The Oakland General Strike
Margaret Killjoy – from: http://www.revolutionbythebook.akpress.org
More things will be confirmed later, and i’ll post more photos ASAP, but I just want to get my thoughts down about today while they’re fresh.
I arrived in Oscar Grant Plaza a bit after 9am. On some level, it felt like any big, NGO-sponsored demonstration: a sound truck, portapotties, people under canopies promoting whatever this-or-that cause. And then I remembered: this wasn’t a top-down organized event. This wasn’t something that we requested from the authorities. This was something we organized ourselves, for us. This was was held on occupied (actually, “liberated” feels the better term) territory. The only reason we have Occupy Oakland is because the authorities are afraid of what will happen if they try to take it from us again.
The first march was at 10 and I think there were 2,000-5,000 people on it… it stretched for blocks. We checked in with the nearby banks: yup, they were closed for the day. I doubt that was because they support the occupy movement. We went back to the plaza and a huge banner went up: “Long Live The Oakland Commune” on one side, “death to capitalism” on the other. Thousands and thousands of people from all walks of life, none of whom expressed any qualms at the concept of the Oakland Commune or “death to capitalism.” Another march at 12 left the plaza and visited some further off banks, forcing them with out presence to end business for the day. Some climbers with gear went up lightposts and set up an “occupy the banks” banner that lasted hours at least.
At 2pm the anti-capitalist march headed out. The march was led by a black bloc of most likely at least a hundred, mixed into a larger masked/militant contingent of another few hundred and probably around a thousand to two thousand people overall. Of course, the numbers fluctuated greatly during the march. It went back up to visit the banks, but several of the banks lost their windows. Whole Foods, perhaps in response to a reported threat from management to fire any worker who joined the strike, had its facade redecorated with paint.
Immediately after the property destruction began, the debate raged: was this okay? Did this represent “us”? The only violence I personally witnessed was perpetrated by people screaming “non-violence” who attempted to hurt people who had just defaced property, but it was clear that the march was of two minds. Still, when a group tried to split the march (“non-violent go this way, violent go that way”) they were met by apathy and abandoned their plans. What was fascinating to me, though, was I encountered at least as many non-masked participants who were enamored–or even participating–in the destruction than those who felt alienated or betrayed. One man I saw, shouting into the broken windows of (I believe it was) Bank of America at the bankers on the inside: “Do you hear us now? We tried everything: we wrote letters, we signed petitions, we protested, and you didn’t listen. Did you hear that though? Do you hear us now?”
The march returned to Oscar Grant Plaza and the most beautiful part of the day began. There were two marches, one at 4pm and one at 5pm, down to the port of oakland. Longshoremen are unionized but the terms of their contract prohibit striking. Yet they are allowed to feel “unsafe” crossing a picket line and not work, so when they feel the need to strike, they require others to come down and set up picket lines. We obliged.
And interestingly enough, dozens of longshoremen (out of a workforce of around 300) refused work this morning regardless.
I joined the 5pm march and marched into one of the most beautiful l things I’ve ever encountered. The space, miles and miles long, was entirely flooded with people. The cops say 7,000. One journalist I spoke to estimated 100,000. I personally want to say 20,000-50,000 people. People were climbing on trains, trucks, traffic signals… anything. Everyone was festive, there were bands playing everywhere. People of all walks of life, of all ages and races and sexualities and ableness were represented that I saw. Oakland represented, and Oakland represented hard. Tens of thousands of people engaged in a direct action.
By shutting down the city, we’ve expressed to the government, the corporations, to the world, to each other: we are the ones in control. It is we the workers who made this world. It is ours. We have only to reclaim it from those who seek to control us.
I mean none of this hyperbolically. I’ve been a part of demonstrations across the US and much of the “western” world and I’ve rarely felt anything like this: the feeling that we can win this. That people are sick of being mistreated. That we will rise like lions after slumber.