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My thoughts on Occupy Oakland after the murder and one-month anniversary

November 13, 2011

by Minister of Information JR

Minister of Information JR outside the KPFA tent at Occupy Oakland on Nov. 2, the day of the General Strike
On Thursday, Nov. 10, Occupy Oakland was supposed to celebrate its one-month anniversary in the renamed Oscar Grant Plaza in front of City Hall. Instead the Occupy Movement worldwide was shaken by the cold-blooded murder of a participant less than an hour before festivities were scheduled to start. And the Occupy Movement and the news tried to cover up the fact that the victim, who was Black, was an active participant.

I got downtown at about 4:30 p.m. on a mission to teach my 7-year-old about Occupy Oakland, capitalism, the U.S. government, the working class, the poor and more. I saw myself giving her one of her first political education field trips. Instead of just talking and watching it on TV, I wanted her to experience the Occupy Movement and be able to ask questions of people who were participating, so that she can come to her own conclusions.

What we stumbled on was a rude awakening. We went to the section of the Occupy Oakland encampment by the Frank Ogawa statue to talk to the young Black campers who were collectively barbecuing, pooling their resources since the food at the camp was not sustaining them. My daughter and I hung out for about 10 minutes.

Then a fight ensued after two newcomers ran up on two of the Brothas who were actually campers at Occupy Oakland. It was soon broken up by the watching crowd.

We left after one of the newcomers yelled, “Stay right there. I’ll be right back.” We went to use the internet at the House of Music, owned by Dwayne Wiggins of Tony Toni Tone, who operates the multi-venue building a safe distance away from the melee.

An aerial view of Occupy Oakland
A short time later, my daughter asked me if I heard the sound of people screaming. I didn’t. Seconds later, people started running by the window of the establishment, which is a half a block away from the Occupy encampment. I peeped out of the door, and some of the young guys I was with earlier were in motion.

They slowed down only to say, “They just shot dude in the head.” I didn’t know who they were talking about exactly, but I did know they were alluding to the fight from about 15 minutes earlier. My daughter and I left the House of Music to walk to the BART, which was in the direction of the murder.

When we got closer, my daughter froze up in the middle of the street, paralyzed in fear. I talked her back into having a level head about the situation, telling her that people who panic usually don’t make the best decisions. I took her by the hand and swiftly walked to the BART station, where I listened to her feelings and answered her questions to the best of my ability.

This is what life is like at the bottom of the 99 percent, where we have to show our 7-year-old daughters how to cope in the vicinity of a fight and a murder at a place where people are demonstrating for the 99 percent in an abstract manner. I know that this is a day that my daughter will never forget. I still think it was an eye-opening experience and that I am fortunate I was with her to help see her through it.

As we got on BART on our way to a screening of the Mumia Abu Jamal documentary, “Justice on Trial,” I was thinking about what happened. The day before, I had a segment on my Morning Mix radio show where I feel we almost predicted this disaster. I asked people simply, what is the Occupy Movement about? What are its goals and objectives? Is it against capitalism or is it trying to reform capitalism?

I pointed out how the moves that Occupy Oakland demonstrated and got major accolades for were extremely symbolic and impractical, including “the general strike,” when the mayor of Oakland gave all city employees the day off, and “the shutting down of the port,” which the mayor allowed to happen by holding the police back from the gathering that lasted less than 24 hours. How do you work with the mayor to demonstrate against the city she runs? Why was the strike not extended right after the Occupiers figured out that the mayor was planning to co-opt it? Why wasn’t the port “shut down” until some demands were met?

There are a lot of questions about what is going on and what conditions created the climate for the murder, since it was in downtown in broad daylight during rush hour. Many people believe that Occupy Oakland has created a lack of safety in downtown Oakland. The Occupiers’ intentions to give away food and tents to people who want to join the camp seems noble on the surface, but if you dig deeper it is rather ignorant to think that food and temporary shelter can heal and politicize people with mental illnesses, addictions and a host of other ailments contracted from being on the bottom of the 99 percent. One of the craziest things is that there is no way to categorize and filter the people who are here to fight the power, from the people who are freeloading, from the people who need serious help before they can fight for anything.

Medics tend to Alex, who had been staying at Occupy Oakland, after he was shot on Thursday, Nov. 10. – Photo: Jane Tyska, AP
Many in the Occupy Oakland camp knew nothing of the lives of the many unemployed Black people who live downtown before they, in Christopher Columbus fashion, decided to “occupy” the area. The area was already populated, with people who have been forced by capitalism to scratch the bottom of the barrel with their knuckles to survive. Many of the white kids who make up the dominant force in the Occupy Movement in general and Occupy Oakland specifically have never even met the type of poverty that exists on the regular out there. They can’t even relate to these people, and in most cases these activists have stopped trying.

Some would argue, like myself, that the Occupy Movement has done nothing to mobilize and support campaigns that affect Black and Brown people directly and that are more urgent than taking your money out of a big bank and putting it in a credit union – campaigns to stop the gentrifying of our communities, to keep schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods open despite budget cuts, to end police terrorism on people besides Oscar Grant, and to resist racism in the working class. In my opinion, this is why the Occupy Movement continues to be mostly white all over the U.S. and Europe and why there is a certain nonchalance and skepticism about it in Black and Brown communities.

With that being the case and there being no active political education program to teach people on both sides about our common economic and political enemies and how to relate to each other, there is no way to create a vested interest in the 99 percent campaign, even if it was going to start to tackle practical issues. And with anarchy as the politic prevailing over the movement, which amounts to chaos, there should be no question as to why somebody could kill somebody else in the midst of monumental demonstrations. There is no hierarchy, or real security apparatus for that matter; no one has to listen to anybody. Everybody can be on their own individual hype. I’m surprised something like this murder has not happened sooner.

If the Occupy Movement is really going to become the political vehicle of the working class, as it is says it wants to be, one of the things that it has to do first is open itself up to criticism aimed at making it stronger. This is the role that progressive media should play.

As Chairman Mao of the Chinese Revolution said, “Claim no easy victories.” KPFA, the main radio station broadcasting the views of supporters, needs to reverse its position of just patting the movement on the back and use its airwaves to analyze where people want to go in a practical sense, as well as issues that need to be discussed, whether controversial or not, like the circumstances that allowed this murder to take place on the plaza a stone’s throw from the lawn that houses the encampment.

The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe,” both available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

 

23 thoughts on “My thoughts on Occupy Oakland after the murder and one-month anniversary

  1. Nick

    Great article. Despite the horrible tragedy that occurred on that particular day, I think it's great that you are getting your daughter to think about these issues and draw her own conclusions. I haven't been to any of the Occupy sites, so I can't speak to the ethnic diversity (or lack thereof) of the participants. But if what you say is true, then I hope the Black & Brown communities will take a greater part and add their perspective to the mix. Racism is just a tool the wealthy use to keep the underclasses divided.

    Reply
  2. stephen weber

    You write
    ,", and in most cases these activists have stopped trying",and "Some would argue, like myself, that the Occupy Movement has done nothing to mobilize and support campaigns that affect Black and Brown people directly".

    But that is your agenda.

    You walk into the camp and move to identify yourself with the young Black campers. After that you head off to an event which is motivated absolutely from the color of your skin. Mumia Abu Jamal is a black man in jail for what many believe is a racially setup injustice about the murder of a police officer.

    The occupy movement has no demands. It is based on a goal of equality. And you would have them be even more radical. You are quoted as saying,"Why wasn’t the port “shut down” until some demands were met?"

    You are entering with preconceived notions about white people not comprehending poverty and injustice. They probably hear someone who is unwilling to listen to them either. Perhaps you could remember that all that voting in GA is meant to reach a consensus. The odds of Oakland camp doing more for the community isn't my impression of the meaning of the camp. That they feed the people what they can seems like more than most do. That they plan on being there indefinitely for the 99% is all the hope that many people have.

    The other citizens of the country , the middle voting class , must be made aware of poverty, of the truth that almost everything is owned by a few hundred people and that most of the rest is owned by the top 1%. That there is hypocrisy in corporations being granted rights as virtual people and given more value by the police and politicians than actual people, white,black or brown. That is the cause of the camp. Everyday that the news comments to them, is one more message that tugs at their morality to do the right thing. Everyday the camp's existence reaches the world.

    If that hope just seems white to you then….

    Reply
  3. Bunny

    I’m a white chick who lives in east Oakland. I’m incredibly frustrated with these anarchists and their agenda of vandalism, but I’m also realistic enough to know that murders happen in Oakland all the fucking time, and you can’t blame this one on Occupy.

    I would also like to apologize for the commenter who thinks you only care about Mumia because of the color of your skin. I care about Mumia too and I believe he was out of line to say that.

    The thing with Occupy is that everyone draws their own conclusions, and everyone chooses their actions. You can’t pin it down, exactly. Which is a strength, overall. We need people to take their money out of the big banks (even if they don’t have much, it all adds up) and we also need people to march and, well, occupy.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    Reply
  4. Puffnstuff

    I think the biggest flaw in your argument is that you expect Occupy Oakland to act as a cohesive unit, especially in reaching out to and representing communities of color. I share your concern that many of the activists have never seen real poverty and violence (though that might be an unfair assumption in many regards) and that they don't understand their roles as colonizers whose claim to speak for "the 99%" is borne of their privilege, but this is a true grassroots campaign composed of people from extremely diverse backgrounds. It has no unity or continuity of thought or message. I'm surprised that on one hand you criticize it for not being MORE diverse, and on the other hand you lament its inability to act as a singular body, and on ANOTHER hand you expect there to be some kind of process to vet participators and possible free-loaders (homeless people and crazies) while decrying the movement's failure to really include the 99%. You can't expect 100-1000 people, which is the population of the camp on any given day, to make up it's mind that quickly. It's been a month. I'm not saying there aren't problems, but I think you're condemning prematurely, and I don't think that's fair or accurate. If you want to see this kind of change happen in the movement, remember that you are an activist, too. You have the ability to mobilize just like anyone else, so don't expect somebody else to carry out your vision.

    Another thing: I'm also a little confused about why that you think the Occupy encampment invited the violence that took a young man's life. Sure, where people gather violence is often likely to ensue, but I don't know how you expect Occupy Oakland to control that. Keep in mind that homicide in broad daylight in downtown Oakland is nothing new. This incident also happened a stone's throw from City Hall. City Hall controls the cops. City Hall liaisons with the federal government. Not Occupy Oakland.

    Reply
  5. Limp

    Being a adult of sound mind I can't even fathom a grown adult and parent would jeopardize the safety and well being of your child let alone yourself. It is well know that theft, battery, and assault takes place regularly, as well as an occasional rape and murder at most if not all of these sites. In reality, you should be charged with child endangerment and be ordered to attend classes on common sense.

    Reply
    1. Hactivism

      By those standards everyone who can't afford to move out of Oakland should be subject to those classes. The problems were always there on the streets of Oakland, the problem is that not everyone can afford to have a choice about where they live and what streets their own children have to walk to get to school. Here in Occupy Ft Lauderdale many bring the whole family to the movements but Fort Lauderdale doesn't have the crime problems that Oakland has. Many of those problems stem from racism, corruption of politics, money and education. That being said mind your own daughter, and evaluate your own common sense.

      Reply
      1. Limp

        Wow, you trumped my joker with your race card. Take the pot. Yes, I mind all four of my daughters and have more common sense than any person that would put their child in such a dangerous situation.

        Reply
  6. Brian

    What people don't realize is that Broadway, between 13th and 15th, has been host, in part, to gangstas, wannabe-gangstas, homeless folks, semi-homeless youth, and drug dealers. The fact that City Hall is right across the street, and the police dept about 5 blocks away, hasn't deterred the street problems. Occupy Oakland is set up in front of City Hall to make a sociopolitical statement, and the fact that troublemakers will be around is a no-brainer–they are already in the neighborhood anyway. The man who was killed was a supposed participant in Occupy Oakland, or was just there for a free handout is debatable; the fact that he was involved in drug dealing while living at the camp is unacceptable and casts a very negative light on the movement.

    Reply
  7. Brian

    And I should mention that I live downtown, about 4 blocks from Occupy Oakland and I have participated and I do support the ideals of the movement.

    Reply
  8. Hactivism

    It's not surprising to me that it's a couple of new comers with guns jumping in and committing murders. The story sounds like it's in line with instigation techniques utilized by the police force. It's also my understanding that it's typical of the Oakland and BART police to instigate problems with unarmed, innocent black people and shoot them. This should not be covered up, it should be exemplified.

    Reply
  9. @stanchaz

    They will try to sabotage OWS. They will try to co-opt OWS. They will try to smear OWS. They will try to infiltrate and destroy OWS from within. They will not succeed. These governors, mayors, city councils, police chiefs, and street cops of America need to realize that it is NOT UP TO THEM whether or not Americans peaceably gather, protest, discuss, or demonstrate. It's up to a document called the US CONSTITUTION. You can beat us and arrest us and tear-gas us, you can try to "permit" us to death….but you can't kill an idea. You can't keep down a people’s hopes and dreams for a better life….for us, and for our kids. With OWS America has found it’s voice, and that voice demands fairness and justice – for ALL. This land IS our land! AND WE WANT IT BACK! We want our LIVES back! We want our FUTURE back! But it’s much more than just words…. it’s much more than politics….. it’s your freakin’ LIFE, and how you want to live it, and how you will live it. Find a quiet place somewhere, and consider this: Each of us has only one brief life….one chance….one roll of the dice….and many choices. The time has come to choose….to risk…and to act. If not now…then when? If not you, then….who? You DO have the power my friend….and the choice IS yours. Don’t let your dreams die….

    Reply
    1. DudeinOakland

      Seems to me that the only ones co-opting OWS are the people like the original author of this article: "On Thursday, Nov. 10, Occupy Oakland was supposed to celebrate its one-month anniversary in the renamed Oscar Grant Plaza" Who the HELL renamed it Oscar Grant Plaza? WTF does OScar Grant have to do with the OWS movement? NOTHING. The man lived like he died–dangerously. He put his hands on a police officer when he was being detained and then kept mouthing off to other police officers–just because 99% of the black people and the white apologists DON'T want to see what's really on the videos doesn't mean it didn't happen. OSCAR GRANT WAS A DRUG DEALING GANGSTA WANNABE. He went to jail for it, and would've gone BACK to jail for it if not for the accidental shooting. STOP DELUDING YOURSELVES. And for the love of God, STOP ANTAGONIZING THE POLICE. They don't go out there to deliberately piss people off–they are there to protect us. You commit a crime? YOU FACE THE CONSEQUENCES. All of this g-d entitled b.s. from minorities and from HIPSTERS is sickening, and I hope that the next time one of you idiots gets shot or someone you love gets shot, you DON'T call the police, beause you're all a bunch of hypocrites.

      Reply
  10. ISF

    The young Black Brother killed near Occupy Oakland encampment Thurs. eve ,
    that occupiers referred to as "Alex"
    (and who camped there for 3 days up to this murder)
    was Kayode O. Foster, 25.

    … Why did Occupy General Assembly keep contending for days that he was not known by other occupiers ?
    what's up with that ?
    I reckon that they may have punked out , apprehending bad press.
    But basic respect for the stolen life of Kayode would have been nice….

    Reply
  11. Casey O'Neill

    Thank you for this article, I completely agree. I didn't know who was killed and had heard a number of different stories about whether he was part of the occupation or not. It is extremely disappointing to me that people refuse to own up to the problems our occupation is having. I was in New York since the beginning, though I'm from Oakland, and there we made a concerted effort to be inclusive and reach out to local organizations working on issues that are pertinent to black and brown communities. I see that happening more here now, but not enough.

    Reply
  12. Ian Holmes

    I sympathize with you as a parent for your daughter's trauma. A few years ago an innocent kid was shot on our block. It didn't take an Occupy movement to do that, though. As you know, Oakland has around a hundred murders a year. This is why I find it bizarre that you blame the anarchistic bent of the Occupiers' political philosophy for this murder, as though the "lack of real hierarchy" is what caused this. Really? Maybe you're right that the Occupy movement needs to reach out more to people of color (though your refusal to connect the dots between those issues & the Occupy agenda is pretty boneheaded; are you waiting for someone to hand it to you on a plate?) You're probably also right that co-opting of the movement by addicts and gangsters is an inherent risk, though you seem much more worried about the mayor co-opting it. Ultimately, though, your claim that Occupy Oakland is responsible for this murder undermines your credibility greatly. This looks to me like 5% constructive criticism, 95% sniping from the sidelines.

    Reply
  13. Joseph From Berkeley

    You [JR] are quoted as saying, "Why wasn’t the port “shut down” until some demands were met?"

    What stopped *you* and *your posse* from going there to do that, JR?

    50,-100,000 of us, the road to the port dense with marchers for the last 2-3 miles(!!) to and through the Port, well into the night, shut down the Port of Oakland, in consultation with the primarily Black ILWU, costing the capitalists millions of dollars in one mass action, and backing up unloaded cargo for a week!; shut down Oakland city center for the day; shut down Oakland's financial district and downtown banks for the day; shut down the UC headquarters for the day; and basically shut down the entire Oakland city government for the day too.

    A handful of activists sort of, more or less, kept the port shut down, by staying overnight and blocking one of the main container truck entrances, throughout the next morning, costing the capitalists even more money!

    Where were *you*, JR?

    What did *you* do that day?

    Reply
  14. Joseph From Berkeley

    Crosspost:

    JR was doing his Wed morning show on KPFA today — yet another show where he dumps on Occupy Oakland and the entire Occupy movement. Today he had a Black woman from NY who grossly stereotyped the entire Occupy movement the way white racists grossly stereotype Black and Brown people: "The Occupy movements are all a bunch of dirty, unsanitary, dangerous, unruly, spoiled, etc., [but in this case] white racist hippies."

    (continued…)

    Reply
  15. Joseph From Berkeley

    (continued…)

    But, when I attempted to call in, JR apparently disconnected me. I called back again and his telephone screener to ask if JR disconnected me on purpose, and the telephone screener confirmed that JR was rejecting my call. I guess that JR only wants people who _agree_ with him — whom he probably had all lined up. He only opened the phone lines for about 5 minutes, so when he said he wanted "a discussion" on this, he obviously didn't mean that. What he meant by "a discussion" is — that claim was just PR cover for — "only people who *agree* with me" or, failing that, "no one who can question or disagree with me in an informed manner". A few other KPFA radio hosts behave like that too, even some who sometimes otherwise often do good work, like Dennis Bernstein (an often arrogant white guy, the one I alluded to in an above comment, who only respects high public status Black leftists [because Bernstein can't dismiss *them*] or those who worship him, whom JR has often worked under at Flashpoints).

    (continued…)

    Reply
  16. Joseph From Berkeley

    (continued…)

    You see, the right-wing often engages in censorship because they want to control all the nation's/world's resources — and, I've discovered living in the Bay Area, that too many highly sectarian so-called "leftists" engage in censorship because they want to control all thought.

    So much for "KPFA: Free Speech Radio".

    Reply
  17. Joseph From Berkeley

    Maybe JR should read THIS article IN THE SFBAYVIEW!:

    "Occupy Wall Street protesters occupy Harlem boiler room, get tenants heat and hot water"

    .

    Reply
  18. Ann_Garrison

    When the Mayor of Oakland feels compelled to call the police off demonstrators and allow them to shut down the Oakland Port for a day, the demonstrators have demonstrated some strength.

    Reply
  19. Joseph From Berkeley

    On this occasion, about Occupy Oakland, sad to say, JR Valrey has become

    MINISTER OF DISS-INFORMATION…

    Reply

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