Let’s Say it Together- Protest, Good-Vandalism & Violence, Bad #Oakland

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The whole country now knows that on May 1st, our auto row was inexplicably attacked-were they rabid environmentalists, anti-oil-use radicals? Who knows? It was kinda gross though. Even more gross was the downtown KFC being attacked while it was still open because, what, they were saving chickens from factory farming? Once again the small group of masked merry-makers-merry at least in their own way-smashed lots of stuff, more than just windows, for their own purposes.

By the way, my Progressive friends, we cannot ignore that there were people eating inside that KFC. Were they bankers and corporate CEOS, seems unlikely. This has happened before in Oakland. Other businesses have been hit where people are either trying to make a living or just grab a bite.

So let’s not use the tired cliche that there were only broken windows, some of my best friends, well, colleagues whom I respect but disagree with on this issue, continue to throw this meaningless phrase around.

As a person who represents small businesses and once owned a shop on Grand Avenue, I’m highly attuned to the level of trust needed for someone to put their life savings and their hopes for the future onto a public sidewalk in the belief that, if not deserving of a profit, at the very least, their venture is deserving of respect for the effort. Being an entrepreneur is a respectable way of life and not all of them are greedy or self-absorbed.

I once said, rather glibly, that breaking a bank’s window didn’t bother me much and someone pointed out some problems with that logic: 1) the bank doesn’t care, doesn’t cost them anything really, 2) the little shop next to them is affected by the mess that it causes, and 3) if that bank leaves it windows boarded up, that little shop suffers indefinitely.

Okay, so we all know this and kinda disavow vandalism and violence-after all what do you call it when windows are broken while people sit inside?? So let’s say it. We are part of/or support the most important movement since the Civil Rights fights of the 50’s and 60’s, the #BlackLivesMatter movement which combined with organizing against income inequality is on the cusp of changing how Americans live-or has that potential. This moment is too important to mess up.

We in Oakland have a large role to play-we always have. I believe that many of the Millennials (often decried as hipsters) who are moving here, are also very interested in these movements and can be mobilized to join.

But, it’ll be hard to maintain our leadership position if we allow the power structure to define this as a morality play in which activists get to play the bad guys who dash the hopes of entrepreneurs who try and live their dreams much less hurt other demonstrators who want to join us. And even though that is NOT true, the average Oaklander doesn’t know this and we are losing the PR war.

Bottom line, it’s not a movement builder to allow folks in our ranks to destroy our own Town and threaten those who disagree with such tactics, much less beat up on journalists and photographers. Don’t we get outraged when police do that? I’m not implying that we have welcomed them but have we worked hard enough to prevent them from hijacking the message?

I’m also sick of the fine print, let’s banish it. No, declarations of intent to remain peaceful or not destroy property with fine print down further down that says we honor “diversity of tactics”; no, I don’t and I won’t be told to “not interfere” with these fools.

When I’m in a movement for freedom of speech and respect for the individual with disgust for militaristic tactics, I’m not about to abrogate my ability to act. I would no more do that than tolerate being interrogated before attending a city council meeting. Bullies are bullies no matter which side of the baton they’re on.

Most Oaklanders support organizing for #BlackLivesMatter, and we have to get them to differentiate the necessity of that movement succeeding with the ugliness of breaking windows where working folks are eating (and working for that matter.)

If we want to build a mass movement and not just a phony vanguard, we have to figure out how to stop the vandals and the provocateurs from running us out of our own movement.

In the same way it’s not okay for our elected leaders to reduce the commons to phony free speech zones, it’s not okay-it’s stupid, counterproductive and wrong for us to turn a blind eye to those who would reduce us to a caricature of revolution.