun sets; once it gets dark it will be that much harder.
We go to our second location, but the police are right behind us. First we are trapped at Snow Park. The police surround us on all sides. There is an order of dispersal followed by more tear gas. I find myself yelling, “Don’t run. Walk. Don’t panic. Walk” as people push each other to escape the tear gas.
But people are panicking. We take down the fence surrounding the green field in the middle of the park and run across it to escape the police kettle. We flow across the grass in a glee of liberation. We are free. The police cannot stop us. As my feet reach the pavement on the other side of the park, I realize I have won. The march continues down Broadway. I don’t care where we are going now. The beauty of collective action envelopes me. We are the people. We are brave, we are united, we are together, we can do anything; they can’t stop us. Collectively we are smarter, we are faster, we will always win. The rest of the march is a blur. I’m not sure when we were kettled again, but we were. The State and its guard dogs were done with us.
We are stopped in front of a YMCA. A handful of people get inside the YMCA and escape. The rest of us are pushed down the stairs and from the streets and into the sidewalk and the corner. Again screams, as we fall over one another, trying our best to not fall and to not trample. A few minutes later the police announce, “You are all under arrest.”
At first I don’t believe it. There are hundreds of us pressed against this building. They can’t possibly arrest all of us. Maybe they’ll let us go.
We start to chant, “Let us go” and “This is illegal detainment.” I have no idea where my comrades are. I hope that they are out. Instant solidarity forms with the people in my kettle. Strange conversations are happening around me, “I’m sorry I won’t be home tonight. I think I am under arrest. Looks like I’ll be going to jail. I’m so sorry,” says the man behind me to someone on the phone. The woman next to me is indignant. “This is against the law. You can’t detain me. I’ll call my council members. Call the media,” she yells out. But the State doesn’t care. If we get out, it’s because we’re not worth it. In retrospect, ruminating on the events of the day, there was never a chance we would not be arrested. We threatened and twisted their authority all day long. In America that’s not ok; we are not supposed to rebel.
As the realization that we would be arrested sunk in, the weed and alcohol erupted. Massive blunts, joints, bowls, handles of alcohol are handed to me. The kettle turns into a party. It is liberating to watch them watching us; at least we have fun no matter what we do. There is nothing in the world more fulfilling than what we do and we all know it; we are free, as we are arrested.
It takes hours to arrest us. Later I heard that there were 409 arrests. We were kettled at around 7pm, I arrived at Santa Rita at about midnight. My plastic cuffs were so tight, I could not move my wrists for hours. My fingers lost all feeling and the bumps on the bus to Santa Rita were almost unbearable. When they finally remove the cuffs, I start to cry.
I am released on Monday morning. I spent two nights and a day in a holding cell. Jail is violent. It is a violent violation of your soul. The experience of forced lack of freedom is powerful. It is also terrifying. At Santa Rita’s detention center there are no blankets; the food consists of bologna, bread, an orange, two cookies, and a calcium drink; time is non-existent and you never know when you may be released. It is a horrific process which dehumanizes you as your curl up on a hard bench, hands pressed inside your thighs for warmth.
Tears cloud my eyes when I see my comrades on the outside. The best thing about jail is the feeling of getting out. There is nothing better.
The revolution is a mix of victories and failures. For me it is already a victory because we are fighting. We don’t always win the battles, but we face Goliath. But with each action our collective power grows. We did not take a building on January 28th, but we built something so wonderful and so massive that two weeks later I still cannot fully grasp it.
All I know is that it is absolutely fucking better than a building.
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When are these kids gonna realize that they can’t solve the world’s problems? That everything is just fine, or at least bearable to roughly 40 percent of the population. It’s all gonna turn around soon. It always does. It’s just a bubble. The middle-class will be strong again in no time. We just need to close the borders, and keep jobs in America — for Americans! We just need poor people to stop taking advantage of the system. If I didn’t have to pay for everyone’s education and welfare checks and food stamps, I wouldn’t be in this mess. It has nothing to do with the fact that companies promote child sweatshop labor, that we force subsidized, genetically-modified agriculture products into the third world, forcing mass exodus or starvation. Never mind the earth rotting under my feet, the poisonous air I’m breathing. Never mind the millions of children living in poverty, and the millions of children overseas who’s lives we destroy just so we can not feed our own. Never mind those prisons, filled to the brim, fuller and more dense than any other society that has ever existed on the planet. Never mind those militarized police lobbing flash bang grenades into a crowd of people holding peace shields (because signs just can’t protect one from this type of assault), never mind those helicopters circling overhead. Never mind, because if I don’t do anything wrong, there’s nothing to be worried about. It’s patently obvious to all rational beings (Americans) that if you try and use a space that is not being used to provide free healthcare, food, services, housing and education to poor people, you will be brutalized. Kettled like animals. Beaten. This is America, after all. The place where we shoot people attempting to create a community center in an unused building with rubber bullets. Where we teargas women and children. Where we shut the media out so we can’t see the nasty things we’re doing, like some closeted pedophile who’s tied up his prepubescent daughter in some dank basement. Ashamed at his sickness, but troublingly turned on as well. This sickness has a name. It is capitalism, hand in bloody hand with fascism. But it’s really not that bad, no one was killed tonight here in Oakland. Why hide behind these black masks? What on earth are these kids scared of? What are their demands? What do they want? What’s wrong? Does anybody see anything wrong?
Long live the Oakland Commune.
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