A wide coalition of housing activists, clergy, leftists, unionists, anarchists, and others in San Francisco staged an “Occupy Wall Street West” day of action in downtown San Francisco on Friday, January 20. (The Committee for Full Enjoyment was out too, including yours truly.) It was a cold and soggy day, but a couple of thousand people blockaded, sat in, and protested in front of more than a dozen corporate and government offices, notably Wells Fargo Bank headquarters, Bank of America’s west coast main office, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Then on Saturday, January 28, Occupy Oakland staged their “Move-In Day” and marched on the long-empty, publicly-owned Kaiser Auditorium, intending to make it their new social center. Famously now, the Oakland police used teargas and flashbang grenades to repel and disperse the Oakland occupiers. By the time the long day was over, over 400 people had been arrested, many of them in a blatantly illegal round-up of 200 people when police trapped them on Telegraph Avenue in front of the YMCA.
On both sides of the Bay the political confrontations sought to break the ice on the new year by reaching new stages for the local Occupy movement. A day of horizontal direct action and disruption in San Francisco; a dramatic attempt to claim an empty public building in Oakland, followed by a day of police violence. In local circles, while some participants are publicly confident that both efforts in SF and Oakland were “successful” in basic ways, many private conversations I’ve been in have wondered whether or not the local movements are losing broad support. Some people accept the mass media framing of the violence in Oakland as caused by the demonstrators, or at least blame protesters for answering police brutality with anything other passivity or evasion. Others find the tried-and-true sit-ins and blockades staged in San Francisco as ineffective symbolism or even as boring theater, and question the preponderance of left organizations, nonprofits, and unions.
Since the eviction of the Occupy camps late last year, thousands of people have been talking, planning, and wondering what would 2012 bring? How could the best of the past months’ experiences be carried forward and even expanded upon? How could we top the November 2 “General Strike” and Port protest that drew tens of thousands of people into a daylong festival that occupied a good part of Oakland’s downtown before heading over to the Port and stopping shipping for several shifts? Fewer people turned out for the December 12 Port Shutdown in Oakland, though it was still effective for part of the day, along with allied actions in a half dozen other cities. Still fewer came out in the January 20th rain in San Francisco, or a week later to “move in” to the Kaiser Auditorium in Oakland. Signs of trouble? or just to be expected, given the time of year, the nature of the events, etc.?
Maybe, maybe not, only time will tell for sure. But it’s possible that a concerted media campaign to amplify the militant self-defense actions of Oakland protesters has scared away some people and dismayed others. I saw a defender of militant action quoted on a Facebook post that said it was probably a good thing if it scared some people away, since “he couldn’t trust a lot of people politically anyway.” I wonder how prevalent this kind of vanguardist delusion is? What’s been interesting up until now is just how many people have been ready enthusiastically to embrace overtly anti-capitalist rhetoric, albeit amidst a great deal of traditional populism too.
The horizontalist San Francisco Day of Action found itself trapped in what one friend recently dubbed “Big Government Anarchism.” Dozens of self-organized affinity groups, committees, nonprofit activists, and some trade unionists staged their own interventions all over town. In seeking to “crack the corporate piggybank” the Wall Street West occupiers demanded an end to bank evictions and foreclosures, and to put an end to corporate personhood. Targeting threatened homes is practical and as real as it gets. But in the clamor for justice and fairness, there lurks an unspoken faith that social priorities can be changed by a change in government policy. If the government would radically reduce its spending on wars, overseas military bases, corrupt weapons systems, an ever-expanding spook bureaucracy, and a growing prison system, we’d be safer and we’d have money to spend on all kinds of social needs, from housing to health care and food security for all. Take away corporate personhood and an electoral democracy of over 300 million people can become genuinely representative. Really? More »