“It’s because of the foundation we laid that every Black and person of color and woman on this council is even here. This used to be an all white, male republican council. And you need to remember that the blood that was shed is what put you here… We, the people, will judge you in the streets… You will be taken out De la Fuente! You will be taken out Larry Reid!” – Former Black Panther Elaine Brown Addresses Oakland City Council Members 2/6/12
Here in the bay area, domination and control is exerted through the established and institutionalized Left who derive their power from the legacy of previous generations’ failed or crushed revolutionary projects. Politically, the far reaching socio-economic gains of the 1960s era of organizing include the formation of non-profits and seats for reformist people from marginalized identity groups in the very power structures that more radical elements within the movement had once fought to take down. Many of these reformist leaders and non-profits have become arbitrators of a successful process of co-optation and pacification of any revolutionary movements or antagonistic moments that have come along since.
Even when it is people of color, women, or queer/LGBT people leading campaigns to improve the lives of marginalized groups, they can do little to quell the ongoing deportations, incarcerations, police shootings, poverty, and a million other miseries that remain at an all time high. In Oakland and other progressive regions, we are reminded of the leaders in decolonized countries who replaced colonial elites only to sell out their own people to the IMF and World Bank.
This is how we can understand the two most recent mayors of Oakland whose combined terms in office have pitted them both against the wave of uprisings in this city that began with the January 7 riots and continued into this year with Occupy Oakland. On one hand we have Ron Dellums who came from a prominent family of Black labor leaders in Oakland. He worked as a civil rights activist during the 1960s and would eventually serve as a progressive congressmen and lobbyist before becoming mayor of Oakland. And on the other hand we have Jean Quan who fought for the creation of an Ethnic Studies program at UC Berkeley in 1969 and would follow Dellums as mayor starting in 2011. Both of these civic leaders are well versed in the language of social justice, diversity and civil rights and they both speak as activists and members of social movements.
The Oscar Grant rebellions drew a line in the sand between those rising up from the streets and the puppets of American capitalism who disguise themselves with a facade of progressive politics, racial diversity and the language of social justice. In addition to city officials, many non-profits exposed their true colors by circulating directives handed down from the OPD with each new development in the Mehserle case.
Not long after the rebellions, a non-profit called Youth Uprising put out a short video called “Violence is Not Justice,” in which youth, police, non-profit leaders, and a District Attorney condemn the uprising. In collaboration with OPD, they also made an anti-sideshow video narrated primarily by a police captain who criminalizes all sideshow activity. The video quickly switches gears to become a promotional piece for the organization. Although they are well funded, non-profits such as Youth Uprising did nothing materially to support young people that were arrested in the rebellions, and instead used their resources to make public and paternalistic denunciations of youth who chose to take to the streets. As people of color, many non-profit leaders used their credibility in communities of color to sell police and media instigated rumors demonizing ‘white anarchist outside agitators’ as responsible for the riots. By following this narrative, in one move they stripped rebellious youth of their agency and ignored the existence of non-white anarchists and militants.