This morning, OaklandBecks tweeted:
I just realized that this is the first morning since Oct 10 that there have been no #occupyoakland camps in Oakland.
I’m not sure that’s an entirely bad thing. The camps were an effective protest for a long time, but it may well be time for the movement to move on.
The first reason is that the camp in Oakland is becoming a divisive issue internally. When the city evicted the camp from Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza, a group proposed that the camp move to an empty lot at 19th and Telegraph. But that site is next to the Oakland School of the Arts, by affordable housing, and is about to undergo construction to become a sculpture garden. The effort to create the sculpture garden was a subject of community activism on behalf of the working class neighborhood. In other words, the camp moved from the front steps of city hall – where police violence emphasized the nature of the conflict between the 1% and the 99% and forced the government and the police to pick sides – to placing schoolkids and a community of the 99% in danger should police attack. This would create a hassle for working folks heading to the nearby BART stop or kids getting off it to get to school, but wouldn’t inconvenience the government or the corporate workers further downtown. When people proposed that the camp choose a different location, the folks who put forward these concerns about the wellbeing of working class Oaklanders were shouted down and the proposal was ultimately rejected (apparently quite nastily). The lot was briefly occupied on Saturday, but police quickly and peacefully cleared it out. They also cleared out the longstanding camp in Snow Park, where campers had been clean, quiet, and peaceful. That camp’s eviction undermines the claim that the camps were being closed down because of public health and safety concerns.
I fear that the fights over where to camp and whether to re-occupy old spots or find new spots has distracted the movement from its core message, the concerns about income inequality, the pernicious effects of that inequality on society at large, and the need for radical changes in order to fix those problems. If the public face of the movement is a self-serving argument over the protesters’ eviction, rather than the many families being evicted from their homes, then the camps are a distraction and an ineffective tactic.
Moving on from the encampments is also fully in keeping with time-tested rules of political activism. At this point, the camps no longer fulfill Alinsky’s 3rd and 7th rules (and many others):
The third rule is: Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat. …
The seventh rule: A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time, after which it becomes a ritualistic commitment, like going to church on Sunday mornings. New issues and crises are always developing and one’s reaction becomes, “Well, my heart bleeds for those people and I’m all for a boycott, but after all there are other important things in life” – and there it goes.
I’d say that by last week, the camps were a drag on the movement, and it’s better to be moving forward. In addition to generating internal dissent, they were no longer outside the Oakland PD’s experience. They didn’t confuse or scare the police or the city or the corporations. They were a nuisance, and one that they figured out how to handle. As Alinsky says in his 10th rule: “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”
I don’t know quite how to formulate this as a proposal for the Oakland General Assembly, but I’d like to see the tactic shift from occupation of City Hall’s front door to an occupation of lots which have been abandoned for years, or (with the occupants’ permission) the front yards of houses due for foreclosure. This would help defend people from foreclosure and return the focus to the nation’s economic woes, and occupying abandoned lots would emphasize that this economic crisis is not news for Oakland. These sites might be farther from a BART stop and harder for the media to find, but by now they know to look for the camps, and this would create a different set of challenges for them, without violating the second of Alinsky’s rules, “Never go outside the experience of your people.”
The violence on the UC Berkeley campus and last weekend at UC Davis, and the subsequent challenges to the chancellors on both campuses, emphasize that the Occupy movement still has legs, and shows that there are still ways for the 99% to express its power through that movement. “Power is,” as Alinsky says, “not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.” When a crowd of students managed to talk riot police into lowering their guns and retreating, they took power, and they took it again in forcing their school’s chancellor to make a walk of shame past a crowd of angry but silent students. In the first case, the people’s mic became a weapon that overcame pepper spray and body armor. In the second, it was silence which tore away the armor of power and privilege.
How we bring that power to bear is the question. Camping for the sake of camping is no longer outside the opponent’s experience, nor is it inherently powerful any more. But we still have power, and still have grievances, so we have to keep moving forward.