Oscar Grant: organization, line and strategy
Mehserle shoots Oscar Grant in the back on BART platform
As we marked the anniversary of the uprisings in Oakland that were sparked by the murder of unarmed Oscar Grant while face down on the ground by BART(local transit) police, no justice has been served. An anniversary vigil was held on New Year's 2010, but the crowds and energy had dissipated from a year ago. This may have been a result of weed and video games, but we think it may have been the left wing of white nationalism who did the most to defuse the resistance.
The vigil was held at the Fruitvale BART station where Oscar Grant was shot on New Year's 2009. Upon my arrival I saw police surveiling the vigil. I also saw news organizations with their cameras video taping. I had a rag covering my face partially to keep from being taped by pigs. The head of security, which was being run by the Nation of Islam (NOI), approached me and gave me a little trouble. Apparently they thought the rag on my face symbolized the acts of rebellion that took place last year in response to the murder and they didn't want a repeat. If they were concerned with the security of protesters and not property they would not facilitate the pigs surveillance efforts.
Later, people met up at the Humanist Hall to continue the vigil for Oscar Grant. The pigs came sure enough, but what was interesting is that the same NOI persyn that approached me was hugging the pig "Negotiators" (which was written in big letters on their jackets) who showed up. This seemed to indicate a higher level of collusion between event "security" and the pigs than we saw last year with CAPE running around trying to keep people from confronting police or any other symbol of wealth and power. How are people supposed to organize safely in a space openly infiltrated by police? The same people who shot Oscar Grant in the back!? If groups like NOI and CAPE don't keep the pigs out then all they are doing is serving to pacify the people, not secure them.
The first speaker spoke what I feel to be a criticism of the people there. A divide and conquer tactic straight out of the government play book saying that people there had different agendas, as if we weren't there to support Oscar Grant and work for change. She criticized others "agendas" while preaching a pacifist line, and insisting that we be led by the Oscar Grant family in the fight for justice. By labeling others lines as "agendas" she tried to delegitimize lines opposed to pacifism, while pretending her agenda didn't exist. History has shown that the oppressor will not loosen their grip without the oppressed rising up in arms. This was the only significant event we know of to mark the anniversary and it was dominated by those who saw no need for fundamental change.
After that, the NOI ministers got up and preached a revolutionary gospel. One NOI minister made the point that its the gangster or thug that needs to be organized for revolution and that they will be the ones to fight and win freedom. On the surface this was the speech that resonated most with the MIM(Prisons) line, but the NOI and their offshoots like the New Black Panther Party have been consistently petty bourgeois in their practice and line since the murder of Malcolm X, despite rhetoric to attract the lumpen to their ranks.
The rcp=u$a got up and talked about communism and atheism bringing a pseudo-anti-religious perspective to the debate. They said something very interesting. They said that we shouldn't criticize the movements but just get in there and lead the movement. This makes no sense. Criticism and self-criticism is at the root of dialectical materialism. Which is why the rcp=u$a continues to fail to be seen as a viable vehicle for revolution.
The latest on the case are that the shooter, Johannes Mehserle, has been charged with murder, but the case has been moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. Mehserle is out on bail with the support of police unions that are backing his defense. So far there has been much to see as the case develops that has exposed the vast injustices of the system, but the battle to convict Mehserle itself is not so strategically important for us. The state has much more invested in the outcome of the case. A conviction would be the first murder conviction against a cop in the united $tates. A failure to convict could prove problematic for them, and the reverberations will likely now be in both Oakland and Los Angeles.
We encourage strategic legal battles as a form of struggle in order to expose the system and create room for the oppressed to live and organize. Simultaneously, we are clear that the injustice system is not fast nor even effective.
What is more important is learning organizing lessons from what happened around the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant. Two detailed papers have been well-distributed on the topic. One is by a group of anonymous anarchist writers, another is by a self-proclaimed "Marxist" group called Advance the Struggle(A/S), that is focused on uniting the "working" class. Comically, the rcp=u$a who got up to condemn analysis and criticism of the movement are outdone here by a group of self-proclaimed anarchists. Let us begin with the anarchist discussion, as we largely addressed their line in our original article on the riots.
The anarchist piece is mostly a story, and probably the most complete documentation of what went on those days in January 2009. Both papers did a thorough critique of the non-profit/reformist coalition turned police that we touched on last year. The Coalition Against Police Execution (CAPE) imposed it's "security" on a large spontaneous movement. While this was an inappropriate role for them to assume, it should be noted that CAPE's organization gave it an advantage over the disorganized angry crowd. And while the anarchists recognized CAPE members as their friends in social life and A/S sees them as workers duped by non-profits funded by imperialism, they were really representing a clear class position of the petty bourgeoisie. They served to protect businesses and prevent conflicts with the police as a matter of principle not a strategy of struggle.
As the anarchists pointed out, riots (can) work. We can't get free by rioting, and in many cases riots end in more repression and no gains. They are not a strategy to be promoted as the anarchists do. But in this case they put more pressure on the state than hugging pigs, holding vigils and asking for "police oversight." What those nights represented was a budding system of justice outside of the established imperialist order. Meanwhile, the non-profit/reformist movement did much to pressure the existing institutions to prosecute Meserhle and reform the policing system to defuse independent justice. But if we want to stop the killing, what the oppressed need are their own institutions. An institution is something that is consistent that we can rely on. Not something we pray for every day and emerges in an eruption of undisciplined energy once every 5 years.
The anarchist authors are avowed focoists, claiming that "our actions create a contagious fever." But as we said at the time, "nights of Black youth roving the streets among groups of riot cops, being videotaped and snatched to prison cannot continue much longer." And to the anarchists disappointment, it did not. Power must be built and fought for, it is not something we can just reach out and grab. We promote a strategy that depends on deep political understanding among as broad a population as is sympathetic to revolutionary change. Advance the Struggle agrees with this, but their assessment of who is sympathetic is stuck in outdated dogma.
A/S opens their paper, "Justice for Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity?" claiming that the "working class people of Oakland... found an inadequate set of organizational tools at their disposal." Who are they talking about? It's not "workers" who are being murdered by pigs, it's oppressed nation youth. The anarchists at times also fall into this dogmatic analysis by talking of "those of us who toil in Oakland." Just because Oscar Grant had a job doesn't mean this is a battle between the workers and the bosses.
The most interesting critique in the A/S piece that we have not seen elsewhere is regarding the so-called "Revolutionary Communist Party - USA" (rcp=u$a). Again the main point of A/S is that there was no vanguard in place to lead the movement for justice for Oscar Grant. Here they address the rcp=u$a's lame attempts to play this role. They correctly criticize the rcp=u$a for setting up the students they organized to fail, which had the effect of diffusing further militant organizing among oppressed nation youth because their leaders were in jail. Their vague, nonexistent, and false political line and failure to correctly organize for revolution plays an integral part in the imperialist plan to keep the people disorganized and divided.
As we mentioned last year, the Panthers were a common topic of discussion as the budding movement faced a leadership void. A/S made some correct analysis about the way the Panther legacy has been transformed into a justification for non-profit/charity type organizing. This is reinforced by founding and leading members who still get a lot of respect in the Bay Area. The anarchists also provide an elementary discussion of the Panthers in their paper.
While both groups of authors turn around and condemn nationalism, this experience demonstrates the need for it. Everyone lamented the lack of the BPP, the Maoist, Black nationalist vanguard of the late 1960's. Today we have the Nation of Islam dominating the role of Black nationalism. Nationalism is relevant because it is the oppressed nations that are targeted by police terrorism and concentration camps. Nation-based organizing is the best path to get us away from the non-profiteering and the dogmatic "worker"ism that has so clearly muddied the waters in this period of struggle. The experiences in Oakland reinforce the Maoist class analysis and the importance for having one. The petty bourgeoisie has dominated the movement for justice for Oscar Grant, while white nationalist revolutionaries vie for influence from the sidelines.
Justice for Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity? by Advance the Struggle. 2009.
Unfinished Acts: January Rebellions. Oakland, California 2009.