Thursday, October 25, 2012, marked the one-year anniversary of the Oakland Police Department’s violent assault on the Occupy Oakland encampment and the ensuing protest in which Iraq veteran and anti-war activist Scott Olsen was shot at close range with a barely-less-than-lethal beanbag round. People attempting to administer aid to Scott were forced to flee when an officer fired a flashbang grenade into the group. Eventually Scott was carried away by his comrades and driven to Highland Hospital, where it was determined that he had a skull fracture and brain injury that kept him from being able to speak. Scott survived Iraq only to be critically wounded by a sociopath paid by the City of Oakland to protect and serve the interests of the one percent.
Chief OPD Sociopath Howard Jordan, facing the likelihood of federal receivership in six weeks, at long last has been forced to acknowledge that it was an OPD officer under his command who fired on Scott Olsen and not some rogue member of the numerous other law enforcement agencies who provided mutual aid that night. In an unprecedented shakeup, HoJo has stated publicly that the officer who nearly killed Scott Olsen “acted inappropriately” and at least a couple of sacrificial piggy heads will roll.
OPD received more than 1,100 complaints related to Occupy Oakland incidents. Based on OPD’s ongoing investigations (they’ve only addressed about half of the complaints so far), a total of 44 officers will be disciplined. Two officers will be fired, one will be demoted, three are to undergo counseling and training, 15 will be suspended for up to 30 days and 23 will receive written reprimands. This makes me think of a joke: What do you call 100,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start. (Apologies to lawyers; feel free to replace that group with the demonized demographic of your choice.)
Flickr photo by Bora S. Kamel, taken in Cairo, Egypt on October 28, 2011
The ensuing months have not dampened the horror and the rage that so many of us felt on October 25, 2011. That rage catapulted Oakland into the spotlight and helped to catalyze the Occupy movement around the globe. Within days, attendance at our general assembly had grown from 300 to 3,000 and within just a week we were able to mobilize 30,000 or more to participate in a general strike and a shutdown of the Port of Oakland. Despite his continued anxiety around cops, Scott Olsen continues to participate; he says that Occupy has been “a success overall . . . it has radicalized a generation who I don’t think is going to give up until we create a world that we want to live in.”
Flickr photo by Caitlyn and Kara, November 5, 2011
To say that the past month or so leading up to the #O25 anniversary events has been difficult for Occupy Oakland would be putting it mildly. The two largest OO factions (superficially identified as younger, mostly white anarchists/insurrectionists vs. older and more diverse reformists/non-violence advocates—but in actuality quite a bit more complex and nuanced than that) have been at each other’s throats. It’s been sort of like families who have gone through a really ugly divorce trying to plan their child’s wedding. What ought to be a momentous occasion slowly turned into a shit show, complete with competing racist graphics and flyers posted on Facebook and Twitter and distributed at the plaza. All of our dirty laundry has been hanging out in plain sight, to the delight of OPD and the MSM. If mr. hotflashcarol and I had not paid in advance for a hotel room in Oakland to celebrate this anniversary, we might have just stayed home. But we couldn’t, and we didn’t.
Our trip was not nearly as enjoyable as it should have been—or as bad as I had anticipated. For old times sake, I will characterize what I observed using Pros and Quans:
Pro: Attendance at #025 events was good throughout the day and into the evening. Estimates of crowd size run into the hundreds. The general assembly was bigger than it has been in many months, at least since May Day.
Quan: There was a sea of white faces and not nearly enough people of color; it didn’t seem representative of the diversity of Oakland. It reminded me of what a friend who lives downtown said back in October 2011, the first time he visited the OO encampment: “Welcome to Planet of the Caucasians. I’ve never seen this many white people in the plaza in my life.”
Pro: In spite of what looked like more cops than protestors, and predictions that police were ready to riot, not a sliver of broken glass was to be found after the march. Only two people were arrested. In the absence of the standard “vandals trashed City Hall” narrative, the local MSM showed pictures of relieved capitalists taking down the protective plywood over the windows at CitiBank.
Quan: Once again, a peaceful and legal gathering in the commons was marred by the presence of menacing storm troopers with their ubiquitous zip ties at the ready.
Pro: We got to reconnect with many old friends. Whenever we are at the plaza, Mr. HFC likes to go stand in the spot where our tent was pitched and reminisce; he says that the weeks he spent in the encampment were the most hopeful times in his life.
Quan: The same group of de facto leaders who have been so divisive still had the OO microphone. The scoldy, bossy facilitator who made GAs feel like after-school detention was up to her old tricks. During breakout discussions, she interrupted our group of mostly older activists, including one fairly prominent former member of the Weather Underground, to school us on how to talk about tools of repression. (The jokes just write themselves, don’t they.)
Pro: The route from our hotel room at Jack London Square to the plaza at 14th and Broadway, normally not a walk you would take after dark, was carefully guarded by dozens of Oakland’s finest.
Quan: It didn’t make us feel any safer; quite the contrary. And I couldn’t help but notice that police decked out in thousands of dollars of riot gear literally had their backs turned on the dozens of homeless people sleeping in the doorways of vacant buildings throughout downtown.
Pro: MC Occupy, as usual, made us all laugh hard enough to wet our pants when he trotted a lifesize papier mache pig in a cop uniform up the steps of City Hall to stand guard with his brothers in blue.
Quan: It appears that the cops prefer to continue to suffer such humiliation and hate from their community; they’re still casting their lot with their corporate paymasters.
* * *
We went back to our hotel room fairly early that evening to see if the Giants were winning; eventually the sound of the helicopters overhead subsided and it was apparent that things would remain peaceful. When we got home yesterday, I was despondent and unable to sort out my thoughts. I grabbed a beer and the new issue of Rolling Stone that had just come in the mail, and went outside to sit in the sunshine. I had hoped to distract myself from thinking about the revolution, but no such luck. Instead, it all suddenly became clear. Sort of.
America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. —Hunter S. Thompson
Remember when Rolling Stone was considered a counterculture magazine? Hunter would be rolling in his grave if he were to read the current issue.
On the cover is a smiling Obomba with his sleeves rolled up. Although you can’t see his feet, I bet he’s wearing those comfortable shoes he puts on when he’s walking that picket line with American workers. (I’m imagining him as Mr. Rogers since we have obviously entered the Neighborhood of Make Believe.)
The story and interview with the president, written by esteemed historian Douglas Brinkley, is subtitled “How History Will View His Presidency.” I can’t read articles about the election anymore; they make me physically ill. But I went to the online edition and cut and pasted the contents into a Word doc so that I could at least determine if Brinkley had asked Obama about the issues that I believe history will note about his presidency. I searched for “drone” and came up empty. Then I tried “Assange,” “Manning,” “Occupy” and “poverty.” No matches there either. Hmmm. Maybe “executive order?” Aha.
Ever since Theodore Roosevelt used executive orders to save the Grand Canyon from the zinc-copper lobbies and declared that unsanitary factories were grotesque perversions propagated by Big Money interests, the federal government has aimed to improve the daily lives of average Americans.
Not exactly the kind of executive order I was thinking of. Then I stumbled across this paragraph:
Viewed through the lens of history, Obama represents a new type of 21st-century politician: the Progressive Firewall. Obama, simply put, is the curator-in-chief of the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier and the Great Society. When he talks about continued subsidies for Big Bird or contraceptives for Sandra Fluke, he is the inheritor of the Progressive movement’s agenda, the last line of defense that prevents America’s hard-won social contract from being defunded into oblivion.
Obomba as our last line of defense? Are you fucking kidding me?
I gave up on the Obama story and continued flipping through the magazine. I came across an ad for Lawrence O’Donnell’s show on MSNBC that says: “What is a vote if it isn’t an expression of hope?”
Next was an expose of hacker Jeremy Hammond entitled “Enemy of the State” about the “rise and fall of an American revolutionary.” This intriguing article, which does mention Manning and Wikileaks and Occupy, is about a member of Anonymous who was ratted out by an informant and is currently being held in jail for his alleged role in the Stratfor incident. But true to corporate lapdog magazine standards, the story ultimately plays out as a cautionary tale about someone who was just too darn idealistic for his own good. The author quotes FBI Director Robert Mueller’s warning to congress that “terrorists might recruit politically motivated hackers like Hammond into launching cyberattacks.” And then to top it all off, the author somehow manages to find a member of Anonymous who says, “I wonder if [the informant] did us a favor by cleansing Anonymous of the more radical elements.”
Finally, in the Album Review section, Rolling Stone gives Boots Riley and The Coup’s new album, Sorry to Bother You, three stars, but suggests that it is, at times, “a bit too unruly” and then characterizes it as “novelty music in the best sense.”
So, to summarize: we’re just not ready for the revolution yet. We’re closer than we were a year ago, but we still have a very long road ahead. Too many of us are still OK with latte liberals like Jean Quan protecting the interests of the Chamber of Commerce at the expense of her actual constituents. Replacing the broken windows of our corporate edifices is still more important than fixing the broken lives in our city. Too many of us accept the fact that a hacker like Jeremy Hammond is in jail while the war criminals he exposed are free; even though his story is thrilling, what he did was illegal. Many of us know in our hearts that Obama isn’t really all that and a bag of chips. But we still prefer to believe that if he’s on the cover of the Rolling Stone, he must be pretty radical . . . at least compared to Romney. We know that a vote for president these days is not much more than an expression of hope; we hope that Obama will kill fewer Pakistani babies than would President Romney. Too many of us are ready to dismiss radical hip-hop music as nothing more than a novelty, a dead end; after all, popular revolutionaries like Springsteen choose to support a winner.
We’re nowhere near ready to admit that we no longer live in anything remotely resembling a democracy. But Occupy has at least started the conversation and Scott Olsen thinks that his newly radicalized generation won’t give up. So I guess I can’t either.