property or liberation: political reflections of the Trayvon Martin struggle in Oakland, CA

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On February 26th 2013 neighborhood watch fascist George Zimmerman shot and murdered 16 year old black youth trayvon martin. Over four months later on July 13th 2013 Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder he did indeed commit, and was acquitted of all charges of manslaughter by a racist jury who believed that Zimmerman was only defending himself against a ‘criminal’. And what was Trayvon’s crime? Being a black man in this genocidal, slave state, which is Amerikkka. My heart and spirit go out to his family and all black and brown folks who carry the trauma of surviving in this abusive system, which continues to rape, oppress, and exploit our people. I feel the emotion and sorrow, but we must translate those tears into righteous movement, because the murder of trayvon and the freedom granted to his murderer by this unjust system should not be seen as new or surprising. We have been living within colonization for over 500 years now. We are forced into their public schools, where we are brainwashed to believe that ‘Amerikka’ stands for freedom and opportunity, but these ‘rights’ are given to the rich at the expense of our lives. European capitalist stole our ancestors and land to build up a system of private property that has enslaved our people and forced them to work to build up the world’s wealth in the hands of this ruling elite. We are still enslaved. We do not own this property and wealth we created. We are characterized as criminals in the media and popular culture to justify the continual imprisonment of our people here and around the world. The US continues to invade and occupy foreign land and imprison brown and black folks in Guantanamo, where waterboarding, force-feeding, and endless amounts of torture are sanctioned by the global system and law that supports it. Colonization is real and ongoing and no politician is going to end that. They brainwash us to believe in these politicians and this legal system instead of each other so that we may remain divided and passive.

There is a reason why the media continues to play up the ethnicity of Zimmerman, because he is apparently mixed, in order to strengthen the racial divisions amongst the people. We cannot internalize those forced divisions, because it doesn’t matter what race or ethnicity Zimmerman is if he is doing the work of white supremacy within this racist, sexist capitalist system. This is why it doesn’t matter if Obama is half African and white, because he is still the leader within the belly of the beast, and continues to enact local and global genocide in the name of profit. Black and brown folks must find unity, because our lives are, and have always been, more precarious, exploited and oppressed within this system. And the contradictions and truth is becoming clearer and clearer with the acquittal of Zimmerman, with the weak sentencing Mehserle got during the Oscar Grant trial, with the continual gentrification of our neighborhoods, the poison in our food and water. Every day we walk out into this world and are not meant to survive, every day is a reason to rebel and we need to. When the Trayvon Martin verdict was released the people erupted in outrage and rebellions across the country. Oakland sustained rebellion three days in a row, 7/13-15, resulting in arrests Monday July 15th and Tuesday July 16th. I believe all struggle holds lessons for us to reflect over and apply to future struggles so that they may deepen in their politic and people. These three days offer us that opportunity and I wish to share some reflections below.

Three days of Struggle: Justice for Trayvon Martin! Justice for the People!

After the acquittal of Zimmerman Saturday July 13th a call went out to meet at Oscar Grant Plaza on 14th and Broadway at 10pm. A group of about 200 people assembled, half were white, the other half were black and brown. There was a speak-out for about 40 minutes and then a march took to the streets of Broadway. After 5 minutes or so a multiracial black bloc of brown, black and white militants, smashed in the windows of a corporate store and then a few gentrifying cafes and bars along telegraph, where drunken folks, largely white, stood confused by our presence. Shortly after that Sears, Bank of America and Chase all got their windows smashed climaxing in the victorious destruction of a Bart police car. The march thinned out to about a 100 once it reached the pig station on Broadway, where the police line formed and the ghetto birds in the sky kept their spotlight on us. However, the pigs stayed away and the march and destruction moved freely for that night.

The next day, Sunday July 14th, a larger and majority POC convergence assembled once again on 14th and Broadway at 4pm. There was a speak out for about 45 minutes and then a march took off down Broadway and then into west Oakland, where an amerikkkan flag was burned and a heavier police force present.

On the third day there was a sense of excitement in the air. There was a call out to meet at Oscar Grant Plaza again at 6pm, and the word had been circulating heavily via Facebook and word of mouth. There was promise of a larger more militant turn out. When I arrived I was greeted with the usual stale political rally in the plaza, where leftists from the Advance the Struggle Collective, Revolutionary Communist Party, ISO, Spartacist League, and various other Marxist tendencies jockeyed for power over the mic to deliver some important message on what the right line is to a crowd of people who could care less. It looked like the same mechanical political rally, but this one had a different flavor. As the march took off down Broadway it stopped at the pig station, but this time black and brown folks stood out to block the cars getting off the 880 freeway until the traffic on the freeway got backed up to a stop. At this point folks rushed the onramp to take the freeway. And it wasn’t leftists. It was black and brown folks from Oakland who were tired of being oppressed, who were willing to confront the police and shut down business as usual in the name of trayvon martin, in the name of all black and brown people who continually face this kind of violence on the daily. We stopped the freeway for 15-20 minutes and it was a celebration. Folks were dancing, riding their bikes, chanting to the other folks in cars. It was powerful. When the police begin to move in folks stayed together running off the freeway in two different directions. After the two groups got off the freeway without a mass arrest we were able to reconvene downtown in a mass march throughout the streets of Oakland for hours (5 or so) until the managing of the march by certain political tendencies resulted in it thinning out, and the arrests/kidnapping of several comrades.

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 Struggling with the people v leading the people

 If you and/or your political organization seek to manage the people or political movements then you are treating the people like objects, which is exactly what bosses and pigs do, which is authoritarian and counter-revolutionary and must be called out as such. There are folks who want to manage the movement. Who use their revolutionary knowledge and experience over the people in a vanguardist way, which means they see themselves as the self-appointed leader of the people. As revolutionaries we are politically and spiritually awake. There is a difference between warriors and folks still living in the matrix, but as warriors we must humble ourselves and always seek to learn from and with the people. Our knowledge isn’t fixed, and as we move to change the world we are changed by it in the process and we must always be reflecting critically over that work. But there are those in struggle who behave like politicians, who look at struggle in terms of opportunities to position themselves in power. This is the difference between struggling with the people and trying to lead the people. On Monday July 15th a freeway was blocked and business as usual was halted. Black and brown folks, not just leftists or formed revolutionaries, climbed that freeway and it was a beautiful street party. As I climbed up the on ramp along side an older black womyn, who had a limp in her step, I looked down to see some of these ‘revolutionaries’, some former comrades, staying below with their bullhorns in hand, not willing to join the spontaneous movement of the people. When the march continued after folks got off the freeway we shut down the streets with militancy and celebration for hours. No one person was in charge or running things. We did this together out of a collective solidarity against the system and police. That is revolutionary horizontalism in practice. As I looked out into the crowd I saw black youth, not teenagers, but 9 and 10 year olds directing the militant movement. I saw black folks cussing out the pigs who trailed our movement, and that militancy was as healing as a vigil.

I also saw the same leftists liberals, and Marxists mentioned earlier, disrupting the organic movement bursting forth by the oppressed. They continually tried to stop the march with their bullhorns announcing where we were going for the riot police to hear (bad idea) and stopping the march all together to discuss where we should go next. This isn’t a political meeting. We are taking over the streets and we don’t need your bullhorns and fliers and newspapers directing us. There were black folk on scraper bikes blasting political hip hop, black and brown folks tagging up business storefronts, as we all danced and marched together. This rebellion took on a different character then other marches over the last few years. The reign of the sectarian old left is dying, because their politics are old and wrong and they are not brave enough to rebel the way the youth do and the way we need to.  Although the attempts by these leftists and liberals were damaging to the flow and energy of the march at times, their presence seemed to not carry much weight in the consciousness of the people who were out there. This is important to note because it is representing a rupture in the politics and styles of organizing here in Oakland. If we are revolutionaries and truly want to rid the world of bosses and oppression then we must start in our very own movements. No more sexism, white supremacy, and authoritarianism.

 Defend smashing private property and breaking the law

 This is an objectifying system, which treats people like objects, also known as workers or people of color, so that we may work to survive and provide all the wealth for someone else, also known as property owners. Business, whether it be big or small, is always prioritized by the folks with real material power, aka corporate CEO’s and politicians. The pigs exist to protect this property from the people and to violently oppress folks of color, and repress any kind of rebellion that might erupt from communities of all colors in response to such a violently exploitative and oppressive system. Private property provides the basis for such structural inequality to exist and this begin when my ancestors were brought over here as property to work on this stolen land.

Now a few hundred years later the city of Oakland is undergoing an escalation in gentrification, which is just a new wave of colonization. A new shifting of people and space. White folks moved out of Oakland in the forties when poor blacks came in to work in the various war industries during World War II. When the whites left and the war was over there was no reason to materially support the city for the new black residents so business pulled out. Black folks built it up with a rich artistic and political history and culture. That combined with low rent prices it began to attract poor white artists/warehouse types who couldn’t afford the high rent of San Francisco. Next came the property managers to recruit more white money into the city, as well as the small business owners, who are catering to that new white money. Their whole operation is supported and protected by local bourgeoisie and the state. Meanwhile, the communities of color who have been living here for generations, despite the lack of support from the city, now get displaced again or pushed out due to high rent prices and foreclosures.

When folks took to the streets to march Saturday night and protest for trayvon it wasn’t just a passive march. Multiracial and gendered groups smashed private property, such as gentrifying bars full of white folks who had no idea why we were marching. One white man drunkenly stumbled into me while I was marching and tried to put his arm around me. I had to push him away and cuss him out to get him to stop following me and the group of womyn of color who I was with. He doesn’t have to worry about pigs or neighborhood watch following him home, because he is a possible threat, even though he threatened me. That is the race and class privilege that comes with gentrification. Besides the bars, two banks, the sears and a Bart police car all got smashed and tagged with ‘fuck the police’. the actions reflected a politic that transcended the particular case of trayvon martin and placed blame on a racist capitalist system through the destruction of corporate/business/fascist targets. It is this system, which prioritizes this property over Black people’s lives and which supports fascist Zimmerman’s everywhere, who feel emboldened to commit such white supremacist acts, because they will get away with it.

The day after the first night of rebellion there were grumblings among radical folks of color that the march shouldn’t of gotten violent with all the property damage and that violence is the reason why more folks of color aren’t coming out to the marches, because this violence is all being done by white people. Some folks were saying that the targets were small businesses and they aren’t the problem. Small businesses gentrifying Oakland seems like a problem to me. These bars aren’t catering to the needs of the people, who suffer from the daily violence of unemployment, lack of healthcare and pig occupations of their neighborhood. We must not have sympathy towards the business owners, small or not, business and ownership is what we must be against if we are revolutionaries. It is liberal to defend ‘business’ and blame white folk for all the ‘violence’. I’m down for community not business, which seeks to come into communities and make money off the people or displace the people in order to bring in new people they can make money off of. This is a highly racialized process as we see the population shifting in Oakland. These things are in contradiction to one another and we must stop trying to resolve the two as if they are down for one another. Business brought ships to the America’s to commit genocide against the indigenous folks here, business brought ships to Africa, business brought my ancestors to the plantation, business is what manipulates our public education so that we may worship these white patriarchal oppressors and identify with such a system so that we may become future workers and believe that some day we may be able to start a business and exploit folks of our own. That is the reality and we must smash it. We do not carry our ancestor’s blood so that we may abandon it for assimilation. The only truth is revolution and that will come when the people decide to collectively smash and do away with such an abusive and wasteful system that is capitalism and to begin to learn what it means to live for one another with the earth. This takes an overall restructuring of the world economy and political/cultural system.

Myth of the Outside Agitators

The outside agitators are pigs and fascists like Zimmerman who did the pigs work. Period. We must stop internalizing these counter revolutionary arguments that claim that white outside agitators are coming to Oakland to fuck it up. There are white outsiders coming into Oakland but they are gentrifiers and must be checked. When violence against property is committed during struggle the liberals of all colors join up with the bourgeois mainstream media to say that it is white anarchists from out of town committing such violence. Framing the destruction of private property as a response to the murder of a black man as violence is disgustingly off base. What about the violence of the murder itself? And how can we commit violence to property? Private property is violence to the people and it always has been. It’s liberal to continually associate violence against private property, which is the root of capitalism, as a bad thing or a white thing, because it isn’t. It spreads the liberal message to our people that business is good, and it makes it seem as if folks of color are just passive bystanders to our oppression, and that isn’t the truth. We have been destroying private property as a response to our shackles since they were put on us. Since our warrior ancestors rebelled on plantations and in the streets. In fact, we need to stop pacifying each other and fearing those actions and blaming white people and instead start organizing our people and empowering them to destroy and take back by any means necessary. This is our struggle and we are not going to win through passive actions that attempt to convince the system to stop oppressing us. That is a failed strategy and I will not continue to lie to my people in the same manner that the system has. We must hold solidarity with all folks, white, black and brown, who are committed to such politics in the street.

Moving Forward

These three days of struggle are incredibly inspiring, because there is a new autonomous tendency of radical folks of color developing, who do not seek to manage or lead the people like the infamous and endless Marxist tendencies and liberals of all colors. The endless array of political characters within the bay, who come out to get their piece of the movement, push their agenda, their line and their way. I used to ride with some of these cats, before I realized their politic was authoritarian and full of the same hierarchical, patriarchal shit that is so reflective of our bourgeois society. I don’t identify as any of these labels anymore. I only want to be humbled as I seek to grow as a warrior for my people and it was refreshing to see this new energy in the streets. I believe this autonomy will break the US left free from the rut it has been in, and might possibly strike more fear into the hearts of our oppressors. Monday July 15th reflected one of the most dynamic struggles I have ever participated in in Oakland. I saw black and brown people moving in the streets together with no fear of police talking about liberation and it was a beautiful thing.

Oakland has continued to erupt in rebellion over the last four years with the  oscar grant movement, budget cut and worker struggles, occupy and the Oakland commune, and now Trayvon martin. Oakland, like many urban cities across the US, reflects a racially and class divided population, where folks of color are living in working class neighborhoods oppressed by the pigs and affluent neighborhoods are populated by white folks. As a response to these oppressive and exploitative conditions no struggle has been single issue. When black men are killed Oakland smashes banks and gentrifying windows, workers shut down ports and go on strike. When the capitalist system and banks are targeted in movements such as the budget cut struggle and occupy, racist pigs and prisons, who protect this property are targeted as well. Capitalism and racism need each other and you can’t fight one without fighting the other very intentionally. On Monday July 15th there was a militant escalation in struggle in terms of the relationship between the way we struggled and the politics coming out. This time the struggle deepened in quantity with more non-leftists folks coming out, especially folks of color, and quality with militant politics reflected in the type of actions and politics being expressed. Property, such as the streets and highways, were taken back by the people boldly with little intervention from the pigs, which we told to fuck off through our chants, music and tags. These movements were collective with no clear leader organizing the action. This is also reflected of radical, horizontal politics springing up organically from the people. There are still the same opportunists and liberals who seek to frame things incorrectly and control the movement and the people. But all this means is that more black and brown militants got to come together and build on a political basis of unity. I see that happening and I am excited to see how it grows. I believe it is only through this unity in ideology and in the streets that political ruptures to the system can be made and new tendencies formed. Through this unity the old dredges of the political left can die so that something new and more powerful will be born and it is about time.

{If you live in Oakland please come out to Wiley Manuel Courthouse on 661 Washington Street at 9am tomorrow, Tuesday July 23rd, to stand in solidarity with our comrades, who were arrested/kidnapped while righteously protesting the violence of this system. Their lives and Trayvons life matter more than capitalist property and profit. Fuck this system and fuck the police! All power to the people!}

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