The “Wretched” of Oakland

There’s growing talk of the “splintering” of Occupy. Like other social movements, Occupy is divided between reformists and radicals.  Anarchists or anarchist principles have been particularly influential in shaping the radical strain of Occupy.   Recently, attention has focused on the rift between “anarchists,” specifically “black bloc anarchists,” and the broader movement. Journalist Chris Hedges seems to have ignited the debate by denouncing “black bloc” anarchists as the “cancer of Occupy,” as “criminal” elements out to “hijack” and “destroy” the movement.  Hedges and others have identified the Oakland occupation (aka the “Oakland Commune”) as the national bastion of the “Black Bloc.”  There was a slew of rebuttals, the magazine Adbusters even suggesting the black bloc is more like the “soul” of Occupy. A common theme in the criticism was the “colonialist” underpinnings of Hedges’ claims.  This text from OLA AntiSocial Media,  “Colonizer: A Postcolonial Reading of Chris Hedges” serves as a great primer in postcolonial theory. The “radical arm” of Occupy LA, OLA AntiSocial Media is conceived as an “online black bloc against the Obstructionists, the Reformists, and the Liberals” seen as dominating Occupy LA.

The rhetoric and practices of the Oakland Commune demonstrate the ongoing relevance of Frantz Fanon’s  critique of colonialism to contemporary social struggles (Occupy Oakland’s May Day events even featured a “Decolonization” march).  In fact, members embrace their marginalized status as “the Wretched of the Earth.”

“Who Is Oakland: Anti-Oppression Activism, the Politics of Safety, and State Co-optation,” a pamphlet “written collaboratively by a group of people of color, women, and queers” from Occupy Oakland, draws explicitly on Fanon’s work:

“Nearly fifty years after the dramatic upsurge of wars of national liberation fought over the terrain of what used to be called the ‘Third World,’ there are few political tools for confronting emerging local and global racisms between nonwhite communities, and the persecution of ethnic minorities in former colonies by native, nonwhite elites. In the US, this has taken the form of increasing antiblack, Islamophobic, and anti-immigrant racism within ‘communities of color’ and increasing class divisions within nonwhite demographic categories….No longer requiring the force of occupying armies, formal decolonization in newly ‘independent’ countries from Senegal to Vietnam has given way to neocolonial austerity, structural adjustment, and debt imposed by the global north and administered by those who Frantz Fanon, in The Wretched of the Earth, famously called the native ‘national bourgeoisie.'”

This video by Brandon Jourdan tells the story of the Oakland Commune, describing how Occupy Oakland’s “particular character resulted from years of struggle and repression in the Bay Area.”

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