“People who fear disorder more than injustice will only produce more of both.” — William Sloan Coffin
Mojo Nixon & Jello Biafra’s take on Phil Och’s “Love Me, I’m a Liberal.” (lyrics at the end, after the jump and after my rantiness)
Joan Walsh is very concerned. She’s concerned the rabble being abused on a daily basis might not act nice enough for her delicate sensibilities. She’s not worried about police violence, or their massive efforts to generate violence where none existed previously. Nor is she concerned about the politicians who are issuing the orders to ramp up the brutality being visited upon the haplesss proles. Instead, she is busily taking offense at the Oakland GA for not banning violence outright.
City officials served a fourth eviction notice Sunday evening, after a murder at the camp’s borders Thursday night validated worries about crime and safety even among some camp supporters. Some Occupy Oakland leaders insisted the victim had nothing to do with the protest, but once police announced Sunday night that the 25-year-old man, Kayode Ola Foster, had been camping there, and so had at least one of the suspects, it seemed it could only be a matter of hours before cops moved in to close the camp.
I made my first trip to Occupy Oakland midday Sunday, and I wasn’t going to write about it without returning, because the movement is too complicated for a drive-by report. Several people I admire, including Alternet’s Joshua Holland, have been doing day-in, day-out shoe-leather reporting. But now that Foster and at least one murder suspect have been tied to the camp, and now that it’s gone, at least in its present form, I’m going to try to make sense of what I saw.(emphasis mine)
As in, “Some economists say next year will bring ponies to all the poors,” Walsh applies the oft-overused ruse of a negative suggestion that “some leaders” suggested this murder did actually have something to do with The Movement, even though every account I’ve seen that involved real reporting suggested that incident was simply a symptom of Oakland’s larger social problems. And that’s the lede!
Of course, through this suggestion of thugishness, she then launches into a fairly standard upper-class Liberal critique of the GA in which the use of violence wasn’t completely disowned by the coalition.
First, let me lay out my bias: I have an absolute commitment to nonviolence in social movements, for moral, tactical, strategic and political reasons. And I include most forms of property destruction as violence (though there’s disagreement about that) because people get hurt, even killed, however inadvertently, when “revolutionaries” start breaking windows and torching the symbols of oppression. Meanwhile, the righteous destroyers of property make themselves judge and jury, deciding whose property deserves to be trashed. So for me, from a distance, once Occupy Oakland refused to condemn those who advocated and practiced vandalism and violence last week, it began to lose its moral and political power. (all emphasis mine, unless otherwise noted)
You can tell she’s a proud property-owner, can’t you? Where else would such hyperbole come from?
So on the basis of a few knuckleheads wearing black hoodies, with a trenchant desire to apply spray paint to banks and maybe a Whole Foods market that lobbies against healthcare for all, well… this is going too far!
Later that night, after I left, I watched on the Web as the general assembly debated a proposal to endorse a vague “diversity of tactics” – understood to include property destruction and possibly other forms of violence, though that deliberately wasn’t specified – while also forbidding members who support strict nonviolence from denouncing those other “tactics” to the media. It should be stated that not all of the “diversity of tactics” supporters favor violence or vandalism; many objected to the efforts of city officials, law enforcement (and probably liberals like me) to narrow the movement by demanding that it cast out those who support destructive “tactics.” On the other hand, several speakers who opposed the measure argued that the movement should be more concerned about attracting a “diversity of supporters” than endorsing a “diversity of tactics,” noting that violence has historically cost social movements broad support. Many people also opposed the measure’s attempt to limit what individual occupiers could say to the media, seeing it as a bizarre restriction on free speech in a movement committed to freedom of expression and protest.
In the end, the measure won 60 percent of the general assembly’s 250-plus votes, but since the camp’s consensus rules require 90 percent support, it technically failed. Still, though it didn’t become official Occupy Oakland policy, it reflected the opinion of a solid majority in attendance. I saw the same dynamic in the general assembly debate that I’d witnessed in the small group Sunday afternoon: In the name of “tolerance” for those who wanted to deviate from nonviolence, people were preaching and practicing intolerance for those who support nonviolence.
Some interesting wordsmithing here. Her usage of the word “tolerance” is so incoherent… but maybe that’s the point. Not to put too fine a point on this, I don’t think she appreciates the stress level that must have been present at that GA. I induce this from the fact she doesn’t mention the horrific violence visited upon the Occupiers at all. Nor does she recognize that it is still legal in this country for people to resist unjust or illegal violence inflicted upon them. The simple fact is, there are some who might feel it necessary to be open to other options, even if they know that’s not a terribly good thing to actually do. When government officials leave “all options on the table,” that’s okay. But when mere citizens do something vaguely familiar? Nope. We can’t have that.
Now I’m not defending violence at all. On anyone’s part. I certainly wouldn’t do it. But one of OWS’s biggest advantages is also a weakness at times: namely that holding together the coalition on a day-to-day basis is probably much more complex than an upper-class Liberal––accustomed to hierarchy, leadership and some sort of discipline––is used to. It’s also apparent that Walsh doesn’t feel much of anything for those beaten to a pulp by the ruling elites of Oakland through their proxies, the moronic PD officers who don’t quite get they’re about to be thrown under the bus themselves. Otherwise, she might find a smidgeon of empathy for those who are facing batons, tear gas and pepper spray on a routine basis.
Instead, she continues with what amounts to filler, trying to gin up derisive thoughts from her fellow elites towards the rabble fighting for their rights:
Young men with black face-masks, a symbol of support for the disruptive “black bloc” faction that’s been behind most of the destruction, roamed the park on bicycles and on foot. I saw a lot of homeless people, some apparently struggling with drug or alcohol or mental health issues. I witnessed two fights involving the same emaciated woman in a hot pink sweat shirt. First she swung a crutch (not her own) at another occupier and missed before being subdued; later she got in a furious shouting match with another woman, but a few men separated them before they came to blows. Then they let the woman go, and she slipped back into the crowd again.
To anyone who’s ever lived in a big city that isn’t as shiny and rarified as the environs of, say, Russian Hill or Snob Hill (not a typo) across the bay, this seems all too common an occurrence. But reading Walsh’s piece, you’d almost have to conclude that the Occupation is somehow exacerbating the social conditions that have existed for a very long time. Never mind that Oakland has been trying to deal with these problems for decades. Never mind that it’s these social conditions are only becoming worse under the guise of Neo-Liberal “belt tightening.”
In Oakland, as in other cities, the camps have become magnets for the symptoms of the social injustice they’re protesting: homelessness, drugs, mental illness and crime. Dreamers and do-gooders in the groups genuinely believe the movement has to help society’s victims as it tries to change the world. Some think that’s part of creating the alternate society that is going to gradually annex the rest of us. I admire those people, but I think the shameful problems of our larger society will capsize this movement if it attempts to solve them on its own, rather than channeling energy into changing a political structure that creates and ignores these human tragedies. Meanwhile, the more the camps attract troubled and violent people, the more they alienate the vast majority of the 99 percent the Occupy movement is trying to speak for, and leave those comfortable with violence and disorder in control.
Dreamers and do-gooders. Nice. How about simply including the downtrodden and disposable in the larger picture? Perhaps Walsh would feel better if the Occupations were taking place in ritzy suburbs instead. That way she can avoid any contact with the unwashed altogether and maybe hit a day-spa after “covering” the event.
This is Walsh’s entire take on police (read: State) violence:
The most directly relevant social problem that Occupy Oakland rightly wants to challenge is police lawlessness, a scandal that reaches back to the days when the city was run by white Republicans – but that has persisted through the eras of black mayors, liberal white mayors and now a progressive Asian American mayor, Jean Quan, who is herself a veteran of 1960s protests. The Oakland Police Department is still under court supervision after a gang of corrupt officers known as the Oakland Riders preyed on the city’s low-income communities for years. The violence police used in rousting the encampment Oct. 25 proved to a lot of Oakland residents that cops are still not entirely under the control of city officials.
But Occupy Oakland can’t fight police violence with violence. The movement’s high point may have been the Nov. 2 general strike, which grew out of mass revulsion at the police tactics used to tear down the camp the week before. At least 10,000 people joined a day-long peaceful protest that culminated in closing down the Port of Oakland, with the support of the traditionally radical longshoremen’s union. But the movement began sliding downhill the same day, first when splinter groups broke windows and vandalized storefronts during the peaceful march, despite efforts by the vast majority of protesters to either stop or discourage the violence. Then that night about 200 people broke into and occupied a downtown building, inviting new clashes with cops.
Again with the property crap. First of all, the vandalism amounted to a few broken windows and some spray paint. No one was killed or injured in that. Yes, it wasn’t the brightest idea and yes, it’s not terribly good tactics… but we’re still talking about some broken windows and spray paint. As for the occupation of a vacant building, that is completely within the scope of an Occupy Movement. It highlights just how stupid our urban thinking is. It highlights how bankers’ interests are the only important ones. The community simply does not enter into the discussion. So if one is going to “invite a clash with the cops,” better to do it showing everyone just how fucked up our governments’ priorities are, right?
That said, once the larger movement refused to condemn the violence and commit the occupation to peaceful protest, the momentum it gained began to subside. Some in the nonviolent faction began moving their tents to nearby Snow Park, which has yet to be torn down but probably will be. That tended to leave behind those more comfortable with destructive tactics. And while occupiers are right that the city and police made a much bigger deal of Kayode Foster’s murder than they do about most killings of young black men in Oakland, the fact is, the only occupier to die just happened to be a young black man, reportedly at the hands of two other young black men. Trying to combat the larger social ills it was protesting, Occupy Oakland began to be engulfed by them.
I have no idea why Walsh chose to close this way. Perhaps she wrote this rather late at night, just before night-night, and didn’t bother to think about this graf before sending it. But I can say this kind of patronizing bullshit doesn’t sit well with me. Yes, social problems exist, protest or no protest. Yes, they are getting worse, protest or no protest. But this act of association, between a bunch of people who aren’t well-heeled elites and some of societies most disposable people… well, her lack of any visceral realism tells me she either isn’t thinking, or she really doesn’t care beyond casting judgement on people she really doesn’t understand. Nor cares to.
I’m probably being harsh, but that goes with the territory also, when one decides to cast judgment on those paying most dearly for her own wealthy advantages.
Lyrics to the song:
I cried when they shot John Lennon
Tears ran down my spine
And I cried when I saw “JFK”
As though I’d lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X and Ice-T had it coming
They got what they asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me
I’m a liberal
I go to pro-choice rallies
Recycle my cans and jars
I’ll honk if you love the Dead
Hope those funny grunge bands become stars
But don’t talk about revolution
That’s going a little bit too far
I cheered when Clinton was chosen
My faith in the system reborn
I’ll do anything to save our schools
If my taxes ain’t too much more
And I love blacks and gays and Latinos
As long as they don’t move next door
Rush Limbaugh and the L.A.P.D.
Should all hang their heads in shame
I can’t understand where they’re at
Arsenio should set them straight
But if Neigborhood Watch doesn’t know you
I hope the cops take your name
Yeh, I read the New Republic
Rolling Stone and Mother Jones too
If I vote it’s a Democrat
With a sensible economy view
But when it comes to terrorist Arabs
There’s no one more red, white and blue
Once I was young and had an attitude
Stickers covered the car I drove in
Even went on some direct actions
When there weren’t rent-a-cops to be seen
Ah, but now I’ve grown older and wiser
And that’s why I’m turning you in