On Saturday, Jan. 28, violence broke out at Occupy Oakland. Police used smoke and tear gas after some protesters pelted them with bottles, rocks, burning flares and other objects. Both protestors and police have been widely criticized for the violence of that day. In this op-ed, Noah Shuster, formerly a local resident, now a CUNY student living in Brooklyn, writes about the need to confront government repression.
I wish to communicate the perspective of a group of youths: an autonomous affinity group that has been dedicated to Occupy Wall Street since it began. I do not speak for OWS. I merely offer the perspective of some of those dissenters in the streets for those who seem to have difficulty understanding our actions. Our causes are relatively well known by now: colossal and ever-growing income inequality has been amplified by exorbitant health care costs, exploitative privatization of public assets like education, and the eradication of workers’ rights through union-busting, to name a few. This war on the masses by the super-wealthy is fought primarily with the weapons of physical police violence and corporate media control.
Yes, there was violence in Oakland. Police officers with their badges covered (in direct violation of federal law) liberally applied exploding tear gas canisters, flash bang grenades, sub-lethal projectile rounds and brutal beatings with batons to protesters guilty of nothing more than gathering together. Of the 400 or so people arrested, including many members of the press with proper credentials, many were refused necessary medical treatment and kept detained in inadequately sized holding cells with painful and scarring zipties for over 12 hours. These events, all of which occurred before the city hall incident, do something to explain what happened there.
I offer three basic premises for understanding the world as we see it:
Politics is inseparable from violence
It is deeply delusional to imagine that anything about the political sphere of power is not most fundamentally predicated on violence. “Peace” is often the very clear violent repression of one group or state by another. The Pax Americana was based on the violent exploitation of masses of people all over the world for the benefit of the few. None of the political debacles or atrocities committed by America overseas during its reign were separable from its growing prosperity. These “wars” were the very meat that the richest Americans grew fat upon. The neoliberal turn in governance has merely meant that they are turning the barrels of their violent exploitation on those close to home.
Acquaint yourself with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, if you haven’t yet. What are the supposed achievements of our society? Multicultural tolerance was hard won by the civil rights movement. Movement toward equality for women was wrestled out of the hands of power by suffragettes who amongst other tactics smashed windows and got accused of “battling” with the police. America even won its independence from Britain through an escalating campaign of property destruction and then direct violence. To claim that you honestly do not understand those who commit violence against the villainy of today suggests either a total lack of knowledge of any political history or a delusional commitment to playing pretend because you are unable to address the consequences of what political shifts actually look like. The super-wealthy have not the slightest concern for our concerns unless we show willingness to utilize the extremity of tactics that they use to repress us every day.