OpOK Relief Rebuilds Oklahoma

A week and a half ago, when I first drove to Little Axe, Oklahoma, to take a look at post-tornado recovery efforts, the countryside was still in crisis mode. Mountains of rubble and garbage filled gravel roads and red dirt paths leading to the remains of homes. Neighborhoods that had been full of working-class houses were uprooted and dirty, unsafe tent camps were all that remained. Just 30 minutes away, the big NGOs and FEMA operated, bringing national attention to Moore – a badly struck area, to be sure. But not the only one affected. 

In Little Axe, Newalla, Carney, Luther, Shawnee, and other areas, humanitarian workers at the local nonprofits complained how little had been done, despite the hundreds of millions that the Red Cross said had been donated. It was only later that everyone’s thoughts were confirmed – money sent to the big players was ending up in Washington, DC. Certainly some of it would be spent on affected people here, but the vast majority would be sent to other areas or spent on overhead, administration costs. At last count, the Red Cross was still sitting on $110 million allocated for Superstorm Sandy. While the NGOs have done some fantastic work here, our communities know their needs best. There had to be a better way. OpOK Relief stepped in to fill the gaps as part of the People’s Response. As a convergence of Occupy groups, anarchists, libertarian socialists, Food Not Bombs folks, Rainbow Family, IWW organizers, teachers, social workers, and non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic relief groups from out of state, our focus has been on direct action. Local and international initiatives have come together to address community specific needs. We’ve been able to assess damage on the ground, get people into emergency housing, help them secure their homes, and provide connections for outside volunteers to plug into affected communities, prioritizing the most impoverished and overlooked. 

The response to our work is overwhelming; we’re getting supplies and volunteers into areas that have either been under-served or neglected altogether by the major NGOs. Horizontal organizing, based off people’s needs on the ground, is making all of this possible. 

As a non-hierarchical solidarity effort, multiple people share the work load. I am grateful to play a part in this work, but this is a community effort. And the community will continue to respond. 

If you haven’t plugged into the People’s Response yet, please volunteer your services at OpOKRelief.net/volunteer. Get in the OpOK Relief group on Facebook and see how our teams come together. If your thing is food, consider feeding the displaced or those working to help them with Food Not Bombs – Norman, OK. Plug into our newOpOK Rideshare with your ability to transport supplies or request a ride to a worksite. Text @OKALERT to 23559 to be added to our cell loop for the latest.

Allowing residents and victims to shape the services they receive is an essential part of our disaster relief efforts. Find local organizers and community leaders on the ground in these locations, ask what they need, crowdsource and share information, and see what you can do to meet these needs. 

Cooperative decision-making, participatory democracy, and mutual aid are tenants of anarchist society. OpOK Relief isn’t an anarchist group, but anarchism motivates my work within it. Anarchism is movement for a society in which the violence of racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, and coercion are removed from our daily lives. Anarchism is the belief in a world without war and economic poverty. Anarchism is a philosophy and movement working to build cooperative, egalitarian human relationships and social structures that promote mutual aid, radical democratic control of political and economic decisions, and ecological sustainability.

I believe that our work here today can create the kind of world that I carry in my heart. I believe that this work brings the best out of everyone involved, from the people on the ground to the people directly impacted by these storms. I believe that everyone has a part to play here, that anyone is capable of making a difference in these struggling areas. 

I believe in solidarity. I believe in mutual aid. I believe in you. Join us. 

Solidarity is our strength.  #OpOK
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Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He is currently working with OpOK Relief to rebuild Oklahoma’s tornado stricken areas.

A Principled Stand on Diversity of Tactics: Avoiding Uniformity of Failure


The St. Paul Principles

1. Our solidarity will be based on respect for a diversity of tactics and the plans of other groups.

2. The actions and tactics used will be organized to maintain a separation of time or space.

3. Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.

4. We oppose any state repression of dissent, including surveillance, infiltration, disruption and violence. We agree not to assist law enforcement actions against activists and others.

 


 

The recent wave of protests sweeping the United States under the banner of Occupy Wall Street—and elsewhere around the world under other monikers, like the Indignant Citizens Movement, ¡Democracia Real YA!, and the various blossoms of Arab Spring—has captured the imagination of millions on the egalitarian Left and libertarian Right. Inevitably, thankfully, it has also ignited fierce debate about the nature of sociopolitical and economic inequality and of democracy itself.  But as the cogs of corporate media seek to bewitch us with the specter of political gameplay, they also scheme to pacify the lonely rage of societies under fascist colonization by using an ancient tactic: divide and conquer. We are left to feed on one another like jackals.

Our strength—as the surveillance state well knows—lies in our solidarity. The IWW slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all” is apt; the people of Tunisia, frustrated by widespread poverty, political corruption, and poor living conditions, rose to defeat the iron fist of their dictator after the self-immolation of vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was ousted, in part, because of outcry over the brutal police murder of Khaled Saeed. Pictures of his viciously battered face, when added to growing social and political unrest, launched a wave of revolutionary fury.

It is no wonder, then, that the Occupy Movement gained its initial support when members of the New York City Police Department were caught on amateur video dousing peaceful protesters with pepper spray and beating others with truncheons. In Oakland, the community rallied behind protesters when Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was critically injured by a police projectile. The City of Oakland, long known for the kind of illegal actions that gets one placed into federal receivership, turned a nonviolent gathering of its people into a war zone, complete with rubber-coated steel bullets, rifle-launched CS gas canisters, and explosive flashbang grenades. The Reich-wing assaults on liberty have united an erstwhile estranged citizenry; the American proletariat, like other people globally, is beginning to shake off useless notions of the intrinsic goodness of government.

Worldwide, people were sold on the idea that elections equal freedom, that representation was self-determination. We looked toward politicians to solve our problems and when they failed, we replaced them with other politicians. Regime change meant nothing.

The hollow promise of capitalist advancement has been revealed to be a pyramid scheme and the men behind the curtain are scrambling to use the mechanisms of authoritarianism in a last ditch effort to “restore order.”

Their order is, of course, unwinnable war, ecological disaster, and grievous imbalance of wealth and power. They use their established cultural dominance to justify their status quo as inevitable and beneficial to all, instead of as a social construct beneficial only to a handful of oligarchs. Futhermore, they maintain that false construct by painting their opponents as the bastard children of Chaos, violent and unorganized outsiders who have come to disrupt the natural state of things. They did it in Egypt, they’re doing it in Bahrain, and they’re doing it here.

That the people want violent upheaval is a lie equivalent to the neoconservative statement that “they hate us for our freedom.” There are no people on Earth who desire a permanent state of war—unless you buy the propaganda proclaiming that corporations are people and have equal rights, including the pursuit of happiness. Their happiness lies at the feet of the fascist state’s false god—terror in the name of national security.

Overcoming our fear doesn’t require a movement; it requires us to move. While Howard Zinn, author of You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train makes impassioned calls for “nonviolent direct action, which involve[s] organizing large numbers of people” he reminds us that those who question the war machine are often called “unrealistic” and advises his readers to keep all options on the table.

“To be “realistic” in dealing with a problem is to work only among the alternatives which the most powerful in society put forth. It is as if we are all confined to ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, or ‘d’ in the multiple choice test, when we know there is another possible answer. American society, although it has more freedom of expression than most societies in the world, thus sets limits beyond which respectable people are not supposed to think or speak.”

To be “respectable” is all too often to sit on the sidelines of history, remaining neutral or moving at a marginally useful pace. However, if resistance movements are to avoid violence and bloodshed, they must work out ways in which the radical and the respectable can work, hand-in-hand, to both mobilize the greatest amount of people and, at the same time, remain an effective force for change.  Power concedes nothing without a demand.

The Saint Paul Principles provide a clear way to maintain that solidarity within the diversity of the movement.

When our movements split on sectarian lines, we save the enemy the trouble of dividing before they conquer us. In every resistance movement, the story becomes the same: the defenders of the status quo placate some of their adversaries, and then stop at nothing to crush those who won’t compromise. The opposition is divided in two by a mixture of seduction and violence. Energy is wasted in dispute and recriminations, each faction insisting the others are messing things up by “not getting with the program.”

Our task is to do away with exploitation and oppression, not reconcile ourselves with lesser versions of them. By supporting a diversity of tactics, activists gain the freedom to adapt to quickly changing situations; each tactic accomplishes a particular goal, contributing toward the larger goal. Diversity of tactic is truly an experiment in democracy, the process of solidarity spelled out with regard for the contributions of each of the people involved. By avoiding needless arguments on the merits of a particular tactic, resistance movements are free to focus on strategy—the culmination of tactical achievements towards to broader objective.

However, without general agreed-upon principles of unity, there is no movement—just collection of individuals in close proximity. Shared purpose is essential to community, however disagreed upon particular tactics are. Here we should keep in mind the words of English writer G.K. Chesterton: “Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

Direct action gets the goods and accomplishes that shared purpose. Utilizing the St. Paul Principles as a compass, different groups apply different tactics according to what they believe in and feel comfortable doing, with an eye to complimenting other efforts. Activists codified them in 2008 during demonstrations at the Republican National Convention as a way to have a concrete declaration of standards in the context of a broad spectrum of activists and to actively extinguish divisiveness from respective groups. They allow for organization to maximize our potential, without the paralyzing bureaucracy of hierarchical leadership. They work.

Tactics are not religion; everyone would be better off without treating them as if they are.

It behooves each individual to determine whether a particular action is a tactic that furthers the goal of the movement or particular grievance or whether such tactic acts as mere symbol. Acts that rely on symbolism are only effective if they bring inspiring attention to the cause; the occupation of Alcatraz by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) brought the attention of the nation when it highlighted economic disparity on tribal reservations and the refusal of the US government to honor treaties it had signed with indigenous people. Effective resistance focuses on that sort of long-term strategy over ceaseless debate on tactic, allowing links to form between autonomous resistance groups to create larger coalitions within the working class.

Generally, violence on behalf of the State is not as open in the United States as it is many other places; sociopolitical hegemony ensures it isn’t often necessary. Therefore, it is often needless to blockade neighborhoods against paramilitary police forces, for instance. This is not the case in places like Syria, where harsh measures by the government silence dissent and a commitment to passive resistance could mean death. Diversity of tactic means flexibility in the face of inflexible violence. The specific context, time, and nature of the struggle dictate whether defensive measures such as the shields carried in Oakland to protect from riot police assault are necessary or not.

Coupled with respect for diversity of tactic is a separation of space. This seems to be the most misunderstood of the St. Paul Principles and, as such, it is the most important. Separation of both time and space ensures that peaceful marches, boycotts, and pickets remain peaceful—unless, as all too often happens—agents of the police state find it necessary to escalate towards violence, as they have in New York, Oakland, Bahrain, Tahrir Square, and elsewhere.

Keeping actions that may be deemed radical by reactionaries—like the appropriation of abandoned buildings for free social collectives like Infoshops and community organizing—separate from uncontroversial marches and pickets makes it less likely that the police will escalate their use of force. Unfortunately, it is no guarantee. The revolutions sweeping the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa have rulers quick to suppress any dissent, peaceful or otherwise. There is no such thing as American exceptionalism.

The Occupy Movement is an alliance of sovereign peoples coming together for a common cause. The individualism of its members, in the midst of a movement, must be recognized and respected. We gather under a common name, with similar goals, but with individual backgrounds, needs, and visions of the future. To achieve real and lasting peace, however, the branches of the Occupy Movement and its many members must stand in solidarity. Discussion is a necessary component of healthy democracy and should be encouraged. However, it behooves us to remember that the health of democratic movements is also impacted by the cancer of sectarianism. Internal divisions and rivalries will rip any movement apart at the seams.

Mahatma Gandhi named some of the roots of violence as wealth without work, commerce without morality, and politics without principles. The capitalist state uses violence to perpetuate itself and calls those who oppose it the perpetrators of violence. To guard against state repression of dissent, a certain security culture must be cultivated. Tactics such as the black bloc, which was developed by the Autonomist movement to combat fascism, are wonderful tools that can be used to protect protesters from governments who devoured George Orwell’s 1984 thinking it was a training manual. The surveillance state hasn’t been content to place CCTVs on every street corner; at every rally or protest, one is sure to find police officers filming the people gathered. It is not paranoia to think that dossiers are being assembled on “persons of interest.”

On the other hand, care must be taken to not succumb to an atmosphere of suspicion and fear. Assume that infiltrators are among you already and act accordingly.  It is counterproductive to avoid addressing injustice.  John F. Kennedy was correct in his assertion that “there are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.

To conquer what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism,” we must recognize human rights as our ultimate goal. We face a Leviathan that pits us against each other, eliminates us by co-opting our movements or brutally suppressing them, and does it by manipulating societal beliefs, explanations, perceptions, and values. To address the needs of the people, pacifism as pathology must be abandoned and a less dogmatic critique needs to be adopted and put into practice. A diversity of tactics, with the St. Paul Principles as a foundation to stand on, provides the freedom for that critique. And freedom is what we’re all about.


Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Hedging Our Bets on the Black Bloc: The Impotence of Mere Liberalism

Chris Hedges has written some of the most insightful analysis of the U.S. war machine in recent years. His 2009 book The Empire of Illusion was an exploration of how exhibition has eclipsed truth and meaningful connection in American society. His acknowledgment of the ease in which one can buy into such spectacles is a small part of why it was so odd to read his article on Truthdig attacking both anarchists and black bloc tactics entitled “The Cancer in Occupy.”

It is patently clear that Hedges’ statements on anarchist theory and tactics of organizing are either false, unsubstantiated, or directly misleading. He has bought into the American Empire’s fallacy that direct action and organization in our communities is unfavorable and that submission to elected authorities is the only way to enact permanent change. But any legitimate critique of the black bloc that he manages to brush up against is quickly obfuscated by basing his conclusions on problematic assumptions and faulty definitions. It should be no surprise that Hedges, a proponent of statist solutions, should slander anarchism as a philosophy. But, for some reason, it was a surprise to many on the Left who follow his work. Here’s why:

Hedges’ Truthdig column titled, simply, “The Greeks Get It” (24 May 2010) showed a man then unafraid to take on rampant fascism, the insidious nature of capitalism, and the heavy hand of the police state.

“Here’s to the Greeks… They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat.”

His recent demonization of the black bloc, therefore, is apparently more of the same “not in my back yard” brand of knee-jerk liberalism. This attitude is all too common among self-described members of the Left who celebrate certain tactics in other parts of the world or other points in history, but seem to place their own context in a place of American exceptionalism.

Rioting against austerity measures in Greece? Shutting down the city in Athens? It’s “liberation”. In Oakland, it’s “criminal” and “a cancer”.

Hedges continues in his article to lavish praise on Greek resistance but warns his readers of continued hardship in America and every other nation where economies are as rotten.

“…the corporate overlords will demand that we too impose draconian controls and cuts … the corporate state, despite this suffering, will continue to plunge us deeper into debt to make war. It will use fear to keep us passive.”

Nothing could be truer. The city of Oakland has long struggled with urban blight and high rates of crime and its residents, especially the roughly 35% of Black people that make up their population, are often the victims of not only violence by outsiders, but by the Oakland Police Department itself.

African Americans living in the East Bay are twice as likely to live in poverty, twice as likely to become victims of violent crime and twice as likely to be unemployed compared to other metropolitan cities on the West Coast. Latest census figures show Black people make up the biggest single ethnic group in Oakland at 27.3%, with white people at 25.9% and Hispanics at 25.4%.

Yet despite having almost the same size populations in the city, white people account for only 16% of OPD vehicle stops, and 6.7% of motorists searched. Black people in Oakland, by contrast, account for a whopping 48% of vehicle stops, and 65.8% of motorists searched. Oakland’s minority and poor populations didn’t begin this war.

Hedges firmly states in his column on Greece that “there has to be a point when even the American public—which still believes the fairy tale that personal will power and positive thinking will lead to success—will realize it has been had.”

Oakland has been had, time and time again. But her residents have risen like lions from their slumber.

Chris Hedges’ straw-dog argument that some “Black Bloc Movement” is responsible for tainting the message of Occupy is either plain ignorance—which is unlikely, given his otherwise informed reporting on American fascism—or intellectual dishonesty. Given the inaccurate assumptions and implications propagated by Hedges, it is necessary to clarify a few terms.

The black bloc is a tactic, not a group nor a movement. Its origins can be found in the Autonomism movement of 1970s Germany, where activists wore heavy black clothing, masks, and helmets to provide protection from the watchful eye of the authoritarian police state. Given the continued illegal actions of the Oakland Police Department—dealings deemed by the government as heinous enough to place the department under the oversight of a federal judge—it is no surprise that the residents of Oakland would want to protect themselves in this manner.

Hedges says that activists using black bloc techniques actively seek to destroy all forms of collective organization and engage in petty vandalism as a means of bringing on “the revolution.” This is a blatant falsehood. He quotes an anarchist writer using the pseudonym “Venomous Butterfly” as an example of how anarchists supposedly seek to obstruct progress, painting her dislike of Zapatista organization as characteristic of the whole of anarchist theory. But if Hedges had done any investigation worthy of being called “journalism,” he would find the following from Venomous Butterfly’s “Open Letter to the Black Bloc.”

“The purpose for wearing black has been anonymity and a visual statement of solidarity, not the formation of an anarchist army. […] As I see it, the questions those involved with the black bloc need to be asking is: how do we carry out this specific method of struggle in such a way that it reflects our aims? […] I reject the sad and desperate slogan, ‘By any means necessary’, in favor of the principle, ‘Only by those means that can create the world I desire, those means that carry it in their very practice as I carry it in my heart.’”

Indeed, activists using black bloc—who are not all anarchists, mind you—realize the strength that lies within mutual aid and collective organization. Without a structure to transfer ideas into action, one is paralyzed and cut off from potential.

Hedges makes a surprising choice in his recent article by interviewing Derrick Jensen, an author who claims to wake up each morning with the heartbreaking decision between continuing to write or blowing up a dam. In his book “Endgame,” Jensen asks: “Do you believe that this culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living?” His next question is: “How would this understanding—that this culture will not voluntarily stop destroying the natural world, eliminating indigenous cultures, exploiting the poor, and killing those who resist—shift our strategy and tactics? The answer? Nobody knows, because we never talk about it: we’re too busy pretending the culture will undergo a magical transformation.” Endgame, he says, is “about that shift in strategy, and in tactics.”

Making a central part of your column opposing violence a discussion with a man who says that “violence can be like sex: a sacramental, beautiful, and sometimes bittersweet interaction” is an interesting selection.

Hedges continues that the “Black Bloc movement is infected with hypermasculinity.” In using such gendered terms, he furthers the notion that people—in particular, males—are inherently violent and damaged beings. He describes the notion of masculinity as one that drives the black bloc to fulfill the “lust that lurks within us to destroy, not only things but human beings.” He ignores the participation of feminists and queers who are often participants in the bloc, rather than choosing to view individuals as members of a homogenous mass. Nonwhite, non-male participants are categorized as victims of “white, masculine aggression,” not recognizing the contributions of marginalized groups against rampant corporatism. There is also no acknowledgement of the fact that the bloc has been used primarily as a defensive technique against the violence of the State and not as an offensive measure against people. Hedges ‘ insipid sexism is not lost on the diverse crowds utilizing this tactic in recent marches, who were found chanting “Racist, sexist, anti-gay / NYPD go away.”

While individual members of the bloc have indeed done damage to multinational banks and other predatory businesses, Hedges, like many members of the mainstream media establishment, ignores the fact that strategic property damage is part and parcel of a long history of nonviolent struggle. From the Suffragettes attempting to gain the right to vote, to environmental activists protecting the rights of nature, property damages inflicts financial costs upon entities that only care about their bottom dollar. Martin Luther King Jr. had this to say about the struggle for human rights against the corrupt system of his time:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Anarchists don’t oppose nonviolent methods of organizing. Hedges is engaging in binary thinking that has him convinced that participants in the black bloc don’t do anything else. He ignores years of alternative structures like Food Not Bombs, hundreds of Infoshops that provide literature, bike collectives, food cooperatives, and groups that provide services for marginalized groups. Anarchists, like many others, believe in a diversity of tactics. It is this diversity that is our strength. We cannot allow slander and fear to separate us; sectarianism is the real cancer of Occupy. The enemies that we face—fascism, authoritarianism, militarism, and the like—are legion in their attacks; our response should be equally multifaceted.

At one point, Hedges blames the black bloc in Oakland for overreaction by law enforcement and frames the police violence as something caused by militant action. He ignores weeks of self-sufficient organizing in Oscar Grant Plaza, complete nonviolence resistance by Scott Olsen—a veteran marine who was critically injured by police projectiles, and months of attacks on other Occupations nationwide.

He says that this police violence will “frighten the wider population away from Occupy” and follows, in his next paragraph, by saying that the explosive rise of the movement was the result of pepperspraying of two young women in New York.

So, his position is that violence by police will both scare people away and win them over to you? This thinking is indicative of the slippery argument put out by ideological pacifists who have no grasp of history. It is typical flaccid liberal double-think; the fault lies not with the ruling class for establishing and directing a police state, nor with the police themselves for acting like thugs and fascists—no, the fault lies solely with protesters who defied authority and therefore brought down the violence of the state. “Look what you made them do.” This is the thinking of the beaten wife, the mindset of the victim. We are not victims of brutality on behalf of the State, but survivors of it.

The article ends with a quote by Derrick Jensen, a man who has written so eloquently of the dangers of industrial civilization and the need for immediate action:

“…we have to go through the process of trying to work with the system and getting screwed. It is only then that we get to move beyond it.”

The abuses of fascist government, capitalist feudalism, and paramilitary police forces have shown us that the system is not broken, but built to serve someone other than us. Hedges was correct when he said they would use fear to keep us passive. We are not afraid anymore.

(This article is reprinted with permission of Zakk Flash and was originally published here.)

 


Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Find more about the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance at: http://www.facebook.com/COBRACollective