01.15.16 - Occupy Oakland is now over 3 years old, but looking at many of the groups and projects that came out of it can shine light on times when radical and anarchist ideas of working-class self-defense, mutual aid, and solidarity were given life in a real way and revolutionary ideas exploded out of a subculture and into a movement. What follows is an interview with Brooke, a participant in Occupy Oakland and the Foreclosure Defense Group (FDG), which used direct action to fight to keep people inside their foreclosed homes in the East Bay Area. Beyond just being a history of the group, Brooke discusses the rise and fall of movements, the nature of white supremacy, the importance of looking at class, lessons for current housing and anti-gentrification struggles, and the often repeated shortcomings of the radical milieu.
Final Straw: The Occupy Oakland Foreclosure Defense Group, or FDG, grew out of Occupy Oakland in late 2011 and early 2012 and used direct action to fight foreclosures. But before we get into that, can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to radical ideas and organizing more broadly?
Brooke: Hey! Glad to be here. Glad to relate what went down. I don’t think it’s really been put down anywhere, so I’m a little nervous, because it’s a lot to relate, and I kind of want to do justice to everybody who was involved, and all the politics and on-the-ground material stuff that was involved.
How did I come by radical politics? Well, I’m very much a product of who came before me, and my own family, my own background. Wanna go back centuries, wanna go back decades? Or, let’s just go back to my adolescence. I’m 47, so that means I came of age under Reagan. So, y’know, being a pretty alienated kid; Dad went to Vietnam, y’know, parents were also sort of alienated outcasts. You kind of come of age and kind of start getting a grip on what being an adult and what the world meant, and to do it under the auspices of the Reagan era, there was a new horror show every day.
Couple of formative books that I picked up, because I was kind of a bookworm, then moving around a lot, too. I kind of wasn’t a kid that moved well, picked up friends well, so I was kind of alienated from my peers, and politics helped make sense of the world. I picked up a book in a bookstore called “Rules for Radicals” by Saul Alinsky, that was pretty formative. When I was a sophomore, I think my parents got Mother Jones magazine, and even at that age, I kind of identified Mother Jones as kind of crap [laughs], but it did have ads for a lot of other stuff in there, like Progressive Magazine or In These Times, I even subscribed to the Young Socialist Alliance’s newspaper. I got memberships to Greenpeace, Sierra Club, ACLU, a bunch of stuff you could just subscribe to, to basically suck in bunch of information and that basically got whittled down.
I got a grip a little bit on the world, and did a little high school organizing against ROTC. When I got to Sacramento, I got involved in the anti-intervention movement around Central America. Plus, my dad went to Vietnam as a medic, so the draft was very much real for me. Although, imperialism at that time was very much committing to fighting proxy wars, I didn’t really know that. I very much thought I was going to be drafted and sent to El Salvador or Nicaragua, and made the decision at an early age not to sign. Then I moved to Berkeley, and then another chapter… [laughs]. People’s Park, housing occupations, it was the tail end of the anti-apartheid movement, then the first Gulf War. In fact there, that’s about the time I first started identifying as an anarchist.
I know like the first black bloc in the US was called for around that time.
Yeah, I helped organize that! Hey, we got our asses kicked! [laughs]
Statute of limitations! Let’s kind of jump into the current era here, so the foreclosure crisis hits in 2007, 2008. Can you tell us a little more about how this all played out? Who are the major players, and more specifically, how did the foreclosure crisis change Oakland?
Well in a big sweep, with broad strokes, capitalism has this habit of either killing off workers, or starving them to death by suppressing wages, and in Oakland, there was a brief window in which working class people could buy a home. Specifically, black working class people, post-Civil Rights, but also when there were still jobs to be had. When deindustrialization first started hitting its swing, and Oakland was an industrial city, what is often called a “secondary city” or “second-tier city,” – not a primary center of capital, but one that’s on the fringes, attendant to some other major urban center, like Baltimore, or some of these other cities that feed into a larger metropolis, very much an industrial city – deindustrialization really hit hard. People were stranded without work, but yet people who had manage to land a decent-paying gig, whether it be like a union electrician, or civil service gig, still managed to have a house.
In this kind of broader sweep, productivity is going through the roof in the 90s and early 00s and in the 80s. The return on capital was increasing, but the number of jobs available decreasing. So basically, finance needed some place in order to make money, in order to put these gains and open a new market. Deregulation under Clinton unleashed the financialization of markets. The financial market, financial services, essentially casino politics: placing bets, calling them “derivatives”, call them a “futures,” call it an assetizing of this. You can place all sorts of bets on where money flows. You can even bet on failure, on short sales, and then reap a benefit that way. Or through insurance. This went through the roof. Sub-prime markets opened up a huge market.People were no longer able to easily buy homes, because they didn’t qualify anymore. Wage suppression and being starved to death precluded the housing market from growing because you could not afford, under the typical terms to buy a home. So, subprime loans were invented, and lenders extended loans to people who often didn’t qualify, so home ownership began anew. It exploded. Housing ownership in the States is the largest market, bar none. More than energy, more than anything else in terms of capital flying through it, largest market in the world. In the United States and globally.
So, when that all collapsed, this of house of cards was built on assurances and financialization, and some real heavy hitters up in the financial sector bidding on being bailed out and provoking the crisis, to re-appropriate a massive amount of wealth collected through the working class. 2007, 2008 saw people being put out en masse. And in Oakland, about that time, [the population was] about 400,000 people. Between 2007 and 2011, there were about 12.5 thousand foreclosures, which is a massive amount. Now it must be pushing 15,000, so it’s a massive amount of people being displaced. This central crisis hit everyone’s life. Everyone knew somebody who was getting put out.
Can you tell us a little about how you came to become involved in Occupy Oakland, which FDG grew out of? What were your first impressions of it? What was it like walking into that after so many decades in the Bay Area?
To tell you the truth, I thought Occupy Wall Street, when I first saw mention of it in the buildup to it, seemed really stale. I was reading about it on Reddit. Reading mentions of it and people would always float a question like, “Hey, guys, what do you think about this?” and my private answer, inside my head, was like, “This is a load of crap.” But, when it showed some legs, when people were getting beat up on the Brooklyn Bridge, it was a formative moment in terms of profile and showing that it was around to stay. It started spreading. And when it hit Oakland, it took on its very unique Oakland flavor to the extent that I’ll go so far to say that we were not a franchise, or branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement. We were like a subset, but definitely its own thing, for good or ill.
I went to a planning meeting, I helped flyer for it, and do a little prep work for it. I dedicated myself to material work, to being a liaison. I didn’t live there at first, I did food collections and helped feed people. Like trekking in loads of pizza and pastry or whatever from whoever was donating on my bike trailer. Whenever the pickups were happening seemed to be the same time as the general assemblies were happening, so I didn’t really make it to many general assemblies. I was always at some bakery at closing time, picking up tons of food, and then I’d ride by the back of the general assembly. People would see me ride by on my bike, so people knew me as a figure there, but I’m like “that bicycle guy who’s bringing pizza.” [laughs]
Always a good person to have around!
Yeah! Someone to know, man!
Did it feel, like, special, obviously after having lived in the Bay for so long? After a week I went there and somebody I knew said something like “This is America, they’re not supposed to let you do this.” [laughs] So did it feel like people had broken down a wall somehow in Oakland…?
Oh, most definitely. It was a similar effect that the Oscar Grant demonstrations had with me. I had more or less excused myself from the Left and the scene and political work for quite a long time due to personal reasons, but also due to the fact that it seemed to be a subculture. A stale repeat of a symbolic ritual, very jargonized and also very alienating. Very middle class.
We’re working class, very everyday people. I swung a hammer. I’m a machinist, I’m a mechanic, and there’s this really alienating culture around politics, especially in the Bay Area. We’re like Ground Zero for leftist jargon and nonprofit experimentation. We’re overridden by nonprofits, and it’s basically a jobs program for a huge slice of people here. Oscar Grant and Occupy both seemed to defy this pattern. It was suddenly a bunch of new faces. And also, we’re a very segregated town. Despite all its reputation or cache or how people trumpet the number of languages that are spoken here, it is segregated. You read a history of Oakland. People, with no bones about it, describe it as a plantation. The lines of segregation that were delineated under Jim Crow, you look at those maps, they’re basically the HOLC maps, the Homeowner’s Liability Corporation’s redlining system that codified racial segregation within urban centers and it still holds true.
Occupy kind of defied that in the early days. Oscar Grant demonstrations defied that. Suddenly, you’re rubbing elbows with people from across the tracks, of which I was one [in some ways]. People are being forced to confront each other and communicate with each other. Occupy Oakland exploded due to the staleness and the enforcement of this really nowhere politic, this political practice that was the rise of the nonprofit and people debating policy, or white-dominated discussions for universal ideas around human rights. Nothing really rooted in one’s class or race or position in society. Within that, “revolutionary” subcultures – and they are subcultures – were represented out there too. The black nationalists, or some of the sectarian commie parties were out there as always, like selling their papers and stuff. They’re pretty reliable to show up all the time. But Occupy Oakland exploded because it was a new method, and it was like a ground that was like, despite its shortcomings, just wide open to everybody… which means everybody shows up! From fascists, to libertarian people buying gold, to anti-semites talking about a Zionist world order, to all kinds of people. But that platform broke a lot of barriers and that’s what drew me to it in the first place.
FDG kind of came out of this, this very special moment. Can you talk a little bit about the processes of its formation? How did it begin to take on actual fights? What was the analysis that led to this group’s creation? Why did you feel that organizing around foreclosures was such fertile ground for people in this special moment?
Big question, and the main question. Just in terms of timeline and how it formed; there were some assemblies, different groups meeting at times, trying to get a grip on how to engage the housing question. Foreclosure was definitely a headline item at that moment in time, both in the press and in daily life. Who was being displaced or taken over. It was one of the primary… not only was the contraction of the economy, people losing their jobs, – which fed into the foreclosure crisis, people not being able to make payments, etc – but that was also one of the primary fears driving the Occupy movement. Basically, home and job, and by extension, “income inequality,” as they put it. I just call it “class warfare,” but, you know, we’re dealing with liberal language… “1%,” “99%,” “income equality.” Let’s just say it: CLASS WARFARE.
So I went to an anarchist assembly, pushed hard for a housing breakout group with other people and it drew a lot of attention. It was one of any number of these meetings that were happening in parallel that kind of coalesced into a housing group. We got a leg up from a local nonprofit, ACCE, in terms of apprenticeship and connection to homeowners. They were, to their credit, cool with aiding the social movement, whereas other nonprofits often tried to step in front of it, etc. They were the exception in the moment and we paired with them, and then embarked on our first fight, which was declared to the world on December 10, which was after the camps had been well closed.
And this is 2011?
2011, yeah, and the first fight was Gayla Newsome’s house right in the heart of West Oakland. We had the know-how of ACCE and their connections to the local political apparatus to kind of give us the lay of the land. They brought a lot of intelligence on political players whereas we brought willingness to take risk, bodies, outrage. And on a text blast system, we could bring 50-100 bodies as soon as the Sheriffs showed up on someone’s porch. The text would go out, and boom, we were there. People were ready to get into it and it was also after the camp: It was basically this ascendant moment where people were coming out of zero activity, coming out of their own little pockets, but then the camp has been smashed. It’s still an ascendant moment, but not much to center on, to focus on. The port shutdown was almost simultaneous, but even then, what fed into our group was very much the greater context of Occupy Oakland some would say, and we’ll get into that a little later.
In terms of the analysis behind it, um, there’s some analysis that was behind it initially, and there’s also a lot of analysis that came out of it, and it’s kind of a fuzzy line on which parts came first. Personally, everyone’s got a different take on kinda what happened, what went down, so it’s all very personal obviously, so I’m not going to try to speak on anyone else’s involvement, or where they came from although there were very much group principles, and group consensus at a certain point once we kind of coalesced after months and months, there’s kind of a core group that filtered out, and kind of developed its own analysis. But initially and personally, I had read a good bit of history about the Depression and unemployment councils, the Block Councils that were kind of spearheaded by the Communist Party. Basically, the landlord would come and try to kick someone out, and they would ring a bell and people would come. They would pile out of the corners, out of the bar or wherever else, come out on the stoops, form a physical barrier, or take them into their houses until they could move them back in. Extremely hands-on self defense, so if landlords wanted to put somebody out, you had to roll deep. You had to bring, like, dozens of fucking cops. So that was an inspiration. And as well, I’d been reading a lot about solidarity networks in terms of their model, in terms of internal organization, but also in terms of material survival, very feet-on-the-ground, face-to-face material work. Very much not about policy, very much centered around self defense which jived a lot with my own world view.
In the moment, it seemed very fertile ground, because so much came to play right there. In terms of the camp and Occupy Oakland: I was always kind of involved with Occupy but always kinda keeping an eye on the door. I knew it was finite. I’d been through this before, the rise and fall of movements. And this was explosive like no others before. In terms of its compression, its crescendo was really intense, but still I knew it was going to come to a close. It was going to change and you have to anticipate and work on addressing some of the key negative aspects that are still starting to flower. Like people being focused very inwardly, on their own process, internal problems, internal divisions, on the camp. So it started to become kind of ghettoized.
A lot of critics, in good faith and in bad, were describing a break in the camp. In the Occupy crowd, that was kind of claiming a very much a universal appeal, very much advocacy for everyone, “the 99%”, while being incredibly alienated from the various working-class communities, from the neighborhoods outside of that immediate space downtown or the various political subcultures. So it seemed to address that.
I’m very critical of movements obviously… Always. That [criticism] pretty much drove me to anarchism; the dissatisfaction with the Left, the symbolic politics, and the anemia, the very middle-class, jargonized culture. This seemed to offer an avenue for people who identified as “activists” to do community organizing, to do real organizing. Not to collect signatures to turn them out for an event, not collecting signatures to rope them into some recuperative policy advocacy nonprofit. Very much putting people face-to-face on doorsteps on the basis of material need. Very much addressing a real poverty within political work in the States, in that it’s very symbolic, very immaterial. The material [sphere] is almost surrendered to the nonprofit service providers. If you know, you want your power turned on, you want your house taken care of, if you want your job back…. The State is right there to pull you back into its sphere of influence, with courts, with adjudication, mediation, contracts, blah blah blah. The nonprofits are the next step removed, ready to kind of draw you back into their stale politics of being a caucus or a force within the state and negotiating at the table. So this seemed to offer a way out. Theoretically, it was incredibly fertile ground.
I also want to talk a lot about race, and class. In the pure theoretical sense, it’s right there on the first page of Marx’s “Capital”: the conflict between use value and exchange value. The values and attendant system of exchange, the market, the dollar, capital, versus subsistence, survival, humanity. Use value. So, the contradictions, very large, were made very real on the ground. These things were in conflict at an address, with a person.
Also, here in Oakland, the Occupy thing was different and the foreclosure work was different. Across the country, there was very much a sort of white pique, a white indignance at being denied the wages of whiteness. Like, suddenly they’re getting a sliver, a tiny taste, of what it’s like to be black, or nonwhite, in this country. Basically having no security, having your home taken from you, being over-policed, having the shit kicked out of you. And this [white indignance] extends to the foreclosure work [nationwide]. In a lot of other arenas, it was very much about recapturing the American Dream. It’s like, “We’ve been denied our right to a home,” and it was very much identifying the “banksters” as “gangsters,” as corruption, as a failure of regulation, as trying to recoup the American Dream, whereas in Oakland, it was very racial. All of the people that came to us tended to be black, tended to be working class, and also tended to be older and female, which is something we can get into a little later. But it was very much around a survival program. These homes were a linchpin for whole family network. These homes were essentially a bulwark against the ravages of the greater system. They were a place to sleep, whatever wealth you had managed to accumulate through a job, that’s where you put it. It was to get out from underneath a landlord. It was a bulwark against the greater structure.
And our work was also very much addressing a middle class aspiration which is poison. This attempt to become the king of a very small fiefdom. Like a postage-stamp kingdom. It’s the castle myth. The political utility of in terms of systemic politics is to herd people apart and into homes, incentivize that, and then people with a home 1) keep their jobs, because they need to make payments, and 2) it fundamentally, in its inception, psychologically cuts them off from a collective sense of themselves. It is very much an anti-working class dynamic. Where you might have once perceived interest to extend beyond yourself, even if just to one’s family, or to one’s church, or one’s union, you then ultimately surrender the world in exchange for this little plot of property. Of which you are king. And it runs really deep. So the foreclosure work was a way of addressing that fundamental thing. Basically addressing some of the middle class allure, people being drawn into acting against their own self-interest, forming those homes. Similarly to how race, how whiteness induces the white working class to form a cross-class alliance against their own interests. It makes them a surrogate or a proxy for a white supremacist order. And homes do a very similar thing. They make you complicit and they push you towards acting on the behalf of property ownership, and exclusion, and capital, and individualization, atomization, “success.” This whole consumerist mentality is really dovetailed, so it seemed a way of addressing that.
Can you talk about how you ended up working with these people that were going through this foreclosure process, and what was that organizing like in its infancy?
As we talked about earlier, we essentially got an apprenticeship, an introduction to the topic. The learning curve was really steep in terms of the mechanics of foreclosure, but also in terms of community organizing. We had experienced hands right there to bring us into the work, but also these experienced hands that were interested in us taking on the work, and not maintaining a certain turf. They very much wanted to enable us to take on the work, and so we had that benefit a lot. Within the greater Occupy Oakland context, we tended to draw a certain type of person. We tended to be older, I was in my mid-40s then, and I was the young one. [laughs] A lot of people that either had memory of earlier movements, or earlier radicalism, or had experience with community organizing, like, face-to-face mass organizing, were drawn to it. Also, people that had some sympathy with home ownership. They pretty much relate, whether or not they’re critical of it or not, they very much are cognizant of all those dynamics I told you about, about the homeowner’s myth and being a bulwark, and basically being a line of defense for working class people. Not just a hallmark, a stamp of middle class assimilation, but very much it’s a way of taking on a defense against the greater system.
One of my co-workers said it’s the only way for the working person to get ahead, is to own your own house and not be under the thumb of a landlord.
That’s very much the mentality. Although I think that ends up not being true which is what the foreclosure crisis proves: that you never really own anything. It’s a form of rank; it’s all about power….
…Well, in some ways, we were called on like a “Rent-A-Mob”, you know. I’d get phone calls from people who had a beef with their landlord. My personal number became like the group hotline number. I’d get calls at 6:30 in the morning from somebody that just got put out and wants to wreak havoc on their landlord. Whether or not we did it is another question, but we became this go-to of last resort, which was fine.
When it came down to the homeowners, they were the ones who were ready to fight. Initially when they came to us, they either found our number on a website, we developed a hotline, we flyered, our number was put out there at every general assembly when we’d report back, we’d get word of mouth. (Occupy Oakland was the headline in town for months and months) and some who came to the camp. [The networks] would have a reach of tens of thousands of people. You think back on that time and it’s amazing. Even if you weren’t daily involved with the camp or the committees or whatnot, if the [mortgage] renegotiation process fails you, or if you hear about your cousin getting put out and you’d refer them to us. Refer them to somebody that’s with Occupy, an Occupy person, and they’d refer them to us. We quickly developed a hotline, which was basically my cell phone, and I slept, went to the bathroom with it, was tethered to it. If I’d forgotten it somewhere on a charger, I’d have to turn around and get it. I’d get calls at 7:30 in the morning from people facing the Sheriff. The Jodie fight, our last fight, we got a phone call 17 days to go til they expected her to be out, the place to be empty, and we turned it around. That’s pretty much how stuff came to us.
What was it like facing down the sherrif with a large group of people and stopping them?
Well… we did it with savvy! We did it with certain tactical smarts. We had a rigorous process for which fights we would take on. We were explicit about how we were structured internally, we adopted the Solnet philosophy of having three shells, like an outer shell of people that wanted to be notified and could show up to an action, their phone number and email were logged and they’d get updates.
The second shell: members. Basically, you’d have a vote because you’d proven yourself, through work or tasks or showing up to a couple actions. You’d get a vote in terms of decisions before the group and that’s the pool from which the organizing circle is drawn, people who are committed to bottom-lining, taking responsibility for the trajectory, taking initiative, and bottom-lining tasks. This was not a permanent group. We’re not like the internal “central committee” of a party. Nope, we’re not the “Inner Party”, but it was a circle of like 7 or 8 people, and if you didn’t show up, you had to have an explanation.
We didn’t actually have to face down the cops that many times. Because 1) in the analysis, we realized, there’s a cost-benefit analysis in terms of taking on fights with the bank that was in our favor. By making a stink, by shutting down their branches, or occupying the home, or just showing muscle, like the threat of action, was enough to bring them to the negotiating table. Also, when it did happen [the cops rolling on us], it happened once, but it happened very publicly, and that was all it took to convince banks. They all shared information. There was a banking interest group that hired surveillance firms in order to surveill us, so that whatever lessons were being learned at a particular bank were being shared with others. In that moment of Occupy Oakland, I think people will remember, anything that was done made the paper. Oftentimes, with a very negative, and delegitimizing slant to it, but nevertheless, we made the papers. So, the one time we did have to show up en masse to turn them around, they sent the cops to accompany a locksmith. Mistake number one: cops from this town, and they didn’t really realize that sheriffs are the ones that should be called for all civil matters and matters of title, because the county administers those. So, we played that gap; the cops couldn’t mess with us. They could come to mess with us for, like, trespassing. That’s the thing they go to to get people out of eviction defenses. “No, this is a civil matter” you’d say, through the door, with backup. With phone numbers. With people outside. You’d say through the door, “This is a civil matter, you need to get the Sheriffs, and you need to turn around.” Basically, turning the law against them, and you open up the arena of a civil battle, so that it keeps even the sheriffs away, until there’s some ruling on it.
But, while you get the house, while you gain entry to the house by whatever means, you are now holding a card in your hand. It’s a game of poker. People showed up the first time at Gayla’s home. I got a call. I was nearby. Fifty people showed up immediately within half an hour. We generally staffed the house around the clock with two people, one to back up the other – it’s usually easier to face down cops with two people – and on the inside of the door we had a list of numbers, including a lawyer, including all the other people.
On the outside, fifty people showed up including a lot of people with rolodexes that run really deep. So immediately the City Attorney was getting phone calls about “why are you stepping out of your jurisdiction?” People were calling other people to show up. You’ve got press showing up. Suddenly, what’s gone from 6 cops or 8 cops accompanying a locksmith has suddenly turned into an “Incident” with a bunch of people ready to get busy and take the street if stuff escalates. Once that was established, we had muscle. Whether or not we could actually pull that turnout in the future… that’s another question because the moment waned. But once you have that in your back pocket, you get a little more respect and they don’t roll on you that way.
One of the other things I think is really interesting based on our previous conversations is how FDG really tried to control the narrative of resistance, and keep its ideas front and center, and always anti-capitalist, can you talk a little about that and why that was important?
In terms of the differentiation between our group and a lot of the other foreclosure work going on, in terms of the middle class aspiration. It was also at the core of our model, of our organizing and of our action. I would kind of rephrase your question, or correct it, in that we struggled, or at least I, personally, struggled to keep that message in the forefront, and I don’t think we did a good job. We were being overwritten whenever we’d get press in this moment where Occupy Oakland would get a headline, or we’d get some press. We would be overwritten at every instance. If we blockaded a house, or took radical action, or were ready to take the street, it would be rewritten as a “vigil,” or as a “protest,” as though we were issuing a complaint. And that’s the press’ job; it’s very limiting. It’s the press’ job is to alienate movements from a deeper politic, and also to rewrite them, to make them legible to the system and thereby bring them back into the fold. So, I don’t think we did a good enough job of keeping that out there, even though that was very much the way we practiced. We didn’t have a real strong representation of ourselves.
The work was incredibly demanding. In terms of time, in terms of marshaling forces, and also the learning curve was very steep. We’re not some group that just does events, or that meets for the sake of meeting. We actually had people’s homes on the line so that came first. That’s one of the lessons that I definitely learned from this, is that you have to put your analysis and all these lessons learned that you’re learning internally and reflect them outwardly. Also, [you have] to [continually] draw people in and maintain a certain healthy flow of ideas and representation out there in order to affect the debate, or to draw in more energy, more effort,… …even internally, a lot of the stuff that we put out ourselves didn’t really reflect that [radical] line. Sometimes, that was an educated gambit. It was a decision to be made by the homeowner whether or not they wanted to mention that they had cancer, because that’s a victim narrative. That’s not a systemic narrative. And plays on very liberal sympathies. It’s an exception. No, it’s like, this person is working class, everyone deserves tenure – a right to stay, a right to a roof. The way we played the media… it was a decision. Homeowners were also doing what people with a breadth of politics were doing. It’s not all hardcore people with a radical analysis.
FDG members slept, and often lived for extended periods of time in these homes that were being defended. Did that ever create a volatile mix, or did you see people’s ideas changing, on both sides? What was that like, having this controversial group, Occupy Oakland, thrust into everyday life in Oakland neighborhoods?
A lot of it was very heartening, because we had some misconceptions about the state of neighborhoods, or the state of consciousness within neighborhoods…Even though people are very atomized, even though they weren’t really ready to throw down for their neighbors, – oftentimes some were, but some weren’t – even when the full court press was on within the media, with the state de-legitimizing the Occupy movement and attacking us, people knew what time it is. Their attitudes, even though they’re a homeowner or like 70, or a 35-year-old working professional, even if they’re El Salvadorean and don’t have a lot of English, they know what time it is. Newspapers, that whole full-of-bull press… Sometimes I think it molds the left’s opinion of itself more than it does the people who just eat, work, l.e, go about their lives. A lot of people have memory of other movements, and their forming.
I think a lot of times, specifically within the anarchist subculture – and it IS a subculture, it’s not a movement – people have a very limited idea of themselves, and often also they suffer from a lack of circumspection, a lack of breadth. The people from El Salvador, the neighbors who didn’t have much English, we had Spanish speakers who talked to them. They had memory of popular movements. Or these older folks, they’re 80 years old, they’re down in the corner house. By all outward appearances, I could see a lot of kids with the insurrecto fashion going, peg-leg jeans, etc – and we can go through the stereotype, I don’t mean to demean people by that, – but people within the subculture would pass right over them [the 80-year-olds on the corner]. The guy is basically a communist, was a member of whatever during the 50s, he’s been through shit, and they’re also retired. They’ve got tons of time, and they also have a secured source of income. Just a basic low level of income to keep themselves eating, but they’re still on social security in their house that they bought 30 years ago. They’re still coming by the house, stuffing $20 bills into our hands. So, it’s not this huge gulf going on.
A lot of people have memory of other movements, and their forming. I think a lot of times, specifically within the anarchist subculture…people have a very limited idea of themselves, and often also they suffer from a lack of circumspection, a lack of breadth.
Us, the organizing group that we were involved in, as I said tended to be older, and also tended to have a lot of skills. We had administrative assistants, we had people who ran businesses, we had people who had actually been real estate agents and then dropped out of it, so we knew the system in and out and we could get stuff done. Also, in terms of the organizing group, it was [admittedly] pretty white-dominated, and there was a marked middle class background to a lot of it. But it wasn’t that hard to relate to people, honestly.
In terms of the real mix of Occupy Oakland, we had that shell idea. The organizing group was older and more seasoned. The greater shell of people that staffed the house was a really good mix. That was a great thing. There wasn’t a lot of tension there at all. That’s one of the really dynamic things, that in especially Jodie’s fight, where we staffed the house 24/7, with teams of people around the clock for like 8 or 9 months, that is a lot of work. You also have a lot of time and a little living room with wifi. You’ve got teachers grading papers alongside retired nurses, alongside squatters, alongside Fred, who’d come out of SNCC in the 60s, all exchanging lessons. It’s that really fertile dynamic of people trading lessons and talking to each other, breaking down a lot of these social roles.
What were some of the pitfalls of Solidarity Network model that you wanted to avoid? For instance, the problem of keeping people from one fight that could then in theory, be involved in the next one?
It’s described within sol-nets and other places sometimes, as “the retention problem,” which we also definitely faced. Like it or not, we are creatures of habit, and are conditioned within a capitalist society, especially within this political framework, to seek products or exchanges rendering services. We would get called, and they would ask us, “how much for this?” to show up or do something. They wanted to buy our services. The nonprofit model of charity was also very much in play. So if we weren’t explicitly offering a foreclosure defense service and we managed to get past that idea, we also had to get past the idea of it being a charity. And [this was so] even with these, as they often were, older [homeowners] with memory of social movements. Half these homes we were in, doing interviews with them or defending, had a picture of Malcolm right next to black Jesus. So these people were no strangers to political action in their memory. But still, even if you were involved or touched by these movements, it doesn’t mean that you had real criticisms of the nonprofit [model] They turn people out, they don’t really organize. They maintain a professionalized core. They turn people out to harness to whatever agenda they work at. One of the very fertile things about this work was that it confronted that. Not only were we confronting all these things about use value, about tenure, about displacement, about race in Oakland, we’re also confronting this notion about agency.
In terms of it being attractive, you’re also confronting however many fundamental issues all at once and that’s a very hard thing to do. All the attraction to this work with bringing people in and getting them involved, you’re also confronting a lot of things on the ground. And I think in terms of nursing and nurturing a group to fruition, maintaining its health, you really have to address the burden of the internal dynamic, the ability to sustain oneself. In light of all these things. I think Sol-Net really should be applauded, because they address all these issues by being explicit about their internal management and their demands and differing levels of initiation. It’s not leaderlessness, which I think is pretty tyrannical in its actual practice – basically default rules of social capital ruling the roost.
You also have a clear ask of people within the Sol-Net model; you can be a member, or you can just participate. It’s a clear avenue for getting in deeper. But the retention problem… you’re not only in this theoretical sense addressing agency, or people’s internal concept of liberatory action, or modes of interaction around exchange, or specialization that you ratify every day through your activity, you’re also addressing a real gulf between cultures, and being a subculture, not being a movement. There’s a specialization with [political] language. There’s this split within a lot of people’s heads between “everyday people” and “political people,” which I think is a real middle class idea. And to say it’s “middle class” doesn’t really do it service. There’s a real hatred of “everyday people.” A real willingness to tokenize them, or prop them up in front and say that you’re acting on their behalf, on the popular front of the press. But actually take a revolutionary, someone who describes themselves as anarchist, and ask them to knock on doors, get back on that stoop, and talk to people outside their own milieu…. That terrifies most of them. It actually, tangibly, terrifies them, which is one of the reasons I think we didn’t draw from that crew in our work that much. We got applauded by them at times, and sometimes we were vilified by them for the fetishization of property. They didn’t really see the distinctions in the work. But the nature of the work was longer-term. It was face-to-face, a longer arc, with deferred gratification. So this “retention problem”… I think to call it a retention problem almost does it a disservice. It has to do with the ghettoization and segmentation, with social organization, with society.
There’s also the problem of these tactics spreading. Of the idea of community self-defense spreading out to whole neighborhoods and not just locked within one set organization or group.
These groups have to take responsibility for reproducibility. All these lessons that I’ve learned, the incredibly accelerated political development that I went through, all the lessons that the work taught, you have to be able to transmit them to the next crew, to receive their benefit. Just as we did from these other people who had already been wrestling and wrangling with the local political apparatus and dealing with homeowners. They brought us up. You have to do the same thing. The idea that you can project a lesson in text or by example, that’ll be naturally taken up? That’s like throwing an infant into a pool and asking them to swim. It often happens, but they often drown.
You brought up the first fight, and the fight with Jodie, the last fight, that lasted 9 months, but let’s talk about some of the fights briefly. Can you give us an overview? What were some of the highs and the lows of these different struggles? What was their impact, especially in the communities that they happened in?
As part of our rigorous process we went through, we had some very basic preconditions for what fights we would get involved with, because there were thousands happening. There were also any number of ways to go about fighting, but we had a clear way to do it, and if you didn’t jive with something that we thought was worth pursuing, or if you were still committed to going through the courts, we really couldn’t take the fight on. We drew people that met criteria, and the criteria were:
1) You being the decision maker for your fight.
Principle number one; It’s your fight, you call the shots. We will present you with options, and we have a certain perspective, a certain analysis, and a certain gamesmanship in order to make things happen. And we work in concert, we work together. If you can’t get with that – and that’s for us to decide as well, if we think you’re just saying yes, but not really meaning it, we retain the right to withdraw as well.
2) It’s a political fight. It’s not a legalistic one.
So, if you were still seeking redress under the law, if you thought that was the source of power, that was not the fight for us because that was not our analysis. The law is a fiction. The law is a rationalization of power, of power politics, power relationships. We would maybe USE the law, as a card to play, but we would not seek redress through the courts, and if a lawyer was still in the mix, we can’t get involved. You’re serving two masters; you’re either serving popular power, or you’re serving power mediated through the state by the courts. Plus, there’s an immense track record of the court being completely complicit in taking your home. That is a method of squashing struggle, so we cannot engage in that.
3) It’s a public fight.
In terms of being fundamentally political, in terms of the terrain that we would switch a fight to, we would shift a fight onto terrain that favored us. Very simple thing from the Art of War. You seek the high ground. You do battle where you can win, and for us, that was political ground. We would not win in the courts, we would not win in terms of policy. We won in the street, we won by going in through windows and occupying houses, we won with taking over banks, we won by using refusal as our weapon. We would just say, “No.”
The third principle was, “it’s going to be a public fight”. You, [the homeowner] have to be prepared to do media, to throw all your business in the street, and that is tough. Not everyone is meant to get in front of a microphone. Sometimes we would help them with that, or their family would. The family would run interference, like with Miss Katie, who is a very private person. Great grandmother, postal worker. She wanted her home, but she was not that big media face. She was like 5’0”, 83-year-old retired postal worker, and she wanted none of this business. [So family helped.]
It’s also dealing with shame because people will talk crap on you even if you don’t have a car in this society. If you’re not able to maintain a car, it’s like, “What’s wrong with you?” You must be a dope fiend, or out of the joint, or whatever. A low achiever. And that extends for homeowners. This bid for assimilation into middle class status… if you can’t maintain it…it’s been this vessel for so much aspiration and identity. If you can’t maintain it or whatever, there’s this whole mechanism of shame under the law. Also, this middle class moral rage(?) is thrown onto you, the individual homeowner, and that’s a large thing to overcome. No matter what one’s intent, or one’s individual politics, you have to overcome this basic conception of self and responsibility. And you had to meet these three conditions for us to take on your fight.
First was Gayla. A townhouse right across from DeFremery Park, park of the Panthers. The place had been empty for two years and they’d remodeled it. We cracked a window, took it over, and succeeded in getting it back even though it was “owned” by two other [entities.] This non-profit, ACCE, they had a branch, they had a chapter in San Diego. We put people in the parking lot of this other investment firm, harassed them in the parking lot. The servicer of the note was Chase, and we went to a bank of theirs.
(It’s against policy for that servicer to disclose who actually holds the note. If it weren’t complicated enough with all this financialized assetization of home ownership, to find out who actually owns your home. We had a bank employee slip us the name under the counter. When Miss Katie wanted to go to the bathroom, on her way, escorted to the bathroom, the bank employees were on our side. They were like, “If this were my grandmother, I’d be doing the same thing.”)
Every fight, there were commonalities to it. As I said before, they were predominantly black, working class, often women, older. We also took on a fight for an Iraqi refugee, an immigrant who had spent years in a Saudi prison camp. He was in the Iraqi army, he rose up against Saddam, got put into another prison camp. Jodie had a job as an accountant for Mother’s Cookies. That disappeared. In Alameda, she had ties to the community. She unfortunately died of cancer as soon as we won the fight, which was our last fight. There were some fights we didn’t take on, because they didn’t meet those conditions, or they [only] said they did. Often times I’d have to tell people so in tears; people come to you in a crisis mode, they’re willing to grab or say anything. We had to offer no illusions; this is a no-bullshit arena. You can’t offer people false hope. You have to be upfront. I had to be on the phone with people in tears, telling them, “I’m sorry, we can’t take this on,” because they’re still fighting stuff in the courts, or it’s just not doable, or it’s too late. We only had so much finite resources. We had an organizing group of 8, maybe 35-40 people in the membership, like 200 people maybe in the supporter email list, and especially when the Occupy moment faded, we didn’t have the resources or the ascendant moment, or even the kind of imaginary muscle that we could flex against banks where we could just threaten a shutdown and get cops in front of all the banks in the Fruitvale. THAT was a high, if you want to talk about highs and lows!
Such as the demonstrations outside of banks in support of specific people, for instance?
Yeah! That was awesome. We manipulated the press and [used] their own scare tactics against them. We made a big fuss about coming to a bank in the Fruitvale, on a fight that we actually had to turn down eventually, to tell you the truth, but they called me up at 7 in the morning, the cops, on my phone, asking me which bank we were going to. I told them a different bank, and they put cops in front of every single bank in the Fruitvale district. They had 40 officers come out for like 16 people.
Did you see the goal being that these actions would replicate in larger ways? How do you feel this fits into a strategy of people organizing in this moment outside of just the Foreclosure Defense Group?
That was definitely part of the intention. We always realized that individual casework is very limited. Part of it was demonstrating a viable method, a viable model, and hoping to seed it elsewhere. Also, we were committed to a neighborhood council project for a good chunk of time, with a couple organizations. We picked a neighborhood to focus on, door-knocked, collected data. The foreclosure crisis was pronounced, profound enough that we hoped to galvanize a neighborhood into a sense of itself,in order to form a neighborhood-based defense council, and help that into being, open up this arena. It was an experiment to try to work out all the problems with that kind of organizing, an once it started getting on its legs, go on to the next. It didn’t work out. There’s a lot of analysis around why that didn’t work out, that we still have to put together. The fantasy was that we work towards a moratorium, citywide, declaring amnesty. A moratorium through these neighborhood councils or multiple groups. It’s always good to have bigger aspirations. We always kept an eye on that. In the last part of the groups life, the foreclosure crisis changed and also gentrification and displacement became the watchwords. We couldn’t really make the transition into being that kind of group.
There was a dichotomy or narrative of “the good anarchists” doing the real work, the solid organizing, and “the bad anarchists” that go out into the streets and break windows, and you wanted to break down that dichotomy. How and why?
We were often applauded…We’d get kudos from people for doing “responsible” work. Often from people who were in good faith, who saw the good work we were doing, that we were sticking to it, and we outlasted [most of Occupy]. Except for the Anti-Rep Committee, which actually successfully transitioned into being an ongoing group, we were the longest-lasting active committee in Occupy Oakland. A lot of people would applaud, or clap us on the back for the work we were doing, except that it always kind of left a bad taste in our mouths. For one, these people often really didn’t do anything for us. They did no work, they didn’t show up, so we got the compliments, but I didn’t get anything out of them. It was just like, “Eh.” I’m in full organizer mode, it’s like, “WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR THE GROUP?” and these people never stepped forward, they just enjoyed our work. At a distance. It was like, “Uhhh… thanks for nothing.” [laughs]
It was also in contrast to the various spectacular and confrontational politics, narratives, and actions that were going on: J28, the occupations, May Day… We weren’t the cutting edge of what was militant in a lot of people’s eyes. Even though we dinged the banks for like 1.1 million dollars over the space of our fight. We basically broke like 10,000 windows. [laughs] Let’s look at it like that. But we also proved that value is a fiction that we can rewrite, so we actually did something more formative, more fundamental than breaking a window. We actually got beyond theater, but I think we did a poor job of representing ourselves to this greater milieu.
It’s also some of what I mentioned earlier, about the draw of the work. It’s longer-arc. It’s a no-bullshit zone. You’ve gotta show up, you’ve gotta door knock. You’ve gotta do politics with people in all and any points of coming into consciousness, whether they’re liberals, whether they’re libertarian, or they have zero politics at all. You’re finding common ground with these people in a small room, face-to-face, with real stuff on the table. So it demands a lot of humility, it demands a lot of time and effort. I was putting 20+ hours a week into just that group at its height.
And there was also this split: we didn’t do a great job of representing the radical nature of our work, and the aspirations and analysis behind it. So that really allowed it to be overwritten in people’s minds, either their exposure to Occupy Homes in Minnesota, or the work in Rochester or Florida (Take Back the Block), other groups, other people doing foreclosure work…. They thought we were of the same stamp, so it was very much about that middle class recuperation, about restoring the American Dream. Also a lot of younger folks, I mean the more militant folks tend to be younger, they don’t have much experience with that middle class home ownership self-defense conception. You know, owning a home is something your PARENTS do. [laughs]
Which they were ALLOWED to do, based on how the economy was structured back then.
Right. Or they didn’t realize the particular nature of Oakland. A lot of people were new here, they didn’t really realize the historical context, and that it’s very much an opening for the black working class to control a chunk of their destiny, to lay down roots, to have permanence. The anarchist subculture is very nomadic. People show up, people leave. People have got options, so they exercise them. They’re not really rooted to place. This is work very much rooted to place and very much outside of a subcultural self-conception.
Many talk about wanting to plug into something long term, building a base and support for radical actions, but few do. It’s an interesting question as to why people do this.
Were they really looking for something more community-based? I don’t wanna attribute intent or get personal on it, but I think that’s often a rhetoric that’s deployed. It’s paying lip service to something while not really realizing what it looks like in the flesh,and when it’s right in front of you. Miss Katie’s fight was about to take off right when the first barbecue was about to happen, so I was like, “Let’s make it North Oakland, the first one,” because that’s where her neighborhood is. “Let’s make it fun, we can dovetail, we can bring them together. If you wanna have a march around off from the barbecue, we can bring it through Miss Katie’s neighborhood, We can have Miss Katie show up.” There was resistance to that. Supposedly, one of its self-proclaimed goals was reaching out to community, and here’s a concrete fight with a sector of the community you are completely getting more and more divorced from as Occupy continues its course. Becoming more white, more segmented, becoming its own political ghetto. Here’s a chance to step out of that and actually fight a community fight, and people are bringing up these doctrinaire ridiculous objections to the notion. So I’ve gotta say, “Ok, that’s rhetoric.” Maybe I should have fought more, but I’m focused on winning the fight, not on educating white middle class people on their politics.
Do you think anything could have been done to make the struggles go deeper, or are there things that, looking back, you wish you could have done better? What advice that you would give for other groups that would take up similar struggles?
We’ve touched on a few already, but most definitely. I’ve pulled a lot of lessons, a lot of analysis out of the work. It’s been an incredibly rich learning experience for myself, and I’d really like to hear from other people in the group, other people who were involved, what it did for them. We really haven’t gone through a whole process of collectively since the moment. We kind of all went our own separate ways, so I’m really interested to hear what they have to say too. Shout-out to everybody who did work. FDG! And the homeowners!
But on the lessons? One would be, have a certain candor about who you are, and where you’re coming from, right upfront. Drop the politically-correct rhetoric. A lot of people don’t have this consciousness, especially white people, about where they stand in the racial order, and in the local political order. If you’re middle class, just say it. Be upfront about it, and work from there. Also, don’t forward a grandiose notion of oneself, or the group. Don’t say, “We’re here to fight for all poor and oppressed people.” You aren’t made up of all poor and oppressed people! Keep it small, grab a bite of the problem.
In terms of the greater gentrification fight, I think people are facing that right now. Gentrification is a typhoon. It’s a huge problem. People are finding it very hard to bite off a chunk in order to focus. Also, something that was one of the difficulties that the group had, but is very important, is self-critique. This is an experiment. You are not applying some proven theory or roadmap to a situation. This is part of the anarchist condemnation of sectarian communism: overlaying a very simplistic roadmap and theory on an incredibly complex situation, which completely defies all these definitions. So you end up being a doctrinaire fetishist of certain terms and politics.
That self-critique? We went through a self-criticism, an evaluation of our own work and where we were headed, and to my surprise, maybe I was naive, but even with these experienced folks and this organizing circle, it was something they had never really done before. They’re products of a very anemic, a very figurative and authoritarian politic. A very authoritarian practice over the years. They’d never sat down and self-evaluated the experiment, examining what kind of lessons they’d accumulated. That kind of clarity had never been embarked on. Developing that muscle is crucial. No matter what work you’re taking on, formulating a strategy, formulating a goal orcert ain expectations of your own membership, of your own structure, be up front about them. Don’t get caught up in a lot of foundational documents. But once you’re nursing and nurturing this thing into being, it’s a very organic, very normal process. But once you’re involved you have to keep open the space in order to evaluate your own work… …it forces a certain candor, hopefully, if you’re doing this in a certain way. No matter what kind of work you’re doing, that’s the kind of space you’re hoping to open up. Without that, we’re doomed. Unless we develop actual praxis, in the real Freire-an sense, not this modern, bastardized sense. People use the word, and people are like, “practice?” No, praxis. Theory informing action informing theory, etc. This circle, the nugget, that health that has to be nurtured into being.
What kind of lessons would you pull out from the Foreclosure Defense Group that you think could be applied to the current terrain of gentrification in the Bay Area?
Lesson number one: you’re not going to stop gentrification. You’re not. It’s just a semantical variation on “capitalism”. It’s the same thing. It’s a materialization of all these forces within capitalism, come to Earth. And it also hits kind of like a hurricane. Certain conditions have to be there. The wind always blows, but when it hits a certain temperature gradient, a certain moisture, hits land, …. these various conditions come about where it coalesces and becomes a thing, becomes a hurricane. Gentrification: disinvestment, transportation infrastructure, political apparatus, a secondary city that’s ready to kowtow to any development, whatever comes…. These are all conditions that create this monster.
I would say it’s in terms of biting off a chunk we can work on. We have to focus on self-defense, in terms of creating a pocket, where we can defend ourselves and stay in town. I’m actually a little pessimistic. I’m not sure how much longer the city is going to remain available to people. We’re all going to be on trains commuting in for crappy service jobs. Or else we’re completely complicit as cops or whatever, or you can get a job in IT, become part of the horde. I’m not sure how long the city, especially Oakland, has. In terms of other cities undergoing this kind of reurbanization, this shift in economy, I don’t know how many lessons Oakland even has for the rest of the country. Because here it’s such a hyper-paced monster.
Some people theorize that San Francisco is becoming a node in this specific organization of capital, a Trans-Pacific reordering of the State’s relationship to capital, and we’re becoming this node, this center of finance and technology. It’s this reorganization of capital that’s happening on an international, semi-global scale that’s pushing this process of tech, of finance… driving this hyper-capitalized, inflated economy we have in San Francisco. So as much as I think we want to keep hope alive, and grasp at various strategies that seem to be healthy, or dynamic, or offer resistance, I think we have to start thinking on a much grander scale. Like I said, what’s important for a group is to define its strategy and goals with candor, and keep an eye on those, and reflect with self-critique. I think the present efforts around gentrification really have to do that.
The Foreclosure Group lessons? One is a lesson I get from any of my organizing: attend to the health, longevity, and culture of the group overall, while also trying to steer clear of maintaining a group for its own sake. If you can’t keep a healthy group process in place, some healthy rules, or maintain a certain life to it in terms of drawing energy, learning lessons, applying lessons, expanding, or at least maintaining a dynamic field of work; if you turn inward, or atrophy, or become doctrinaire, or lose grasp of that healthy breakdown of social roles or the transformative nature of it, you have no hope. Movements are experiments …unless you’re cutting yourself off from reality and not maintaining that healthy re-evaluation of the context, of what’s going on, it becomes a hobby. That’s something you’re doing to make yourself feel better. “Radical talk fills a great need in making up for the misery people live.” I don’t want to be that. I want to win, I don’t want to die righteous.
What questions do you think people should be asking themselves about doing concrete solidarity work against the forces of white supremacy and the State more broadly? What questions should we be thinking about?
Especially in the current moment, the context of the Black Liberation struggle, that’s what this is: we call it Black Lives Matter, but it’s a chapter in what is the Black Liberation struggle, that’s 500 years long. I think people have to be really up-front about who they are. I’m going to repeat that. You have to start articulating your own basis for a revolt. Why are YOU rebelling? What is your place within the racial order? Beginning to articulate revolutionary practice and a candid assessment of one’s own role within that, I think that’s the work that really needs to be done. It’s a theoretical point I just made, but it applies in all this work. What was our role, in FDG? It was not 100% white, that’s for sure. We had a wealth of experience from other communities. But I think one of the reasons we couldn’t transition into being an anti-displacement group, or something that focused on gentrification, although we already were: to fight foreclosure IS to fight against gentrification. But why we couldn’t transition into an anti-gentrification group was kind of due to the lack of an established practice of solidarity and the lack of a developed candor and analysis of one’s own whiteness within the group. They wanted to avoid being saviors or charities, and felt they didn’t have the place to enter into this arena, because they were white, or had a home… I mean, some of us did. I was homeless during the whole thing. Some other people were, too. But I think that’s really the theoretical work that people have to do in order to intervene with these struggles first. Well… I just said “first,” but it’s simultaneously.
It really marks so much now in Oakland, how people are almost very pessimistic or sanguine about the trajectory of gentrification, but there was a period maybe a year or two ago where there were a lot of conspicuous blog posts, articles, basically people conspicuously wringing their hands over the problem, being upset over gentrification. Very much revolving around identity, but not a whole lot of talk about the racial order or about white supremacy. I think that was kind of experimental. We’re kind of the laboratory here in Oakland, kind of a liberal-progressive bourgeoisie experimenting with and developing a rationalizing language around gentrification. It was ideological work being done in the theoretical sense.
As much as we make fun….of communist discussions around race…let’s survey the conversations within the anarchist tradition: next to nothing. I think that is to be fundamentally blind, on the part of a very white subculture, about their own condition in the United States.
In the real sense, there’s a real problem with white people. I’m speaking as a white person, and this is my focus. Other communities got other issues, but white people do not have a developed sense of how to link arms with other communities. There’s still this very liberal, universalizing, humanist approach, with “rights,” or “discrimination”. “Level the playing field, everyone’s an equal person under the law.” Even anarchist subculture, most people that are anarchists, in anarchism, don’t really believe in a revolutionary subject, that there’s certain sectors that are a revolutionary engine, and that it’s them securing their own liberation. It’s kind of a very universalized, diffused notion of revolt against authority or hierarchy, “the State.” As much as we make fun, or poke holes in the communist discussion around “the Negro Question” or the question of race, let’s survey the conversations about race within the anarchist tradition: next to nothing. Next to nothing. I think that is to be fundamentally blind, willfully blind, on the part of a very white subculture, about their own condition in the United States. We’re a white colonial settler project founded on genocide, slavery, and everything else. I’m not going to preach about it, but this is the context. Of history. Of this moment.
A lot of people in Oakland making noise about gentrification were markedly white, markedly with options. They were basically first-wave gentrifiers, that moved to town because of certain cache, certain options, they wanted to be in the urban center, or a lot of anarchists because they saw the Oscar Grant rebellions, saw a reputation, but there’s no real appreciation for the Town. So a lot of this anti-gentrification rhetoric and work is really bound by its own delusions and blindnesses and I don’t think you can even really formulate a meaningful anti-gentrification stance or politic unless you have the candor, unless you develop the realization of one’s own position, the your own basis as a revolutionary subject. Maybe you aren’t the central subject. Maybe you aren’t the engine that drives it, but what is your role? And what are the guidelines, what’s the criteria for your activity in all these arenas? Develop those; they’re real hard questions. Who do you support? Who DON’T you support? In what manner? When do you become this liberal gatekeeper, offering support to one group, and not another? What is just doctrinaire? What actually translates to meaningful or healthy political work? These are really hard questions, and I don’t think any one of them can actually be addressed unless you come with that self-realization and that candor.
Anything else you’d like to add? Any shout-outs?
Too many! Shouting out just one would be unfair, but shout-outs to all who did work with the Foreclosure Group. Ever onward!