A letter to the community
As the smoke from May Day clears, we hear many people asking, why? Why did what happened happen? We also hear many people throwing around baseless accusations and assumptions: it was a bunch of angry white men, there was no message, they weren’t really anarchists, it was just mindless vandalism. We are writing this to address some of this and to counter the narrative of the police, business owners, and main stream media. We cannot speak for everyone there, but as some participants we can speak for ourselves.
We also want to stress that critiques of the black bloc and what we as anarchists do is good and valuable. The problem is when these critiques are A) based solely on the narrative of the state, the police, business owners, and the like. They’re going to lie about us because as anarchists we are fundamentally opposed to the existence of hierarchies like the state, the violent enforcers of the social order known as the police, bosses, landlords, business owners, and all manner of capitalists – big or small, local, national, international, or intergalactic; and B) based on baseless accusations like “it was all mindless vandalism” or “a bunch of angry white men”, points we will address later; and C) not done in good faith, coming from a place of solidarity and wanting us to sharpen our theory and be more strategic and imaginative in our actions and communications, but instead coming from a place of misunderstanding, purposeful ignorance, and tearing us down in order to build up yourself.
With that out of the way, let’s begin with the long-standing myth of the white anarchist. The crowd that assembled on May Day was far from all white or male. People of all different ages, races, and genders – and some who cast aside gender altogether – assembled to celebrate May Day in the streets. It’s very easy to levy the charge of being all men and all white on a group using a tactic meant for anonymity against police surveillance and repression, and perhaps that speaks to it working if a group like the one that assembled can be cast as all male and all white. But on another level, this charge speaks to a failing in social justice discourses that says people who are white or who are male are not ever to go on the attack, never to wield violence against the system that wields an unimaginable amount of violence against us every day – from the violence of working our lives away for scraps to try and pay for the bare necessities of life to the police that enforce this system to the courts and prison system, to the violence enforced by capitalism, racism, hetero-patriarchy, settler-colonialism. The position that people who are white or male are to never levy violence against these systems and their defenders, even next to people of color who do, is mind-boggling and a recipe for constant failure.
The next point we’d like to address is the claim that there was no message, that it was just mindless vandalism. To address this in its full, we need a short history lesson about the origins of May Day. May Day has been a special day for Anarchists for over 150 years, starting with the wrongful execution of eight Anarchists accused of throwing the bomb that kicked off the Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886 in which four people and seven cops were killed, and many more wounded. From there on out, it became a day to commemorate our fallen and to strike against the police, the state, and capitalism.
May Day has historically been celebrated by anarchists, communists, and socialists around the world since then with strikes, walk-outs, occupations, and riots. The main message of the day was that we are not protesters not activists; we are revolutionary anarchists against hierarchies, capitalism, the state, the police, white supremacy, settler-colonialism, antisemitism, hetero-patriarchy, uncompromisingly against all forms of oppression and hierarchy. We are not asking for reform, we are not asking anything from our enemies because the only things we want—total freedom for all peoples—they cannot grant. We carry out our critiques in action; we pelt the police with rocks to declare they are not welcome or wanted, we smash the windows of banks and businesses to declare we want a world without bosses or capitalism. We occupy the train tracks to signify our opposition to the port and its perpetuation of ecocidal resource extraction and fossil fuel industries.
As for the businesses which were targeted, US Bank, Goodwill Boutique, and Starbucks could hardly be called local. The only place that could be called local, Olympia Federal Savings, enjoys evicting homeless people who are completely out of the way and not bothering anybody from their property. On that note of small businesses, we wish to offer the words from the zine Smashed Up: Young Service Workers on the Sanctity of Small Businesses
“The defense of small businesses in the Bay Area relies on a misplaced liberal morality which contrasts “good” local businesses and “evil” corporate ones. This dichotomy has become dogma for many people, who amount their consumer choices to brave political acts. Feel bad about sweat shops? Purchase your next gift at a local boutique! Recession got you down? Shovel dollars into your local economy and dad just might get his job back. But are local businesses actually better for the majority of us?
The dominant image of small businesses as Mom and Pop stores run by elderly couples who work long hours as a labor of love is not reflected in the local economy. The reality is closer to a young, wealthy owner who does not work in their own store but instead employs a small group of wage laborers.
And since small businesses don’t have the profit margins of large corporations, they often rely on sweatshop discipline and poverty wages to make ends meet. Most anyone who has worked in the industry can attest to a repressive atmosphere: workers are not allowed on breaks, are scolded for talking to co-workers and punished for showing up five minutes late. Furthermore, even service workers who make tips frequently earn below a living wage and are subjected to unpredictable work schedules that necessitate finding a second or third job. When these practices happen at large corporate chains, they become the themes of documentaries, muckraking articles in the liberal press, and bumper sticker slogans. But when they’re used by local businesses, they’re written off as necessary evils.
In higher-end establishments, employers frequently justify poor treatment by trying to instill pride and artistic ambitions in their employees; workers are all but required to do extra learning, research, and labor outside of the workday to satisfy the employers’ need to serve the coolest new cocktail or coffee bean. At a recent mandatory meeting for an East Bay-based organic catering company, workers were told by the CEO: “This is not a job; it’s a craft. You are all artists, and you should treat your job as such. If you don’t, you won’t succeed in this company.” What he was saying was that if you do not invest hours off the clock in becoming a more efficient and valuable worker, we won’t employ you.
By romanticizing small businesses like the hip restaurants, cafes and bars currently springing up all over Oakland, we gloss over the experiences of the low wage workers who make them possible. When compared to the horrendous treatment that service workers must endure, the shattering or spray-painting of a few windows does not even the score.
In a city that is being rapidly gentrified, the attack against property is an action which attacks gentrification. We are rapidly being drowned in the rising rents of Olympia, and homeless people, queer and trans people, and people of color are being increasingly harassed by the police in an effort to ‘clean up’ the city’s image to bring wealthy investors to create niche shops that are full of over-priced bullshit that most of us can’t even afford.
All the while, it is the voice of the business owners that is constantly hailed as the voice of ‘the community’ when in reality they are nothing more than a wealthy, land owning majority that doesn’t give a shit about poor and houseless people. The city, the developers, and the business owners have shown themselves to be completely accountable and act like there is real community involvement in the development of Olympia when in reality they just put together bullshit surveys and ‘community’ meetings where we are told about predetermined choices, where if we’re lucky we can vote on things we had no power in choosing. If we’re not happy with that, we can go to city council meetings where we can voice our displeasure that gets logged in meeting minutes and filed away, never to be looked at or thought about again.
We also aimed to show through our actions that the police are not omnipotent and all powerful, that we are not powerless, that we can attack and get away with it (although it’s worth noting that not every riot is an attack and not every attack is a riot). You, too, can get together with your friends, dress in black, and throw rocks at cops. Maybe try it sometime, it’s fun. So yes, there was a reason, there was a message, though for sure our methods of really getting that message out need work.
And finally the charge that we’re not really anarchists is…ridiculous. We are anarchists and we throw rocks at cops just as much as we feed people and house people and put together community projects. There are some anarchists who don’t or can’t run around in the streets and throw rocks at cops and break windows, and that’s great and we love them. We’re all anarchists and you probably know some of us. We might be your cashier, your neighbor, your child, sibling, or parent. There’s a lot of us and we do a lot of different things.
But we riot, and it’s fun, but it’s not just for fun. We put our freedom and physical safety on the line to fight for our freedom because we know reform doesn’t work and we know capitalism is killing us and the world and the state is kidnapping and killing us and our loved ones and we cannot continue to let this go on. We are not asking everyone to run around in the streets with it, the riot isn’t the revolution. We are also not asking for people to agree with us, to never critique us, to uncritically support us. All we want is for you all to know why we did it and to give a counter-narrative.
For Total Freedom!
-Black Autonomy Action Faction