Unfinished Acts (Anarchist Analysis of Oscar Grant Resistance)

While waiting for us to post Justice for Oscar Grant: Lost Opportunity? (our analysis of the January rebellions and the crisis of leadership which accompanied them) check out this analysis of the January 7th & 14th Oscar Grant rebellions by some “insurrectionist” anarchists. It’s titled Unfinished Acts:  January Rebellions and is laid out as a play (hence the title, unfinished acts).  We’ll leave the comments open for criticism, appreciation, etc . . .

From the introduction:

Unfinished Acts is a collective recounting and analysis of events surrounding the shooting of an unarmed 22-year-old Black man in Oakland. Oscar Grant III was executed by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officers during the first hours of 2009 on the platform of the Fruitvale station. Unfinished Acts was written collectively by a group of anarchists who were and still are actively present in the rebellion following Oscar Grant’s execution.


The following pages include a few short histories of a few significant social movements to help contextualize the rebellions. This history acts as intermissions for a documentary dramatization (but factually correct!) of some of the events that unfolded in the streets during the first month of 2009. We have reconstructed the narrative and dialogue from collective stories, personal experiences and videos of the rebellions posted online. We conclude with our own analysis and lessons.

Link to low-res PDF here

Link to another way to read it here

9 responses to “Unfinished Acts (Anarchist Analysis of Oscar Grant Resistance)

  1. Hi,

    Glad you posted this. One thing to note is that it by a group of varying sorts of anarchists, some of whom aren’t as insurrectionist as others. But yes, for the most part it remains “between infoshops and insurrection” as Joel Olson puts it in this very useful article, which hits the nail on the head:

    Click to access Anarchism%20and%20Race-public.pdf

  2. I think the political culture and even value system of anarchist and communities of color are very antithetical to each other. Accountability and keeping your word in anarchist miluex is seen as authoritarian while in communities of color is central. Alot of the social structures in ghettos are heirarchal, including jails, and that I dont think anarchist have the slightest clue in knowing how to deal with them. I dont think anarchist will ever, ever develop roots in communities of color. Sorry APOC. I went to some anarchist people of color (APOC) meetings that accomplished absolutly nothing, even though some of the individuals are great. Anarchist are good at being white allies, but as liberatory methodology for communities of color against the state and racism, it really doesnt have much to offer.

    • Robert Allen has written an amazing book on white led reform movements in the US. called Reluctant Rebels. In his chapter on Socialism (a catch all phrase for European inspired anti capitalist movements) he explains how European Marxists et al (except for Trotsky and look what happened to him) never appreciated how racism in the US had become a force in and of itself (not merely a tool used to divide and conquer the working class). Anarchism is as heterogenous a philosophy as socialism and communism. I think Javier makes an interesting point in the context of Allen’s historical analysis — European rooted analysis/theory doesn’t fit US reality very well. The best one can say of it, and this is a very good thing, is that it does provide an analytical framework to BEGIN to understand how the power structure works, but it is only a beginning. Thoreau, Gandhi, Dubois, Garvey, Robert Williams, Malcolm X and King need to be considered as well.

    • I would have to disagree with Javier on many different points. This past summer was an opportunity to forge alliances with some compas in Mexico and participate in an anarchist encuentro in which issues of autonomy and sustainable community building were presented as some of the central themes (even in a government as repressive as Mexico). For Javier to claim that anarchists are only good at being white allies is to dismiss the rich development of anarchist organizations and participation in large social contexts within radical movements that have risen out of grassroots organizing all across Latin America (and elsewhere in the world, but for the purposes of demonstrating that people of color are in fact some of the most influential participants within an international anarchist effort to combat the state I believe it is important to reference this point). After the guerilla movement died down or as Hugo Chavez said, “Se apago la epoca de la guerilla,” the new alternatives to neoliberal policies and capitalist oppression could be found in anarchist organizing inspired by anarchist ideals of non-hierarchical organization.

      Being a Los Angeles resident and having participated in punk shows where DIY-organizing presented an opportunity for disenfranchised youth to collectively come together and create spaces of liberation within a capitalist framework largely influenced by Chicano youth retaliating against the police oppression of suburban barrios such as La Puente and South El Monte I am rather disappointed that Javier would play up the stereotype and further perpetuate the implication that all anarchists are white. I think APOC wasn’t as successful in launching anarchist organizing within communities of color due to identity politics prevalent within the organizing infrastructure but that does not paralyze the anarchist movement from reaching marginalized communities and building the capacity for self-organization and self-sufficiency.

      Anarchism is internationalism at its most fundamental level and just because the anarchist movement gets misinterpreted as a white-male dominated ghetto neglects the fact that anarchism is thriving within many diverse communities that may not specifically identify as anarchists. To name a few examples: The Zapatistas, the participation of anarchists within the APPO uprisings in Oaxaca in 2006, the events that took place in Argentina following the collapse of the economic systems in 2001 and the anarchist barricades (in conjunction with the local communities) that retaliated against the state and private property, the largest movement that exists is probably the MST (Movimiento de Trabajadores Rurales Sin Tierra) of Brazil which is arguably incorporating a marxist analysis and anarchist style of organizing to occupy poor agricultural lands from rich landowners and establish sustainable and self-sufficient communities with an emphasis on direct democracy, and then I would say the work of collectives such as El Libertario of Caracas, Venezuela which is organizing networks of mutual aid and independent media in the authoritarian (and poor excuse for socialist manipulation of power) regime of Hugo Chavez. Collectives such as the last example are only a glimpse into the social centers and infoshops that provide spaces for organizing within Latin America and other parts of the world that play a vital role in connecting networks of autonomous and non-hierarchical movements.

      Within the United States I would say food not bombs and the Los Angeles chapter is among the most diverse anarchist-based collectives serving 200 people each Sunday in skid row in Downtown LA which has strengthened ties with the community and sprouted new chapters serving food in other areas. Javier said, “I don’t think Anarchists will ever develop roots in communities of color” but the reality is that those roots already exist and I would question where such a statement stems from. The final point Javier stated was that anarchism would fail as a “liberatory methodology for communities of color against the state and racism,” however, this leads me to question which alternatives if any Javier has to offer as a successful liberatory methodology for communities of color…. in the state of Morelos, Mexico an assembly is being created that started with 13 pueblos coming to organize in defense of the land, air and water. While they don’t specifically identify as anarchists their organizing model is based on large democratic assemblies that is very inclusive of female participation that does not allow for any political parties (including the failed Communist Party of Mexico) to co-opt their organization from fighting the privatization of natural resources and the deterioration of the natural environment. Their efforts has cohesively united the entire state of Morelos and over 80 Pueblos to link up and demonstrate to put pressure on the government to allow for indigenous and campesino autonomy while opening up windows of opportunity for sustainable community building and conservation of fragile ecosystems as it pertains to the livelihood of marginalized communities of color. This appears to be a very successful methodology that is non-hierarchical and working towards the liberation of traditionally oppressed communities in repressive countries such as Mexico.

      Furthermore, I would like to end this response by saying that the anarcho-syndicalist union of the IWW brought together Eastern European Immigrants with “communities of color” in the United States to form a powerful and inspiring Union that challenged the wage slavery and horrid conditions of the workplace during that period in time. This was simultaneously going on while Ricardo Flores Magon was organizing with his brother in Los Angeles and northern Mexico to wage a general strike with the radical anarcho-syndicalist unions of that period in time leading to the creation of an army in Tijuana that explicitly identified as Anarchist by even waving the black flag of anarchism to take over the city of Tijuana for a period of several weeks.

      I would think that this would constitute communities of color using anarchist organizing to advance the struggle to end capitalism and racism (because racism is interconnected and inherently a component of the state as well). Lastly, Luisa Capetillo, another anarchist and syndicalist organizer of Puerto Rico was organizing the militant labor unions of Puerto Rico in a powerful labor struggle that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. While confronting obstacles such as racism and sexism she successfully used methodical forms of organizing to empower the “communities of color” she was working with. Her legacy led to the rise of other radical female labor organizers that were inspired by her efforts and continued the tradition of organizing within communities of color such as Emma Tenayuca of Texas and Luisa Moreno that was associated with the labor union UCAPAWA.

      Finally, I would say that while I left out many more examples of communities of color adopting Anarchist principles in their organizing I believe this demonstrates that Javier is wrong in dismissing anarchists and their work with oppressed communities but feel that it is important to point out that part of this failure is in the term anarchism itself. In the examples I gave many of these organizations do not identify as Anarchists yet utilize methodologies that could be considered anarchist-inspired. I believe this is due to the cultural practices that many communities have in rejecting authoritarian forms of organization and that contemporary organizing must transcend labels of anarchism or other political ideologies in order to create new alternatives in the global struggle for liberation that do not exclusively fall into these harmful patterns of categorization that are subject to stereotypes as indicated by Javier. I think this is possibly by complementing social movements with some of the principles of anarchist organizing such as a rejection of hierarchy and a consensus-based collectivity that challenge the state, racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression.

  3. Javier,
    I understand your criticism of Anarchism as a political ideology and culture in the bay area that is disconnected from people of color. I feel as if the anarchist movement is also disconnected from the working class as a whole in the bay area. But you are making a very broad claim that anarchism as an idea is completely incompatible with communities of color as a general argument, which I feel is very problematic for several reasons.

    First off to generalize the social conditions and cultures of communities of color is something I feel should be avoided as there is a lot of diversity. Not so say that there is not a generalized condition of oppression, hierarchy, and exploitation present within them, but to state that they all are completely incompatible with anarchist ideas is to say that they all need the same solution because they are all the same.

    Secondly, Anarchism in praxis is much less of an Ideology than it is a process by which to make decisions and organize ourselves in a directly democratic fashion. There are of course those who buy into the ideological trends of anarchism, who are probably the hipster anarchist elf looking characters you most likely were thinking of when you wrote the above comment. But as Sam pointed out, there are many organizations such as the 13 pueblos in Morelos, and MST, that use Anarchist means of organizing while neglecting to call themselves Anarchist because they also find inspiration in their organizing from marxism and their own members original analysis.

    To write off anarchism as not having “much to offer” to communities of color you are neglecting the reality that in the struggle people must use their own practical theory, in order to find a true critique of the system we are up against. There is no hope in Anarchism or any of the handful of Marxist sects alone, we should take the relevant points from both and merge them into our analysis and praxis.

    What that the people of oakland realized during the uprising following Oscar Grants murder doesn’t need an ideological label, it was consciousness in action.

  4. i agree with much of what you said sam. you ask what alternatives to anarchism, and i would offer communism, but thats a whole other can of worms.

    insofar as anarchists build APPO-like mass participatory organizations i support their activities. i agree anarchists are pigeon-holed too much as white. i would estimate that there are far more non-white anarchists in this country than non-white communists. in fact, there are far more anarchists period.

    but i think anarchists should engage and challenge each other more to think about how to build spaces more like APPO, IWW, and the other things you mentioned in your very good reply above. the more serious anarchists i know, read and respect Marx, while criticizing Lenin and other “authoritarian” socialists. what are your thoughts on Marx, Sam? have you read any of his work?

    i also think that marxists can learn a lot from anarchists, in terms of integrating more humanity into their political lifestyles, and learning to have fun and take risks and be a little spontaneous with their actions rather than always trying to get “masses” to participate.

    i think a time is approaching where our political differences will have a real, living testing ground in masses of people. we will see what theories work best in the real world of class war, rather than which lifestyles are best at killing time during the ebb of social discontent. we will see new syntheses of old theories as well as completely new things.

    in oakland during the Oscar Grant rebellions, it was a combination of anarchists, the RCP, and the lumpen black youth that were the vanguard of the forces on the ground. imagine if a synthesis of these 3 currents – one communist, one anarchist, one spontaneous race and class militants – were to emerge in the coming years. this would be a powerful development that would redefine the terms of theoretical discussions that we currently have.

    • re: a combination of anarchists, the RCP, and the lumpen black youth

      That is the REAL lost opportunity, not the NGOs that Advance the Struggle attacks in their recent analysis. Anarchists just walked away after the 14th and were left with the label in the community that they are merely window breaking provocateurs rather than sticking around and building up productive working relationships with non-anarchists.

      Javier makes a really good point in that local anarchists choose to self-select rather than work with people of color who may be more accustomed to operating along hierarchical lines. My way or the highway leaves bay area anarchists where they’ve always been as activists, a marginalized group scratching its collective head about why others don’t follow their example. While anarchists do a good job of pointing to the APPO or other similar groups as examples of cross pollination, anarchists are currently absolutely terrible at building alliances with any more than a handful of african americans and that’s why you constantly see anarchists pointing to the Panthers 40 years ago – it’s the only thing they can think of to say, “See, I like black people. I have a black friend.”

      And so you are left with these nostalgic zines and blog articles that fetishize two nights in January and want to blame commies and people in green vests rather than themselves.

  5. Response, especially to JohnGeorge
    Anarchists left, making the community think of them as “window breaking provocateurs.” What community? The community of downtown Oakland. The community of high-rises and skyscrapers? Your community of blogging? (yes, by responding, I, too become part of your filthy world) Or the Black community? Or the Black working-class community? Or that despicable “lumpen” black community? Lumpen? Are you fucking serious? What makes them lumpen? Did you survey and ask those kids how they get their wage-slavery on? Lumpen—only in your fucking out-of-whack-lumpen theory, the theory that nourishes itself on the exploitation of your so-called “lumpen” black youth.

    Provocateurs? Do you know who smashed the first window? Had it solely been your “lumpen” youth who had rioted, who would have you been blaming, the RCP? the white folk? the ‘violent’ elements within the “lumpen” black folk? the spontaneity of the masses? the uneducated proletariat who needs a vanguard or some simple class consciousness (rather, indoctrination), organization, discipline, what? Would have you been blaming yourself, your lack of coordination and involvement with the ‘community.’ Face it you have no involvement. No fucking person, and no organization, has that perfect “relationship” with the ‘community.’ So, quit fetishizing those folk who don’t read our shit, and quit calling them the ‘community.’

    And are you talking about anarchists being self-critical? Who isn’t?
    They don’t want to build relationships with non-anarchists? Where the fuck have you been? You need to stop watching KRON 4 and CNN. If anything, your stereotypical anarchist hides in dark caves in much the same way the socialists and communists do. Yes, there are meetings that are only attended by like-minded folk, but that is with any organization in any ‘cummunity.’ The only organizations who escape this may be the republicans and democrats with their national conventions—but in local meetings, all you’ll meet is fellow republicans or democrats.
    OK, OK. Say that you and your like-minded folk build relationships with the “community,” I mean, your cause celebre, your soupe de jour. What is it that you do? You use them.
    I said it.
    You want to build the movement, your perfect movement where everybody lives in perfect harmony, obeying your orders, reading your ancient tomes, your useless, written-in a-cellar texts. But when you are accused of using poor folk to build a façade around your idea of organization, you say, “no, really, we just want people to be organized.” What? Organized in your centralized hierarchichal way?
    And then you go on by saying that ‘they’ are used to living under hierarchy? We all want communism, and you want to achieve it through more power-mongering? Man, you need to shut the fuck up.

    And the Panthers? They were mentioned to give a historical context the readiness of the your precious “lumpen” youth. They were not mentioning to justify anything.

  6. In the last paragraph, I meant to write,
    And the Panthers? They were mentioned only to give a historical context to the readiness of your precious “lumpen” youth. They were not mentioned to justify anything.

    And to add: esteban’s response is the most constructive, and the most reasonable.

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