Oaktown Takes the Movement Higher!

 On Broadway: Downtown Oakland on a Normal Saturday


The Struggle Advances in Oakland but where is it headed?

The epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement has now shifted to Oakland California.  This is due to the fact that they have advanced the struggle by putting forth specific demands and seeking alliances with organized labor to organize a “general strike” designed to bring the economy of the city to a halt. This is a unique development because the AFL-CIO denounced the general strike long ago, dismissing it as a “communist tactic.”

Hence the emergence of the concept of a general strike in Oakland is a genuinely radical development.  It is a tactic that places the contradiction between the working class and the Plutocrats out in the open, and helps clarify fundamental issues for the mass electorate.  It is both an educational tool as well as a means of creating economic chaos.

It is not surprising that this movement would become radicalized in the Bay Area.  It was in Berkley that the “Free Speech Movement” began, which sent shock waves throughout the American student community in the early Sixties and served as a catalyst for student activism elsewhere.  The Counter-Cultural movement was born across the Bay in San Francisco, and the most influential of the armed resistance organizations the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, was founded in Oakland.  These activists  were heirs to an earlier history of leftist radicalism such as the Longshoreman Union led by the legendary Harry Bridges.  However it remains to be seen what lessons have been learned from these earlier radical movements.

Since the demonstrators managed to actually shut down the Oakland waterfront, the 5th largest seaport in the US, this action is most reminiscent of the four day San Francisco “General Strike” of 1934, led by the Longshoreman’s Unions.  This strike so crippled shipping all along the west coast that the police intervened to break the strike and violence broke out all over the city on “Bloody Thursday.”  However this violent confrontation resulted in great gains for the workers. This is because they were organized and had specific demands.

On the other hand, the present demonstrators who are engaging in violent clashes with the police have vague goals that span a wide range of issues and no disciplined organization with leaders skilled in negotiations who can speak on their behalf. And, just as in New York, they take pride in this unfortunate fact.

Hence this movement has much more in common with the contemporary San Francisco May Day group, who issued a statement describing an approach to struggle which – like the organizers of the original Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, who say they were inspired by the “Arab Spring” – views itself as part of the global revolt conducted through social media against an ill-defined enemy.

“Like fishermen turned pirates off the horn of Africa who have hijacked a primary artery of global capital as they defend their lives and communities, mass coordinated anti-capitalist attacks across Greece that illustrate how an anarchist initiated insurrection can bring a state to its knees, or crews of friends taking over the streets of downtown Oakland in resistance to police violence, the May Day mutiny in San Francisco has revealed weak points for us to take note of and exploit. The illusion of an invincible corporate state able to crush or undermine all its enemies has been shattered. The forces of repression have no real defense against our evolving rebellions.”

Alas, it is precisely this kind of misguided thinking that convinces the anti-wall street demonstrators they can achieve their objectives by organizing mass demonstrations alone; that they don’t need organization or ideology and are above politics.  It is a dangerous delusion that will lead this budding rebellion against the plutocracy into a blind alley, which will prove a road to defeat.  This is the pitfall that the nascent Oakland movement must successfully hurdle….if they are to achieve real rather than rhetorical  victories.

 The Power of the People!

Shutting Down the Port of Oakland


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 3, 2011

*** Photo of street muscian by: Playthell Benjamin

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