A look back at Occupy Oakland before it was razed.
In a world devastated by poverty, austerity cuts, and bank foreclosures, community action like Occupy Oakland’s recent attempt to turn a derelict building into a vibrant social center for the needs of the 99% should be applauded. Instead, the agents of the 1%, in this case the Oakland police – already under investigation for excessive force – once again attacked. Using flash bang grenades, projectiles, batons, tear-gas, and other weapons, police arrested over 400, bringing total US Occupy-related arrests to over 6,300. As the Occupy Oakland Media Committee said:
“With all the problems in our city, should preventing activists from putting a vacant building to better use be their highest priority? Was it worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent?”
Earlier this month, we celebrated 2011 and declared 2012 would be even bigger. One month in, we’re keeping our word, but the corporate media increasingly dismiss Occupy Wall Street as a dying movement. Covering events in Oakland (“Police use teargas on Occupy Oakland protesters”), the Guardian described OWS as “largely dormant lately.” The Washington Post stated that the Oakland protest had broken the “lull” in OWS.
But we aren’t dormant; we’re escalating. The only lull has been in the media coverage of our continuing struggle to create a more just world for all. While the corporate media have shifted focus to the U.S. Republican primaries and Presidential election, government agents of the 1% continue their assault on Occupy camps – inventing new PR-friendly excuses like the “no camping” rule used to rip apart Occupy DC – to dismantle not only our rights, but our homes.
The corporate-funded political status quo, including corporate-funded news coverage, benefits the 1% at the expense of the 99%. This is exactly why the corporate media would rather run speeches by Presidential candidates (all millionaires) than stories of members of the 99% taking direct action to create economic justice, like our comrades in Oakland and DC who are peacefully fighting for their beliefs only to be attacked by police. Our movement to create real democracy and and economic fairness is far more newsworthy than the tired rhetoric and false hope of the Republicans or Democrats.
Bank-beholden politicians created this economic crisis. No matter who wins the U.S. Presidential election circus, only direct action – not the same politics-as-usual – can rebuild democracy and justice. And make no mistake: such transformative revolutionary action is continuing to unfold in every corner of the United States, and across the globe, and no amount of “camping bans” can stop us. Let’s take a closer look by examining a few of the major Occupy stories and actions of the past month that the corporate media would rather dismiss than cover by debunking their myths about OWS…
Occupy protests have reached across the globe. Here is (Un)Occupy Honolulu.
Misinformation #1: “OWS’s numbers are dwindling.”
Last fall, we helped bring the revolutionary wave to the U.S. Tens of thousands came to the streets. But revolutions aren’t just mass demonstration. Our success cannot be counted by the number of people at a rally or park at any given moment.
It’s great to have 30,000 marchers, but that isn’t how we changed the world. We changed the world through the millions of individual lives and minds we’ve reached. Millions who have witnessed or experienced Occupy camps and events, seen self-government and consensus in practice, and been exposed to new ideas and conversations through OWS have been changed forever. We each take those new ways of thinking back to our everyday lives and communities.
And we’re still in the streets, too. Thousands from New Hampshire to Los Angeles Occupied Congress on Jan. 17th. The same day saw over 80 solidarity actions from New Mexico to New Zealand, a funeral for the Bill of Rights in Chicago, and a glitter-march to celebrate our 4-month anniversary in New York City. A few days later, Occupiers shut down parts of the San Francisco financial district (including Goldman Sachs and Bank of America) before taking over an abandoned hotel and declaring it housing for the 99%, while over 130 cities held protests against Citizen’s United.
Occupy Congress marches through Washington, DC
After the violent attack on Occupy Oakland by police, Occupations in dozens of cities around the world organized near-immediate responses by getting thousands into the streets the very next day. Police violently arrested more at Oakland solidarity rallies in Tampa, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and beyond. From Boston to Oslo, Occupiers expressed their outrage with state repression of the 99% Movement. Days later when Occupy DC, the largest and longest-standing encampment, was first threatened with eviction, thousands came to support.
Our tactics and rhetoric have proven so useful and effective that they continue to inspire protest movements across the world, who then share their experiences and tactics with us. This year already, we have seen massive uprisings across Nigeria, largely sparked by Occupy Nigeria’s response to the theft of oil subsidies from the people by the government. In Japan, anti-nuclear protesters set up tents in front of the Ministry of Trade, Economy, and Industry and refused eviction notices. In Brazil, after 6,000 were forcibly evicted from their homes by police using teargas and projectile weapons, residents of impoverished Pinheirinho occupied their neighborhood and resisted the violent police action. On the one year anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution – which heavily and directly inspired OWS – more people than ever gathered in Tahir Square to finish what they started and oppose military rule; OWS supporters across the US rallied in solidarity. The revolutionary wave is bigger than the U.S. election cycle. And from Bahrain to the streets of Brooklyn, the 99% remain active.
Tahir Square on the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution
With this many people braving the winter cold here, just wait until spring! We started as one occupation in NYC and held huge marches in a few cities. Now, OWS-inspired actions, camps, events, and meetings occur in thousands of cities, each networked with similar horizontal, directly democratic uprisings across the world. New camps continue to appear from cities like Frederick, MD and Honolulu, HI, to college campuses like Penn University and the University of Massachusetts, and international trade centers like the Dame Street financial district in Ireland. OWS protesters even dug igloos out of the snow in Davos, Switzerland to Occupy the World Economic Forum, where the transnational capitalist ultra-elite meets each year.
Misinformation #2: “OWS was weakened by the eviction of our camps.”
If anything, the evictions emboldened us and forced us to dig deeper into our communities, building even broader networks of support, mutual aid, and solidarity. The show of militarized force, violent police over-reaction, and totalitarian security measures like the indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA invigorated resistance.
The first ever Occupy Town Square on Jan. 29th in Washington Square Park.
The government’s assault on our movement never ended. Already just in the U.S. this year:
- In Orlando, a protester was arrested for using sidewalk chalk.
- In Texas, Occupiers from San Diego on their way to DC were kicked off a Greyhound bus for expressing their views.
- In Chattanooga, the government is suing Occupiers.
- In San Diego, Occupiers were given felony charges for mic checking a mayor.
- In Miami, seven people were violently arrested at FSIU during a student demonstration.
- In Los Angeles, two people were attacked and arrested by police at an Art Walk for apparently walking off the sidewalk:
In the past month, Occupations from U.S. cities like Charlotte, Boise, Miami, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, DC, Austin, Portland Maine, and elsewhere are contending with evictions and “camping bans.” Abroad, cities like Melbourne, Auckland, The Hague, Toronto, and London have been attacked by courts and violent police raids yet again. However, in almost every city that has faced a major eviction, like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, Baltimore, Chapel Hill, and Portland, Occupiers continue to hold public events and open meetings.
Meanwhile, without central camps, General Assemblies have become even further entrenched into communities. In larger cities, we’ve seen the proliferation of new neighborhood-based General Assemblies like Occupy the Southside and Occupy Rogers Park in Chicago and across the boroughs in New York. Numerous Occupations have conducted door-to-door outreach and groups like Occupy the Hood and Occupy El Barrio are still growing across the country.
Police arrived to evict Occupy Buffalo just days ago.
These actions, begun under Obama and sure to continue even if a Republican were elected, have been carried out by Democrats and by Republicans. An election will not stop the assault on OWS. But the repression itself is another sign we’re winning. The 1%’ers who call the shots behind these government decisions are afraid of us. And – from the Philadelphia March Against Police Terror, to the anti-repression marches in Oakland and Seattle, to Chicago’s protest of Mayor Rahm’s draconian anti-protester ordinances – we aren’t backing down.
Free Speech rally at Occupy Chapel Hill/Carboro, NC
Misinformation #3: “OWS has lost its purpose and focus.”
We began protesting bank bailouts, but we’ve always fought for total social and economic justice – from the right to form unions to the need for accessible education and affordable housing. Our focus has never changed: ending economic inequality, injustice, and oppression in all forms against all marginalized communities. Here are just a few examples from the first month of 2012:
- Boston: Occupiers are fighting to save public transportation.
- South Carolina: Occupiers glitter-bombed Presidential candidate Rick Santorum in protest of his anti-LGBTQ agenda.
- New York: Hundreds of OWS supporters marched at Foley Square with farmers protesting the domination of Monsanto’s corporate control of the food system. On Feb. 1st, high school students walked out of class and confronted the NYPD to decry Mayor Bloomberg’s disastrous budget cuts and closures of their schools.
- Riverside: Over 800 students came to a protest at the University of California to fight for accessible education and were attacked with pepper-spray by a small army of riot police. They returned again last week to continue their protest.
Students confront riot police at UC-Riverside
- Philadelphia: Occupiers marched in defense of women’s right to choose and other Occupations celebrated the anniversary of the legalization of abortion. Other Occupiers joined with an evicted homeless camp, Camp Liberty, and continue to clean out empty lots and convert them into community gardens in the city.
- Milwaukee: Occupiers have stood in solidarity with striking hotel workers and prepare to celebrate one-year anniversary of the historic people’s takeover of the Wisconsin capitol in Madison.
- Global: We marched in thousands of cities with members of the Civil Rights Movement to mark Martin Luther King, Jr Day with many creative actions occurring across the country.
Occupy the Hood marches in the Los Angeles MLK, Jr Day Parade
- Birmingham: Occupiers in Alabama are leading a protest against dirty energy and environmental devastation at a coal mine.
- Baltimore: Occupiers built a school on the site of proposed juvenile detention center and a rec center in front of City Hall to protest the cities’ use of public funding on jails even as it cuts funds to education and municipal services.
Baltimore’s “Schools Not Jails” asks why we’re building prisons instead of investing in education during an economic crisis.
Our primary target is still the corrupt bankers on Wall Street. Occupy San Francisco occupied a Wells Fargo branch in the Mission on Jan. 14th, and a Bank of America on the 20th. OWS supporters in other cities, including Philly, New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit also continue to protest against Bank of America even in the face of arrest for civil disobedience. In Austin, Occupiers held a street theater trial of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Chase Manhattan.
In Los Angeles, Tampa, and Brooklyn, we have continued the on-going tactic of disrupting foreclosure auctions that began last year. In Brooklyn, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, and Nashville, we continue to help homeless and displaced families remain in homes after being evicted by banks. Unlike politicians, we are taking actual action to rebuild true democracy and provide for people’s immediate needs like housing, food, and education.
Once again, this is but a small sampling of the actions taken by OWS supporters in the past months alone. The common denominator: We take action to improve the lives of the 99% and fight oppression in all forms, wherever it occurs. Sadly, oppression exists in nearly every facet of society, under a seemingly endless number of disguises. Our expanding scope shows we’re growing, maturing, making connections with diverse communities and movements, and broadening our perspectives. We don’t need centralized decisions or “party line” platforms – our diversity of tactics, range of causes, and spectrum of equally-empowered voices are among our most powerful strengths.
Misinformation #4: “The 2012 U.S. elections are eroding OWS’s relevance.”
Every major U.S. presidential candidate and most of Congress are millionaires. The system is stacked against those without money – until we change the system, until corporations no longer buy politicians through campaign finance or high-powered lobbying, elections will never be “free.” We are anti-partisan — we oppose all of them. We’ve mic checked every major Presidential candidate and picketed outside campaign rallies and disrupted caucuses on both sides. Just this week, Occupy Minneapolis glitter-bombed Mitt Romney and Occupy Las Vegas was removed by police while trying to ask him “tough questions” at an event. Change comes from below. The goal of OWS is social change. Political change, including reforms, as a result of this uprising and critique from the least enfranchised.
Occupy Chicago confronts Obama.
This is already happening. This year already, we have seen the cancellation of the Keystone Oil Pipeline; many city governments have passed resolutions against corporate personhood; popular dissent stopped the internet privacy bill SOPA; and millions recalled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for his drastic anti-worker agenda. In Britain, the executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland turned down his bonus after public outcry. In the U.S., commentators from CNN to the Daily Show are referencing OWS slogans like the 99% and openly discussing income inequality in ways that were unheard of before we began Occupying Wall Street. We are influencing U.S. mainstream politics in more subtle ways: President Obama co-opted Occupy’s language in his State of the Union address, and even the Republican candidates attack one another for being “vulture capitalists” in hopes of tapping into popular anger at the 1%.
We are bigger than the U.S. presidential election. We already have the power to solve our problems if we take direct action and occupy together for revolutionary systemic change – just as Occupy Oakland tried to do last month. The government, rather than helping alleviate problems like homelessness and poverty caused by the greed of the 1%, has acted in the interest of the wealthy. First, they cut vital social services for the poor and middle class and used our tax money to bail out the banks. Now, when we take action to solve the crisis the banks created with their predatory lending and greedy money-making schemes, the government intervenes to stop us by using violence.
Politics-as-usual won’t fix our problems. If we lobby against every unsustainable pipeline or unjust eviction, we’ll be stuck begging and waiting forever while our communities continue to suffer. We are fighting for deeper changes than any politician can bring, so that someday there are no more unsustainable pipelines or evictions at all. We support communities trying to improve their present living conditions, no matter how they chose to. But we do not endorse any politician(s) because no candidate will bring change. Only the people, united together with the common goal of building a truly free society, can do that. This is exactly why we are even more relevant during the election season than ever.