March 20, 2013

Our old friends from Occupy Oakland were out in the streets tearing up stuff again last weekend, or maybe it wasn’t Occupy Oakland, but somebody else. The folks at the Bay Area News Group and the Oakland Tribune can’t seem to make up their minds. Oddly enough, that’s a little understandable.

About 11 p.m. last Friday night, the Tribune/Bay Area News Group published an article entitled “Occupy Oakland Protesters March In Downtown, Vandalize Banks.” The article reported that some “40 to 50 Occupy Oakland protesters” marched through downtown Oakland, “vandalized ATMs belonging to at least five banks,” and shattered a window at the old Oakland Tribune Tower building.

A day later, the company put out a second article on the March 15 downtown Oakland demonstration. Entitled “Oakland: No Arrests After ‘Anti-Capitalist’ Marchers Smash Windows, Vandalize ATMs,” this second article was generally identical to the first, except that it named the five bank ATMs vandalized. Oh, and it ended with the notation that “the march was billed as an ‘anti-capitalist rally’ by organizers at the Bay Area Radical Action Committee.” If the authors of the second Tribune/Bay Area News Group article thought Occupy Oakland was involved in the demonstration, they didn’t bother to mention it.

It is not at all unusual in this era of the 24 hour online news cycle for a publication to release preliminary information on an event, only to correct or sometimes even completely contradict themselves at a later point after investigation and further reporting. This situation was a bit different, however, as both of the Tribune/Bay Area News Group stories were updated online about the same time early Sunday morning, and both continued to remain online at the time of the writing of this column, so that a person linking to one Tribune article would think the responsables were Occupy, while linking to the other would put the onus on BARAC. Confusing, to say the least.

So who, actually, did the deed Friday night?

BARAC itself took credit for the Friday night vandalism, describing the action in detail on their website account: “At 9:00 PM,” they wrote, “a small group of anarchists that numbered around two or three dozen took the streets, with black flags and banners that read ‘FIGHT B(A)CK’ and ‘Anti-Capitalist Anti-Police.’ We marched south on Broadway, chanting ‘Anticapitalista,’ ‘No Justice No Peace Fuck the Police,’ and ‘All Cops Are Bastards ACAB.’ We made our way down to the OPD station at 7th & Broadway, where we confronted maybe ten riot police. The cops appeared to be on the defensive, so after a few minutes we made our way north on Franklin. ‘FTP’ [referring to Fuck The Police, presumably] was written with impressively large font across a Chase bank, and some of it’s windows were broken. Multiple ATMs along Franklin were vandalized, Oakland Tribune had some of it’s windows shattered. Union Bank had it’s front door smashed, Some windows on the Bank of California were broken. But this is an incomplete list of actions we’re sure.” To make sure that they, and not Occupy, got full credit, the group said in a following comment that “it’s very important to separate Occupy Oakland from our action.” BARAC repeated that assertion in a discussion about the demonstration on IndyBay in which they say that the March 15 downtown Oakland demonstration “was NOT organized by, with, or at all involving … anyone with the (Occupy Oakland Tactical Action Committee) or (Occupy Oakland) media.”
Finally, although Occupy Oakland continues to publicize many actions that the organization itself does not specifically appear to sponsor, no mention of the March 15 downtown Oakland demonstration is listed on Occupy Oakland’s official online calendar for that day.

So who, then, is the Bay Area Radical Action Committee?

The group itself tries to get cute about it. On the “About” section of the BARAC website, they say only that they are “really just a couple friends and comrades who took it upon themselves to organize events when no one else would, under a cliche group title.” Presumably BARAC is newly formed, as the Archives page on the group’s website only go back to February, and those only refer to the March 15 demonstration.

Finally, I could find no online connection between the Bay Area Radical Action Committee and Occupy Oakland except that which discusses the confusion coming out of the Oakland Tribune/Bay Area News Media competing stories.

So how and why did the Tribune/Bay Area News Group get it all confused?

While the newspaper group has a responsibility for clearing this up online, one way or the other, the fault lies entirely with Occupy Oakland.

During its heyday during the months while it was still occupying the public grounds in front of Oakland City Hall, Occupy Oakland set up a structure in which groups could affiliate with OO and then go off on their own to take actions not specifically authorized by the main organization. “Occupy Oakland encourages autonomous actions that do not require consensus from the General Assembly [the ruling body of the organization],” OO wrote on the governing structure page of its website. This encourages political activity that is decentralized and welcomes diverse voices and actions into the movement.”

What that policy specifically encouraged was events like the long-running Fuck The Police marches, in which individuals hiding under Guy Falkes masks and bandanas repeatedly trashed and vandalized sections of Oakland under cover of the Occupy Oakland banner. While some individual members of Occupy Oakland tried to stop or mitigate those actions, Occupy Oakland itself never officially denounced or disassociated itself from them.

This will remain one of the worst legacies of Occupy Oakland, either purposely or inadvertently helping to spread and legitimize the idea that Oakland is the preferred place for so-called “radicals” and “anarchists” to come and trash the place, without any accountability to the citizens of Oakland and for what ultimate purpose, most of the people of Oakland still have no clue.