17 February 2012

Spartacist Speaker at Occupy Oakland Forum

No Illusions in Police “Reform”—For Workers Revolution!

OAKLAND—The city administration and Oakland Police Department (OPD), backed by the local bourgeois media, have been on a campaign of arrests, smears and intimidation against Occupy Oakland protesters. Following the arrest of 409 people at a January 28 protest, a dozen activists have been charged with a combination of felonies and misdemeanors. “Stay away” orders bar them from being within 300 yards of City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza (renamed Oscar Grant Plaza by protesters in remembrance of the young black worker killed by a BART transit cop in 2009).

At least one activist, a black man known as Truth, has been in jail since his arrest the night of the November 2 mass protest at the Oakland port. Marcel Johnson, a black homeless man better known as Khali who was part of the Occupy Oakland encampment, has been incarcerated since his arrest on December 16 and could face a life sentence under California’s draconian “three strikes” law. Free Truth, Khali and all Occupy protesters! Drop all the charges!

At a February 1 Occupy Oakland press conference, many of those arrested recounted the horrors they experienced after being trapped and rounded up by police the week before. Dozens were crammed into cells designed to hold five people at most. Several were held for 50 hours or more without charges. Many, including people with HIV, were denied their medication. Meanwhile, the media has joined Democratic mayor Jean Quan and the City Council in accusing protesters of “violence,” particularly targeting anarchists. In a menacing move, the San Francisco Chronicle posted on its Web site the names and addresses of several of those arrested on January 28. What really drove the Oakland city administration and local media crazy was that some protesters had burned an American flag they found inside City Hall. Several Occupy Oakland activists have since taken to carrying American flags at demonstrations in an effort to show their patriotic credentials.

A February 7 City Council meeting was convened to vote on a resolution allowing the use of any “lawful” means to prevent future shutdowns at the port and strengthening police enforcement powers against protesters overall. Representatives of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union spoke against the resolution, pointing out that it would be aimed against the union. The resolution, which failed, had been introduced by Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, who earlier denounced Occupy Oakland for engaging in “domestic terrorism.”

Addressing the City Council meeting, prominent Occupy Oakland activist Barucha Peller stated: “I know you guys used to be progressive. But right now you’re on the wrong side of history” (San Francisco Chronicle, 8 February). The idea that these capitalist politicians could ever represent anything but the interests of the bourgeoisie is a stark expression of how the populist notion of the “99 percent” promotes illusions in American bourgeois democracy and its representatives.

Under the guise of debating “tactics” for “our movement,” the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO) treacherously denounced the few dozen protesters who went to City Hall late at night on January 28 after braving hours of police tear gas, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets. Accusing them of “vandalism” and “stupid and inexcusable” actions, the ISO lectured that “this irresponsible and backward behavior handed city officials and the media a perfect weapon to smear the whole movement” (“The Backlash Against Occupy Oakland,” socialistworker.org, 6 February). In fact, the ISO is handing the bourgeois media and politicians more ammunition by echoing the violence-baiting dished out against protesters.

The brutality of the OPD has become so infamous that a federal judge is threatening to put the department under receivership. This stems from a nearly decade-old settlement of the case of the Oakland “Riders”—a gang of cops unleashed on the West Oakland ghetto. The repeated cop attacks against Occupy Oakland activists have brought increased attention to the OPD, which has been ordered to comply with various “reforms.”

When a Citizens Police Review Board meeting originally scheduled for February 9 was “indefinitely postponed,” Occupy Oakland organized its own “forum on police actions,” which was attended by up to 500 people. A video presentation powerfully showed the brutality meted out to protesters since late October, and many individuals spoke at the end of the forum about the violence they regularly face at the hands of the cops, whether as demonstrators or as residents of Oakland’s ghettos. But the political focus of the event, exemplified by the official speakers, including members of the review board, was how best to “reform” the OPD and bring it under “community control.” Police Chief Howard Jordan was even invited to a “Q&A” session (of course, he did not show). We print below the remarks of a Spartacist League comrade during the “public speaking section” at the end of the forum.

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I am speaking for the Spartacist League; some of you may have seen our paper, Workers Vanguard. We are here to say that we defend Occupy Oakland protesters against police repression and demand that everyone who’s been arrested be released and that all charges be dropped. Plain and simple, the cops are the enemy. They’re part of the capitalist state, which exists to defend the interests and rule of the bourgeoisie against the workers and the oppressed. And no amount of civilian review boards, community control or federal oversight or takeover is going to change that. All these things are a sham, designed to whitewash the cops while giving the illusion of accountability. They’re designed to clean up their image so the cops can carry out their repression all the more effectively.

The cops that killed Oscar Grant and terrorize the ghettos are part of the same capitalist system that imprisons over two million people, most of them black and Latino, in this country and wages war abroad. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. When Quan was running, you were sold a bill of goods that she was “progressive.” The same bill of goods was sold about Obama. In fact, Obama’s message to black people is racial oppression. His message to immigrants is deportation. His message to working people is union-busting. His message to the population is to shred our rights. And his message to the world is imperialist war. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about the flag that was burned outside of City Hall. Well, the truth is, from Haiti to the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, that flag is dripping with the blood of millions of American imperialism’s victims.

Their styles might be different, but the Democrats and the Republicans are capitalist parties and they serve the same capitalist class, and you better remember that when the elections come around and they try to sell you the poison pill of “lesser evilism.” But the “99 percent” populism of Occupy disguises the class nature of the capitalist state and its parties. It is counterposed to the understanding that the fundamental class divide in society is between the working class and the capitalist class. What we need is a workers party to fight for a socialist revolution. What we need is a new ruling class, the workers.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 996, 17 February 2012)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.