I was trying to think of words to describe my feelings about last weekend’s Occupy Oakland demonstration, where protesters broke into City Hall and smashed things. But I think Robert Gammon at the East Bay Express pretty much captured it all. Check it.
Some commenters to Mr. Gammon’s piece are trying to argue that it takes a variety of tactics to make a movement, that it does not always have to be non-violent in the mold of Dr. King. Then Malcolm X is predictably trotted out as an example of other protest models. This of course is a gross simplification of both Dr. King and Malcolm X, one that is made quite often.
But beyond any of that, my problem with last week’s demonstration is the target: the City of Oakland. I’ve lived in Oakland much of my adult life. Trust me, Oakland is not part of the 1%. The walls of Oakland City Hall do not hide some secret cabal plotting out ways to screw folks left, right, and center. It does not have a direct line to the Koch Brothers for guidance or money to fund its evil schemes. City officials do not go on retreats at the Bohemian Club to hobnob naked in the forests with millionaires and billionaires.
For all its problems and flaws, and I do have my gripes with how some things are managed, the City of Oakland is not a major oppressor of the masses. Quite the contrary, Oakland is a cash strapped town trying hard to meet the needs of its citizens by keeping the roads paved, the libraries and parks open, the streets clean, the lights lit, the fires put out, and the populace safe from crime. It is a municipality with limited resources trying its best to get by. Inflicting even modest damage to the city further complicates its mission because its limited funds are diverted towards repairing the damage. And if services do get cut as a result, like libraries, senior centers, and youth centers, it will be the 99%, not the 1%, who will suffer most.
After the original crackdown on Occupy Oakland, where the Oakland Police engaged in what I called an obscene overreaction, a follow-up demonstration brought literally tens of thousands in the streets in one of the most effective and positive Occupy protests in the country. Union workers at the Port of Oakland blessed and participated in a blockade of their work site. Sympathy was on our side. I would say that that demo did much to further the Occupy cause nationwide.
Last weekend’s protest? Not so much. What was the aim? If, as Mr. Gammon writes, the aim was to provoke the police to misbehave, then yes, that goal was achieved, but to what end? Police brutality towards demonstrators, rather than the core issues of movement itself, too often becomes the focus of demonstration movements. I would hate to see Occupy’s Oakland chapter descend down this path, because, as last Saturday’s demonstration showed, it leads nowhere. Noise is made. People get hurt. But the issues get lost. And what’s the point of that?
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.