The Oscar Grant movement and the 2009/2010 rebellions in Oakland have triggered a lot of discussion about violence versus non-violence. What are the correct tactics to fight against state violence? How do we get justice for innocent Black and Brown men and womyn who are brutalized and murdered by the police? These are the questions that continually ran through my mind at the 2010 protest/rebellion on July 8th in downtown Oakland. During the earlier part of the protest a lot of non-profiteers, liberals, and regular people were talking about this debate between violent and non-violent resistance, and largely condemning acts of ‘violence’. Youth Uprising (an Oakland non-profit) was passing out flyers for their community gathering, which said “violence isn’t justice.” All around there was encouragement to be non-violent and peaceful. There was also a serious racialization of violence by the media, the churches, and the local government and non-profits. Violence is characterized as something coming from outside of ‘the community’; beware of the ‘outside agitators’ that come in the form of white anarchists. Before the verdict was released I listened to my co-workers talk about these ‘agitators’ who were coming into Oakland from everywhere to wreak havoc in our city. It was alarming to see this panic and fear of anarchists being conjured up by the bourgeois media and the State. There is some truth to this statement that violence does come from outside of the community, but not in the form of anarchists, but in the form of racist killer cops. What’s really violent is living in a world where people die everyday from curable diseases and hunger; where working-class youth are deprived of an education by closing schools and building more prisons; where the police can kill innocent men and have it recorded on video and still not be guilty of 2nd degree murder!
This false characterization of white people being the only ones who commit violent resistance is not only incorrect, but also offensive to the righteous black and brown youth that confronted the State during the 2009 and 2010 rebellions. It also erases the rich history of the oppressed rising up and confronting the bourgeois state that profits off of our oppression and exploitation. Black and Brown people have never just stood by and willingly allowed the system to enslave and incarcerate us. Since the beginning of the colonization of the native people and US slavery there have been rebellions and insurrections to fight back against the racist sexist capitalist system that has been built on the backs of Africans, Mexicans, Native Americans, Filipinos, Chinese, ect.,. What is even less talked about is the multiracial nature of these rebellions; the legacy of real working-class solidarity. This is demonstrated in the early slave rebellions, the most note-worthy being Bacon’s Rebellion; the Delano grape strike, which was started by Filipino farm workers and later joined by Mexican farm workers and the UFW; and the most recent Oscar Grant rebellions, which were multiracial and bay area wide.
The media and the State’s targeting of the anarchists for the violence is a paternalistic view that renders Black and Brown people as defenseless children. This works in favor for the system, because it keeps people of color in check and fearful of rising up (even if large numbers do). The State has a diversity of tactics to discipline us and keep us in check. These tactics include outright murder and incarceration; other times they involve brainwashing and erasing our radical histories and enforcing the idea that violent acts of resistance are a ‘white thing’. This tactic of indoctrination is sometimes more effective, because it keeps our minds incarcerated. This is a deadly thing, because the first step in liberation is liberating yourself from the oppressive dominant ideology we are immersed in from the moment we are born. Assata Shakur writes in her bio Assata that “the less you think about your oppression the more your tolerance for it grows. After awhile people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.” If we unquestioningly believe in the system and conform into it then the State doesn’t have to worry about disciplining us and incarcerating us. We are disciplining ourselves by being complacent in a system that needs to be overthrown.
What is trickier to address is the way Black and Brown people have internalized this paternalistic perspective of themselves. Throughout the July 8th Oscar Grant protest I heard people say “don’t riot, don’t loot, it makes Black people look bad.” Or “let’s make Oakland and Black people proud.” “Lets be good citizens” (AKA lets act like dignified white folks). Even the day after the protest I heard people say how embarrassed they were to see Black people bashing in the Footlocker and other businesses. “That’s just ghetto, let’s be more intelligent.” All these different reactions conveyed this fear of Black and Brown Oakland residents looking like poor, uneducated hoodlums. I understand why Black people, especially working-class Black people have these urges to conform and counteract these dominant representations and prove to white people and the ruling class that we are just as good as the White people. I have felt this way throughout my adolescence. You internalize this inferiority and hierarchy of the races and it drives you to want to prove that you can play the game too. I remember being so competitive with my fellow affluent, white classmates to show them that even though I was poor and Black, and that my mom worked too much to go to PTA meetings that I was better and smarter than them. However, conformity in a racist capitalist system is not going to get us any closer to liberation, nor will it convince the ruling class of our humanity and worth. We want to make Oakland proud, but does that mean collaborating with the police like the non-profits and local government did to pacify people’s righteous anger. Does making Oakland proud mean allowing the police to kill more Black and Brown people without any militant resistance whatsoever? If the vision for a better Oakland means the people standing by while schools close down, unemployment rises, and the murderers (AKA OPD) grow and terrorize our communities, then I think the entire city should be shut down.
The liberal strategy of working within the system has failed over and over again. How can we ask for justice in an unjust system, whose roots are based in the violent oppression of Black and Brown people. The very life force of this system is oppression and exploitation. Asking for the police and politicians to be accountable to the people, particularly working-class people of color, is like asking the slavemaster to be accountable to the slave. It is time that we start talking to each other and organizing militant resistance that will strengthen our people power. Militant resistance doesn’t include asking politicians for our rights; it doesn’t include letter writing campaigns or symbolic legal marches. Militant resistance strikes daggers through the heart of capitalism and the means by which the owners profit off of our oppression.
A clear way to do this is to acknowledge the intersections between race and class in order to understand the racialized nature of class exploitation and racism. The political issues of state violence and killer cops intensify the class antagonisms of society and their racialized nature. Rosa Luxemburg writes in her pamphlet The Mass Strike, “The worker, suddenly aroused to activity by the electric shock of political action, immediately seizes the weapon lying nearest his hand for the fight against his condition of economic slavery: the stormy gesture of the political struggle causes him to feel with unexpected intensity the weight and the pressure of his economic chains.” When a cop kills a Black or Brown person in a working-class neighborhood the issue is not solely about race and racism; it is about race and class. And when working-class Black and Brown people rebel and riot in their neighborhoods as a response to the violence it further demonstrates the relationship between race and class. Groundbreaking marxist feminist Selma James writes in her pamphlet Sex, Race & Class: “When Black workers burn the centre of a city, white Left eyes see race, not class.” The white male-dominated left, as well as the liberal, people of color, ‘community police’ in the form of non-profits both fail to understand how these rebellions are class struggle. When black youth smash banks as a response to killer cops or when they march in the streets chanting “education not incarceration” they are exposing the relationship between class exploitation and racism. In Oakland money is spent on funding OPD to terrorize us rather than on schools, jobs, and social services that working-class people need. Most working-class people understand this and have an embryonic class consciousness. The problem is that working-class people, especially working-class communities of color, are not organized; their consciousness is at a lower level of resistance that expresses itself through chaotic riots. In order to advance the struggle to a more revolutionary and militant direction we need to start attacking capital; shutting down their means to profit off of us, and our oppression. If unions were still vehicles for a fighting proletariat then they would have went on strike in protest of the murder of Oscar Grant, a union rep. And if they were real militant they would have had an indefinite strike until they arrested Mehserle. It took the young militant youth to rebel in order for that to happen. And I think that was a good thing, but not enough. It would have been so much more powerful to have the more chaotic rebellions in the street combined with the organized shut down of businesses. This type of resistance would have expressed the unity between the economic and political struggle on a much higher level. This is the type of resistance we should be working towards in order for real justice to be had not just for Oscar Grant, but for the exploited and oppressed working-class of all colors. All power to the people!