The Oakland Commune
As a site of resistance, “Wall Street” is a metonym for a system, a transnational apparatus of capital and political oligarchy. We don’t have to get too specific, because we all know what we mean when we say “Wall Street” (even if we don’t agree on what that thing actually is). And so while that particular part of Lower Manhattan might be a focal point of a gigantic process of accumulation and dispossession, “Wall Street” is still just a concrete symbol for that larger and much less tangible process. The fact that so much financial work is actually done elsewhere is not that important; to “Occupy Wall Street” is to attack and de-legitimize the thing it symbolizes, the ordering structure that builds and rebuilds the world around us, that the rest of us have no choice but to inhabit and endure.
This is why it has meant something very different, from the beginning, to “Occupy Oakland.” In a just world—in the world the occupiers are trying to usher into existence—there might be no such thing as “Wall Street” at all, and certainly not in its current form. But Oakland is not a center of finance and power or a locus of political privilege. There is a “here” here. No one really lives in Wall Street, but those who “Occupy Oakland” do so because they already did. As a result, when we “Occupy Oakland,” we are engaged much less in a symbolic protest against “the banks” or “the 1%”—political actions which are given their shape by the political terrain of protesting abstractions—and much more in a very concrete struggle for a right to the city.
After all, the police who dispersed occupiers with tear gas were only doing the sort of thing they had long been accustomed to doing to the poor, transient, and/or communities of color that make up a great majority of Oakland’s humanity. They used inhuman means of regulating human bodies—the declaration of “unlawful assembly”—because the city is accustomed to having the power to do so, the effective right to assemble and disassemble Oakland as they see fit. It’s that power that’s being contested. When a body calling itself the Oakland Commune renames the front yard of city hall after a police shooting victim, sets out to feed and house anyone who stands in line, and refuses to allow the state’s purveyors of violence to police them, the challenge is quite direct and legible, a peaceful revolution…
Read the rest of my “dispatch” at Possible Futures.