Who Is Oakland: Anti-Oppression Activism, the Politics of Safety, and State Co-optation

Categories: Discussion, Open Mic, Reflections


Who Is Oakland: Anti-Oppression Activism, the Politics of Safety, and State Co-optation


Read the full pamphlet here (10k words). Synopsis below:

This pamphlet – written by a group of people of color, women, and queers – is offered in deep solidarity with anyone committed to ending oppression and exploitation materially. It is a critique of dominant forms of identity-based activism in the Bay Area and beyond, from privilege theory to contemporary interpretations of the legacy of decolonization and national liberation struggles. The pamphlet addresses the institutional struggle over the meaning of antiracist politics, and in particular the impact of nonprofit organizations on shaping the rhetoric and priorities of social justice activism. We argue that prevailing discourses of personal privilege and political representation in fact minimize and misrepresent the severity and structural character of the violence and material deprivation marginalized demographics face. White supremacy, according to this politics, is primarily a psychological attitude which individuals can simply choose to discard instead of a material infrastructure which reproduces race at key sites across society – from racially segmented labor markets to the militarization of the southern border.

Time and again in the Bay Area we have seen how any attempt by interracial coalitions to disrupt the functioning of these sites where race, gender, and sexuality are reproduced has often been deemed racist, sexist, ableist, or heteronormative because it places vulnerable marginalized communities in danger – communities which require the protection of the state, or the benevolence of the more powerful and privileged. Instead, what we call a politics of safety prefers rituals of cultural affirmation, reaffirms stereotypes of deserving victimhood, and stages spectacles of conversion where and varieties of individual privilege are acknowledged and disavowed. This pamphlet argues that this politics has proven time and again to be materially ineffective at best and at worst an apology for state and institutional power.

Demanding increased cultural sensitivity or recognition from the very institutions which govern us, and the individuals and groups who are politically committed to viewing us as fundamentally inhuman, has utterly failed to stop a rising tide of bigotry and violence in an age of deep austerity. The pamphlet argues that our power lies instead in more effective practical tactics to disrupt, delegitimize, and dismantle these systems of domination.

The same underlying political logic behind the demand for increased “representation” in state/government/economic hierarchies is invoked by these institutions in order to justify managing dissent through force or coercion. Violent gendered and racist attacks on people are both concealed and enabled by a liberal anti-sexist and antiracist discourse of political representation promoted by state, nonprofit, and philanthropic institutions. The limits of dominant forms of anti-oppression activism are nowhere more clearly on display than in the persistent misrepresentations of a space which brought many of us together: Occupy Oakland.

We hear endless nostalgic appeals to civil disobedience, deescalation, and police-enforced pacifism, often from 1960s-era activists who have been seamlessly absorbed into positions of power within municipal, state, federal, academic, and nonprofit institutions. Free speech is “allowed” or “facilitated” by the state and used to justify continued beatings, surveillance, and paramilitary raids of protests across the country. Our pamphlet argues that the history and legacy of struggles teaches us that, in stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many social justice nonprofits and activists in the Bay Area today, struggle cannot but put us in danger and increase our vulnerability to violent repression. The moment our struggle is even slightly effective, we are in danger. The choice is not between danger and safety, but between the uncertain dangers of revolt and the certainty of continued violence, deprivation, and death. There is no middle ground.

Table of Contents:

I. The Non-Negotiable Necessity of Autonomous Organizing

II. Institutional Struggles Over the Meaning of Anti-Oppression Politics

a. On the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC), Again

b. Politicians and Police Who Are “Just Like Us”

c. Anticapitalism and the Material Reproduction of “Race” and “Gender”

d. The Racialization of Rape and the Erasure of Sexual Violence

III. The Limits of Contemporary Anti-Oppression Theory and Practice

a. Identity is not Solidarity

b. Protecting Vulnerable Communities of Color and “Our” Women and Children: The Endangered Species Theory of Minority Populations and Patriarchal White Conservationism

c. On Nonprofit Certified “White Allies” and Privilege Theory

IV. Occupy Oakland as Example

a. Occupy Oakland, “Outside Agitators,” and “White Occupy”

b. The Erasure of People of Color From Occupy Oakland

V. Conclusion: Recuperating Decolonization and National Liberation Struggles; or, Revolution is Radically Unsafe

Read the full pamphlet here (10k words).

Some of Occupy Oakland’s “White Anarchist Outside Agitators”


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