Welcome to the Oakland General Strike
(Wednesday, November 2)
Dear Bay Area Friends,
As most of you probably know, the police raid and destruction of the Occupy Oakland encampments last Tuesday, followed by the notorious police violence against protesters later the same day, provoked such an immense expression of outrage from thousands of people in the Bay Area and around the world that the Oakland city government was thrown completely on the defensive. The next day police were scarcely to be seen. The fence surrounding Frank Ogawa Plaza was still in place, but the occupiers calmly took it down and began reoccupying the same spot. That evening, by a vote of 1484 to 46 (with 77 abstentions), the general assembly decided to call for a General Strike in Oakland on Wednesday, November 2. You can see their declaration, a press conference, and other information at www.occupyoakland.org. [Note that that website is continually updated. To find the posts relevant to this text, you will need to scroll back to the entries for the period leading up to November 2. Numerous videos from the day of the strike can be found here.]
The fact that they reoccupied the encampment less than 48 hours after it had been demolished is astonishing enough. But that they immediately shifted to the offensive with such a marvelously audacious venture leaves me almost speechless with admiration. I hope that their appeal meets with correspondingly large-minded and supportive responses by people in Oakland and elsewhere in the Bay Area. Occupiers in many other cities have already been venturing outside their encampments for various types of demonstrations (e.g. the marches to banks and CEO residences in New York City), but this general-strike appeal is upping the ante and moving toward a new level of active engagement with people in the whole community. Occupy Oakland people have been fanning out into the city, speaking with workers and small businesses, with teachers and students, with religious groups and all sorts of other community organizations, in order to enlist support for the strike. At this point I don’t think anyone really knows what the response will actually be, but there are a number of promising indications. In addition to support from nurses’ and teachers’ associations and a number of other unions (see www.occupyoakland.org/strike/), the Longshoremen’s Union is collaborating with Occupy Oakland to bring about a shutdown of the Port of Oakland in solidarity with striking workers elsewhere on the West Coast.
In any case, even if a relatively small number of people actually strike, the mere act of putting such a notion on the agenda is already awakening people to new possibilities. The general strike is not intended to be a mere work stoppage, but a day for positive, creative public dialogue. Leading up to it, there are open meetings every day at 5:00 p.m. at Occupy Oakland where people are discussing what they are doing, or what they propose to do, to prepare for the strike (publicity, outreach, coordination). You are welcome to observe any of those meetings, and to participate if you feel so inclined. During the day of the strike, there will be large gatherings at the same location (Frank Ogawa Plaza at 14th & Broadway) at 9:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, and 5:00 p.m. (the latter gathering segueing into a march to the Port of Oakland), as well as the daily general assembly at 7:00 p.m. But there will be countless other public discussions, large and small, planned and spontaneous, in workplaces and on street corners, some of them initiated by people such as yourself. You don’t have to wait for Occupy Oakland or anyone else to take your own initiatives.
A delightfully mischievous example of such an independent initiative is the fake “Mayors Apology” perpetrated by a good friend of mine. Using the situationist tactic of détournement, he has taken a currently potent image in the spectacle and turned its fetish-power against itself in order to break through what is seen as “possible” or “realistic” and encourage a more imaginative and uninhibited collective brainstorming. (The original fake city government webpage has since been removed, but the text of the prank letter, along with the perpetrator’s subsequent explanation, can be found here.)
If you decide to strike, note that Occupy Oakland has declared: “If an employer fires or disciplines a worker for taking the day off, we will picket that business.” However, the Occupy Oakland people realize that many people may not be able or willing strike, especially on such short notice and when many people are still under misimpressions they have derived from the mainstream media. They welcome every form of engagement, suggesting that, if nothing else, you take this opportunity to talk about these issues with your friends and neighbors and fellow workers, as well as to visit Occupy Oakland and get a little sense of what’s going on, whether at the scheduled gatherings at 9:00, 12:00 and 5:00, or at other times simply to roam around the encampment, meet people and get a little feel of the ambience.
For those of you who may be worried about “children missing school”: Children will learn more about community and society and democracy and history in this one day than they will in a month of ordinary schooling. Reports are that practically every Oakland teacher supports the aims of the strike, but that they are not sure whether to actually go on strike, or if so, in what manner. My suggestion is that teachers engage in an active, “teach-in” strike, not just staying home, but going to their classes and opening the entire day up to discussion of these issues: “What have you heard about the Occupy movement, children? Why do you think people are doing it? Do you know what a strike is? Did you know that many of the things we take for granted were achieved because people in your parents’ or you grandparents’ generation engaged in strikes? Did you know that the last general strike in America took place right here in Oakland in 1946?” Perhaps followed by a field trip to visit Occupy Oakland. Whether or not the teachers do this, I am sure that many conscientious parents will make a special point of taking their children to some of the gatherings and events, and that this will be one of the most rich and memorable days in their lives.
For those who may worry about the risk to themselves: Relax. The people taking the risks are the people who occupy public spaces and refuse to leave, knowing that they may be arrested, or who intentionally remain in the streets when told to disperse. As long as you don’t do either of those things, about the only risk you run in visiting an occupation or attending one of the mass gatherings is that you might find yourself questioning your previous priorities in life.
I also encourage you to stop being distracted by the never-ending string of silly objections, most of which are not true and most of which would not be any big deal even if they were true (an occupation failed to get a permit, or it is violating some city sanitary code, or some participant used hostile language against the police, etc.). This is an all-embracing movement and, among other challenges, it’s bringing together people of all walks of life, including homeless people and others who have suffered far more than you and I and who may bear some psychological scars from their sufferings. In such circumstances there will naturally be some problems to work out; and they are being worked out as the occupiers find that they need to deal with them. The people doing the on-the-ground occupying and who are being beaten and arrested by the thousands in cities all over the country are true heroes and they deserve the same kind of support as the civil rights workers did fifty years ago. (For just one example of the sick brutality the Occupy Oakland arrestees have been enduring, see this account by a 43-year-old disabled woman [link no longer works].) Yet they, and all of us who are with them in our hearts, are also filled with a joy that most people in this society are missing, because after a long period of social idiocy and despair we are finally waking up together, and we can see that the momentum of history is on our side. This is not just a protest, or even a series of protests, it’s an international social movement. It’s not about passing this or that new law, much less about electing this or that politician; it’s about people coming together all over the world to reassess the entire social order and to figure out how best to change it.
Whether we ultimately win or not, this movement is not going away any time soon. You’ll have plenty of other opportunities to take part during the coming months and coming years. Nevertheless, in the future, when your children or grandchildren ask you what you were doing when these historic events were just beginning, right in your own cities, don’t you think you’ll feel a little funny having to say that you didn’t even bother to go take a look?
As a final note, I would like to remind you that, while the current focus is on Occupy Oakland, there are also occupations in San Francisco and Berkeley and over a dozen other Bay Area cities, as well as in hundreds of other locations all over the country. Each of them is independent; some are large, some are small; they have various modes of organization and various styles, ranging from mild to militant. But they all deserve your support and input. Check out the ones near you. Even if you don’t wish to join the actual occupation, you are welcome to take part in their general assemblies, and there are many other ways to support them. Above all, if your local politicians and police are harassing them, tell them in no uncertain terms to stop doing so.
October 31, 2011
Invitation to the Oakland General Strike of November 2, 2011, called by the general assembly of Occupy Oakland on October 26.
This invitation was addressed primarily to friends and contacts in the San Francisco Bay Area (approx. 1000 people and groups), but I also sent it to some 3000 other friends and contacts across the country and around the world, as well as posting it at this website, because I believed that many other people would be interested in hearing about what had been going on here.
Other articles on the Occupy movement:
The Awakening in America
Yesterday in Oakland
The Situationists and the Occupation Movements: 1968/2011
The Occupy Movement at Its Peak
Looking Back on Occupy