Much press coverage of Wednesday’s general strike in Oakland focuses predictably on the actions of a small group of anarchists in the early hours of Thursday morning. But most of the media at least acknowledge that the anarchists were a splinter group and that the main body of marchers resisted their attempts to stage provocations during the day.
Not so one writer at Salon.com: Emily Loftis portrays the anarchists as a “core group of occupiers” who broke into a former homeless shelter “in accordance with the Occupy Oakland General Assembly’s vote to support such occupations.”
She makes a case that the anarchists are the core of the occupation and that opposition to their adventurist actions comes from more moderate newcomers to the movement. But clearly the planned occupation of the foreclosed building did not follow the Occupy movement’s philosophy of achieving a consensus on tactics, which would have meant making a realistic assessment of the viability of the action. If the anarchists were really following a General Assembly decision, why occupy an empty building in the middle of the night after a massive demonstration that closed the port?
She writes: “Since last week’s raid, the size of the movement has more than doubled as its ranks swelled with union members, families and teachers, groups previously hesitant to join in. But many of these new protesters are also much more moderate than the anarchist core that first got the camp up and running. Occupy Oakland has heard a lot of debate around the use of violence and nonviolence, with peaceniks assuming the movement will be pacifist while other urbanites feel government-sanctioned violence against citizens should be resisted, even if it means engaging in self-defense.”
There is a big difference between self-defense and staging a provocative occupation with a small group of people who couldn’t possibly sustain it against a police assault. The net result of the action was not to liberate the empty building and transform it into a library or workshop, its stated aim, but to give the police political cover for attacking nonviolent protesters and injuring another Iraq veteran, Kayvan Sabehgi, now in intensive care with a lacerated spleen.
The New York Times reported: “Conflicts within the protest movement were evident throughout the night as people on the street argued and screamed at one another, encounters that on several occasions nearly came to blows. Some members of the group that had closed the port reprimanded those who smashed windows, threw rocks, ignited a 15-foot-high bonfire of garbage and covered downtown storefronts with graffiti. When a man wearing a bandana broke a window with an empty beer bottle, another protester yelled, ‘Who are you? That isn’t what this is about!’ Another man screamed, ‘The police are not your enemy!’ at young people wearing gas masks and the Guy Fawkes guise that has come to represent anarchists and the hackers group Anonymous.”
According to the LA Times, Occupy Oakland activists have already distanced themselves from the vandalism of the anarchists. Regi Hayes, a 35-year-old artist, said at the camp microphone on Thursday: “We have never ever acted like this in this democratic stronghold,” and pointed to a “stream of negativity” – including signs that said: “Kill the cops.”
Yes, the anarchists hijacked the situation after most of the demonstrators had gone home. That led to police action – and let’s be frank, the anarchists did provoke attacks by throwing rocks and bottles at the police – guided by a mistaken ideology favoring violent confrontation to “expose” the repressive nature of the system.
As rapper-activist Boots Riley, who was on the bullhorn at the front of the marchers for much of Wednesday, said later: “What we did during the day was much bigger, much more disruptive, than what the people breaking windows did last night.”