Last week, tens of thousands of protesters at #OCCUPYOAKLAND shut down the nation's fifth largest port in a tremendous show of strength for the movement. It was a rare victory. Less well known is that a few hours later, a bit after midnight, a small number of occupiers may have stumbled across the movement's next great tactical breakthrough.
Walking amongst the crowd on its way to the port, a certain strident militancy was obvious in the way that people, some carrying shields, marched proudly forward. The tense mood quickly turned to joyousness once it became clear that the Oakland Police were not going to stand in the way. Multiple layers of human barricades were spontaneously formed within the port by roving musicians, some amplified by bike-powered speakers, whose indie music magically congregated people at tactically key intersections. A line of thirty vets in uniform protected the flank while elsewhere civilians set up fencing to secure the roads. Free water was brought in on #OCCUPYOAKLAND trucks and everywhere food was being shared with new friends. Most remarkable about this revolutionary moment is that it felt so easy.
Throughout the day, there had been talk of escalating #OCCUPY from being a movement to take the squares into a movement to reclaim foreclosed space. The tantalizing idea of turning bank-owned, dormant buildings into radical housing, squats and community spaces floated amongst the encampment. That night, a small group of occupiers took the initiative and reclaimed a nearby building that was once the Traveler's Aid Society, a non-profit that aided the homeless but had closed after cuts to government funding. "We had plans to start using this space as a library, a place for classes and workshops, as well as a dormitory for those with health conditions," they explained in a communique.
The state response was swift and ferocious: "hundreds of police officers, armed to the hilt with bean bag guns, tear gas and flashbang grenades" quickly suppressed the expansion of the movement while the corporate media ensured that the nation would awake to context-less stories of violence. But, as the protesters pointed out, this over-reaction betrays that they may have stumbled across our greatest strength. Isn't it strange that "the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect one landlord's right to earn a few thousand every month... whereas the blockade of the port – an action which caused millions of dollars of losses – met with no resistance"? Why did "the attempt to take one single building, a building that was unused, meet with the most brutal and swift response"?
While #OCCUPYWALLSTREET digs in for the winter at Zuccotti, with twenty military-grade tents costing upwards of $20,000, the rest of the movement is looking with trepidation towards the cold nights ahead. Let's learn from the people of Oakland for they have found a very simple and elegant solution: we move indoors, we reclaim foreclosed space.
Every city in America, even the richest areas, have empty storefronts and houses whose tenants have been evicted while their bank owners keep the spaces unused. Each of these empty buildings is a potential #OCCUPY, a future squat inviting us, waiting for us to come.
In a speech at #OCCUPYWALLSTREET, the philosopher Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak urged the movement to not let mere "survival count as enough of a victory." Her point was simple and profound: we do not win by hanging on. We win by continuing to innovate and escalate our myriad attacks until the beast of consumer-capitalism falls to its knees.