¡General Strike! Oakland Walks

Today. A General Strike. Oakland will become liberated territory. I will be in Oakland with many many people. I read a great post this morning on what a “General Strike” actually means. The post draws on Walter Benjamin and Rosa Luxemburg and makes plainly evident why the General Strike is a perfect form of “pure means” for #Occupy in light of the movement’s demands.

Demands: What demands? As we’ve said, “Our only demand is that you join us.” But actually, the Occupations around the world have a million demands. So many demands, in fact, that they don’t become “demands” at all, and this is what, to this point, has kept the momentum in our favor and guarded against co-optation. Having so many demands that you “don’t have any” means that #Occupy can be a space of convergence for a multitude of people and groups. This fluidity of motion is what movements are all about. As Raúl Zibechi writes, “What are social movements about, if not precisely that? Movement.”

Organizing: This does NOT mean that there is no organizing. I have one comrade who will not shut up about how stupid the protests are because of how little actual community (door-to-door) organizing they’re doing; unless this happens, says my friend, the Occupations are a waste of time. I disagree. Oakland is an interesting case because local community groups that are ALREADY organized have been actively participating. It’s also worth asking: How many community organizers do you think #Occupy has actually produced and/or radicalized? Two, three, muchos? I’d venture on the muchos.

Many of my friends spent the entire week since the General Strike was called doing exactly this type of door-to-door pavement work.  My friend who works in China woke up at 5am yesterday and went to Oakland’s China Town to do exactly what my other friend says is not happening. Posters and flyers were made in Mandarin and Spanish, and people have been hitting the streets in these communities all week (and not only this week). Yes, social movements are about movement. The post mentioned above has interesting things to say about spontaneity. I have this to say to my grouchy friend: #Occupy is a qualitatively different animal from, say, the Anti-Nukes movement, which occupied Wall St. in 1979. This isn’t and can’t be a singly-oriented movement, so it can’t be organized that way.

Honestly, I’m not sure what “organizing” would look like, other than the organization of accumulated historical-geographical connections. None of what’s happening in Oakland would look the way it does without the mobilizations that occurred when Oscar Grant was shot by police. It wouldn’t look the way it does without the decades of organizing in California against police brutality, against the prison system, and what these contemporary movements have to with other “Black, Brown, Yellow and Left” radical groups from the ’60s. Today’s General Strike would not look the way it does without the Budget Cut protests and organizing that’s been going on for a few years now, particularly at UC Berkeley. It wouldn’t look the way it does without Lower Manhattan, without London “Riots,” without Tahrir Square, without the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi.

“Success”: Since a General Strike does not make demands, then “success” stops being a finality. Many people wonder whether #Occupy can have a “real” impact. I think it already has. These effects might be subterranean and slightly perceptible, but the undercurrents are there. Plus, it’s already moved the goalpost of public debate, and chipped at the hegemony of “the inevitable.” That’s how we change our political culture and expand the scope of our Moral Economy.

It’s like what Argentine filmmaker, Fernando Birri, once said about “utopia” (as told by Eduardo Galeano). The filmmaker was asked by a student, “What is ‘utopia’ for?”

“I ask myself this question every morning,” Birri began. “Because utopia is like the horizon. You walk two or ten steps forward and it is still two or ten steps further away. Utopia is the same. You walk towards it, but it still gets further away. So what is utopia for? I think it is for this; it is for walking.”

Today, Oakland is walking. Join us!

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