by The People’s Minister of Information JR
On so-called Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S., members of the Blackout Collective and their allies obstructed BART trains on both sides of the track from moving out of the West Oakland BART station in an economic protest to the systemic wanton killing of Black people in this country, most recently symbolized by the police murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner.
I talked to Celeste, one of the founders of the Blackout Collective, about their history and the phenomenal demonstration that stopped the flow of BART traffic for hours into and out of San Francisco’s shopping and financial district. Check out this sista in her own words …
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us a little bit about what happened in West Oakland on so-called Black Friday and can you tell us how it came to be?
Celeste: So a few weeks ago, a few Black folks were sitting together from Blackout Collective and Black Lives Matter. A few of us were sitting together and dreaming about what it would be like to have an all-Black organized response to what’s going on in Ferguson. And also what’s going on in Oakland.
And so we put out the call through Black Lives Matter just to be able to connect folks in Oakland. In Oakland, we’re being targeted through state sanctioned violence through gentrification, through economic depression and a whole bunch of other things. So we wanted to see what it would take to have Black people come together.
So that just brought lots and lots of brilliant minds together, and we put together this action. The idea was that we wanted to put together an action in which everybody could participate. And that was a place for Black people to come together and be able to heal and be angry together.
Another goal of our action was to shut down business as usual. To say that until there’s an end to the war on Black people, until there’s an end to state sanctioned violence, we’re going to keep shutting down the system, because we don’t agree with the system. And we are divested from the system.
We started at 12th and Mandela. We had the spiritual healers, dancers, elders and babies dressed in white come together and do a healing circle. I don’t think that a lot of folks who are not Black understand how this deeply affects us as Black people.
Until there’s an end to the war on Black people, until there’s an end to state sanctioned violence, we’re going to keep shutting down the system, because we don’t agree with the system.
Systemic violence affects us in a totally different way as a Black community. We know that all communities of color feel it, but we feel it in a more institutional way over the past 400-500 years. And sometimes, we just need our space to be together. So we came together and those folks did this awesome ceremony. I wasn’t there, but I saw the pictures.
And they brought the spirit of that ceremony with them throughout West Oakland. They collected people along the way, and met us at the BART station. Then at the BART station, they held more ceremony, and upstairs we had two teams of folks shutting down the West Oakland BART station.
We locked ourselves to the train using heavy equipment like U-locks, chains and lock boxes. And the goal of that action was to shut down BART for four hours and 28 minutes – four hours because Michael Brown’s body lay in the street for over four hours, and 28 minutes because every 28 hours a Black person is killed by police, state sanctioned violence or vigilantes.
So upstairs we were shutting it down, and downstairs all of this spiritual energy was happening where the Black community came together. And it’s just rare that we are really able to hold space like that by ourselves, and all of that energy downstairs came upstairs and you could just feel spirit in the station, in this really beautiful way. And we also dropped a banner off of the station that says “Black Lives Matter.”
M.O.I. JR: I saw that; that was dope. Can you tell us a little bit about how it was broken up? Are y’all facing charges? Where is it at right now?
Celeste: There are 14 of us facing charges, including myself. We are facing: disruption of service on a railroad and trespassing on the BART. So right now, they’re misdemeanor charges.
M.O.I. JR: When do you guys go to court?
Celeste: Dec. 29 and 30 at 9 a.m. at 661 Washington St. in downtown Oakland in Room 107. We are asking for folks to come to court and just hold space for us.
The Blackout Collective is a full service Black direct action training collective, and we provide on the ground support training and an opportunity for deep space visioning in communities that prioritize the liberation of Black people. Simply what that means is that we are Black folks who are down to do civil disobedience – to bang on the system.
And we want to work with other groups that are interested in wanting to know how to do that and to build up their skills so they could do technical and strategic mass direct actions. We actually only formed two months ago, at this point, which is a little crazy.
There was a call out to go to Ferguson, because they were putting together this Moral Monday and they needed direct action trainers – folks to teach civil disobedience and things. When we were trying to get all of these Black folks to do it, we realized two things: One, there was a shortage of direct action Black trainers and, two, there is a shortage of Black people who identify with doing civil disobedience as direct action even though we do it all of the time.
It’s an instinctual step in organizing, when you are irritated, upset or triggered, to go out in the streets and shut down business as usual, but folks don’t use the language around it. So we were in Ferguson and we found some like-minded folks from Boston and other places, and we were on the front lines in front of the police station in the middle of the night; and in the middle of the protest, one of the founding sistas turned to me and was like “Yo, we need to have a collective of people doing this all of the time.” And I was like “word.”
The Blackout Collective came from that, and we started meeting regularly and being really intentional about what does that mean for us. I think Oakland is an example – what happened yesterday is an example of what the Blackout Collective does.
We just put out the call and Black people responded and wanted to do civil disobedience, so we just provided the technical training, and the community actually put the event together. So people in the community were the media team, were security guards. We just hold the space and do the training but it’s really the community that makes it happen.
And that is the vision of the Blackout Collective – to be able to go around the country and work with organizations and unofficial organizations to help them build up their direct action skills. And also to provide the space for some visioning work, because a lot of time direct action is reactionary, and we want to provide a space for folks to be thinking big.
What do non-reactionary responses look like? And the other part of that is one of the things we noticed about a lot of direct action organizations is that they are only able to work with other organizations. And in Ferguson, we worked with young people who, like us, had just started their organization because they were agitated and they were out in the streets.
And people shunned away from giving those folks training because they were “wild” or unruly and they weren’t in official organizations. So we don’t want to just work with organizations; we want to work with any group of Black folks who are gathered together for the liberation of Black people.
M.O.I. JR: If people want to get more information, how could they do that?
Celeste: You could go to the BlackoutCollective.com. You could follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram and all of that good social media stuff.
And if you want us to come to your city for a training, just send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. And we really are interested in building with folks and supporting communities to get the wins that they want to get. And just to bang on the system because the system needs to be banged on.
We really are interested in building with folks and supporting communities to get the wins that they want to get. And just to bang on the system because the system needs to be banged on.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.