Please Don’t Move to the Bay

This post is an excerpt from a new soon-to-be released anarchy journal titled Archipelago and published by comrades in the Midwest. We repost it from Bay of Rage as part of a critical dialogue over the position of Oakland within the national context of social struggle and the necessity of maintaining a thriving and vicious network of hubs and nodes that spread far beyond the coastal metropoles.

The world isn’t as big as it used to be. Our ability to communicate and travel quickly over distance has created the illusion that place doesn’t matter as it used to. The internet is considered a realm where ideas can meet and intermingle, free of earthly burdens. While the ease of these interactions can be heralded as a breakthrough, what we’ve lost is context. The ways in which crisis unfolds and austerity is felt are not the same everywhere. Our regional differences create a much broader critique of capitalist infrastructure that is, in fact, global in scale. With our ability to disseminate information and material resources over a broad landscape, it could be argued that these diversified points of production are no longer a concern. We disagree.

Over the last few years, the San Francisco Bay Area (“the Bay”) has become a focal point for those wishing to do battle with the state in its varied forms. The clashes that continually transpire there are an inspiration to those fighting in other parts of the country. We sat with rapt attention as the nights and days following Oscar Grant’s murder unfolded. There were collective sighs of joy as BART stations were attacked and looted Nikes took flight down city streets. Frustration and delight filled us as a barrage of tear gas and cudgel blows rained on crowds that were adamant in their refusal to disperse.

The level of action and struggle that now appears commonplace in the Bay is something to be proud of. People have found one another and built the spaces, both real and ethereal, necessary for rebellion to begin to generalize beyond the obvious players. The process started decades ago with a consistent ebb and flow dependent on the proclivities and fashion of the decade. Discerning the exact methodologies or points that have created this current wave is impossible and unnecessary. Something that can be pointed to as one of many reasons has been the constant flux of anarchists from around the country both into and out of the Bay area. This shifting of bodies makes sense, and will continue to happen as long as places like Oakland hold the appeal that they do in this moment. In other words, we don’t blame you for thinking Oakland is hot shit.

At the same time, the situation in Oakland, specifically the Oakland Commune, does not exist in a void. It is not the exception to the inactivity of other cities and towns across the continent. Both the idea that other places are not active, or that Oakland has always been on the initiating end of the spectrum are common fallacies. A focusing of many of our attentions toward the west coast is one of the reasons it was able to create and strengthen itself for such a time. The back and forth between the street fights in Oakland and the solidarity actions that followed, both nationally and internationally, helped galvanize the widespread support that the Commune received. Locally, solidarity actions helped create a culture of responding to police attacks. The imagery of the ground war that unfolded in Oakland pushed many people out of otherwise pacified roles. They became active participants in a broader refusal to obey local law enforcement.

When tear gas ran through the air, and rubber bullets tore open the flesh of our friends it was not just us who called for the moments of solidarity. Occupy encampments in various cities were a large part of the call for passive solidarity marches, vigils, and other fairly detestable points in which fellowship could be shown. We may not agree with the tactics, rhetoric, or really very much of anything to do with these Occupy franchises, but the importance lies in the fact that they were paying attention. The gaze of the country was directed towards this one space, and in a moment it spun outward again. Marches, graffiti, small and large demos, new occupations, vandalism all happened in response to attacks by the OPD. And in that moment, the numbers swelled. All of our abilities to move forward became easier as we loomed larger on the horizon.

Local anarchist intervention into various occupy encampments helped shape the dialogue significantly. That being said, we have all been fairly disappointed by the American fall. Leave it to the Left in this country to take the momentum of the toppling of dictators and the mass occupation of public space and turn it into a symbolic Bank of America protest. The end result of the experiment that constituted taking space near Wall St. would have been much bleaker if anarchists had not positioned themselves at necessary intervals along the way. The intent never needed to be about strengthening the Occupy movement, or lending it support but about changing the terrain. Sometimes that looks quite a bit like disruption and sabotage. In the end, we found out that, for the most part, Occupy was just a hash tag, and the Occupation was, in fact, just a gathering. In the end, anarchists involved in many of the occupations were a primary source of the few redeeming aspects Occupy had to offer. The picture would have been desperately bleak had there not already been fairly well established anarchists dispersed around the country.

The circuitry of Occupations across the country have emerged as a weak, but discernible network of solidarity. One must ignore the pleas for non-violence, the unending consensus discussions, hand signals and wingnuts to get a picture of the more important themes revealing themselves. As anarchists we have poured ourselves into a thin layer, bunching up for certain moments and completely abandoning regions in another, often with little reflection beyond a personal interest in a summit or scene. It is in the spaces where this has been least prevalent, where people have called their cities home for more than 6 months, that the most exciting and interesting moments have transpired. They are minor in scale, but the ability to pull off street actions and building takeovers in places like Atlanta, St. Louis and Minneapolis can certainly be attributed to the influence of anarchists in those cities.

We want to recreate the feeling of reading about an eruption in places like Carrboro, NC and Memphis, TN that makes you yell out damn, even that place! When our presence is overweighted and the west coast starts to tip ever-heavier, we lose that possibility. We lose momentum, that feeling that we are a part of something larger. Not a movement, as we would never call for such. The idea of creating a platform, where our responses to the horrors that this world creates could be held to a standard or rigidly coordinated, is detestable. On the contrary, the possibility of a strategic positioning of ourselves and our resources, so that when a moment becomes hot we may strike, is what we are championing.

This is also not a charge for digging in, for stubbornly refusing to abandon ships as they sink around us. The small towns and lesser cities we occupy are not sacred spaces we dare not desecrate. They are often banal and devoid of the wealth of camaraderie we thrive on. But, this does not mean they are not home, and don’t move beyond the sentimentality that such a title can create. Indeed, they can become the places we love with such a passion that we want to burn them to the ground, where such destruction is the only appropriate conveyance of such passions.

There can be intention within the spaces we inhabit. A constellation of centers that information and bodies pass through, or places that reinforce them materially or politically. It is in fact this strategy that has created lasting focuses of rebellion across the country. The rapture that one feels at the eruption and escalation of revolt as it circles outward can’t be felt if we drain all the smaller cities and towns that dot the political geography. Instead, we must locate the important distinctions that can be made between areas known and areas lesser known and exploit them.

Distinctions between these two ideas do not need to be glaringly obvious, nor do they need to be static. Our towns can become strategic points for re-grouping, especially if there is already a precedent for such a thing. Conversely, the roads we do not tread as often are ripe for the execution of any number of plots. These contradictory stances can happen simultaneously, especially when multiple groupings share the same city. The concepts presented here are not particularly new or breathtaking; they are a reiteration and continuation of the methodologies implied in how many of us already live our lives. The difference in this permutation is intention. The conversations that materialize herein, particularly when discussing how major mobilizations and campaigns can effect our nighttime adventures, are ones worth having. Looking past the next season and into an idea of the future may in fact help create the force necessary to rip this future to shreds.

What if the organic way in which we separate the place where we play from where we work was more recognized? What if the tendencies we fall into, traveling to a certain city to get our kicks, while shopping and printing and eating big dinners together in another, had a greater level of intention? The last four years have shown that the war machine is possible, that we can care for each other and bandage the wounds that allow us to keep fighting, that we can procure the material resources necessary to move onto the next locale. The terrain is ever changing, the necessity we see before us is to become more equipped to change with it. More friends are going to be stolen from us, more beaten and bloodied. The edifices that hold them, that house their captors and those willing to tear open their flesh deserve our attention. We are going to lose this war, but the battles fought from here until then are open to all that wish to fight.