Stumbling forward at Occupy Portland and elsewhere.

A few weeks ago, this article appeared on the Portland Occupier website: Occupy Portland Outsmarts Police, Creating Blueprint for Other Occupations.

Coming to a virtually identical conclusion to what I say in my previous post, the author states:

In summary: when the cops come to clear the park, don’t resist. As they are preparing for their military maneuver and use of force that the Occupiers cannot reasonably be expected to resist, the occupiers should be packing up their tents and baggage and loading them into wagons, bicycles, backpacks, etc.

You could just skip the article and take that bit of wisdom and sound practical advice to heart and you’d be way ahead of the game.

I personally suggest skipping all the author’s “theory” about infantry at the beginning, as it’s a bit off and not required to understand the above-quoted conclusion. But, if you have the time, read it by all means. Otherwise, start reading below the second photo. That’s where the important material is.

The only place I take issue with the author is in the paragraph directly above the second photo, where he writes:

So far, all the occupations have, in a grave tactical error, agreed to engage the riot cops when they march in to clear parks. This has been a show of bravado that has the tactical benefits of providing media coverage of the brutal methods of police and the benefit of draining the resources of the oppressor by forcing them to incur the expense of arresting and prosecuting people for trivial offenses.

This is a completely jumbled paragraph, strategically-speaking. Nonviolently resisting the clearing of the camps has been a great boost for most of the Occupys and their supporters, at least in the initial camp evictions. I don’t think bravado played much of a part. More accurately, people resisted out of a sincere desire to not lose these vibrant and highly symbolic places and ad hoc communities that had become home to many people for months and represented much more than a place to pitch a tent. Subsequent evictions have been a different thing.

Now, during the repeated raids on Occupy events and sites—especially Occupy Oakland, which I’ve been most involved in—confrontations have in fact been pointless bravado and I agree wholeheartedly with the author’s suggestion about falling back until it is safe to retake space. I realize that he’s speaking about Portland and I’m speaking about Oakland and other places I’ve followed on Twitter or livestreams, but I think a distinction has to be made between those first raids and the subsequent skirmishes and turf battles with cops that become a distraction.

I also take serious issue with the claim that it was of benefit to the movement to cost the city money over petty arrests. That is getting it entirely backwards. It costs Occupy scarce money, scarce time and scarce energy to deal with all the arrested people. The cost of evicting Occupy camps has never been an impediment to the government’s actions. The City of Oakland spent a reported $2M to clear the camp at a time when five schools were being closed because of a similar budget shortfall (not implying a cause and effect relationship as some have mistakenly done). They’ll spend whatever it takes to get rid of political protesters, even as they cut basic services elsewhere.

As I asserted in my post, arrests on petty charges not directly related to planned tactical moves are a waste of scarce resources and should be avoided at all cost.

The author emphasizes that Occupy Portland “stumbled upon” the notion of the tactical retreat as a way to avoid engaging in losing confrontations with police, repeating later that the tactic “evolved by accident rather than conscious thought.” While I’m always glad to see people thinking this way, I can’t help but mention that strategy theory* has been written down for thousands of years, Sun Tzu’s writing being some of the oldest that is actually still relevant to us now. There is an enormous body of strategy theory, both specifically nonviolent and more general, from the last twenty years, not to mention the last hundred years. It would behoove the movement to learn from the experience of others instead of having to constantly stumble on something that works.

Or just stumble when it doesn’t.

. . .

*I use “theory” here in the sense of “a model to predict behavior,” not in the vernacular for “speculation.” I’ve also got a great reading list that I will try to put together. Most of my strategy books are stored away in dusty boxes at the moment, so once I get time to dig them out and refresh my memory, I’ll post a list. Any of the work of Gene Sharp and others at the Albert Einstein Institution will provide a good start for understanding strategy as it applies to nonviolent action, but there has also been some brilliant work done by military theorists that is totally applicable to nonviolent conflict. Those are the ones I have to look up.

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