Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Over the past month, Occupy Oakland's General Assembly has debated five separate proposals addressing nonviolence, diversity of tactics, and destruction of property, four leaning towards nonviolence and one toward “diversity of tactics.” Not one has passed, despite attempts to address the issue from various viewpoints.

Yellow are nonviolence-affirming proposals, purple is the diversity of tactics-affirming proposal

The Proposals
The first and most popular proposal (or, more accurately, least unpopular one) was the so-called “Friendly Neighbor Policy” proposal, floated on October 23rd. It was also the most benign, requesting “zero tolerance for racism, sexism, harassment, or violence” within the encampment, and for occupants to “be respectful of all people and visitors.” However, speakers against the proposal disavowed policing each other within the movement, promoting individual autonomy instead, and one occupier asserted that “in revolutionary times, violence is needed.” In the end, only 63% of the assembly approved of the proposal, falling far short of the 90% needed to pass under modified consensus.

Both the “Diversity of Tactics” and “Action Agreements” proposals (11/9 and 11/20) included language to acknowledge diversity within the movement, but ultimately sought to discourage violence and destruction and disown from the movement those who took part in such acts.

We urge individuals employing Black Bloc tactics to use self-restraint and forethought. We urge Black Bloc members not to destroy local businesses. We encourage all individuals who are engaged in non-violence to continue to do so.” – Diversity of Tactics Proposal 11/09/11

We agree not to physically assault people except in the case of self defense or bodily defense of others, we agree not to engage in destruction of property... We recognize that individuals who take part in other actions are acting autonomously and not in the name of our movement.” – Action Agreements Proposal 11/20/11

Playing Oakland schools musical chairs, 11/19
In both cases, speakers against the proposal far outweighed those for it, and the language of the proposals was systematically shot through with holes. Some in favor argued that without a promise to maintain a safe and nonviolent movement, “average” people may be scared away, and that many of the people the Occupy movement purports to represent cannot afford to be arrested. However, most of the rhetoric focused on the vague language of the proposals, the inability to enforce such edicts, and the inefficacy of choosing a fixed set of tactics without a parallel set of clear goals.

A “Statement of Intent” proposal drafted in the wake of the murder nearby the occupation was withdrawn after harsh criticism on Nov. 21. It stated that “those who indulge in violence and coercion are cutting themselves off from everyone else... we [of Occupy Oakland] bring peace, we serve, and protect. We choose our actions and we are aware that our actions have consequences.” Though the sponsor stated that the intention behind the proposal was to affirm the wholeness and balance of the movement, its very language indicated hostility towards those who decide to “indulge in violence and coercion.” Eventually, the proposal was withdrawn and set aside.

Creating Division
Education cuts protesters, 11/19
In each of the four proposals, speakers noted that restraining or disowning those using violent tactics could be seen as itself violent, and certainly devisive. When I was in attendence on November 9th, it was clear that the very proposal seeking to unite the movement behind nonviolence had in fact divided the assembly. Though I am nonviolent myself, I spoke against the proposal because it seemed only to serve to oust some people from what is supposed to be a populist movement.

Interestingly, a fifth proposal seeking to affirm diversity in tactics rather than solely nonviolence met with nearly as much resistance as proposals for peace. The “St. Paul's Principles” proposal which touted “respect for diversity of tactics” and “no denouncement of fellow activists or events to the media,” at first seemed a solution to the divisiveness of the other proposals. Diversity is great right? Isn't that what embracing the 99% means?

However, as one speaker against the proposal put it, given that some people are staunch pacifists and personally denounce violence and destruction “would 'diversity of tactics' leave out a diversity of people?” Furthermore, some likened the prohibition on talking to the media to a “code of silence” that would be ultimately destructive to the transparency and accessibility of the movement.

At the Education March to Lakeview School, 11/19
So What?
Personally, I believe in using peaceful means to achieve results, and that hostility and rage will only perpetuate fear and hate. However, I feel that directing our negative energies toward each other will splinter the movement and obstruct our visions for the future.

So if we can't decide to be nonviolent, but we also can't decide to not be nonviolent, and we know that “a house divided doesn't stand,” what are we left with?

This issue gets to the very heart of the Occupy movement's stubborn refusal to define itself or present demands. The 99% means very nearly everyone. We can't expect that nearly everyone in a room, let alone a movement, country or planet, is going to have the same goals, concerns, or means of affecting social change.

"Capitalism is a Pyramid Scheme," 11/19
I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that condemning individuals and their actions, however personally offensive, is pretty pointless and a waste of precious GA time. If indeed many of those wishing to employ “Black Bloc” tactics are self-proclaimed anarchists, then passing a resolution at the GA will do nothing to curtail this activity. Most anarchists believe in grassroots organization rather than top-down structure, and in individual autonomy. When the General Assembly becomes a vehicle for imposing restrictions on individual behavior, it has already become another establishment that goes against the values espoused by the powerful anarchist subculture of the movement.

Low approval (and high abstention) on the above proposals, at a GA where most action and solidarity proposals are passed indicate that plenty of people also feel uncomfortable defining the actions of others. Abstineo, Latin for “abstain,” comes from abs- “away from” and teneo “hold, restrain.” In the context of voting, then, to abstain is literally to shy away from restraining the group, the process, or the individual. This indicates that perhaps as a movement, the trend is to abstain from controlling the autonomy of our fellow protesters, and instead affirm only those actions which allow for individual choice and expression.

Rather than limiting the umbrella of “Occupy,” we need to live under an ever-expanding tent that can grow to accommodate everyone in the 99%. This may mean standing with people of other viewpoints, but with whom we are united for a related cause. We should neither attempt to condemn nor condone any one viewpoint or tactic. Instead, we can engage in dialogue and education with each other to gain deeper understanding, and use our diversity to form multiple collaborative and interlinked communities.  

"No one can evict an idea whose time has come!" 11/19
The beauty of the Occupy movement is that anyone can participate, and anyone has the agency to create something where they see a void. If sitting in an intersection, or boycotting a store, or moving money out of banks is what you think should happen, organize it and you'll probably get your local GA's blessing. It seems that the only thing Occupy implicitly agrees to disavow is dissent, choosing instead to uphold individual initiative. 

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