Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Response to the Oakland Art Murmur shooting

Woke up Saturday am to news of the shooting at Oakland's Art murmur on Friday, Feb 1st. While I'm not in Oakland anymore, my heart in many ways is still in the Town, particularly with the Leadership Excellence fam and young people I've worked with. Sending love to our LE brother Jesus who felt that ish up close and personal....we are grateful for your life. Sad that another man (reports are saying it was a young brother) lost his life, and several were injured. I’m also sad that the conditions exist in Oakland that allowed for someone(s) to carry a gun to a space that was (originally) intentioned to celebrate the city’s artists, culture, and community.

I've read a couple pieces (Davey D, Jesse Strauss, another from 38th notes-which I am less familiar with) and spoke with some folks that put some things in perspective. Since I will be back in Oak more often now, I'm grateful that I can still get a sense of what's happening in there from (Black) folks that are from there, are vested in the people there, and still love the town despite its un-beauty at times.

I wanted to offer, from afar, some thoughts that will hopefully contribute to a systems approach to "stopping the violence" in Oakland, and building a community where all of our people feel safe. Many will say, "Oakland people have to do better", or our "young people need to get it together" or "see we can't never have shit". I remember folks said these things when the City shut down Karijama in the mid 2000s by sending out “Oakland’s finest” to mass pepper spray young people at 14th and Broadway. Oakland lost a gem when Karijama-a space for people to celebrate Black art and culture downtown-was shut down. Many Oaklanders tell me that Oak cultural and social life shifted even  as the early 90s. To all this I say, we must push to understand both the interpersonal (between groups of people and individuals) and systemic (between peoples and institutions) problems that breed violence. Between community members, yes we can do better ya'll, and Oakland (young) people deserve a space that's better-free of harm and violence, and full of love and peace amongst each other. If young people were involved in the events that night, and surely they are impacted, it's because we failed them as adults and because a system failed them. Let us support our young people to be better but not only through our word, but through our deed. We owe it to them to guide their development through love, build and sustain their self-esteem, and fight for resources and organizations that are within their human rights to have. We owe it to them to have a strategic approach to changing systems in Oakland, and it can be done with love, effort, commitment, (racial and class) analysis, political maturity, and through REAL organizing.

The Heavy Hand of Bad Policy is About to Slam the Town 

Let me start by saying if you ain’t talking about race, racism, racial justice, or white supremacy in Oakland, you ain’t talking about nothing. Period.Violence is a fruit of bad policy that is rooted in racism and colonialism.  Policies govern our lives, day in and day out. The most recent racist policies are the “Stop and Frisk” coming to the Town. Surely that night’s events will bring the fist of "Stop and Frisk" policies down heavy-these policies will assuredly target young Black and Latino men. Timing is sometimes the most determining factor for us as movement workers-more than conditions and organizing momentum. Bad timing for real with this one.

City officials will also use this as a reason to further roll back people’s access to public space. Public space is facing repression, especially in the face of fiscal crises in cities where everything from schools to parks are being privatized. We must fight for that public space, such as Art murmur, as a part of a different vision of governance that has our community at the center, not the gentrifiers, hipsters and corporate interests of Oakland. At the same time public space is becoming increasingly dangerous for our people. How do we address this meaningfully ? How do we put the "public" back in public resources and services? Do we even know the policies in Oakland that govern public space ? How do we work now with the (perhaps) competing or reactionary interests of business owners in Oakland, some of whom may call for more police for the public areas near their businesses?

I’m rooted in revolutionary politics, and because of that I believe that challenging the state is an important approach as much as building our communities. I believe that government should be held accountable, and has a role to play in changing conditions for our community. I believe that our people have solutions and that these alternatives must be presented. We as movement workers can’t keep shouting “Eff the police”, “No more police” and not come with an alternative. That’s a joke ya’ll for real. What is people’s vision there for a viable people centered way to govern that does not include the state in our neighborhoods ?

What Can Be Done: Sometimes We Gotta' Take it Back to Basics and Turn it Up a Notch at the Same Time

We must develop a vision. The Black Panther Party had so much right. They came together to develop a platform that spoke to their vision for their community. We must learn from these things, and not be a-historic. How strategic (and cool) would it be if we build a united front, or a coalition, or a sustained group of organizations and people (not just non-profits) that developed a platform and worked from there to change Oakland? The non-profit industrial complex has siloed our work, so that education justice work happens here and environmental justice work happens here, and cultural workers are here, etc. Our work is issue specific and isolated. This in no way will build a movement. So, we must actively build across issues and sectors-we must build a movement where all the actors in a community are involved, and where all roles are invited and respected. For instance, what if we made the critical intersections between failing Oakland schools, slashing of public funds for youth programming, and the costs of healthcare for people affected by violence, to guide our development of strategy? In this scenario, what if we brought together students who face being pushed out of their school from repressive, racist and punitive school discipline policies (and are often left to the streets), with ER doctors who have to deal with some of these young people as gunshot victims in Oakland? That would kind of be a powerful thing for Oakland City Council to be confronted with that “stop the violence” image than what is currently going on. This of course take strategic efforts to organize people. This makes building relationships with allies, unlikely as they may seem, take on a whole different meaning.

We must be thoughtful in the research and analysis that we present to back up our work. National human rights organization of which I am a member, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (www.mxgm.org), released a report last year, “Every 36 Hours” that detailed the extra judicial murders of Black people across the country. This could serve as a useful tool for organizers to politicize and educate our people when folks start to drink the kool aid that stop and frisk is necessary. In addition to MXGM’s research, are we utilizing resources in Oakland to research the impacts of police misconduct in Oakland, or calling on City Council officials to convene a committee or task force to do this? These are representatives that must bound to political will of people, but will only do so if pushed. We must look at the lessons from other cities who have challenged the stop and frisk, particularly organizers in NY. Are organizers in Oak talking to organizers in NY? Movement building y'all.

We must become self-taught students of economics.  I always believed some power could be built in Oakland, even with the existing challenges of power consolidated into the hands of a few, as Oakland is a port city. Oakland is not that big, and its political history not as old or entrenched as cities like Philly or NY or Chicago, arguably. I believe that the political machines in these cities are harder to navigate in some respects. We as movement workers must study the relationship Oak city officials have to port officials, and the resulting economic agenda of a few in Oakland. I was recently corrected by a comrade that the Bay Area has a deeper and more complex economic history, that can't be understood in a vacuum. He noted that, "Oakland is part of three nodes [that make up the Bay Area regional economy]-San Francisco (Finance) San Jose (Innovation), and Oakland (Transport)." In order for us to effectively analyze economic systems and power, we need to rely on critical tools as organizers.  For instance, do we use a power analysis when doing our work?-it's hands down one of the most powerful tools for organizers. All in all, if I had more time I’d do some research on the relationship to the port, but surely folks there have-surely there are some OG organizers that have an analysis of this that they can contribute to younger movement workers.

We must understand that culture is a weapon. Cabral had it right for real. What our people hear, see and smell will affect how they think and feel. In that respect, are we supporting the revolutionary cultural workers and artists in Oakland that are contributing to ending violence everyday in our communities, and not just on their own esoteric tip? I can think of several-Dignidad Rebelde, Oakland Maroon Collective, East Side Cultural Center, amongst others.  These are the forces that are reshaping how we think and understand the world, and in turn shaping our values and vision.  These are often the most powerful weapons against us-led hegemony.

We must support the parts of Oakland that are attempting to address violence and be the voice for change, but don’t get credit for "organizing".
These parts of Oakland are the local residents, and church members, and grandmothers also dodging bullets in their neighborhood.  Supporting a people's agenda is part and parcel to practicing self-determination. Self-determination is not an activist, not connected to any organization, shouting slogans at a City Council meeting in a brazen attempt to appear powerful. This is meaningless in the eyes of existing power, because it isn’t unified. There are groups that, although we may not agree ideologically with, we must find ways to forge unity to move forward a people’s agenda. Look at the local churches for example or some of the neighborhood councils. It is more often than not that instances on violence are happening in their neighborhoods-in the east or the west, and not downtown.

Lastly we must grow our political sophistication. I ask folks: Have you tried to organize your neighbors, or parents in your child’s school, or the members of your religious community around an issue that affects them? Are you tied to a radically grounded organization that isn’t your 9-5 non-profit job that is doing that face to face, door to door local organizing? Are you spending time building critical relationships with people in order to win resources and build power in the city? Are you rooted in Oakland’s revolutionary political history, and pulling lessons from there to guide your current work? Are you a real student of the current crises happening in Oakland? Do you understand the crises through the lens of race, class, gender, etc? Things to consider. All these things make us better movement workers.

It is hard work, truly it is. Especially in a time of low-level movement work, and shifting conditions from the 60s and 70s that have moved our communities social attitudes considerably over to the right. But, we owe it those that came before us, those people struggling now, and those that will come to commit ourselves, to the long term process of change.

Love you Oakland, with all you are and all you will be.


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