Justice For Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity?

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This is Advance the Struggle’s analysis of the Oakland rebellions of January

Justice for Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity?

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’09 and the crisis of leadership which accompanied them. The piece speaks for itself, so I’ll leave you with a link to the graphically designed PDF version, as well as a text-only version in this post.

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Justice for Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity?

The murder of Oscar Grant set Oakland on fire, but who put the fire out?
The working class people of Oakland, their consciousness set ablaze, found an inadequate set of organizational tools at their disposal to do the work that deep down we all know has to be done – confront the state (government) and its underlying property relations.

The primary organization available to them was a coalition of nonprofits; the secondary organizational tool was a self-labeled revolutionary communist
organization. Both played prominent but ultimately problematic leadership roles while Oakland youth lacked cohesive theory and organizational
structure through which to effectively challenge their oppressors.

Using the Oscar Grant episode as a case study in the role of political leadership in the Bay Area, we hope to reveal the most glaring shortcomings
of the left today. We believe new leadership is necessary, and hope that this document can contribute to its emergence.

I. State Sponsored Racism: Then and Now
II. The Struggle Begins
III. CAPE, Nonprofits and the State
IV. RCP and Revolutionary Organizing
V. A Victory?
VI. Lack of Organization and Lost Opportunity

I. State Sponsored Racism: Then and Now

The United States has been nurtured and raised in soil bloodied by socially accepted, state sponsored, racist violence. A study of the period 1868 to 1871 estimates that the Ku Klux Klan was involved in more than 400 lynchings. From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States. Of these people that were lynched 3,446 were black. Blacks were 72.7% of the people lynched.1 One conservative report estimated 597 Mexicans were lynched between 1848 and 1928.2

What is important to note is the role of the state. The Force Act of 1870 and the Civil Rights Act of 1871 were also called the Ku Klux Klan Acts due to the fact that Federal law gave legal justification and protection
for racist violence to exist and reproduce itself. In 1948 the last legal lynching took place.3 Indiana Senetor Albert Beveridge, in 1900, openly said, “We are the ruling race of the world….we will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God of the civilization of the world. He has marked us as his chosen people…He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile people.”4 Police then started engaging in systematic “justifiable homicide” in the new urban Black communities that formed after WWII. The murder of Oscar Grant is the most recent episode of this long oppressive history.

II. The Struggle Begins

January 2009 was a month of rebellion rising spontaneously from the streets. Everyone was furious about Oscar Grant’s murder by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle on January 1, 2009. On January 7th a protest was organized by a group of people at the Fruitvale BART. The protest was intended to remain peacefully at the BART station, but a break-away march took place. A couple of hundred people took over International Blvd and headed towards downtown Oakland. Anarchists, Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) militants, and Oakland youth led the break-away march and did not stand down to the police. Because the march was un-permitted it was able to turn through streets as needed to avoid police; this is called a snakemarch. When the march was headed towards the police station the police chased the crowd, and they regrouped in downtown Oakland on 14th and Broadway. There was a showdown, and the more confrontational elements moved into downtown Oakland and started breaking McDonald’s windows, throwing objects at the police, and smashing up expensive cars. The crowd was largely Black, young, and working class. The intuitive militancy of the Oakland youth went beyond the moderate politics of the original protest. When Mayor Ron Dellums came out to try to calm the crowd some Black youth chanted, “fuck Obama and fuck Dellums.”

KPFA radio host and Bay View Newspaper journalist JR described the event:
“I’m proud of Oakland people in general and youngstas specifically for standing up to the occupying army in our community:
the police and the city officials that support the system that lets the police kill us wantonly. The rebellion was just the beginning of a longer political education class in Amerikkkan politics and how it fails to meet the needs of its Black and Brown low income dwellers.”5

III. CAPE, Nonprofits and the State

The Coalition Against Police Execution (CAPE) was formed in response to the January 7th rebellion to provide leadership for the emerging
movement for justice for Oscar Grant. It was composed mainly of nonprofit activists. They immediately called for a protest the following Wednesday, January 14th. At the planning meeting one of the leaders emphasized
that the coming protest should have “a grandmother spirit where you go to the store and you come right back with the correct change.” The ‘grandmother spirit’ meant that the protest should not go off CAPE’s script and result in more rebellion. The day before this protest Mehserle was arrested, due to the rebellion the week before, and the possibility of more uprisings. Both CAPE and the system wanted to ensure that the January 14th protest wouldn’t get out of hand. At this time, many moderates said that the struggle had been partially won, while others argued for “systemic change” in the form of mandatory police sensitivity training. Others could be heard advocating armed resistance to the police.

The January 14th protest was a key turning point in the struggle. CAPE organized a sizable march from city hall to the DA’s office and back. At 7PM they started telling everyone to go home and that the protest was over. George Ciccariello-Maher, in his article “Oakland is Closed!” explains:

The final speaker insisted that not even arrest or conviction was sufficient, since “that pig was just doing what pigs do.” It was police policy that needed to be changed, and continued militant action was the only way that this could be accomplished. As he concluded, the speaker added a knowing observation alongside a plea: “I see a lot of warriors out there,” he said, “and I just want to ask you to make sure that the babies and the children get home safely tonight.”

But this radical message would be redirected and distorted through CAPE’s nonviolent lens, as a representative would immediately insist that, “you heard the man, let’s all go home with our children and keep it peaceful.”6

After the last speaker, people marched back to the downtown city center where the organizers repeated their instructions to the crowd: the protest is over; it’s time to go home. However, people’s thirst for justice was not quenched by the symbolic march. Militant Black youth amongst the crowd were eager to confront the heavy police presence rather than simply go home as directed by CAPE. As groups of people congregated in the intersection of 14th & Broadway the militant energy was clearly felt by all, perhaps most of all by CAPE who seemed to expect it. As soon as people squared up in front of a line of riot police, CAPE activists immediately
intervened, linking arms and attempting to block the people from approaching the police.

In this context we should consider what Arundhati Roy argues about the “buffer” role nonprofits (or non-governmental organizations – NGOs) play in India:

NGOs give the impression that they are filling a vacuum created by a retreating state. And they are, but in a materially inconsequential
way. Their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right. NGOs alter the public psyche. They turn people into dependent victims and blunt political resistance. NGOs form a buffer between the sarkar [government] and public (2). Between empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.7

When CAPE activists, all wearing neon vests to distinguish themselves
as figures of authority, lined up between the people and the police, they played the exact role that Roy examines above: they became a buffer between the people and state. They faced the people, backs turned to the pigs, and tried to put out the fire of people’s emerging consciousness and militancy. We must ask: were the actions by CAPE leadership purposely directed towards squashing the energy on the night of January 14th? Or were they confused moves on the part of well-intentioned activists, whose strategy wasn’t able to incorporate the rebellious mood on the streets?

To answer these questions we must examine closely the role nonprofits play in relation to the system’s power structure. Through their “buffer” tactics and diversions from confrontational struggle, Bay Area nonprofits effectively acted as an extension of the state. Nonprofit funding from foundations suffocates the development of a real revolutionary formation, keeping the politics of the nonprofit organization safely within the bounds of the rules of the system. In order to go further we must understand that the state is a set of tools that the ruling class controls, including courts, elected officials, and most importantly, a monopoly on the use of violence through the police, army, and prisons. A primary purpose of the state is to keep the working class in check, forced to either slave away making profits for capitalists, or self-destruct when their labor is no longer needed. The state achieves these ends through two main strategies: coercion (brute force which protects the system) and consent (ideological persuasion which keeps the system running smoothly.) Hegemony is achieved by the state, and the ruling class on whose behalf the state operates, through the combination of coercion and consent. As a key part of this strategy the state exercises hegemonic power where, by consent, non-state organizations actually take on the tasks of the state, as Roy argues above. CAPE demanded, in point three of their What CAPE Wants and What We Believe, that “a citizen review board to monitor excessive force, [and] supervise implementation of diversity training” should be a solution to police brutality. This liberalism is not the sole fault of individuals within CAPE, but rather the result of the historical evolution (or degeneration) of oppositional politics in the Bay Area, which must be understood in relation to the state.

The power of the state exists in places well beyond the police and the mayor; its ideological influence extends into institutions, such as churches, schools, trade-unions, and nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits may temporarily act against certain persons and decisions of the state, or even denounce certain laws. However, as a whole their political practices are colonized by the logic of the system, both through their material funding and their ideological visions.

The Black Panther Party’s political work in the 1960s focused on organizing to take control of black communities through “socialistic” service programs and direct confrontations against police brutality. But by the 1970s their political orientation shifted to getting elected into local government and running social service institutes that were partly funded by the local state. While “socialistic” community service programs started under the banner of “Survival Pending Revolution,” they soon became service based programs solely focused on survival, and became divorced from the revolutionary strategy they were once part of. This shift represented the displacement of the revolutionary fire the Panthers were born with by the acceptance of the duties and practices of the state. The Panthers degenerated into an organization whose revolutionary politics were completely subordinated to the practice of providing social services. This helped set the political trajectory of the Bay Area nonprofit left by making it acceptable to call social services resistance.

As we’ve mentioned above, the state doesn’t rule simply by the direct force of the police or the army, but also rules through ideologies, which validate its existence as a political and social system. For instance, working class youth of color are criminalized by the repressive side of the state, mainly the police and the courts. These same youth are also dominated by a “get rich by any means” ideology which leads to individualistic behavior. The correct balance of the gun and the dollar hypnotizes people into submission and ndividualism that ultimately keeps the machinery of the system running smoothly.

Antonio Gramsci wrote a famous essay entitled, Hegemony (Civil Society) and Separation of Powers: He states that the:

unity of the state in the differentiation of powers: Parliament more closely linked to civil society; the judiciary power, between government
and Parliament, represents the continuity of the written law (even against the government).

What Gramsci is attempting to point out here, speaking in abstract terms, is that the system inherently seeks to incorporate opposition to itself within its own framework and parameters so that it doesn’t get out of hand. If we think about “parliament more closely linked to civil society” we must also think about the logic and laws of parliament becoming practiced in everyday “civil society,” especially within political organizations, such as nonprofits that consider themselves “left.” The more people and organizations become disciplined in the rituals and methods of the state, the more people are powerless against the state.

Gramsci continues:

“Naturally all three powers are also organs of political hegemony, but in different degrees: 1. Legislature; 2, Judiciary; 3. Executive. It is to be noted how lapses in the administration of justice make an especially disastrous impression on the public: the hegemonic apparatus is more sensitive in this sector [the public], to which arbitrary actions on the part of the police and political administration may also be referred.” 9

When police kill innocent Black and Latino working class youth one can easily see deep “lapses in the administration of justice.” Politically they, “make an especially disastrous impression on the public,” which is why the state will broker deals of power with groups such as CAPE who call for a, “citizen review board to monitor excessive force.” The state realizes that its brutal repression will be resisted and rebelled against by the people. For this reason it needs ways in which to neutralize the activity of the oppressed through political buffers and interpreters, such as nonprofit community organizations. Throughout the process of negotiation with the state, the nonprofits see themselves as doing “good work” on the part of the oppressed. They believe this work will shift the state towards the side of the people.

The problem is the state can never reform itself to be neutral or to be an agent against racist brutality or capitalist exploitation. The state’s historical nature is to be the brains and muscle for the Anglo dominated ruling class and the reproduction of capital. Nicos Poulantzas argues, “Through its activities and effects, the State intervenes in all the relations of power in order to assign them a class pertinency and enmesh them in the web of class power.”10 Every instance of social interaction, such as going to the grocery story, attending school, or getting married, is wrapped up in the web of business based social relations.

Poulantzas continues, the “State thereby takes over heterogeneous powers which relay and recharge the economic, political and ideological powers of the dominant class… [Class] power therefore traverses, utilizes and gears down that other power, assigning to it a given political significance.”
11 Even when community organizations, nonprofits, and individuals
come together to organize against state oppression their organizational strategies and ideological perspectives are still wrapped up in the webs of class power.

Despite frequent references to the radical legacy of Oakland, CAPE behaved as an extension of the state, “organizing” people to be peaceful, go home and not take militant action in the streets. Many progressive people in CAPE, who took part in the attempt to contain the righteous indignation and militancy of the people, would likely consider themselves revolutionaries. They see the political work of organizing resistance as building town hall meetings with religious forces, caravans to Sacramento demanding that politicians “pay close attention to the issue,” healing circles for Oakland youth, and press conferences. While all these are useful and helpful components of a holistic movement, they are very low level responses to injustice, and the state has the capability to absorb these actions as simply bumps on the road. It is useful to juxtapose this grouping of activists and their strategies against other serious organizers, such as Black Panther militants, Palestinian militants, IWW militants of the 1910s, and Chicana militants of the 1970s, all of whom politically organized against the state to directly challenge its power through militant coordinated resistance. Such militant coordinated struggles included engaging in “illegal” strikes, mass school walkouts, mass un-permitted marches, and organizing the community against the police.

Differences in tactics often represent actual differences in strategy, and strategy is guided by politics and ideology. Nonprofit activism has a “pressure politics” strategy, working under the assumption that US political
and economic structures are capable of meeting the needs of working class and communities of color through lobbying and advocacy. As long as the state exists it is necessary for progressive movements to make demands from it on behalf of the people. But the question is how do we make those demands; through what method of struggle? The methodology of pressure politics narrows struggle into the parameters of the existing state-based governmental decision making process. Simply put: they don’t address the systematic nature of oppression. They fall into the illusion that politicians are neutral and can be pressured to “do the right thing”.

CAPE activists argued that their actions on the night of the January 14th protest were an effort to keep the movement organized and not let it degenerate into chaos like what many people saw the January 7th downtown
riots turn into. We recognize that the movement does need organization,
and it does need leadership, but leadership and organization with a different strategy than that of CAPE. Despite the efforts to conjure up the “grandmother spirit,” January 14th ended up looking much the same as the previous week. The rebellious activity of January 7th and January 14th represent neither revolutionary uprisings nor meaningless destruction, but disorganized uprisings of the people against the state. The fact that it couldn’t move beyond press conferences and town halls on the one hand, and broken windows and flames on the other, only highlights the lack of organized militant leaders. Lost was the opportunity to channel such raw energy into mass un-permitted protests against the state, political strikes at workplaces, and city-wide synchronized school shutdowns. The problem was not too much militancy from the street, but rather a lack of trained militants with a clear analysis and a constructive plan that the mood on the street could relate to and follow.

IV. RCP and Revolutionary Organizing

The main “revolutionary” organized force that attempted to lead a more militant movement was the Bay Area Revolution Club/The Revolutionary
Communist Party (RCP). On January 16th, they called for Bay Area high school walkouts between 1pm to 3pm as a response to the Oscar Grant killing, and as a radical alternative to the moderate CAPE movement. The day of the walkout students from Berkeley High School, Oakland School of the Arts, Oakland High School and Oasis High School attended. They met in front of the Alameda County Court and held a speak out. Altogether, the crowd did not get beyond 50 people, with older RCP members maintaining a heavy presence. Chanting “the whole system is guilty,” the walkout transitioned into an un-permitted march through downtown Oakland. Along the way they tried to get other schools to walk out, but had no success. The crowd marched towards Oakland High holding up traffic throughout the way; at this point the Oakland Police Department moved in to attack. While high school students were beaten up, arrested, and sexually assaulted, RCP militants remained at a safe distance on the sidewalk. No RCPers were arrested.

The RCP summed up the event in the January 19th edition of their newspaper:

At the end of the march, four high school students from the protest were suddenly grabbed, brutalized and arrested by the Oakland Police Department which had maintained a heavy presence throughout the day, following the youth through the streets. This was an outrageous attack—brutalizing youth who stand up against police brutality! 12

Of course, any instance of police brutality is outrageous – especially
when the attack is directed at politicized youth, who are organizing against the police. The RCP’s analysis implies that the police attacked the youth for courageously taking the moral high ground against the system, while absolutely washing their hands of any responsibility for their own flawed leadership. This ‘leadership’ contributed to the students isolation and vulnerability to police attack, while the “vanguard” itself stepped to the side and played the role of spectators. The RCP is often accused of using young people as pawns in an elitist leadership’s pre-determined scheme, both as front line fodder and as tokens. This accusation usually demonstrates an anti-communist sentiment, which is problematic and anti-radical. However, episodes like this don’t offer evidence against this reading of RCP organizing. The RCP considers itself the vanguard (leader) of oppressed people, and they have a theoretical justification and understanding of their self-proclaimed position as the vanguard. This same theory simultaneously contributes to the clumsiness exhibited during their unsuccessful walkout.

The RCP claims in a document titled, Some Points on the Question of Revolutionary Leadership and Individual Leaders that “where leadership
is genuinely revolutionary leadership, the more it plays its leadership role correctly, in accordance with Marxist-Leninist-Maoist principles, the greater will be the conscious initiative of the masses.” RCP leader Bob Avakian recently wrote, “[political] lines reflect certain social bases. Or to put it another way, they represent certain classes . . . Lines are a concentration
of the fundamental interests and aspirations of different classes; different lines represent different class forces.” Despite Avakian’s clumsy, un-edited writing, it becomes clear that they believe their political lines (found in their newspaper) represent the aspirations of the oppressed and exploited – specifically, the working class youth of color they led on their disastrous walkout. Though political lines and perspectives are incredibly important, the RCP gets it wrong with its overemphasis on them.

The RCP’s ideology fetishizes the role that “political lines,” or political views on different questions, play in history. Their flawed view of the importance of ideology leads them to believe that the political lines produced by their main leader, Bob Avakian, automatically generate revolutionary advancements in struggles. The RCP understands the organizing and mobilizing of oppressed youth as a mechanical process: first, they study and understand the writings of Avakian (which are supposed to be the “correct” political line) and then they go out amongst the oppressed and spread the good word of Avakian’s thoughts. The ideological perspective and political lines of Avakian are supposed to be adopted by the people and then spread around to others, primarily through the sale of the RCP‘s newspaper. The result is a tautological (circular) form of revolutionary organizing with an ultimate goal of expanding their readership.

This flawed understanding of the importance of Avakian’s ideology
contributes to a truncation of revolutionary organizing which leaves out consistent work amongst the oppressed. Organizing struggles amongst students against cuts to education, workers for better working conditions, or tenants against slumlords is labeled as “economistic” (aka, not political enough). The result is that nonprofits wind up asserting leadership over these struggles, and narrowing them into reformist directions which do not challenge the state. These nonprofit leaders and organizations become more closely linked with the oppressed, while the RCP remains largely marginalized and known in oppressed communities mostly for their fly-by-night newspaper sales. By allowing nonprofits to take leadership of these “economistic” struggles, the RCP loses the opportunity to expand the consciousness of the people involved in these daily class struggles, as well as the opportunity to advance them in a revolutionary direction against the state. By refusing to engage in the day to day struggles working class people face they lose the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships amongst the people. This lack of political roots amongst working class communities leads the isolated, self-proclaimed vanguard to overestimate its ability to call for “massive resistance,” such as the high school walkout they dreamed of happening on January 16th.

The RCP would likely respond that the value of political roots in the working class lies solely on the correctness of the political line leading the way, which is the crucial starting point for meaningful action. Accepting
this argument at face value, one would have to question the “correctness”
of their line, and its pedagogical transmission, when it has failed so miserably to get through to the minds of the working class people of the Bay Area. The RCP is stuck between their stubborn dissemination of a “correct line” that never connects any real dots, and an adventuristic concept of action that is limited to protest activity. Intelligent, frustrated, sensitive youth get caught between a rock and a hard place.

The leaders of the RCP’s failed January 16th protest expected to ignite the masses with a big bold move, but they failed. To put it in theoretical terms, they overvalued their own subjective factors (the “correctness” of their political line and small march) and underestimated objective factors (the fact that they had no significant roots amongst the oppressed, and therefore a limited basis from which to call for “massive resistance”). We are criticizing them, because in exalting themselves as representatives of communism and revolution they discredit these worthy goals. They sow distrust amongst the “masses” for all so-called outside agitators. We should redefine political line as the relation of revolutionary theory to militant organizing that actually advances struggles.

V. A Victory?

On June 18, 2009, BART police officer Mehserle was arraigned for murder. A police officer has not faced murder charges in California for nearly 15 years, which made some activists and organizations shout victory. It is a victory but a small one. The legal system did not charge Mehserle with murder out of a moral obligation; it did it as a response to the militant protests and rebellions that took place on January 7th and 14th. Now that Mehserle has murder charges against him the question remains: will he be convicted? The disorganized rebellion that broke out in LA in ‘92 happened after the four pigs who beat Rodney King were acquitted. If Mehserle is acquitted there will likely be more disorganized rebellions in Oakland, but we need more than that to put an end to this oppression.

VI. Lack of Organization and Lost Opportunity

Now if we do want to live a thug life and a gangsta life and all of that, ok, so stop being cowards and let’s have a revolution.

– Tupac Shakur, beaten by Oakland Police in 1992 in downtown Oakland.

Some activists in CAPE and most of the RCP would agree that we need a revolution to end oppression and exploitation. If we are serious about making a revolution then we need to be serious about taking criticisms
and criticizing ourselves. So far we’ve been critiquing CAPE and the RCP openly and without holding back. Some might say that we don’t have a basis to criticize them since we didn’t provide alternatives at the time; but this logic misses the point. We will continue to have opportunities to connect revolutionary perspectives to spontaneous uprisings by the people, but if we don’t understand and learn from the mistakes of current organizations, then we will be doomed to repeat them and the system will keep on winning. Criticism of existing organizations is a necessary step in the direction of building the type of organization that can respond to movements of the oppressed and help guide them in a revolutionary direction, instead of fumbling or capitulating to the system.

* * *

What was not known by any section of the Bay Area left is that a couple of days before the January 16th walkout, thirty Oakland high school students from three different schools met at Fruitvale BART, and discussed organizing a city-wide walkout of all schools in Oakland demanding justice for Oscar Grant. The walkout was to be organized autonomously by the students, rather than by nonprofits or revolutionary vanguards. It was scheduled for the following week. However, the fresh initiative that could have been the beginning of a lasting movement coming directly from the working class youth of Oakland would not have a chance to bloom. Some of the key student leaders of this meeting spent that coming weekend in jail; they were arrested at the RCPs fiasco “walkout” protest on January 16th. Robbed of its organic leadership the city-wide walkout was cancelled. Meanwhile, the RCP organized another protest a few weeks later, which drew a few hundred people and marched peacefully to the police station before ending with the vague message that people should “go back and organize their communities.” Other groups such as By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), UHURU, and No Justice No Bart tried to have militant protests, but each one did not bring out a critical mass; even though No Justice No Bart shut down a couple of BART stations momentarily on a few different occasions. All of us missed the window of opportunity to provide leadership to the movement. The RCP and CAPE had their timing correct, but not their political lines.

If Oakland’s flash of rebellion against the murder of Oscar Grant demonstrates anything, it is that neither the nonprofit sector, nor self-proclaimed “revolutionaries” have roots amongst the oppressed. Both can and will be overrun and shoved aside by the spontaneous militancy of the people. No amount of “Please go home!” and conjuring of the “Grandmother spirit” by the nonprofits stopped a militant section of Oakland youth from confronting the state through random destruction of property. No amount of “the whole damn system is guilty” and RCP newspapers turned these same youth into revolutionary cadre either. The challenge is to develop an organization that can match its strategy and tactics to the mood of the masses and infuse the spontaneous movements that develop from that mood with a more conscious and political view of their world. In defense of the RCP, they tried to figure out how to get revolution into the popular discourse, and attempted to mobilize people in a confrontational way against the state rather than passively serve it. It is also crucial to point out that no other radical organizations that claim to represent the oppressed and exploited working class people of Oakland or the Bay Area have any significant political base in these communities either. There are no obvious self-labeled revolutionary organizations in the Bay Area that surpass the RCP in terms of numbers, visibility, or consistency. But this observation only reinforces the fact that the radical left is in ruins 35 years after the demise of the Panthers.

Many Black young adults at the January 7th CAPE protest talked about their parents being Panthers, and the need to directly take on the system. But how? First of all, Oscar Grant was a butcher and a UFCW union member. Why didn’t supermarket workers have a one-day strike protesting the killing? What about BART workers and city employees; why didn’t they have a one-day strike against the oppressive state? Sounds farfetched to expect strike action in response to state violence? Maybe here in the US, but not in Greece. There, the police murder of a 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos triggered reactions which, very quickly, evolved from protests to riots to a general strike in which 2.5 million workers were on strike in December 2008. Within days the killer cop and police accomplices were arrested, but even this concession didn’t trick the movement into subsiding. The police murder set off the uprising, but the participants connected the murder with the issues of unemployment, neo-liberal economic measures, political corruption, and a failing educational system. Aren’t we facing similar problems in Oakland and in the US? Why can’t we imagine a similar response from our people? Much of the answer to this question lies in the fact that we lack organizations that apply revolutionary politics in such a way that builds deep organizational roots. As a political perspective, people have to know who their real enemy is and who their real friends are. Who is working into the popular consciousness proper targets such as big capitalists and the state, not small shopkeepers and automobiles? Who is organizing collective mass actions rather than acts of healing and social accountability.

Oakland had the last general strike in American history, which was started by women clerks in downtown Oakland. On December 1, 1946, police tried to break the strike, but their attempt backfired, because train operators, without notice, went on strike and told their fellow workers to do the same. A general strike rippled through Oakland. Workers started the strike on their own, and unions only jumped on board in order to maintain their control so the struggle wouldn’t get out of hand. The strikers had a major street party in downtown, and the whole city was shut down for days. Dave Beck, International vice-president of the AFL Teamster Union, said in the Oakland Tribune Dec 5, 1946 “The [Oakland general strike was the] first move in a revolution that could lead to an overthrow of government.”

The Black Panther Party are another example. They mobilized thousands of people, in disciplined formations, chanting “off the pigs” and “its time for revolution” in front of the District Attorney office in downtown Oakland. Black neighborhoods in Oakland were self organized against the police. The Party, with political roots in the ghetto, was capable of mobilizing serious militant protests against the city and state against racist brutality. Less known is the Black Panther presence in the workplace. In 1970, the Black Panther caucus of the NUMMI auto-parts plant in Fremont, led a wildcat strike against a contract agreement the United Auto Workers Local 2244 had made with the company. The Panthers had roots in the community and in workplaces, which represents a serious model of political organizing that we need to adopt and advance now.

During the explosive month of January 2009, it would have been possible to organize a major unpermitted protest of many thousands of Oakland residents to march through working class neighborhoods to demonstrate that the people are against the abuses of state. This could have been done in a way that invited people out to join the demonstration, and called for more lasting organization and working class collective action. One can imagine how the response to the Oscar Grant murder might have become the seed for a new militant organization in Oakland. People were angry and they were ready to take action. A city wide walkout, one day strikes, and a mass unpermitted snake march were all possible.

Why didn’t anything more militant take place in January 2009? The possibility was there, but what was missing? . . . There was no organization.
There was and is no group that parallels the Panthers today. The Bay Area left is incredibly weak, divided, and nonprofitized. Activists go from protest to protest, from event to event, with far too little strategizing about how to advance struggles beyond building quantitatively bigger symbolic protests and events. No organization has roots in the Oakland working class nor has militants implanted amongst working class youth of color. No group has developed militants capable of leading strikes and city-wide actions. Huey P Newton would have looked at the young rioters as potential Panther recruits. As we’ve said, riots are disorganized insurrections.

The Bay Area left has proven that they are incapable of leading successful struggles. Where have we seen a successful struggle in the last 5 years in the Bay Area? Huey visited all the different left groups and found all of them narrow, weak, overly theoretical, and knew that something
new, fresh, and militant, needed to be created.

Three decades after his party’s demise, we again face the question of what is to be done and again the answer is to develop an organization comprised of militants from the oppressed that trains them intellectually as leaders of a mass movement to overthrow capitalism. Only through consistent day-to-day work can such an organization connect itself with the working class. The nonprofit sector has a better understanding of what kind of “consistent, day-to-day work” an organization must do to earn the trust and respect of the working class, while the RCP calls any orientation toward the working class and its immediate interests economistic, opportunistic,
and bowing to spontaneity. We need to confront the day-to-day substance of capitalist exploitation wherever it occurs, and do this with the people who are actually experiencing the exploitation first hand. True revolutionaries provide tools to this end through educating and exposing the exploited to the lessons of history, expanding the parameters of the possible (thinking outside the capitalist box), and presenting strategies and perspectives on how to struggle. This should all be done in a manner that makes working class people not only actors but ones who produce and reproduce the training process amongst their peers.

Let us not forget the lost opportunity Oakland had for the hot month of January 2009. Thanks to the militant direct response by the working class youth of Oakland, Oscar Grant will always be honored as an unwitting martyr in our struggle for freedom. We know that his life was laid down in fertile soil, but we know that there are too few seeds being planted in that soil and too little water to nourish what seeds already exist. In the years ahead of us we can sense a re-birth of radicalism coming out of an intensifying crisis. It is time to shed old dogmas, careerist approaches to organizing, and collaboration with the government. Its time to turn back to the people, to the working class, and to be what Obama is clearly not – true socialists, true radicals, truly anti-racist, militant community organizers. What better place is there for taking up such a task than the city that gave birth to the Panthers and had the last general strike in US history? We will see new opportunities arise and we should be organizationally prepared to link our revolutionary visions with the people’s spontaneous energy.

Radical British poet William Blake was deeply inspired by the American slave revolts and the Haitian revolution. He wrote:

Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field
Let him look up into the heavens and laugh in the bright air:
Let the unchained soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years
Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open;
And let his wife and children return from the oppressor’s scourge
For empire is no more and now the Lion and Wolf shall cease.

The exploitation which slaves revolted against still exists today. We are born into a world dominated by the accumulation of wealth for the few, with the accumulation of stress, exploitation and oppression for the many. Despite this, as we’ve seen in Oakland, we have the power to rebel against this oppression. As Blake states the “dungeon doors are open.” The time is ripe for a new revolutionary movement to be born and break through the walls of oppression and exploitation. We don’t have all the answers, but through collective dialog and struggle we can find them. There are more than enough reasons to make a revolution, and the challenge is to discover how to strike back against the system so powerfully that all the chains that bind us are broken.


1) The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, 1909-1950. Temple University Press. Philadelphia. 1980;
Lynching Statistics Berea College. Course on Chesnutt
2) Carrigan, William D. Journal of Social History , Winter, 2003
3) Author Mike Davis in film Bastards of the Party.
4) P.46. Westin, Rubin Racism in US Imperialism (Colombia SC: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972)
5) Eyewitness report by POCC Minister of Information JR. POCC. Oakland Rebellion. January 14, 2009
6) George Ciccariello-Maher. COUNTERPUNCH. Arrest and Containment Fail Blunt Anger in the Street “Oakland is Closed!” January 16, 2009.
7) Arundati Roy, Le Monde diplomatique. Help that Hinders. November 2004
8) P. 246. Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. 1975
9) Ibid.
10) P.43. Poulantaz, Nicolas. State, Power and Socialism. 1980
11) Ibid
12) “Rebels of Oakland High.” Revolution Online. January 19, 2009.
13) P.348. Linebaugh, Peter and Marcus Rediker. The Many-Headed Hydra. 2000.

49 responses to “Justice For Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity?

  1. Damn! Excellent report and argument. Im going to send this to all my friends.

  2. beautiful article. it got me buzzing. spreading the word.

  3. Good piece, wanted to say something on my thoughts on the BPP part –
    . . . anyway I kind of got into this before with a few of you folks on it before, but we need to look at the whole part of BPP and other similar organizations. First, as we know BPP was different on the east coast and the west coast – you know the West Coast thing of survival programs stood in distinction with NYC transformation into BLA, thats the other side of it and I feel in truth we should first begin with why that development probably proceeded. My thoughts are that you got to account for the severe repression and murder of BPP leadership.

    Also I think even an account of Young Lords would also bring some thought into this, the service programs were significantly important in bringing forward revolutionary politics. Burning the trash, stealing health trucks, doing women’s health work were all things that were absolutely necessary for the Puerto Rican community in the NYC.

  4. naw man, post questions/criticisms here too . . . let’s centralize the debate =D

  5. Well written,and understandable critic from a radical point of view, however my critic would be that you over emphasize and romanticized the “success” of the BPP. With all respect to them, they still failed in the end.. Especially the Oakland leadership of the Panthers…

    I would also point out, that although I was not in Oakland during the Oscar Grant protests, I did advise CAPE as much as possible from a distance.. so I know that when you say “non-profit” leaders you are being a bit disingenuous. Yes many of the organizers work in the non-profit sector, but most did not participate in the capacity of their non-profit jobs. Many radicals in the bay take non-profit jobs out of principle as opposed to working for a corporate entity… unlike the hypocritical or arm chair revolutionary that goes to work for IBM during the day, but then claim’s, he is in a union, as if that makes it ok. So be clear when you talk about these organizers that you put their jobs into context as well as the capacity they were in while organizing for CAPE.

    Also, remember CAPE was made up of mostly Progressives, not radicals. And as i suggested to the few radicals that were pushing for more confrontation with the state… if they want to burn some shit up, they need to organize in cells and do it separate of the actual marches and protests… why bring that heat down on the families, women and kids that wanted to come out but were scared some fools, who can run and hide faster than my grandmother, were gonna start some shit but not finish it. That’s not a sign of success or courage. Getting innocent people arrested and charged with crimes that you, the self proclaimed “radical” committed. There is no honor in that. Form you cell, pick a night, [friendly moderator snip]. [Make sure] the masses, who are still in the political education stages of movement building and struggle, will not be deterred by premature aggression on the part of the state.

    See it is very easy to critic and “not offer an alternative” as the writer says.. as a way to diffuse any critic as invalid. But unless you were out there offering another option, then your inability to understand the difficulty of organizing the masses, especially on a more radical level, will be apparent in your critic. Also, those so called “non-profit” leaders, many who i know personally might play a “role as a buffer between the state” as the writer suggests… but to downplay their contribution to saving lives every day in Oakland is a disrespect. I know and have known many of these organizers who have been doing this work for over 15-20 years (most of them in their 30’s) so this is the only work they have ever done, and it has been more than needed.

    Whether CAPE is there or not, or rather RCP is getting more then 10 new recruits a year, is not the important piece.. the important piece is that all these mobilizations add a level of political education to a generation or two void of that… a generation that was manipulated into thinking a Messiah was put into the white house.. a generation that was paralyzed by fear of the “STATE”. But just like anyone coming out of paralysis, you have to understand the baby steps that must first be made. As a radical that was not paralyzed it is easy for even me to not be satisfied with the baby steps.. until i remember the saying, “Its not about the heights you reach, but the depth in which you’ve come”… Oakland urban youth are coming out of a state of paralysis, as are many US cities. These were not the marches made up and led by middle age, and past middle age white people… these were organic mobilizations by and from OAKLAND youth, and although they might not be as radical as many may want them to be, they took the first steps.. now what are you radicals going to do to encourage them to keep stepping? Or are you gonna sit back and criticize them suggesting they failed, but offer no vision of what success would have looked like? If Cape didn’t form and step up, who would have? An already existing org like RCP? We see how wall that worked? Who else??? The 1968 Panthers???

    Did CAPE have some shortcomings? Yes i am sure they did, but where are those radicals with strategic organizing experience to help guide them? I did what I could from Nevada… were were those of you in Cali? Sitting on the side, noting your issues for an article later. When people ask, what is wrong with the Bay area radical movements, before you point at others working, first ask if you did all you could do with what you know, or think you know?

    But other than that, I agree, a lot of opportunity was lost, but that’s because there is no radical movement, not in Oakland or anywhere in the US. So what did any one expect?
    (comment reposted from kasama site)

  6. It seems like since you weren’t even here in Oakland and were in Nevada and only advising from afar (whatever that means) you are doing quite a bit of sniping from the sidelines. Your absence is evident in your critique because your analysis of the rebellions was a little off.

    First I want to address your critique of the pamphlet romanticizing the BPP. This leads me to believe that you haven’t read the pamphlet too closely. The pamphlet argues that the BPP made a shift from their strategy of “survival pending revolution” to just survival programs providing services. The pamphlet states, “This shift represented the displacement of the revolutionary fire the panthers were born with by the acceptance of the duties and practices of the state. The Panthers degenerated into an organization whose revolutionary politics were completely subordinated to the practice of providing social services. This helped set the political trajectory of the bay area nonprofit left by making it acceptable to call social services resistance.” hmm that doesn’t seem to be too romantic. It actually seems that the pamphlet is criticizing and blaming the BPP for watering down their politics and setting the trend of the nonprofitization of the bay area left, which has effectively smashed the revolutionary/radical action and spirit of the Bay Area. That’s a pretty strong critique.

    Secondly your argument about working at a nonprofit being morally better is somewhat true but your missing a huge point which is expressed in the pamphlet. The problem is that people believe that their nonprofit JOB is real political organizing. A nonprofit seems to be a morally better choice for a JOB, but let’s not romanticize that work. I have worked at a nonprofit, and I wouldnt say I was saving peoples lives everyday that is a loaded statement that isn’t argued well at all. Nonprofits provide services that make living under capitalism a little easier or nicer but that’s not the real work that’s going to save people’s lives. That is the problem of the bay area left; It is nonprofitized and now people believe they should be paid to be an organizer, which is ridiculous. No revolutionary or radical work will ever be done by working at a nonprofit alone. And people need to stop substituting their nonprofit JOB for the real organizing amongst the people that needs to take place.

    Thirdly your analysis of the Oakland youth is contradicting and incorrect. At first you are referring to them as “some fools” that mothers and children should be scared of. Then you are praising the “urban Oakland youth” for coming out and leading these organic marches. BUt it was these oakland youth who were these “fools” you were criticizing in a few paragraphs earlier. They took the first steps by bashing in police cars, and banks, which you as well as CAPE all criticize. And these actions occurred partially because they had no guidance or support from either side (RCP/CAPE) , and because CAPE did nothing to organize them that night and encourage radical action that wasn’t just destruction. That was the most insulting thing that happened the night of the second rebellion. I don’t know if you were there, but it doesn’t seem like you were and I was. These grandmothers and children you speak of who were scared, supposedly, by the Oakland youth or “fools,” as you called them, went home right after the march just like CAPE told them. The overwhelming majority of people left were the Oakland youth who were yelling at CAPE to do something. They wanted to do something, anything then just go home like the killer cops wanted them to do. BUT no CAPE linked arms and stood in front of the police as a buffer between them and the people. It was disgusting. This went on for a hour or 2 until finally the youth started to bash in the banks and other corporate business in this shopping center. Clearly your advising from a distance to organize some “cells” which sounds a little weird didn’t work. Despite the weirdness of the wording I agree that something like a cell should have happened. Instead of protecting the police CAPE should have organized the youth into groups to organize what to do next. But that didn’t happened and it hasn’t happened yet. CAPE and its leaders have not reached out to the urban youth enough to get input from them, but what they have been wasting their time doing is making deals with the Police and Ron Dellums aka the state and that is a major problem with the nonprofits in the bay.

    BUt the struggle isn’t over and their are people who are getting ready for the next round here as the trial begins so maybe you should quit with your sniping and assumptions all the way from Nevada, and get a better understanding of whats actually happening.

  7. nick,

    in the process of building a new organization, potential recruits always ask “why should i join you? why not one of these organizations that already exist?” so its crucial to have an analysis of why what exists is not enough. criticism is the first step in constructing a new organization, because if there is no criticism, there is no justification for a new group – just go join something thats already out there.

    i would expect that an organization capable of leading struggle at the high level that the AS oscar grant pamphlet calls for, would include ex-RCPers, ex-non-profiteers, and ex-rioters as well as many other people with many other backgrounds. the AS critique was not personal against any of the above, and i think it acknowledges the positive aspects of them organizationally. the critique was centered on what is bad about their politics, not their intentions or their good will toward humanity.

    the Oscar Grant pamphlet is not meant to proclaim that AS is the shit – we know we dont really have the means yet to provide a real alternative. the piece (and the blog for that matter) is intended to help others reflect on their own politics a little, and for AS to hear comments and reflect on them in order to mature politically as a group. its a risk to write something like this and its a risk to read it. its a challenge to take the discussion up a notch on all of our parts.

    thanks for your contribution.

  8. R,
    You raised a lot of points, but let me try to tackle a few in a simple manner. 1. i am not sure what pamphlet you are referring to.. i was responding to an article i read online that someone pasted on facebook.
    2. As for the panthers, you seem to lump the BPP into one group.. which panthers are you talkin about specifically? Oakland, LA, NYC.. the dynamics and contradictions that took place in chapters the BPP requires you to be more specific when you are going to raise them as a reference. Some panthers never stopped being militant while others sold the hell out…
    3. When i talk about fools, i am talkin about the NON-Oakland, not community members that came out dressed in black covering their faces and smashing shit. I am also talkin about the some of the folks from the community that came out smashing shit.. am i opposed to smashing shit? NO not at all, i have smashed more shit then you can imagine dating back to the LA rebellion. But that was a rebellion in LA, we didnt go out for a march we went out to smash shit and everyone out there was there to smash shit. I have and i would never encourage people to try to turn a march into a rebellion.. and those that do suggest such are probably the pigs and often are.. i know i dont have to tell anyone reading this that it happens.. you all know it happens.
    4. As for me talking from the side from NV you missed the point. When the organizers in the bay decided to form CAPE (before it was even called CAPE, a name that i thought was too limiting) called me asking “what should we do” and continued to call me throughout for advice, I did as much as my distance would allow me to do. If you or anyone else was there and didn’t participate in the organizing, then that some internal shit that ya’ll need to address. My participation was far from sitting on the sidelines. I could have watched it on tv and attempted to add nothing.. that would have been sitting on the sidelines.

    See my issue is that Radicals (which i am one) often want to turn some other groups march or rally into their own little rebellion, then get mad when the organizers don’t go along with it. They are quick to call the organizers reactionary and all that. Next time, organizer your rebellion, mobilize your radicals and do your thing.. and if you go to someone else’s organized march, either help organize it so that you can push your politics, or just go and support their efforts.

    Lastly, about the non-profits.. just like you lump all BPP chapters into one put, you seem to do the same for non-profits. I have been a radical, activist, organizers, revolutionary for 20 years.. I have also worked in non-profits because i wont take a corp job, even though i have more university degree’s than 99.999% of the world population.. I could make a killing and write books and call myself a radical but lets be real… the radical community is so tiny.. dont write off people working threw non-profits as not radical.. many of us are but we also live in a capitalist economy and have to pay rent and buy food. And yes some people, through there work at non-profits have saved lives and have paid the price of losing their lives. You do a disservice to the memory of some great people who gave the ultimate sacrifice… and you do so because they worked through a non-profit? Not cool.
    Point being, which i think you missed previously.. peoples non-profit jobs had nothing to do with the lack of radicalness in the Oscar Grant organizing. Nor did peoples union jobs, people’s government jobs, people’s corporate jobs… people organized around the Oscar Grant case separate from their employment… well unless they were pigs sent in by the state, which there was some of them to.

    Anyway, i would love to debate this stuff more, i think its a great discourse.. but often as a radical i to get told to take it easy on people less radical because it makes the small radical community look pretentious and self-righteous.. The critic of the oscar grant effort is needed, but i think it would have held more weight if whoever wrote it got some interviews from some of the folks involved.. because the activists that were involved with organizing it had their own critics, none of which are the ones raised in this article and i think listening to them would explain a lot and would rid this article of some of its misconceptions.
    Overall good dialogue and keep it LEFT folks!!! We got a war to fight!

    • Troy:

      esteban in his comment above clears up the A/S view of non-profits:

      “the AS critique was not personal against any of the above, and i think it acknowledges the positive aspects of them organizationally. the critique was centered on what is bad about their politics, not their intentions or their good will toward humanity.”

      the “Justice for Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity?” pamphlet, which i also think Rebelde is talking about, which is what we here are commenting about, points out the limits of non-profits and non-governmental organizations in leading struggles that are essentially against the state. the obvious limitations is that these entities exist as an arm of the state that funnel possible and potential militancy into playing by the rules, as exemplified by the “people in the green vests” holding back the crowds from breaking shit.

  9. Pingback: OSCAR GRANT PROTEST: A RESPONSE « Activist Ingredient

  10. Philosopher Dude

    Though I agree with the central points of this article, I think the way the author examines the issues is not as useful as it could be if we are to be serious about winning any kind of change.

    Though the article addresses WHAT we want to win with the struggle surrounding Oscar Grant, it does not sufficiently pose, let alone answer, the question of HOW to win.

    The article does seem to be in favor of “militant action” in one form or another, but it does not explain for example how high school student walk outs will create change (do they qualify as being militant?). This problem which can be also found in the author’s citations (namely, Bob Avakian and Gramcsi) of theoreticians and not social scientists. Basically, anyone can theorize about change, and how to accomplish it but it does not make it a social reality. A philosopher can think of a logical way in which sipping coffee can turn into a revolution. This does not help those of us who actually want change.

    Those of us who actually want change are going to need to put down our books on theory and pick up a book on social movements.

    So what solutions do we have from a social science perspective? Well an important lesson we can learn is that if nothing else, militant forms of protest allow groups such as CAPE to more easily win their struggle for small changes within the police department by making using that group as a acceptable negotiator.

    Another important thing to learn from the social sciences is the cost-benefit analysis the state will make in how it judges the Mehserle trial and proceedings. George Ciccariello-Maher’s article “Oakland is Closed!” does a good job in explaining the tactical benefits of the militant protests of the Jan 7 rebellion. Basically, the city of Oakland, at that time had to decide whether or not to arrest Mehserle and what to charge him with. There’s a good argument for the police charging him based on the idea that it would pacify the irate protesters from further property damage. This same theory can apply to Mehserle’s conviction and sentencing but due largely to the lack of rioting it seems that Mehserle, thanks to the powerful police union behind him, will be acquitted.

    So what kind of systemic change would we see if Mehserle is indeed convicted? Likely none, but more cops would think before they pulled the trigger and this victory is no laughing matter.

    The radical, systemic change which the article tries to argue for is one that takes a long time to win and one where the protest aspect is necessary but insufficient. (For more on this you can read Bill Moyer’s book “Doing Democracy” or check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17iITob04t4). It requires lots of consciousness raising and issue framing (See George Lakoff) in order to appeal to moderate and even conservative people.

    This process does not stop with the Oscar Grant issue and therefore cannot be centered around his murder. But if we return to the argument that the property destruction creates gains, however liberal, then we need not care whether they are started by anarchists or is organic, nor should we necessarily care whether or not Oakland residents approve of such tactics. (A small survey results found all those surveyed to view property destruction as negative and violent regardless of how they perceive the Oscar Grant issue.) The militant tactics hurt the image of Oakland and brings in national media coverage that, despite showing the protest as being a horrible band of anarchists, also so the city of Oakland as a dirty, violent place. This image hurts every Oakland elite politically and therefore they want to pacify them either by force, which may lead to more protest and outrage, or by appeasement.

    • hammerin sickness

      Philosopher Dude,

      first and foremost the article seemed to be advocating a militant strategy that would certainly include the use of militant tactics, but rioting was not among the suggested forms presented by AS.

      your representation of the article was inaccurate.

      1. AS they didnt say that what needs to be done is get Meserhle convicted. their concern is building a working class based organization in the context and in the process of the Justice for Oscar Grant movement. anger about the killer cop and the movement to prosecute him in court is a second tier priority and in the bigger picture a means to an end. they express their luxemburgism in that they seem to believe the organization emerges from the spontaneous movement.

      2. contrary to your claim, AS does in fact offer specific movement prescriptions, or “how”s. granted they are pretty grandiose (general strike), but let us fault them if we must for having too lofty goals rather than misrepresenting their article as lacking vision.

      since the problem is not a miscarriage of justice, but a systemic oppression of people of color in particular by state violence which the US class structure necessitates, NO pressure politics strategy will suffice. this includes the “militant” pressure politics tactic of rioting. rioting cannot be a part of the strategy, by its very nature it is unorganized and spontaneous. if the level of organization existed to coordinate a riot, we would call it an insurrection instead, and even if THAT were possible, there would probably be better things to do like organizer workers other than try to take on the state in urban guerilla warfare. the most useful way to look at rioting is as a barometer. it can be a indication of the mood of the masses which signals a potential opening for serious organizing and serious strategies.

      yes, the oppressed can and must go beyond rioting AND beyond court battles. the solution to the problems that flow from a racist class structure can only be solved by revolutionizing the class structure. that starts with the working class becoming a class “for itself.” this requires organization and ultimately taking command of the means of production. this in turn would be predicated on the active participation of a majority of the proletariat in the entire process of expropriating the expropriators, building a new set of cultural values, and dismantling the bourgeois state apparatus. breaking some windows is neither here nor there, and since it cant really do anything productive to the movement other than bad PR for oaklands business community, rioting is a distraction from the real task at hand.

      that said, the article certainly did acknowledge the fact that rioting in oakland did pressure the government to arrest and charge meserhle, but remember that this partial victory will be completely lost so long as no permanent organizational expression crystalizes to create continuity in the process of advancing the struggle. indeed the whole drama is bound to repeat decade after decade until the type of organization the article calls for emerges, grows, and WINS political power.

      this is the type of lost opportunity the article seeks to help us avoid, and i felt they did a great job of casting light on what a correct approach could look like.

  11. hammerin sickness

    activist ingredient, why not post those comments here since this is where the article comes from?

    for those who are wondering, ai’s responses can be boiled down to this: marxists in general and AS in particular dont pay enough attention to actually winning real struggles. by focusing on militant strategies other than rioting AS is depriving itself and the movement of a powerful check against future police-state abuses.

    i appreciate the focus on immediate victory in tangible struggles. as the AS article said, riots did play a big a part in getting meserhle arrested and charged for murder. AS argues against CAPE’s shiny-vested attempts to prevent riots from breaking out. keep that in mind even as AS asserts that in actuality riots are not the highest expression of militancy. in fact riots are the LOWEST form of militancy. this might seem like a paradox to some, because riots are violent and we equate the word militant with “military.” this is a mistake. there have been militant unionists for example who we call militant not because they advocated violence but because they developed strategies that won through exploiting the fault lines of irreconcilability, forcing the stakes of victory higher and higher. militancy refers more to strategy than tactic. personally, to the extent that i speak of militant tactics, i am referring to those methods of battle that open the field up for broader participation, project the grassroots movement forward and help it survive and grow – all within the framework of a militant STRATEGY designed to win immediate victories without EVER loosing sight of the ultimate goal of transcending the existing class structure and moving toward classlessness (communism). the communism part of the equation requires an uncompromising commitment to building lasting working class revolutionary institutions and anyone who argues against such a thing (vague as it is) is wittingly or unwittingly supporting the bourgeois status quo.

    both parts of Activist Ingredient’s anarcho(rioting)-liberal(pressure politics) recipe can be found on the side of the police-state ideological box that it pours out of. rioting (especially the geographical isolated and small type such as the article refers to) is a welcome alternative to lasting working class based organization such as the panthers, the CP of the ’30s, the IWW, even the socialist party.

    although s/he doesnt say so explicitly, its clear that ai’s main problem with the article is that it is marxist. organizing people as workers in both their communities and their workplaces is anathema to a perspective predicated upon spontaneous “anti-capitalist acts” and the hope for sympathetic judges in the courtroom. rioting is a given, its not something that has to be organized by anyone. spreading class consciousness and putting forward a strategy for sustained resistance and mass participation does.

    Steven Biko said “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” the spreading of class consciousness in all its expressions including racial and gender consciousness of course is a PEDAGOGICAL project that must never be dismissed, as i feel ai does when s/he too quickly snickers at “marxist quotes.” ESPECIALLY when s/he offers bill moyer (theorist not journalist) as an alternative. one of his books is called “Doing Democracy” and contrary to ai’s own arguments, is explicitly NON-VIOLENT!!

  12. Good stuff here.

    Also, worth mentioning: Program, program, and once again, program.

    • Advance The Struggle

      Thanks for checking out the piece Bryan. Care to elaborate on the importance of program? Or programme . . .

  13. Pingback: Bring the Struggle, Advance the Ruckus (Bring the Ruckus response to Justice for Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity?) « Advance the Struggle

  14. I really appreciate this pamphlet. I think it is thoughtful and succinct.

    In future publishings it would be important to add the efforts of Oakland 100 Support Committee and Critical Resistance (among others) to the overall narrative. The former (an ad hoc committee of arresttees, radicals and community members), and the latter, (a well grounded abolitionist project headquartered in Oakland), worked very hard to get all charges against all so-called rioters dropped. O100 & CR were among the first organized bodies to publicly support the rebellions and the 100+ arrested on the 7th, 14th and 30th. This is particularly important when considering the fact that immediately following the 7th, CAPE did not support the rebellions or arrestees until it became clear that the community largely did.

    Again, thanks for your work. I’ve passed it along.

    I would recommend to other people contributing to this discussion via web, particularly those who live in the Bay, that perhaps a live actual discussion group might be more usefull? Maybe at the library or the park or something?

  15. Pingback: Justice For Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity? « At Home He’s A Turista

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  17. you all should hip yoselfs to what amiri baraka is doing in newark, nj. they are 40 years ahead of this false cape/rcp non-solution ism.

    ras baraka for newark city council ’10!

  18. Hmm I looked around online and couldn’t find anything about what Baraka is up to. It’d help all of us if you would share the knowledge rather than drop one-liners. What’s false? How is what Baraka’s doing in Newark avoiding the pitfalls outlined in the article? Do they do it differently than AS’s semi-vague call for new revolutionary organization?

  19. hammer and sickness

    follow baraka. great solution.

    this democracy now episode feautring baraka, grace lee boggs, and larry hamm, talks about the newark rebellion of ’67 which led to a whole wave of class struggle, probably the highest expression of which was the founding of the League Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit. this class struggle was channeled by people like Baraka into institutional dead-ends like black mayorships (and more recently, presidency). interview link:


    here’s an excerpt that gives a flavor of baraka’s propensity toward bullshit:

    JUAN GONZALEZ: Amiri, what has changed in these forty years, in terms of consciousness and in terms of what the country has learned from that period?

    AMIRI BARAKA: Well, actually, in some ways, we’ve gone full cycle but up to another level. I mean, we went from the kind of blatant brutalization, of white supremacy and racism. We then organized ourselves and elected two black mayors. We haven’t—none of my children, for instance, have ever grown under white people ruling in Newark. They don’t even know what that is, you understand? And so, we can be proud of that. But at the same time, after we had our two domestic kind of mayors, who compromised relentlessly with corporate power, you understand, now we’ve come full circle and come to—

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: Let me ask you a question, Amiri. Do you think that we have challenged and criticized and evaluated Black Power sufficiently?

    AMIRI BARAKA: Have we? No, no, but I’ve been doing it for—I’m sorry.

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: When are we going to do it?

    AMIRI BARAKA: Well, I’ve been doing it for almost thirty-seven years. I mean, having two black mayors there, Sharpe James and Ken Gibson, I was probably their most relentless critic all the time. But now we have somebody who doesn’t compromise with corporate power, but who represents it. So that’s the difference. We’ve moved—

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: Well, so do you think it’s a question of changing an individual? You know, for changing from Gibson to Booker?

    AMIRI BARAKA: No, you have to get an individual who’s willing to change the system. You have to get an individual who’s willing to actually struggle with the system to change it. As long as you have people who—

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: I mean, what do we mean by “struggling with the system”? How—when are we going to be—

    AMIRI BARAKA: To make substantive changes, to make infrastructure changes.

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: No, when will we begin to understand that we have to create new infrastructures, new forms, so that you can—

    AMIRI BARAKA: Yeah, but you can only do that through people, you see?

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: But you’re not going to do it from people at the top. We’re going to do it from people at the bottom.

    AMIRI BARAKA: Well, you have to mobilize the whole community. But what I’m saying is that people at the top became accommodated to being in power and not changing.

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: Yes, but maybe what we’ve done—maybe what we’ve—yes, but you see, we’ve put so much emphasis on taking over the power structure, and we became prisoners of it, because the power structure—

    AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to have to leave it there, but we’re going to continue the discussion after the show, and then we’ll broadcast that. I want to thank you so much for being with us, Grace Lee Boggs, Amiri Baraka and Larry Hamm.

  20. Yeah, Congress of Afrikan Peoples, Baraka’s group, made a big mistake when they oriented toward getting Black mayors and police chiefs into positions of power. The folks they helped get elected in Newark turned around and refused to get CAP’s back when they were getting attacked by white fascists. In my mind this is symbolic of how the new “Rainbow Coalition” ruling class co-opted Black Power and helped demobilize insurgent Black workers. Once Black workers demobilized, once they put their hope in the bureaucrats, this made the community and the class less able to resist the onslaught of the white supremacist counterrevolution during the Reagan years.

  21. Thanks again for this piece — it’s a pleasure to come back and revisit it this week. Since reading Selma James’ “Sex, Race, and Class” and another work of hers and Mariarosa Della Costa’s, “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community,” I’ve been considering parallels between the role of nonprofits (like the one I intern for, in exchange for room and board, and as they’re characterized here in the quote you pulled from Arundhati Roy) and the un-waged domestic/reproductive/social labor of (mostly) women as James and Della Costa explain it.

    Roy names a process by which NGO’s, in ministering to the needs created by gaps in both private and public capitalist enterprise, chill the potential for social resistance. “Non-profits’ real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right.” Folks who work for non-profits often acknowledge that their efforts amount to a Band-Aid approach: covering up a problem but not really solving it. But Roy seems to reject the Band-Aid analogy. Not only is covering up the problem insufficient, it’s also detrimental to real healing. A metaphor she’d choose might be more like taking heavy painkillers to ‘fix’ a broken leg. The immediate pain is numbed away, but by continuing to walk on the leg, you’re only worsening the injury.

    Similarly, Della Costa and James argue that both trade unions and nuclear families trap us in this painkiller predicament:

    Like the trade union [or non-profit], the family protects the worker, but also ensures that he and she will never be anything but workers. And that is why the struggle of the woman of the working class against the family is crucial.

    Unlike trade unions, though, which address the condition of the masculinized wage-laborer, non-profits often seem to institutionalize the feminine labor role traditionally performed within the family. Need a hot meal? A soup kitchen will serve you one. Ill? A clinic will help heal you. Want a lovely garden to come home to? No need to depend on Grandma or the wife; your local eco-NGO will build a permaculture paradise for the whole neighborhood. There are exceptions, of course, like hotel worker unions that parallel domestic cleaning, but overall I’m struck at the resemblances. Is the modern non-profit an incorporated version of James’ and Della Costa’s working-class woman? Complete with the moral imperative to ‘nurture,’ or in this case, ‘serve the community?’

    Don’t want to ramble too much about it, and it’s already been a hell of a long day, but I just wanted to share my appreciation and thank y’all, again, for offering these useful theorizations. I’ll be thinking on these question all through my unpaid non-profit work week. 🙂



  22. Pingback: Crisis and Consciousness: Reflections and Lessons from March 4th « Advance the Struggle

  23. Pingback: Dellum’s Meets with Non-Profits to Prevent Violence — Berkeley Copwatch

  24. Pingback: Chronicle of a Riot Foretold «

  25. Pingback: Chronicle of a Riot Foretold « PEACECOMRADE.ORG

  26. Pingback: Chronicle of a Riot Foretold « Kasama

  27. Pingback: Oscar Grant Trial: Chronicle of a Riot Foretold « Frontlines of Revolutionary Struggle

  28. Pingback: Oscar Grant, Audre Lorde, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the question of loving our enemies. « Kloncke

  29. Pingback: Oscar Grant, Audre Lorde, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the Question of Loving Our Enemies (guest post) « The Jizo Chronicles

  30. greetings to all! My comment will share some of the things brought out in previous comments. through out the duration of history different agencies have been implemented to protect the wealth of the few. the overthrow of capitalism is necessary to obtain justice, real justice that is. but justice is another word used in the same content as “hope” (Obama). but we gotta ask ourselves who do we want justice for and who are we “hoping” to give it to? The verdict goes to show that justice is only for the ones that can afford it.

  31. hey can you post a pdf that is formatted to be a pamphlet? the link is to a pdf that is not imposed. (each page is pg 1 and 2, 3 and 4, etc. instead of page 1 and last page, page 2 and second to last page…)
    you can’t fold it like a book as it is now.

  32. Advance The Struggle

    Hey Finn, we’re working on laying out an updated edition for printing right now, complete with new art from Emory Douglas and a few other pieces of ours on the Oakland struggle against state violence. Check back at this space in the next couplea weeks and we’ll have it up. Thanks for distributing!

  33. Pingback: Details for the | THOSE WHO USE IT

  34. Pingback: In the meantime… | THOSE WHO USE IT

  35. Pingback: K-Lo Retro Part VI: Oscar Grant, Audre Lorde, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the question of loving our enemies. « Kloncke

  36. Pingback: How can we advance the anti-police brutality struggle? « Stick 2 Tha Script

  37. Pingback: How can we advance the anti-police brutality struggle? by Unity & Struggle (2010) « At Home He's A Turista

  38. Pingback: “Between the Zeal of the Young and the Patience of the Old”: Reflections on Seattle’s Recent Upheavals Against Police Brutality | Black Orchid Collective

  39. Pingback: Zine Week Day 2: Justice For Oscar Grant by Advance the Struggle « Kloncke

  40. Pingback: Black Orchid Collective: Lessons from the Struggle Against Police Brutality, Pt. 1 « Kasama

  41. Greetings! Quick question that’s entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when viewing from my iphone. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to resolve this problem. If you have any recommendations, please share. Many thanks!

  42. Pingback: Fire Next Time Collective’s Reflection on the Flatbush Rebellions | Advance the Struggle

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