Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
By Caitlin Grey and Robyn Gee
OAKLAND-- With rumors swirling about anarchists planning violence in Oakland after a verdict in the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the former transit cop accused of murdering unarmed passenger Oscar Grant, Youth Radio wanted to hear from anarchists themselves.
We talked to self-identified anarchists Jesse (not his real name), age 29, and Aaron French, age 20, to do some truth checking on all the whispering, especially about the infamous “Black Bloc” which was featured in an email circulating in the Bay Area that warns that the group “frequently uses Molotov cocktails and arson during demonstrations. They wear ski masks, helmets, and body armor and attack police.”
However, neither Jesse nor Aaron dress in all black or carry around homemade bombs. And Jesse has an explanation for the black outfits. The Black Bloc term was coined in Germany in the 1980’s to describe a tactic: when everyone wears all black outfits, it is more difficult to keep track of what individuals are doing and whom to arrest for what.
But enough about the clothes. What about the philosophy?
Anarchists are all about individualism, so it’s not easy to characterize them as a group. But here’s in a nutshell how Jesse and Aaron describe the philosophy:
“People around you are not in any position of privilege”
Basically, everyone’s equal and no one should have authority over anyone else. Jesse calls it “operating horizontally”, which is why many anarchists don’t like the police.
“Anarchists go out and protest for themselves”
As mentioned above, Jesse stresses that anarchists don’t identify as a group.
“Capitalism needs to fall”
Many protests that anarchists participate in are anti-capitalism, such as the World Trade Organization riots. Aaron sees capitalism as an “institution that is used as a tool of oppression.”
“If a decision doesn't affect you, then you shouldn't be making it."
Anarchists would argue that the way our government is structured is the opposite of this ideal (the judicial system is one example of that.) Jesse says that “we elect these professionals to tell us what it is that's best for us”.
Aaron has first hand knowledge of the Black Bloc. He lives in Nebraska now, but he got caught up in a Black Bloc protest during the International Day of Climate Action March in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Summit last December.
“So basically we’re walking along and everyone around us starts masking up, covering their faces, donning gloves, black sweatshirts, black pants, black hats […] We’re walking by the Danish Parliament and people start throwing bricks and rocks, pulling stuff from their bags, smashing windows with long poles. And as we continue police start to follow us along and that’s when people started pulling out explosives, throw them at the police everything from huge fireworks to little small homemade bombs. And at that point the police started cracking down on the Black Bloc. At that point my friends and I dipped out because our goal that day was not to get arrested.”
Aaron says there is rationale behind these tactics, and it’s not just creating chaos. He says that “where the corporate media and news media gets it wrong is that this is not a mindless reaction to some random decision that’s being made. It’s actually war on capitalism and war on all these systems of oppression.”
Why Anarchists Care About Oscar Grant
Jesse is following the trial and plans to be at the protests after a verdict is announced. He said that police violence is just another example of the state having too much control. “The state uses what it can to keep control, kill, and exploit everyone around them.”
Aaron says if he were in Oakland, he would be at the protests too – for the same reasons: “(The Oscar Grant shooting) is a perfect example of police brutality. Police abuse the power they have given by us and by society, which I think is wrong in and of itself.”
But Black Bloc protests in the past touch on issues beyond just anger over police brutality. Jesse points to basic flaws in the whole judicial system itself. For example, the concept of a jury deciding the fate of Mehserle does not line up with the anarchist principles that he describes.
“We’re going to pretend that we have this national community, where these eight people who live 400 miles away can decide what justice is. The police and the state have created this process for us, instead of letting us create it ourselves.”
Jesse predicts however the protests go, that police will overpower the people. “The tendency is to take that control out of their hands,” he said. “I just plan to be there.”
A local anarchist call-to-action from a listserve email says “We'll leave it to the will of the people assembled to decide what goes down there.”
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