As we prepare for sentencing in the case of Johannes Mehserle, we must also prepare to radically shift our strategic orientation, or risk becoming obsolete. Our objectives, our strategies, our relations with the community: all must change or the murder of Oscar Grant will become just another police murder, and our street rebellions “just another riot.”
The Oakland Assembly for Justice for Oscar Grant (OA) was created with the intention of being a space for radical democracy and communal struggle towards Justice for Oscar Grant, his family, and the Oakland community. Our goal when we put out the call for the first meeting of the Assembly was to form a body that could seek community justice for Oscar Grant as well as form a space outside of the state, non-profit, and liberal institutions.
Our thinking was simple: direct democracy instead of liberal leaders, community justice instead of white justice, and a radical movement instead of toothless reformism. Our analysis has been rooted in a recognition that our power lies in the streets, not in City Hall or the Department of Justice; in demanding justice and fighting for it rather than asking nicely. Our strategy has never been one of provoking conflict or putting others at risk, but instead one of recognizing the presence of justified anger, and attempting to transform that anger into radical systemic change. As Oscar’s family has insisted all along: this goes beyond Oscar.
During the past year, the Assembly has called for or supported a number of actions and events with both limited victories and limited defeats. We would like to remind folks of one important victory: the July 8th event on the day of the verdict that the Assembly called for, organized, and held down. Some have called this a defeat because those arrested were mostly people of color, but should we really expect anything different from the racist state? To claim that July 8th was a defeat because the police used it as an opportunity to target people of color is like claiming that the Black Panthers were a failure because the state chose to destroy them.
Rather than a defeat, we saw this day as a partial victory that expressed the spontaneous rebelliousness of a community that knows the difference between involuntary manslaughter and 2nd degree murder.
During this period, we feel that the OA has functioned as a liberated oasis which has encouraged the participation of queer and trans folks as well as woman and people of color but much more needs to be done on this front.
Taking Stock of the Present
It is in light of past victories and defeats that we must assess the present moment, which we see as a turning point in the Assembly.
We can either change or perish. We must move beyond the specific case of Oscar Grant as well as beyond merely being a space where organizers come together. In other words, our movement must broaden its scope to attack police violence more generally while deepening its organic relationship with the community.
No one group ‘owns’ the Assembly. It does not belong to us, or to anyone else for that matter. It has to belong to itself and make its own way. Raider Nation Collective has tried to set an example when it comes to moderating, facilitating, and putting forth proposals; but we need to be clear that we want this to be different: we want more trained facilitators, we want more coherent and principled discussion and debate over email and in person, and we want more prepared participation, with people bringing well-formulated proposals to Assembly meetings.
Furthermore, as an institution of popular, neighborhood power, the Assembly will not survive if it does not deepen its relationship with the community, and specifically young people of color. This is why we are in full agreement with Hannibal’s critique of the Assembly’s lack of young members of color and in particular young Black men. It is one of our main criticisms as well. This is why we, along with the vast majority of people in the Assembly meeting on July 15, 2010 voted for an outreach committee headed by Hannibal and other young Black men that would focus on bringing in more ‘Oscar Grants’ into the assembly. This is not your ordinary “outreach” committee, and should not be diverted toward labor outreach or any other task that departs from this primary demand.
For us, ‘Justice for Oscar Grant’ means freedom from police oppression for all people of color in Oakland but most specifically those young Black and Latino men who are disproportionately subjected to the violence of the police.
In the spirit of pushing forward within the OA, we will conclude by sketching out our vision for the coming months. Specific proposals are forthcoming.
Given our approach to understanding the power of the state and its operations, Raider Nation Collective does not believe that asking for concessions is the way forward. Frederick Douglass’ adage, “power concedes nothing without a demand” remains incomplete unless we remember the phrase which Douglass added to it, and to which his life was a living testament: “without a struggle, there can be no progress.” As a result, we do not believe that our energies are best spent in letter-writing campaigns which pressure federal intervention from the Department of Justice, or in popular justice tribunals which attempt to bring the moral weight of the United Nations to bear on policing in the United States. We would rather organize to fight than to ask nicely.
But here is what is important: within the Oakland Assembly, these differing strategies and tactics are not conflicting. We can and must move forward together with joint work. In that spirit, we will collaborate as much as possible with others in the months that come and play a supporting role at the ILWU event scheduled for October 23rd. However, we will be focusing our energies on plans for a Day of Action proposed for November 5th, the day of Johannes Mehserle’s sentencing. We hope that this day will bring together the anger that we feel at Oscar Grant’s murder (and those others killed before and after him) with the anger we feel toward the racist violence enshrined in Arizona’s SB1070 and the class conflict inherent in the state budget cuts. We hope, in short, that November 5th will be an expression of the same Black-Brown unity that the Oakland Assembly fights to build.
We hope November 5th will be a momentous day of unified struggles, of walkouts, of strikes, and a show of righteous force that will make the powers that be tremble. We have found our strength—now is the time to use it.