In attending the occupation of Oakland, I was struck by how the American Left has coalesced around the advocacy of Saul Alinsky, a man that 99% of the so called 99%ers have doubtlessly never heard of. In the 1930’s Alinsky created the “crisis strategy” which prescribed flooding welfare rolls in order to bankrupt cities. David Horowitz has led the country in detailing how it was the Alinsky model which profoundly influenced Barack Obama and gave birth to vast “shake-down” organizations such as ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). But even more importantly, he points out it was Alinsky, who, though not a communist, united the various socialists, anarchists, union workers, the disadvantaged and disaffected into a nihilist common cause—the seizure of power.
So successful was his strategy in uniting the American Left that in 1969, a Wellesley undergraduate by the name of Hillary Rodham wrote her senior thesis on Alinsky comparing him to Martin Luther King and Walt Whitman. In his Rules for Radicals, Alinsky writes, The issue is never the issue. The issue is always the revolution. Without committing itself to a specific end game or vision of the future, Alinsky was crystal clear. The only organizing principle of the new Left would be the destruction of American society, its economic system and the seizure of its instrumentalities of power. During Oakland’s occupation, Allinsky’s political nihilism was utterly on display.
On a classically perfect autumn day in Oakland, mid 70’s, sunny, and crystal clear, dressed to look like an occupier, I first encounter a group of them sitting in front of Chase bank branch. They’d put crime tape over the ATM and are sitting in front of the main entrance which is locked and are smugly making sure that no customers will try to enter the branch. Peering through the windows, I see that some employees are inside presumably catching up on paperwork. One of the occupiers has a large wad of one dollar bills in her hand. She gives me one and says, “Here take it. We’re practicing generosity.” I take it and give it to homeless guy a block away and tell him where he can go to get some more.
Next, I make a left turn on Broadway and begin a four-block walk to the occupiers’ encampment in front of City Hall. On my way, it is painfully obvious that about half the ground-floor premises are vacant with for-lease or sale signs in the windows. It’s not necessary for the occupiers to picket them because these businesses which had once occupied Oakland’s most prominent business boulevard have long since left. It is a scene out of Atlas Shrugged. I walk up to an Oakland cop seated in squad car and ask him if the occupiers have a permit to march in the city. He tells me that he isn’t allowed to speak about it. One of the local radio stations reports that Mayor Quan has ordered a lighter than usual number of police to patrol the area.
When I reach ground zero, there appears to be about 5,000 people surrounding the encampment in front of City Hall. The smell of very pungent marijuana smoke permeates the air. The speaker standing on a flat bed truck outfitted with a large bank of speakers is a junior high school ethnic studies teacher. She introduces one of students to the approving crowd. I notice a group of very young grammar school kids escorted by two teachers and a mother. Next, the female master of ceremonies exhorts the crowd to form up under the huge banner that reads—Death to Capitalism, telling the people to march on Citibank and Wells Fargo. With that, the bulk of the crowd begins to move out blocking off all traffic in its path.
Once we reach a Wells Fargo branch, a group swarms in front of the main entrance to find it locked. Next a sizable contingent with signs and costumes sits down to block all entrance and egress while the rest of the mob chants, beat drums, and takes pictures with their iphones. At this stop, I notice several people in light blue tee shirts which read, IFPTE. They are from a City of Oakland agency called the International Federation of Professional Trade Engineers.
I ask one of the women, “Given that your salary is paid by Oakland’s private sector workers, how is it a good thing to shut down commerce here?’
“I’m not the one to ask. I’m just here supporting our group. Why don’t you ask him?” she says apologetically.
When I repeat my question to her designated male companion, he says, pointing at the building, “We’re here because everybody’s hurtin’ except the fat cats.”
“So if the CEO of Wells Fargo is paid $20 million dollars, how does that disadvantage you?” I ask.
“I’d love it the guy’s payin’ 50% of his salary in taxes. But we know he isn’t because of all the loop holes in the tax code,” he says petulantly.
“So, how is that the bank’s fault?” I ask. “Shouldn’t you be picketing Congress?”
“Well, I think the Republicans are mostly at fault. Yes.”
Prior to the main events of the day, well-organized advance mobs walked into businesses around the downtown area and told the proprietors to shut down for the day or to expect their businesses to be trashed. Despite the fact that the fawning local media describe the event as mostly peaceful, when the bulk of the mob arrives back at ground zero, the speakers begin to openly call for violent revolution. A teacher from Berkeley advocates that the teachers occupy the schools and fire the administrators. A man waving a Che Guevara flag screams that capitalism is racism and oppression. A female Black Panther cries, “We have the right to abolish a government that does not serve us and the right to take back the wealth that is ours!”
An hour later, I follow another throng of about a thousand which moves out from the main gathering and is headed up by a group of black clad anarchists which are hooded and masked and carry six foot sticks with small black flags. As they march, they lead the chant, Hey, we’ll shut you down/ Oakland doesn’t f--- around. As we reach banks which are already closed, some of the anarchists peal off and smash the windows. A twitter of glee ripples through the docile followers. Others in the crowd continue to mindlessly to chant. This is what democracy looks like.
I’m reminded me that Plato and Aristotle had contempt for democracy and referred to it as mob rule because it destroyed the Athenian empire, plunging it into a thirty-year war. Our founders knew its dangers and consequently created a Republic. In the twentieth century, relatively small bands thugs, the Brown Shirts and the Bolsheviks, were able to gain control of the revolutions in Germany and Russia and seized authoritarian power. It occurs to me that it’s the destruction of our republican system that the Oakland mob is about.