Dear Occupy Oakland: Declare Victory, Cut Your Losses, and Go Home

I kinda hate to say it. But only kinda.

Occupy Oakland should go home now.

With the general strike on Wednesday you made a huge point. Not as big as it could have been, but still huge. Very important. But with the follow-up riot, the second in only a few days, Occupy Oakland proved without a doubt that it cannot control its violent elements. A little law-breaking leads to a lot of law breaking, at least in Oakland.

The solution is easy.  Declare victory and disperse the camp.You shut down the city with a (relatively) peaceful general strike. Your demonstrated your power. Good for you.

Also good for you is that the rioters are not identified as intrinsically a part of you, which is very important. However, if these unseemly elements keep acting as they do, they will become more and more identified with the movement. And then you will incur loss of the moral high ground (insofar as you have it in the eyes of some, as of now).

The violent element requires your presence in order to have any shred of legitimacy. The camp’s unlawfulness makes the rioter’s unlawfulness possible. This is no minor point, it is essential. OO is indirectly at fault for both riots, it is a material (unintended) cooperation in evil. And if it becomes foreseeable that future riots may occur due to OO, the the cooperation starts to approach formal (intended). And then you lose the moral high ground, and you lose big time in the eyes of the public. So cut your losses now.

I know you have no hierarchy so that can’t actually be done with any kind of coordination. I’m just presenting this as one voice. But as a person who studies human action, good and bad (aka ethics), that’s my take on it.

You have demonstrated both your power and your weakness. Your power in in popular support.  Your weakness is in your uncontrolled elements; elements which you cannot control because in order to control them you need police cooperation, which is precisely what you cannot have because you are already breaking the law, thus denying yourself your only solution.

So comply with the city and disperse. Then you can cooperate with the police and achieve your solution, maintaining the moral high ground and ridding yourself of the bad element which may destroy you. You can still make your point as a cooperative occupation, say, during the day or whatever you can agree to with the city.

But you cannot remain breaking the law. That opens you up to being named culpable for indirect causation of serious damage to the city in the eyes of the public.

Other cities need not do this, this is an Oakland-specific problem and solution. Unfortunately, circumstances, I think, necessitate this. You risk the OWS movement if you continue to facilitate major law-breaking by your minor law-breaking. Its a bad break, but you are at a point of power now (and soon may no longer be), so now is the time to declare victory and go home.

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5 responses to “Dear Occupy Oakland: Declare Victory, Cut Your Losses, and Go Home

  • Braden

    I think you need to be a little more careful about the distinction between morality and law. Vandalism and violence are problems, and I agree with your assessment, but I do believe there exists the possibility of immoral laws.

  • Brian Green

    Braden, could you be more specific? What exactly are you referring to? I’ve written on immoral laws before here
    https://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/martin-luther-king-ethics-and-the-law/
    and other places too, so it’s not like I’m unaware of the possibility. But I think I am missing your point. What do you have in mind?

  • Braden

    Just the first time I read it, certain sentences seem to conflate the two, but after reading it a few more times I don’t get that impression as much.

    I know you are aware of the distinction, and hesitated to bring it up at all. I simply meant that I felt you might be open to that critique if this post is all people know about you.

    It may be because you will often speak of violence in one sentence and then in the next talk about breaking laws. It is clear that’s the kind of law breaking that is the problem and what you are trying to address, but for example in the next to last paragraph the two sentences are closely related, but their separation leaves some room for interpretation.

    I realize I’m being real nit-picky; it wasn’t meant to be a substantive critique.

  • Brian Green

    Ah, I see. Let me try to tease apart the legal/moral conundrum a bit, as I see it…

    I see no problem with most of the occupy protests, this is an Oakland specific problem. Why? Circumstances have turned against them because a bad element has latched on to their occupation. It was illegal, but not immoral, to camp in Frank Ogawa plaza at the start of this demonstration. Speaking in terms of consequences, the positive effect of drawing attention to injustice I think outweighed the negative effect of breaking a minor law.

    Then things got a little out of hand on both the protesters and city’s sides. An element with a stronger interest in breaking the law for its own sake moved in. Now the good effect of calling attention to injustice is being drowned out and the negative effect of breaking a minor law has spun out of control, effectively creating a part of Oakland which is not under police control (not that there aren’t other parts of Oakland that have been like that for a long time). Consequences balance out differently now.

    Human laws are always subject to critique by natural or divine law. At the start of OO, there was a justifiable critique of human law going on. Now there is not, justifiability has been lost due to the increase in negative consequences. The point is not to reject all human laws, only the unjust ones. From a natural or divine law perspective, what began as a good protest turned against its own justifications by doing evil, i.e. itself breaking natural and divine law (damaging property, a form of theft). Doing evil that good may come… the undoing of many…

  • Katia

    First, thank you for your thoughts.

    At the risk of sounding harsh, I would like to first point out the insensitivity of the statement: “cut your losses and go home” and what, “find a job?” Many people do not have homes or jobs to return to. Problems of homelessness, joblessness, and poverty are especially acute in Oakland and we finally have an organized, national turned international movement to lay bare these social ills in a way to which politicians are finally listening.
    Second, any time you have occupations of public space, there is going to be some violence that occurs (just like living in a city in general) and I think most people are able to recognize that such violence is not a tactic that most OWS protesters embrace (as witnessed, as you point out, in other cities). Those who do become violent and put others in harms way should be dealt with appropriately, but what about those who are protesting non-violently and are receiving brutal treatment by the police as well? Why is it the responsibility of the peaceful protesters to “go home” and not the police department to better train their officers to deal with both types of situations in appropriate manners? I think that the violence is unfortunate; however, the blame always seems to fall on those with the least amount of power and who have taken to the streets because other forms of private advocacy (such as letter writing to congress) have proven ineffective.
    I say, occupy-on protesters, let your voices continue to be heard in peaceful ways, and do your best to distance yourself from any unfortunate violence caused by a few.

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