Occupy deserves OEA support
Oakland Teacherreplies to a discussion in her union about Occupy.
FOLLOWING OCCUPY Oakland's January 28 action to take over an abandoned building and the vicious police attack on protests, a debate emerged among Oakland Education Association (OEA) teachers as to whether Occupy should continue to receive our support. Much of the criticism by teachers grew out of the caricature, put forward by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and perpetuated by the media, that protesters were destructive and violent, and acted without regard for the Oakland community. I posted the following letter to a listserve in order to encourage teachers to continue to support Occupy, and to provide a firsthand account of the action, which was misrepresented in the mainstream media.
I WANT to respond to some of the comments that have gone over the listserv, and agree that yes, there are processes for changing and modifying resolutions that have been taken in support of Occupy. I want to add my contribution to the discussion, though, by sharing my experiences about Saturday, and encouraging people to get involved in Occupy, and strengthen, not sever, OEA's relationship with Occupy Oakland.
There was a march of over 1,000 people on Saturday with the stated aim of finding Occupy a home in an abandoned building, as well as focusing the march on the issue of foreclosures, evictions and homelessness. The march was peaceful, but also demonstrated an escalation of our tactics. Occupying the Kaiser building was the goal, and while that may have been overly ambitious, it was certainly not destructive, violent or even likely to cause an inconvenience to anyone.
It's an abandoned building. The city chose to deploy its police force and bring in 14 other agencies, detonate smoke bombs and concussion grenades to defend an abandoned building.
We kept the march together and made our way back to Frank Ogawa Plaza. We were pushed back by police, who continued to use smoke bombs, and beat several people by the time we got back to the Plaza. By that point, there were 19 arrests. Later in the evening, remaining protesters (a smaller number, however still in the hundreds) marched to 19th and Telegraph. Police boxed protesters in and tear-gassed them. The march at one point was so boxed in, that many protesters streamed into the YMCA on Broadway, after which they were arrested. By the end of the night, somewhere on the order of 338 people were arrested.
I think debating the tactics of a growing movement is important. But I also think that we shouldn't miss the forest for the trees. Were there tactics that we might oppose? Sure. But conflating the small number of acts of "violence" that Occupy protesters may commit to the repression the police committed is a mistake. Three hundred thirty-eight people were arrested: no weapons, fights or even property destruction had been reported. Many present have said that no dispersal order was issued, and the police themselves acknowledged that they arrested people based on a dispersal order that had been issued much earlier in the day.
The break-in at City Hall happened after the vast majority of the arrests had already taken place, and is easily understood as an angry response to the outrageous police repression, although in my opinion, it was counter-productive and damaging to the movement. But this incident should not obscure the fact that the target of the day's actions was to claim a space for Occupy in an abandoned building, an indisputably nonviolent goal.
So what do we do with this?
There is enormous space in the U.S. right now to build a movement for social justice. Occupy has begun to explore that space, but we are still at the very beginning. Some folks have started to talk about the next "phase" of Occupy, or Occupy 2.0. I don't agree with that outlook. Occupy is still very young, and we need to grow it, rather then force changes on it. People who want to see the movement grow or develop should JOIN it.
This is why I don't think that the OEA should sever its ties to Occupy. Rather, I think we should continue to participate, specifically with Occupy Education. Occupy Education is a sub-group of Occupy which is organizing for the March 1st Day of Action for Education in Oakland and the March 5th Rally in Sacramento.
I am proud that the OEA has a history of supporting social justice causes, and leading in labor solidarity. We're without a contract, and are fighting privatization, charters and school closures. These attacks haven't happened in a vacuum, and our union doesn't exist in a vacuum. Participating in the Occupy movement is part of fighting back against the forces that are dismantling public education and other social services.
Oakland High School, site rep and member of the CTA