By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
Edwards explains, "Typically, 'diversity of tactics' has been code for breaking windows." It encompasses more than just that, he says, listing: "Property destruction, militant direct action, as well as nonviolent civil disobedience and strategic direct action."
During November's general strike, anti-capitalist marchers smashed windows and sprayed paint at major banks and Whole Foods. This was the "black bloc" — a controversial protest tactic supported under diversity of tactics, one that entails dressing in black clothing and covering faces in order to conceal identity, and moving as a unit. Most black bloc people don't actually vandalize, Occupiers say; they're just there so the vandals have a crowd to disappear into.
After a whopping 400 arrests on Jan. 28 and amid continued allegations of police misconduct, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan demanded that Occupy "stop using Oakland as its playground." In a Chronicle op-ed, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley called its actions "violent, senseless, and criminal." City Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente accused Occupiers of participating in "domestic terrorism."
Peller retorts, "If you beat people and use violence against them in order to extract a negotiation, that's terrorism."
These black bloc tactics also upset some Occupiers, who feel that vandalism steals the spotlight from Occupy Oakland's many nonviolent marches and events — and allows critics to smear the movement. Quan was quick to attribute window-smashing and vandalism to "a very quick takeover by the organized anarchists."
While Occupy Oakland does not deny its use of these tactics, the trouble with labeling all protesters clad in head-to-toe black as "anarchists" representative of the whole movement is that the costume by design makes it difficult to tell who is underneath it. A black outfit alone isn't proof of membership or ideology, and some Occupiers claim the most destructive black bloc instigators are actually police infiltrators hoping to discredit Occupy itself.
Peller says pointing the finger at anarchists is misplacing the blame: "No anarchists come like vampires in the middle of the night and swoop down and fuck everything up." She doesn't denounce vandalism outright, but she says that thinking of anarchists merely in terms of broken windows is ignorant and reductive, and insists that ideology alone isn't enough to compel people to risk beatings or arrest. It takes more than anarchist inklings to inspire militancy, she believes. Instead, she says, "People revolt for survival."
Such dire views have led some Occupiers to argue that Occupy Oakland's tactics are different because Oakland itself is different. Edwards says, "In Oakland, you have a history of poverty, crime, drugs, a nonexistent social safety net." Peller concurs: "In Oakland, the hatred of the police and the need to protect each other and to take direct action has gotten very amplified."
Both believe that Oakland had been experiencing the kinds of economic and social injustices that inspired the national movement since long before the recession, so patience there for less direct protest methods is already thin. Combined with a history of radical political movements, like the Black Panthers and the Berkeley student movement, as well as the riots following the killing of Oscar Grant, Oakland has powerful historical precedent for direct action — and bleeding 19-year-olds.
"It's the successor of Emma Goldman," an Occupier jokes, as Peller strides into the little park at 19th Street and Telegraph in Oakland on the Sunday in March when planning for the May Day actions began. Occupy Oakland has been holding general assemblies here, as well as at Frank Ogawa Plaza, ever since some Occupiers were slapped with temporary restraining orders that forbade them from coming within 300 yards of City Hall.
Although Peller doesn't have Goldman's lifelong legacy as an anarchist writer and leader, she certainly knows how to get herself to the center of social and political movements. Traveling to Lebanon, Oaxaca, and Greece, she's made anarchist organizing and activism her vocation. "When the uprising got violently put down," she says, recalling the 2006 Oaxaca uprising that occupied the city for months, "it took me years to get over it. I missed being at the barricades with the comrades."
When she started with Occupy, she found that sense of community she'd lost in Mexico. Peller played an integral role in organizing both of Occupy Oakland's port shutdowns — actions that have been touted by activists and critics alike as the local movement's greatest successes. The first port shutdown, during last year's general strike on Nov. 2, brought an approximately 7,000-strong march into the port at sunset to blockade the night shift. Images of demonstrators dancing atop 18-wheelers became the calling card of Occupy Oakland, a sign of what havoc the movement, with its radical refusal to pledge nonviolence and its staunch anti-cop stance, was capable of wreaking against its capitalist enemies.
It set the standard that May Day was expected to exceed, or at the very least, match.
Since the introduction of International Workers' Day in the 1890s, May Day has been celebrated around the world with strikes, protests, and marches in the name of labor. (Emma Goldman's initial interest in anarchism was fueled by the Haymarket labor riots, the bloody events that inspired May Day over a century ago and helped institute the eight-hour workday.) In the last few months, the Occupy movement has staked claim to it, not only for its history, but also as the date of a spring rebirth after camps across the nation were cleared last fall, and winter cold discouraged urban camping.