Letter from an Anonymous Friend: The Morning After the Attack on the Oakland Commune
We knew that it would happen.
If you live with others in a public space in a city, if you set up shelters in which people can live without owning or renting property, if you set up an outdoor kitchen with which to feed anyone who wants food, if you establish a free school at which anyone can read and learn, if you set up bathroom facilities provided by organizations supporting your activities, if you show solidarity with struggles against police killings and police violence against people of color, against the poor, against women, against queers and transpeople, if you state your determination to defend the space you have created against the threat of eviction, in short—if you work toward organizing ways of living and relating to one another that might challenge those mandated by capitalism, your efforts will eventually be crushed by the police.
We know this because we know that the question is not whether the police are “part of the 99%,” on the basis of their salary. What is called the 99% is ruptured by many divisions. Among these is the dividing line that runs between those who want to change the world and those who uphold the status quo, between those who work to undermine the brutal order of property and those who work to enforce it. For those who transform the world by challenging capitalist economic and social relations, working to displace and overturn them, the police are one among many enemies. We know it is their job to destroy what we create, and it is no surprise when they do that.
At 4:30 am on October 25, Occupy Oakland was raided by more than 500 police from multiple counties. From a comrade who was there:
At the time of this writing I am filled with rage. Occupy Oakland, on its second week, was raided by an overwhelming force of approximately 800 police in riot gear. I was there, ready to defend when police from all entrances to Oscar Grant Plaza rushed in with sticks and began beating people. Their tactics were simple but effective: rush in with overwhelming numbers and push out those that intended to stay for a fight, slowly crush resilience of those who took up the tactic of civil disobedience by linking arms and protecting the camp. They beat people with sticks, shot people with rubber bullets, obliterated ear-drums with flash-bang grenades, and choked them with tear gas.
What wrenches on these mornings (so many, for so many of us), what presses out on our temples, constricts our chests, fills our throats so that it can’t be properly spoken is a contradiction: we knew that this would happen; we can’t accept that it has happened. We know, insofar as we struggle, that our struggle will be repressed. But no amount of knowing can fortify against the sickness that we feel every time an army of cops rolls in to brutalize and arrest our friends and comrades.
All the tents are down, pots are strewn everywhere, the library scattered, the garden stomped, the Commune is in ruins. “Though it fed thousands for free and welcomed the city’s desperately poor homeless population, this public park can hopefully now return to its natural state of being completely empty.” Dozens of smug assholes and their batons surround the emptiness they prefer to the fragile possibilities that were created, getting paid overtime to chat across their barricades with idiots who think the cops are on the same side as those they just attacked and threw in jail, while others hurl insults against dead ears.
The Oakland Commune matters not because it could have lasted any longer than it did and not because of how many cops it took to tear it down. It matters because for as long as it was there it was evidence that the impossible resides in the heart of our cities, amongst those who already live together on the streets, amongst those willing to live with them. It isn’t that this is “Round One” of a longer fight. It isn’t that those who lived and worked there all day and all night “will be back.” It isn’t that this is “just the beginning.” It isn’t just the beginning because it’s been going on for a long time, because the history of struggle is the history of capitalism. Because the history of capitalism, in its unfolding, in the movement of its contradiction with itself, is the coming into being of communism. If we won’t be back in Oscar Grant Plaza, if the Oakland Commune won’t be there as it was for two weeks, that is because we are everywhere, and the substance of history articulates itself unceasingly across the movement of what it creates. That is not an abstraction; it’s a letter of solidarity from Cairo, arriving the afternoon before the tents are torn down: “An entire generation across the globe has grown up realizing, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future in the current order of things….So we stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down the old but to experiment with the new.” Our true loves are everywhere, a friend replies. We won’t be back because we’re not going anywhere.
For a long time we have dreamed the end of capitalism. The twenty-first century is the time in which that dream will come true. We are waking up, and we are learning again, among one another, how to use our tired bodies. This is what it feels like to wake in a tent on the grass of Oscar Grant Plaza. Comrades in Baltimore write, “this occupation is inevitable, but we have to make it.” Nothing of that dialectic can be displaced by the police.
“The revolution” does not exist. It is not a horizon to be struggled toward, and no movement in the history of struggles has “failed.” The real movement is the movement of bodies, working on what exists. If the occupation is inevitable, it is because it is what is happening everywhere, now. If we have to make it, it is because our bodies are the material collective that it is. If it is repressed, its inevitability remains. The twenty-first century is the time of that inevitability, because the limit it surges against, repression, is also the dynamic of its movement: in its death throes, the openly repressive forces of capital are the manifestation of its own weakness, returning people to the destitution from which they revolt. “This occupation is inevitable, but we have to make it,” because in a time of mass debt, of mass foreclosures, of ruthless austerity, of sprawling slums, there will be no alternative to the material necessity of taking what we need and using it amongst ourselves.
None of this makes a difference this morning, while the enemy guards its ruins and our comrades are in jail. But if we knew this morning would come, we also know that the clocks have already stopped, that the real movement continues, and that time is on our side.
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- October 25, 2011 / 10:44 pm