^short documentary on the Oakland Commune of 2011
On October 10th 2011, hundreds of people in downtown Oakland occupied Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of city hall. They built a self-organized tent city and began to meet some of the community’s most urgent needs. They renamed the plaza Oscar Grant Plaza in honor of a young African-American man who was shot and killed by BART Police in 2009. Although the action was partially inspired by Occupy Wall Street and austerity protests throughout the world, Occupy Oakland’s particular character resulted from years of struggle and repression in the Bay Area. This short documentary details the ongoing story of the Oakland Commune.
It was produced by Marianne Maeckelbergh and Brandon Jourdan with footage from Caitlin Manning, David Martinez, John Hamilton, and tons of archival footage.
Excerpt from an article by a Bay Area “Anarchist” newspaper from May 16, 2012:
For those of us in Oakland, “Occupy Wall Street” was always a strange fit. While much of the country sat eerily quiet in the years before the Hot Fall of 2011, a unique rebelliousness that regularly erupted in militant antagonisms with the police was already taking root in the streets of the Bay. From numerous anti-police riots triggered by the execution of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, to the wave of anti-austerity student occupations in late 2009 and early 2010, to the native protest encampment at Glen Cove in 2011, to the the sequence of Anonymous BART disruptions in the month before Occupy Wall Street kicked off, our greater metropolitan area re-emerged in recent years as a primary hub of struggle in this country. The intersection at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland was, more often than not, “ground zero” for these conflicts.
If we had chosen to follow the specific trajectory prescribed by Adbusters and the Zucotti-based organizers of Occupy Wall Street, we would have staked out our local Occupy camp somewhere in the heart of the capitol of West Coast capital, as a beachhead in the enemy territory of San Francisco’s financial district. Some did this early on, following in the footsteps of the growing list of other encampments scattered across the country like a colorful but confused archipelago of anti-financial indignation. According to this logic, it would make no sense for the epicenter of the movement to emerge in a medium sized, proletarian city on the other side of the bay.
We intentionally chose a different path based on a longer trajectory and rooted in a set of shared experiences that emerged directly from recent struggles. Vague populist slogans about the 99%, savvy use of social networking, shady figures running around in Guy Fawkes masks, none of this played any kind of significant role in bringing us to the forefront of the Occupy movement. In the rebel town of Oakland, we built a camp that was not so much the emergence of a new social movement, but the unprecedented convergence of preexisting local movements and antagonistic tendencies all looking for a fight with capital and the state while learning to take care of each other and our city in the most radical ways possible.
This is what we began to call The Oakland Commune; that dense network of new found affinity and rebelliousness that sliced through seemingly impenetrable social barriers like never before. Our “war machine and our care machine” as one comrade put it. No cops, no politicians, plenty of “autonomous actions”; the Commune materialized for one month in liberated Oscar Grant Plaza at the corner of 14th & Broadway. Here we fed each other, lived together and began to learn how to actually care for one another while launching unmediated assaults on our enemies: local government, the downtown business elite and transnational capital.
Excerpt from another article from a Bay Area newspaper from December 5, 2011:
And this was what I found inspiring from the beginning: in a community as utterly divided by class, race, politics, language, and gender as Oakland, people reflecting so much of that variety of difference were getting together to hammer together some kind of common and communal purpose, to declare that everyone who inhabited the same space was, in an important sense,there together. We ate together, we listened together, we spoke together, and we were tear gassed together; in the days when Frank Ogawa Plaza became Oscar Grant Plaza, that tiny stretch of Oakland was perhaps the least segregated neighborhood in the city, and the onlyplace in the city where I would ever have the conversations I had with the people I did.
In a way, I’m idealizing it, both because it sometimes lived up to that ideal, and because having it as an ideal reminds us that more is possible than we find to be imaginable. Problems are solvable, and we are capable of confronting them. You are capable of being the person who steps up when some crisis arises organically out of the dysfunctions we’ve inherited from the societies we have no choice but to occupy. This is not the easy triumphalism of Yes We Can, but the hard responsibility of Yes, We Must that we are forced to look in the face when the problems we’d like to avoid don’t go away. And this is clearly the job ahead of us.
This is why putting up tents in Oakland was not a symbolic protest, not a part of the movement that can be allowed to die. To put up a tent and sleep in it, in violation of city ordinances, is a tiny way to claim the right to make the city ourselves. And since we are, as people, a function of the cities we build to remake ourselves as a people, as David Harvey puts it quite nicely, putting up a tent in this way is the very definition of the right to the city:
“The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”
The construction of a thing called “The Oakland Commune” at a plaza that was re-named after Oscar Grant was, in this sense, not a franchise of Occupy Wall Street but a revolutionary defense of that particular space, the demand that we who occupy it have the right to decide what will be made of it.