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.

Statement from a Resister

Statement From A Resister – Leah-Lynn Plante from Because We Must on Vimeo.

On the morning of July 25th, 2012, my life was turned upside down in a matter of hours. FBI agents from around Washington and Oregon and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents from Washington busted down the front door of my house with a battering ram, handcuffed my house mates and me at gunpoint, and held us hostage in our backyard while they read us a search warrant and ransacked our home. They said it was in connection to May Day vandalism that occurred in Seattle, Washington earlier this year.

However, we suspected that this was not really about broken windows. As if they had taken pointers from Orwell’s 1984, they took books, artwork and other various literature as “evidence” as well as many other personal belongings even though they seemed to know that nobody there was even in Seattle on May Day. While we know that knowledge is powerful, we suspected that nobody used rolled up copies of the Stumptown Wobbly to commit property damage. We saw this for what it was. They are trying to investigate anarchists and persecute them for their beliefs. This is a fishing expedition. This is a witch hunt. Since then, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, we have learned that this Grand jury was convened on March 2nd, 2012, two months before the May Day vandalism even took place.

I was served a subpoena to testify before a Grand Jury on August 2nd, a week later. I hastily packed my life up into boxes, got rid of almost all of my personal belongings in preparation of incarceration. I was dismissed that day after refusing to testify and re-subpoenaed for August 30th, which was pushed back to September 13th. In that time I did a lot of self care, got my affairs in order and got advice from other people who have either resisted Grand Juries, gone to prison or both. I returned to the Grand Jury on September 13th where I was granted immunity. When you are granted immunity, you lose your right to remain silent and can be thrown into prison for civil contempt. Between consulting with my attorney and an hour long recess, I narrowly avoided a contempt hearing simply because they ran out of time. I was dismissed and was told I would receive my 4th subpoena. I walked out of the courthouse just in time to witness Matthew Kyle Duran, my fellow resister, being taken away to prison in a police van. It broke my heart to watch them kidnap an amazing and strong person and take him away from his friends and loved ones. Katherine “Kteeo” Olejnik has met a similar fate for refusing to testify on September 27th. Right now, Matt and Kteeo are both sitting in prison cells for doing nothing but remaining silent. I have nothing but love and admiration for them both and I know that thousands of others feel the same. On the drive home that night my brain felt like it was short circuiting. A few days later, I received notice that my next subpoena was for October 10th. They also notified my lawyer that they were preparing for a contempt hearing.

Court dates aside, my life has been a roller coaster. Thanks to unrelated events, I have suffered with severe depression and PTSD for many years. These are now much worse and new things trigger me. For a while after the raid, I was in a constant state of panic and I could barely eat. Every time someone knocked on the door, every time I heard any sort of loud sound in my house, my heart sank and I thought “they’ve come for me.” To the day of this writing, I haven’t slept a full night since that cold July morning thanks to nausea inducing anxiety that wakes me up between 4:00 and 7:00 every single morning. After a couple months, the initial panic has faded into grim acceptance. Despite my mental health issues, I never once considered co-operation and never would. It is against everything I believe in. On my right arm I have a tattoo reading “strive to survive causing least suffering possible.” This is something I live by every single day and will continue to live by whether I am in a cage or not.

I cannot express in words how grateful I am to all those who have shown us support and solidarity, especially our friends, partners and loved ones. We will all get through this together. I know I am a broken record with the following sentiment, but I feel like it’s worth repeating. They want us to feel isolated, alone and scared. I know that even though Kteeo has been held in what is essentially solitary confinement, she does not feel alone. I know that Matt does not feel alone. I know that I will not feel alone. When they try to mercilessly gut communities, we do not scatter, we grow stronger, we thrive. I view this State repression like this: The State thinks it is a black hole that can destroy whatever it wants. In reality, it is much more like a stellar nursery, wherein it unintentionally creates new, strong anarchist stars.

I do not look forward to what inevitably awaits me today, but I accept it. I ask that people continue to support us throughout this process by writing us letters, sending us books, donating and spreading awareness.

My convictions are unwavering and will not be shaken by their harassment. Today is October 10th, 2012 and I am ready to go to prison.

Love and solidarity to all those who resist,
Forever in silence.

Leah-Lynn Plante

MACAO

On May 5th a group of “artists, curators, critics, guard room, graphic designers, performers, actors, dancers, musicians, writers, journalists, art teachers, students, and everybody who works in the field of art and culture” occupied the Galfa Tower (Torre Galfa) skyscraper in the heart of Milan, Italy. We have been in touch with members involved in the occupation and they will be sharing things here on OE in English in the coming weeks. Below please find their first press release.

*****

We are glad to declare the opening of MACAO, the new arts centre in Milan, a great experiment in building with a bottom up approach a space where to produce art and culture. A place where artists and citizens can gather together in order to invent a new system of rules for a common and participatory management which, in an autonomous way, will redefine time and priorities of their work and allow them to experiment new common languages.

We are artists, curators, critics, guard room, graphic designers, performers, actors, dancers, musicians, writers, journalists, art teachers, students, and everybody who works in the field of art and culture. We’ve been mobilizing for one year, meeting in assemblies where to discuss our situation as precarious workers in the fields of artistic production, entertainment, media, entertainment industry, festivals and the so-called economy of the event. A world increasingly hostage of the finance that exploits and absorbs the primary task of culture, which is being an economy of sharing.

We represent a large share of the workforce of this city that has always been an outpost of advanced service sector. We are the multitude of workers of the creative industries that too often has to submit to humiliating conditions to access income, with no protection and no coverage in terms of welfare and not even being considered as proper interlocutors for the current labor reform, all focused on the instrumental debate over the article 18. We were born precarious, we are the pulse of the future economy, and we will not continue to accommodate exploitation mechanisms and loss redistribution.

We open MACAO in order to let the culture strongly regain a piece of Milan, in response to a story that too often has seen the city ravaged by public procurement professionals, unscrupulous building permits, in a neo-liberal logic that has always humiliated the inhabitants and pursued a single goal: the profit of few excluding the many.

Since last spring, many citizens, artists and cultural workers have given life to new experiences through practices of occupation of public and private abandoned spaces. Such experiences are proving to last in time, by taking care of culture, territories, work, new forms of economy and new forms of collective intelligence. The artistic production must therefore be entirely rethought, we must take this time and this right in a serious and radical way, directly taking care of what is ours. Macao is this, a space for everyone, that must become an active laboratory where art, entertainment, culture, education and information workers are invited. Here artists, intellectuals, lawyers, constitutionalists, activists, writers, film makers, philosophers, economists, architects and urban planners, neighbourhood and city inhabitants should take the time to build a social, common and cooperative dimension.

We have a lot of work to do, we must transform these words into real practices, more and more constituent and effective, in order to build alternative models to those in which we live, and everything depends on us. We should not take anything for granted, producing competent inquiries, debates, analysis and confrontations concerning all the territories that produce inequality and expropriation of value, not to mention the new forms into which the capitalist ideology is disguising. We need to have joy and humour to transform this commitment into a human, collective and liberated moment. We should take care of this space so that it can host everyone. It is fundamental that in this space art and communication cease to be ends in themselves. On the opposite, they must explode and find their motivations in this fight, building new imaginaries and bringing into light the world that we see. Viva Macao and keep up the good work!

We fought alongside and within this network: Lavoratori dell’arte, Cinema Palazzo in Rome, Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome, Sale Docks in Venice, Teatro Coppola in Catania, L’Asilo della Creatività e della Conoscenza in Naples, and Teatro Garibaldi Aperto in Palermo.

*****

For more information, please visit their Facebook page where they have been posting updates and more.

 

May Day 2012 – A Declaration of Solidarity from Occupy Oklahoma

WHEREAS, May 1st is officially recognized worldwide as International Workers’ Day, a holiday originating in response to the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago, where workers were fighting for the eight hour workday;

WHEREAS, the people of the world have risen against economic inequality, social domination, financial exploitation, government corruption, and iron-fisted authoritarianism in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Greece, and elsewhere;

WHEREAS, this working class movement has observed unchecked corporate power redefining the natural world as a body of resources to be exploited to serve their purposes and interests;

WHEREAS, the physical and economic assault of governments worldwide upon their peoples constitutes an attack on the principles of self-determination and democracy;

WHEREAS, corporate interests and the politicians they control continue to spread aggression in Washington DC, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, and multitudinous countries of the world;

WHEREAS, our solidarity with the workers of the world constitutes our inalienable right to freedom of association;

WHEREAS, a call is growing for an international mass action to honor the struggles and sacrifices of working peoples around the world;

WHEREAS, isolated efforts at reform have failed to stem the growing tide of corporate power and the harm it causes to the working class;

WHEREAS, we recognize in the General Strike a powerful tool in the battle for democracy, a furtherance of social and economic conditions, and the provisions of education and healthcare;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly of Occupy Oklahoma endorses the General Strike of May Day 2012, including work stoppages, street demonstrations, sick-outs, and other solidarity actions;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly of Occupy Oklahoma urges its constituent members to stand in solidarity in a “Day without Workers,” supporting a boycott of shopping, work, and school-related activities as part of May Day observances.

This resolution has been endorsed by:


N©!2012

The author, Zakk Flash, humbly puts this missive and all its contents at the disposal of those who, in good faith, might read, circulate, plagiarize, revise, and otherwise make use of them in the course of making the world a better place.

Possession, reproduction, transmission, excerpting, introduction as evidence in court and all other applications by any corporation, government body, security organization, or similar party of evil intent are strictly prohibited and punishable under natural law.

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.