Guest Blog: Occupy Oakland battles police

Richard Mellor

The video above is from the events surrounding Occupy Oakland’s attempts to take over an empty public building. The cops used tear gas and other weaponry to prevent the comrades from taking over the Henry J Kaiser Convention center and making it the OO headquarters. Occupy folks were also kettled at the YMCA where many were arrested and others brutalized.  Another group also got in to City Hall as well. From what I can gather, some 400 people were arrested last night.
This blog has defended the Occupy Movement from criticism from the right and from the left including an article in the International Socialist Organization’s paper that basically blamed the Occupy Movement’s “mistakes” for an attack on a discussion panel it organized about the ILWU and the Longview WA events. The meeting was broken up by right wing thugs under direction from the ILWU International, who, like every member of the AFL-CIO executive board are terrified of the influence the OWS movement might have on the ranks of organized Labor.
We have pointed out the great achievement of the Occupy Movement in shifting the debate in the US on the nature of the crisis and who is to blame for it.  OWS has put Wall Street and its two political parties on the defensive and forced the politicians of the 1% to debate the nature of the system publicly to the shame of the heads of organized Labor who say next to nothing and offer Barack Obama and the Democrats as a way forward. The OWS movement has shown through the courage and tenacity of its activists that defiance of the law and direct mass action—— an example of the best traditions of the US working class—– is how we throw back the attempts of the 1% and its armed thugs to put the US working class on rations.
However, we have not been without criticism.  We commented in a blog on November 20th that. “….if the movement does not reach out to the millions of workers and our families, if it does not raise high on its banner demands that speak to the needs that ordinary working people face, the state will isolate the OSW movement. We have approached this question on numerous occasions including here and here
This battle cannot be won without political struggle. It cannot be won by relying on direct action on the streets alone. And it definitely will not be won without drawing in to the struggle a huge section of the working class in this country, the millions of organized and unorganized workers, the immigrant workers who are among the most abused section of our class and the “heavy battalions” of the working class in industry. Union members and the unorganized must be united in action with the occupy movement against the 1%.
In the numerous reports and videos I have seen, participants have stated how proud they are of Oakland referring to last night’s battle with the cops and have praised Oaklanders in general.  But if you look at the individuals battling the cops they are overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male. This is not an issue in and of itself and does not detract from their courage and the correctness of their ideals.  But I lived in Oakland for almost 20 years when I first came to this country.  I worked in the streets of this great city for almost 30 years as a public utility worker. I lived in East Oakland not far from Eastmont Mall, a working class community, primarily black folks when I first came here but not exclusively so. There are many Latinos and Tongans, Samoans, South East Asians that also live there.
I lived in this community because it was the only place I could afford a house. It was a great community and my son was born and bred there as they say. I never moved to it as a white liberal in an effort to prove how much I support diversity and developed the accent of an urban black youth that some liberals do.  I never if ever saw white people except for cops.  I was new here in the US and it seemed strange at first that I would see white people at work then go home and they would disappear to somewhere else.

My point is this; not that much has changed in the last 30 years. The vast majority of working class people in Oakland are people of color. I could say with some humor that perhaps the folks that battled the cops last night were form the Rockridge and Montclair districts which are overwhelmingly white and more affluent. If so, it’s positive that they are involved in the OWS movement although I tend to think that the vast majority was not from Oakland at all.  This too is not bad in itself.  All are welcome in this movement and all need to be in it to make it successful and take the levers of society and its wealth out of the hands of the 1%.

However, the danger that is becoming more apparent to me is that the movement is not drawing in to it the 99% in all its diversity and this therefore increases the likelihood that the state will be able to isolate and crush it.  Where are the 30,000 or so that came to the general strike on Dec 12th and shut down the docks? I’ll say this; the women with children, the disabled in their wheelchairs and on crutches, the working class families of Oakland and the Bay Area that came to shut down the docks will be kept away by continual battles with the police that are not about issues that directly affect them.

Imagine how difficult it would be for the 1% and its media to undermine the OWS movement if any conflict with the authorities was around getting a single mom with her kids back in her apartment or a homeowner back in their home or getting a group of workers their back pay or better pay and benefits, or supporting a small community business in its struggle with the corporations and the 1%? I realize there is some of this going on but it does not seem to be the main focus of the movement as I think it has to be if we are to be successful.

We have stressed the need of the movement as a whole to direct its attention to the workplaces, the foreclosure movement, against the slumlords, banks, low waged and non-Union and to raise demands openly on its banner, demands that correspond to what working people are thinking about every day of their lives.   I mention Rockridge and Montclair, two more affluent communities of Oakland somewhat tongue in cheek but there is no doubt there are people facing foreclosure or losing their homes in these communities also. One of the reason the OWS movement has the support it does is that the present crisis has savaged those who thought they did everything right. It has cut the ground from beneath the feet of the so-called middle class.
The resolve and determination of the 1% that own the wealth and direct the forces that protect their ownership of it should not be underestimated.  The slogan “We are the 99%” as opposed to the 1% is a class based slogan, a crude one but one that points out the class nature of society nevertheless. But those that have publicly referred to last night’s events as the people of Oakland fighting back or portrayed them as speaking and acting for the people of Oakland are grossly mistaken.   Such a mistaken analysis of the forces at work here can cost the movement dearly if it does not seek to include the 99% by turning to them in a more determined, programmatic and organized way.  This would include running candidates for local political offices candidates rooted in the movement and the working class that can use these positions as a means to build the movement further and present to the working class an alternative to the ideology of the 1%.
This means turning the movement overwhelmingly to the day-to-day attacks on working people and organizing a fight back against these attacks. This means raising demands related to these attacks:

No foreclosures, nobody leave their homes.

A $20 minimum wage or a $5.00 per hour wage increase which ever is the greater.
A guaranteed job for all (including immigrant workers documented or not) through a shorter working week with no loss in pay and a program of public works at union rates and benefits to build schools, hospitals, roads and the infrastructure in general.

Free health care and education.

An end to all wars and occupations and make the 1% pay for this.

End the incarceration of our youth: jobs not incarceration.

These demands should be fought for through mass direct action, occupations, sit ins, strikes and street actions. However they also have to be fought for politically and this means that out of these mass direct actions candidates are run for office and by pulling these together build a  mass workers political party which can break the 1%’s monopoly over politics and open up the road to a democratic socialist society in which the majority make the decisions.

This post was originally published here on Facts for Working People.

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