OSCAR GRANT PROTEST: A RESPONSE

THIS POST IS A RESPONSE TO: http://advancethestruggle.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/justice-for-oscar-grant-a-lost-opportunity/

Though I agree with the central points of this article, I think the way the author(s) examine(s) the issues is not as useful as it could be if we are to be serious about winning any kind of change.

Though the article addresses WHAT we want to win with the struggle surrounding Oscar Grant, it does not sufficiently pose, let alone answer, the question of HOW to win.

The article does seem to be in favor of “militant action” in one form or another, but it does not explain for example how high school student walk outs will create change (do they qualify as being militant?). This problem which can be also found in the author’s citations (namely, Bob Avakian and Gramcsi) of theoreticians and not social scientists. Basically, anyone can theorize about change, and how to accomplish it but it does not make it a social reality. A philosopher can think of a logical way in which sipping coffee can turn into a revolution. This does not help those of us who actually want change.

Those of us who actually want change are going to need to put down our books on theory and pick up a book on social movements.

So what solutions do we have from a social science perspective? Well an important lesson we can learn is that if nothing else, militant forms of protest allow groups such as CAPE to more easily win their struggle for small changes within the police department by making using that group as a acceptable negotiator.

Another important thing to learn from the social sciences is the cost-benefit analysis the state will make in how it judges the Mehserle trial and proceedings. George Ciccariello-Maher’s article “Oakland is Closed!” does a good job in explaining the tactical benefits of the militant protests of the Jan 7 rebellion. Basically, the city of Oakland, at that time had to decide whether or not to arrest Mehserle and what to charge him with. There’s a good argument for the police charging him based on the idea that it would pacify the irate protesters from further property damage. This same theory can apply to Mehserle’s conviction and sentencing but due largely to the lack of rioting it seems that Mehserle, thanks to the powerful police union behind him, will be acquitted.

So what kind of systemic change would we see if Mehserle is indeed convicted? Likely none, but more cops would think before they pulled the trigger and this victory is no laughing matter.

The radical, systemic change which the article tries to argue for is one that takes a long time to win and one where the protest aspect is necessary but insufficient. (For more on this you can read Bill Moyer’s book “Doing Democracy” or check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17iITob04t4). It requires lots of consciousness raising and issue framing (See George Lakoff) in order to appeal to moderate and even conservative people.

This process does not stop with the Oscar Grant issue and therefore cannot be centered around his murder. But if we return to the argument that the property destruction creates gains, however liberal, then we need not care whether they are started by anarchists or is organic, nor should we necessarily care whether or not Oakland residents approve of such tactics. (A small survey results found all those surveyed to view property destruction as negative and violent regardless of how they perceive the Oscar Grant issue.) The militant tactics hurt the image of Oakland and brings in national media coverage that, despite showing the protest as being a horrible band of anarchists, also so the city of Oakland as a dirty, violent place. This image hurts every Oakland elite politically and therefore they want to pacify them either by force, which may lead to more protest and outrage, or by appeasement.

4 Comments

  1. hammer and sickest said,

    July 21, 2009 at 5:07 am

    response to AS article:

    “But if we return to the argument that the property destruction creates gains, however liberal, then we need not care whether they are started by anarchists or is organic, nor should we necessarily care whether or not Oakland residents approve of such tactics.”

    you think liberal gains by means of vigilante acts are successes. such a strategy proposal is the crux of your disagreement with the AS article. they are not arguing for either of these things. rather, they argue that when the state commits an atrocity that the public widely perceives as unjust, spontaneous rebellious responses indicate an OPPORTUNITY to initiate serious bottom-up organizing projects that create participatory democratic vehicles for working class to express agency in a class struggle with battles on multiple economic, political and even cultural fronts. AS does not anywhere advocate rioting. although it suggests that rioting may have motivated the state to arrest and charge meserhle, AS sees the rebellion as a statement from the street that a section of the people are ready for radical ideas and radical organization. RCP smells this a mile away and moves in to “unleash the masses”, as does nonprofit CAPE which presents itself as a the reasonable leadership that will limit demands and curtail spontaneity.

    from the revolutionary point of view, substituting ready-made “vanguard” apparatuses of either the liberal (eg CAPE) or radical left (RCP) are bad approaches. revolution is the deposing of the ruling class by a subordinate class, and at this point in history, the subordinate class is the working class (+/- 80% of the population). radical organizations that are ready-made cannot accommodate the spontaneous demands or organic leadership that emerges from the community. liberal organizations tend to like capitalism but dislike what it does, and therefore try to create kinder versions of. in this project, they have capitalist patrons who are eager to employ “activists” in the work of saving capitalism’s legitimacy in the eyes of the oppressed. vigilante strategies like rioting are bad not so much because they are destructive but because, like elitist nonprofits with paid staffs and ready-made leftist “vanguards,” they cannot accommodate participation from broader layers of people and instead create an agency bottleneck. revolution is about bringing more and more people onto the political stage in higher and higher levels of class consciousness.

    response to AS:
    “The article does seem to be in favor of “militant action” in one form or another, but it does not explain for example how high school student walk outs will create change (do they qualify as being militant?).”

    as i recall, the article suggests city-wide student walkouts. the burden of proof is on you to explain how such a sector-wide strike in a major city would NOT qualify as militant.

    you are unclear about WHAT the AS article is suggesting needs to be done (found a counter-hegemonic working class based organization in oakland), and you were also not paying attention to HOW the authors propose to do this: through struggle. they ask us to imagine oscar grant’s union taking action in defense of its membership (radical concept!). they ask us to remember that general strike is an option as evidenced by oakland’s own general strike in 1946 and by the Greek response to police terrorism last year as riots evolved into work stoppages. the authors also recall the black panthers and put their legacy up as a challenge to “revolutionaries” in oakland that they take steps to build an organic lumpen/proletarian political party. thats at least 3 “HOWs” that you missed. you were clearly reading the article with theoretical blinders that hindered your reading comprehension skills.

    response to AS:
    “This problem which can be also found in the author’s citations (namely, Bob Avakian and Gramcsi) of theoreticians and not social scientists.”

    why not be honest about your “problem” with the AS article: that it is marxist and your own theoretical (or ‘social science’) position is liberal? can you handle a debate on the merits of each? after denouncing AS for citing communists, YOU cite bill moyers and george lakoff, which is laughable. referencing these pop-intellectuals is like handing us a deepak chopra or doctor phil dvd to achieve inner peace. the thinly veiled red-baiting evident in your response clearly has its own theoretical biases that are the basis for unsound strategy proposals (e.g. the provocation to riot as a form of pressure politics!). anarcho-liberalism like this deserves an article of its own, since it dominates a great deal of the thinking amongst young “radicals” en route to careerist yuppie futures.

    • activistingredient said,

      July 21, 2009 at 7:59 pm

      “you think liberal gains by means of vigilante acts are successes.”

      – If we are talking about having Mehserle imprisoned for life, yes.

      “such a strategy proposal is the crux of your disagreement with the AS article. they are not arguing for either of these things”

      - Did I claim they did? I was trying signal 2 ways of approaching the Oscar Grant issue: 1)
      Oscar Grant as a small stepping stone to a radical movement against police brutality or other large problems, and 2) winning something in the Oscar Grant case. These are two different though not mutually exclusive things, but they certainly require different approaches.

      “they argue that when the state commits an atrocity that the public widely perceives as unjust, spontaneous rebellious responses indicate an OPPORTUNITY to initiate serious bottom-up organizing projects that create participatory democratic vehicles for working class to express agency in a class struggle with battles on multiple economic, political and even cultural fronts.”

      - yep, I agree that this should happen, though i do not see how it cannot concurrently work with a strategy to get relatively immediate victories.

      “AS does not anywhere advocate rioting. although it suggests that rioting may have motivated the state to arrest and charge meserhle, AS sees the rebellion as a statement from the street that a section of the people are ready for radical ideas and radical organization. RCP smells this a mile away and moves in to “unleash the masses”, as does nonprofit CAPE which presents itself as a the reasonable leadership that will limit demands and curtail spontaneity.”

      - maybe it does mean that people are ready for such radical ideas, but maybe it doesn’t. One would have to attempt to find out, or know more about the rioters and other’s perceptions of the riots. Certainly it is worth exploring, though the results of a radical/militant organization would likely lead to the victories of moderate organizations like CAPE anyway. The greater purpose for these radical groups would be for long-term change.

      “revolution is the deposing of the ruling class by a subordinate class, and at this point in history, the subordinate class is the working class (+/- 80% of the population).”

      - this statement plainly shows that the Oscar Grant movement will not turn into a revolution. You may radicalize a fraction of a percent around this movement, which may be a significant gain but let’s not foul ourselves into thinking that this can become anything more than that even in ideal circumstances. We would only be setting ourselves up for a emotionally upsetting failure.

      “revolution is about bringing more and more people onto the political stage in higher and higher levels of class consciousness.”

      - grassroots organizations can just as easily dissuade participation as vanguardist groups. I never went to a CAPE meeting, but I did not hear of any vanguardism from them, unless trying to quell property destruction is vanguardist, but then where do you draw the line for strategic leadership and group dictatorship?

      “as i recall, the article suggests city-wide student walkouts. the burden of proof is on you to explain how such a sector-wide strike in a major city would NOT qualify as militant.”

      - hmm…that’s not how onus’ work. The burden of proof is still on those trying to make a claim, not those contesting it. Militant = having a combative character, warring, fighting, aggressive. Which one of these fits? Let’s say the walk out is specifically non-violent. Is it still militant then? Though also militant is one of those terms we in the Left use that is synonymous with “desirable”. I think this is a mistake.

      “you are unclear about WHAT the AS article is suggesting needs to be done (found a counter-hegemonic working class based organization in oakland), and you were also not paying attention to HOW the authors propose to do this: through struggle.”

      - The WHAT is in relation to WHAT goal? The opportunity that Oscar Grant has to create a revolution? Okay, so what happens to those groups after Mesherle is found guilty or aquitted? or what happens when Oscar Grant is no longer the hot topic?

      “the authors also recall the black panthers and put their legacy up as a challenge to “revolutionaries” in oakland that they take steps to build an organic lumpen/proletarian political party. thats at least 3 “HOWs” that you missed. you were clearly reading the article with theoretical blinders that hindered your reading comprehension skills.”

      - When I referred to HOWs, I did not refer to HOW to do something, I referred to winning. HOW to WIN is the question at hand. Not how to be a badass organization. I think a good question to ask is how did the black panther work fail. Certainly there are a number of things we can point to but how would repeating them not lead to similar problems.

      “why not be honest about your “problem” with the AS article: that it is marxist and your own theoretical (or ’social science’) position is liberal? can you handle a debate on the merits of each? after denouncing AS for citing communists, YOU cite bill moyers and george lakoff, which is laughable.”

      - I didn’t realize that Marxism meant you didn’t care about winning. On top of that, social science is not a position, its something that the Left lacks. Can someone tell me why the Left argues against trying to test its own theories? Are we really wedded to them so much we care more about them than the actual goals espoused by them? As for the people I cited, this is the second time I had to correct people: I did not cite the journalist BILL MOYERS, i cited the social movement scholar BILL MOYER.

      “your response clearly has its own theoretical biases that are the basis for unsound strategy proposals (e.g. the provocation to riot as a form of pressure politics!”

      -why unsound? And not the provocation to riot. The threat of riots.

      “anarcho-liberalism like this deserves an article of its own, since it dominates a great deal of the thinking amongst young “radicals” en route to careerist yuppie futures.”

      - This thinking dominates the thinking of young “radicals”?? I would love to know who since I cannot find a single person on the left interested in winning enough to actually think about winning as opposed to think about pop-radicalism such as being militant and quoting outdated Marxist scholars. No seriously, hook me up with some names of people…

  2. hammerin sickness said,

    July 23, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    okay so you responded to the AS article, i responded to your criticisms and now you defended your position. my first instinct to go back and expose the weaknesses that in my opinion stand out even more clearly now , i would rather pose a different challenge. you said you agreed with the central points of the article. what do you AGREE with?

  3. activistingredient said,

    July 23, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    1. A agree that both CAPE and RCP failed at accomplishing their goals through the tactics they used.

    2. I agree that radical organizations with strong roots in the communities of Oakland need to exist in order to create moderate-to-radical change.

    Basically the two main theses of the AS article.


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