Statement from the J28 Tactical Team
This is a statement from the group charged with tactical planning for the Move-in Day building occupation. There have been many questions about our role in events, the choices we made, and the rationale for these choices. Because we cannot answer such questions publicly without substantial legal risk, there has been a great deal of speculation and even mudslinging. Many haved questioned our good intentions, suggesting that we had no intention of actually occupying a building and only wanted to start a fight with the police or „create a spectacle.“ Given the energy we have put into this effort, both at the clandestine and open level, we find such suggestions hurtful. Each of us worked intensively in the Building Assembly committees and in the closed group charged with planning, effectively devoting an entire month of our lives to this effort. Like everyone else in the building assemblies, we wanted a social center for Occupy Oakland and we remain truly disappointed that we were not successful on the 28th. Still, we think the day was a success in many ways. We think the organizing for the 28th was especially powerful, and the work done in the building assemblies, the conversations had, the ideas shared, will continue to produce results. For some of us, such organizing is an important part of how we judge victory or success and we are proud that we attempted a model of organizing different than those typically used for actions like this. We strengthened new relationships and encouraged people to take on unfamiliar roles. Regardless of the result, we put the idea of claiming a building for social needs front and center in ways that it had not been before, drawing international attention to the reclamation of vacant properties for human needs rather than profits. Even if the reestablishment of the Oakland Commune was blocked, this was still a manifestation of its clear and ferocious anticapitalist spirit. The solidarity actions it inspired – nationally and internationally – attest to this. People are inspired by what we do, inspired by our explicitly anticapitalist politics, our ambition, our willingness to say and do what we really want. We suspect that these internal debates seem much less pressing to those watching from afar.
Getting 1000 or 2000 rebels out in the streets to illegally claim a building seems a huge success to us, something that would not have been possible months ago. We do not see this as low turnout but as proof of the outreach work that the committees did. Throughout the day, friends, comrades and total strangers acted in incredibly powerful and brave ways, displaying a ferocity and resolve that we have rarely seen before. This was, indeed, a manifestation of the power, compassion, and dedication of the Oakland Commune, our willingness not only to fight our enemies but to take care of each other. Despite the failures of the day, this will continue to produce important effects. In particular, we notice that there was almost no internal strife during the streetfighting that occurred. No one tried to keep people from throwing things at the cops or advancing on the police line with shields. This fact on its own indicates a step forward for Occupy Oakland. We can act with unity and respect each other on the streets. We hope to see more of that in the future.
Nonetheless, we did not succeed in our stated goal and the day featured many questionable decisions, organizational breakdowns and outright tactical mistakes. We want to account for these and take responsibility where possible. It must be said that we are a relatively large group, that many of us had never worked together before, and that we have varying perspectives on the events of the day. We are not in full consensus about what went wrong and what went right.
We will first offer a narrative of the day’s events, with as little editorializing or commentary as possible. We provide this neutral account first, followed by our criticism of the the tactical and strategic mistakes of the day.
Once the Move-in Day endeavor got underway, a group of us began meeting to take care of the aspects of the occupation that were not going to be organized publicly, as stated in the proposal. This group included people from most of the different committees of Occupy Oakland. Most of us had never worked together before. Some members of the committee came into this process having already begun scouting for suitable locations while crafting the proposal that went to the GA. Once this group formed, other teams continued looking for locations that fit our criteria. We felt very strongly that the building needed to meet the following conditions: 1) it needed to be owned by a corporation or governmental entity rather than an individual; 2) it needed to be large enough to fit our assemblies and committees; 3) it needed to have water and power; 4) be relatively close to Oscar Grant Plaza; 5) be a building that was relatively easy to get into, both for purposes of research and the occupation on the 28th’; 6) be in a neighborhood where its impact on neighbors would be relatively low. Finding buildings that fit all of these criteria was more challenging than we expected. We ended up with a shortlist of three buildings, including the Kaiser center. The other two buildings did not meet all of the criteria perfectly, but we agreed to use them as alternates.
Given these options, and given the fact that the other two options had some significant flaws, we felt that the Kaiser center should be plan A, provided we had sufficient numbers of people. We estimated that we needed around 1000 people to successfully take and defend the Kaiser building. Though it was an open secret that the Kaiser center was a possible target, and the building had been openly discussed as a possibility since November (even discussed as a possible place the Mayor might offer us in exchange for vacating the camp), we felt that it was worth trying to see if we could get to the doors of the Kaiser center before the police did. We thought the story of the Kaiser center – sold by the city of Oakland to its own redevelopment agency, virtually ensuring that it would remain unused for the foreseeable future – would help build support for our occupation and illuminate the shady dealings of the Oakland Redevelopment Agency. The fact that it was city property made it seem more likely that we would be able to stay, in contrast to corporate property where, it seems, the police would be obliged to respond if the owners requested. Therefore, we decided that we would head in that direction if numbers were good during the rally and there was no police activity at the building. Our original plan was to get to 10th St. in front of the Kaiser Center, take down the fence on that side of the building, and fill the alley/parking area between the Kaiser Center and the Oakland Museum, at which point our entry team would get us into the building. If that didn’t work, we were prepared to enter from the lake-side of the building and take down the two sets of fences there. If we were blocked from the building on both sides, our plan was to head to Plan B. (Plan C was too far from the Kaiser center, and was intended to be an alternate if our numbers at the plaza were under 1000). We had a couple different blocs of people in front who knew the locations, the plans and were equipped to help out.
By the end of the rally, numbers swelled toward 1000 and as we left the plaza our scouts reported that there was still no police activity at the Kaiser. It was a beautiful day. Police had been distracted by a diversion at a decoy building 30th and Telegaph, which they had surrounded and filled with cops, and seemed mostly distributed throughout the city in small staging areas. We started heading in the direction of the lake. As we turned off 12th St. onto Madison St. our scouts told us that police vans had parked at the intersection of 10th and Oak and also at 12th and Oak. By the time we got to 10th and Madison we could see the skirmish line forming one block down, on Oak, and we knew that we were also blocked on 12th. (11th was impossible because of the tunnel, an effective kettle). At that point we decided to see if we could get around by cutting through Laney and spilling into the streets on 10th. We almost succeeded but the police blocked the front of the march from going down the first set of stairs.
We were thus forced to wind our way through Laney, during which time many of us got separated. It was hard getting the group through the narrow paths of the college. Exiting Laney, we lost the front of the march while trying to regroup, and some people went ahead, turning back toward the lake-side of the Kaiser Center instead of heading toward Plan B per our plan. When we caught up with them, there was a standoff with the police. We attempted to encourage the crowd to storm the lines and started taking down some fences, but this was unsuccessful. Because it seemed like people were interested in continuing to try for Kaiser, and riled up by their encounter with the police, we led the march around the corner to try to find a tactically better position from which to get past the police lines. On Oak St. we advocated for people to try and break through the police line. People seemed willing to give it a shot. The fighting that ensued was immensely inspiring, even if, according to our original plan, we should have been well on our way to Plan B. People displayed impressive bravery but the encounter was exhausting and Plan B seemed too far at that point, and too difficult to get to, seeing as we would have to get around the police and head into East Oakland. We decided to return to the plaza.
Once back at the plaza we needed to make some decisions about whether to continue on to plan C, call it quits or do something else. Plan C was a bit of a walk, given what we had just gone through. It was also clear to us that the police were capable of guessing our destination, and would probably block us if we tried to make it to C. At the same time, it was clear that people were very inspired by the Battle of Oak St. and wanted to try for a building. We felt some sense of urgency based on that energy level, but were pretty sure that many people would go home if we didn’t try something quickly. It occurred to us that we might try the Traveler’s Aid building. We sent a scout to look at it. There were people working on the building who had the door padlocked. We suspected that we could cut the lock, the workers would leave and we would have our occupation. Though this did not fit our criteria – it was owned by a wealthy individual rather than a corporation, and was smaller than our needs – we felt that it was our best chance for success, given the aggressive police response. We assembled at the corner of 14th and Broadway and marched over to the Traveler’s Aid building. However, when we got there, the group tasked with cutting the padlock was unable to do so, given the equipment they had. While standing in front of the Traveler’s Aid, trying to figure out what do, the march took off around the corner, up San Pablo. At that point our decision making structure effectively collapsed, and we scrambled to try and find a place to take the march. Most of us in the tactical group had different ideas about what we should be doing and no time to figure them out. While trying to discuss our options, we were kettled at 19th and Telegraph, escaped miraculously, and continued up Telegraph toward the building used as a decoy that morning . The police, however, blocked us at 28th and, once on Broadway, the march, which was no longer entirely in our hands, started heading back to the plaza, which seemed wise. Most of us were arrested in the final kettle on Broadway, though some of us escaped and went to the other side of the kettle to support our arrested comrades. At that point, autonomous groups, enraged by the events of the day, responded to the police violence in the manner which they saw fit – entering City Hall and trashing it, for instance,or marching to the jail to try and block the sheriff’s buses.
Analysis, Self-Criticism and Recommendations for the Future
We made several tactical mistakes and some questionable decisions during the first march. As stated before, we do not have consensus on what went right and what wrong, and can only offer the following perspectives
The First March:
1) Cutting through Laney is certainly questionable. We do feel that it might have worked, and could have been seen as a brilliant gambit. The only other choices would have been to charge the lines or immediately go to Plan B. Some of us think storming the lines would have been the best option. In hindsight, if we had split the march, with half of the people pressuring the police lines on Oak and the other half going through Laney, we might have effectively surrounded the police.
2) Letting the march escape from us in Laney was a clear failure of conrol. As a result, the crowd turned back toward the Kaiser center when many of us feel that it would have been much better to go to Plan B immediately, since it was clear that the police had already surrounded the building and put it on lockdown. Others feel that we still had a chance and might have effectively charged the police line on the lake-side of the building and that the crowd therefore made the correct choice. Some people in the decision-making team had reservations about plan B, particularly with regards to its residential location. They were hesitant to bring such an intense fight to that location.
3) As for what happened afterward, it was clear that there was a real will in the crowd to fight the police. Although there was probably only a very small chance of successfully reaching the doors of the building, and we probably should have been well on our way to Plan B, the Battle of Oak St., as it has been called, was immensely moving for all of us, and we very much value this material testimony to our hatred of the police and our desire for a home for the Oakland Commune. We do not think people would have fought as hard as they did if they were not committed to the project of taking a new home for Occupy Oakland.
The Second March:
1) Our decision making structure effectively broke down, and we were seduced by a sense of urgency into making hasty decisions, rather than following the planning and thinking we had come up with. Our unwillingness to call it a day and risk the feelings of anticlimax and defeat was a real weakness. We need to be willing to make strategic retreats.
2) We made a hasty decision to occupy the Traveler’s Aid building, and we did not adequately prepare to make sure it happened correctly. In particular our entry team only had one tool, which did not work for the job. They were supposed to have another tool which would have worked in that situation. Ultimately, we are not in consensus about whether we should have done something else in place of the TA building, whether we should have gone to another building on our long list, tried for plan C, or called it a day.
3) After the failure of Traveler’s Aid, things completely broke down. We should have jumped in front of the march and taken it back to the plaza in light of the fact that we didn’t have a really great destination. While we were trying to figure out what to do we got kettled and after the breakout the march headed up Telegraph on its own. It was a runaway train, but we should have found a way to stop it.
4) After we were kettled once, we should acted to prevent a second kettle. We should have taken the march out of situations where we might get caught by the police. Broadway, in particular, is a bad street. We should have put the march back on Telegraph as quickly as possible.
General Self-Criticism and Other Remarks
1) In retrospect, the parameters of the proposal, particularly the parameters around ownership (or our interpretation of them) seem very problematic. There were not as many viable commercial spaces owned by banks and corporations as one might have thought. There were, however, many viable spaces owned by wealthy individuals for investment purposes. This is a place where the anticorporate (rather than anticapitalist) ideology of the Occupy movement has become a limit. We should have initiated a discussion with the assembly about these parameters and tested out people’s feelings about them.
2) Many of us feel that we were not good enough at communicating with the march. We failed to stay in front of it at a crucial moment. Though we prompted most of the major decisions the march made, our team was not sufficiently visible as leaders or decision-makers. Many of us are, of course, uncomfortable with such authority but we recognize that visible, identifiable march leaders are important. Many of us feel that our decision-making team could not effectively consult with each other, receive info from the scouts and lead the march quickly. We have discussed the possibility that we might need more people for march leadership, or a single person who can make decisions autonomously if necessary, consulting with the others where possible. Speed is important.
In general, we feel that a „leaderless“ movement like Occupy Oakland – one whose basic principles we support – produces too few people who are willing to stand up and lead a march with a megaphone. [We also want to note, here, that patriarchy plays a big part in who gets noticed or respected as a march leader]. This opens up very complex issues of power and authority in such situations, the need for strategic „leadership“ or direction and the contradictions this raises for people who are opposed to leaders and authority in general. Throughout the day we struggled to balance our own responsibility to lead the march toward success, making choices for the group, and yet at the same time preserve the autonomy of individuals and groups, in the spirit of Occupy Oakland. This is a difficult balancing act in such a situation. There are times where autonomous action made it difficult to succeed and times where autonomous action was exactly what was necessary. (For instance, if an autonomous group had flanked the police as they were facing off with the shields at 10th and Oak, going up Madison and down 10th, we might gotten past the police lines there.) We hope that we can discuss such issues and think about the new organizational forms they demand.
3) We should have gamed out more scenarios beforehand. Though many of us feel it’s impossible to play out, in advance, all of the contingencies and possibilities one will encounter, we should have thought about the possibility of splitting the march in half for tactical power. We have indicated two places where the capacity to split the march might have led to success.
4) Many have suggested that we should have gone about the occupation in an entirely different manner – clandestinely occupying a building and attempting to regularize our tenancy there. Though we think the project of occupying buildings in this manner – squatting, in other words – is important, and some among us are squatters, it is not possible to occupy commercial space this way. Or rather, it’s not possible to occupy the kind of space that would meet the needs of the proposal in this manner. You can’t quietly occupy these kinds of buildings, and even if you could, the point of the proposal was to create a space for the Oakland Commune, which is anything but quiet. Others have suggested that we should have gone in the night before and then brought people over. Ultimately, we do not see how this would have made a difference. The mass of people coming to support the occupation would have encountered the same resistance, as long as the day was announced as a day of occupation. We think that the main tactical problem is that an occupation needs hundreds if not thousands of people to support it. Getting those people to the building before the police block you or evict those already inside is a difficult problem, especially if one wants to openly inform people about what is happening and what they might expect. We hope there can be more discussion about how this project can be successful at a tactical level.
A Final, Slightly Philosophical Note
We have pointed out the many ways in which we thought the day was a success and the many ways in which we thought it was a failure. But we also want to remark on how relative and ultimately ambiguous these terms are. For some of us, everything short of the total destruction of capitalism is a failure. History is full of strange twists and turns and reversals. None of us know, ultimately, what all of this will have meant one month from now, one year from now, in a decade. We also note that, in many regards, some of Occupy Oakland’s greatest „successes“ were born from „failures.“ The effect of failure is not always clear. Some failures lead to successes. Some successes lead to failures. The eviction of the camp on the morning of Oct. 25th was a clear failure. We had no capacity to defend ourselves against the military operation of OPD. The attempt to storm the police lines and retake the plaza on the night of the 25th was unsuccessful. The night was a series of brave and remarkable failures to take down the police line at Broadway and 14th. And even though there were five thousand people in the streets, the police deployed tear gas and drove us back, again and again. Why, then, did it feel like a victory? One of the reasons we were able to retake the plaza the next night is that the police grievously wounded some people – one of them a veteran – and were forced to retreat under public condemnation. The point, therefore, is that we do not know what will happen. This does not mean that all choices are equal. Questions of strategy and tactics are of the utmost important but they have to be situated in this terrain, where the effects of tactical success or failure are difficult to predict. We are up against an enemy with overwhelming force and, as a result, sometimes we win indirectly, by creating the condition for the next thing to happen, as the eviction of the camp created the conditions for the General Strike.
This is why it is worth trying things, even knowingt that they might not work. Think, for instance, about how the day might have gone otherwise J28. We do not know what would have happened if we had reached plan B, or chosen to head toward Plan C instead. We do not know, ultimately, whether or not we could have reached these places without being blocked or kettled. The police seemed determined to use whatever force they had at their disposal in order to preserve the sanctity of private property. Under such circumstances, holding a building might be impossible. There are no magic tactics here, no secret weapons. Nonetheless, we still think the project of taking a home for Occupy Oakland is of utmost importance. We hope that our experience, our failed success and our successful failure, will eventually lead us onto the road home. Long live the Oakland Commune!