What started out as a triumph for local community organizers descended into anarchy last night in the streets of Oakland, California.
Yesterday's remarkably ambitious plan by Occupy Oakland organizers to coordinate a General Strike actually succeeded to a greater extent than anyone had predicted. Adhering strictly to non-violent civil resistance guidelines, a march into the heart of Oakland's port district resulted in the world's 5th largest port being shut down. A truly stunning achievement.
The focus of events then moved back to the city's center, the area surrounding Frank Ogawa Plaza (renamed Oscar Grant Plaza by Occupy Oakland participants), where police one week ago rousted the Occupy Oakland encampment. From there things turned ugly quickly. While details are still sketchy, it appears that small splinter factions broke away from the Occupy Oakland march and began to basically trash Downtown Oakland -- indiscriminately.
The damage in the Downtown area was fairly extensive. Moreover, there appeared to be some degree of coordination of the part of those who sought to drive events in a violent direction. Black clothing, black masks and the anarchist symbol marked the identity of those who sought to turn what had been a disciplined non-violent action into a riot.
There seemed to be a consensus on the part of Occupy Oakland organizers, Oakland Police and local residents that the violence was being committed by a select few and not representative of the broader Occupy Movement. Occupy Oakland organizers apparently endeavored to mitigate the scope of the damage last night and to further confront those responsible this morning. The Occupy Oakland camp meeting this morning was tense, bordering on open conflict as calls for further violence by "black-bloc" elements were met with staunch resistance from Occupy Oakland organizers, almost leading to blows.
As many have noted, Oakland is rapidly becoming a focal point for the international Occupy Movement. The Movement which has gained an amazing degree of respect and momentum in a remarkably short period of time, is now fundamentally challenged by a small group of individuals who would basically commandeer the movement wholesale and convert it to their vision.
The Occupy Movement is not just the Oakland encampment. It is a world-wide movement of dedicated activists working in a very focused way to effect change. The broad-based support that the Occupy actions enjoy is based on their level of achievement and the manner in which the demonstrations and encampments conduct themselves.
Non-violence has been bedrock to the meteoric success the Movement has achieved, and to the support the Movement has enjoyed. Those who sought to take that for themselves last night through their violent actions have no chance of attracting any broad-based support from anyone for any purpose. That simply will not happen.
The Occupy Movement is now facing a challenge, perhaps its greatest to date. The threat that police violence represents to the Occupy encampments pales in comparison to the damage that can be wrought by individuals using the cover of the Movement for violent initiatives.
Can the Movement maintain discipline? Success or failure likely hangs in the balance.Cross-posted from Reader Supported News