“Liberation from Oakland to Palestine,” Bay Area marches connect the dots of US state violence

Little girl holding up a sign chanting ” Hands up! Don’t shoot! rest in peace Michael Brown” (image courtesy of Minister Finishes: twitter @federal_flashes)

(by: Nicholas García)

On the weekend of August 15th, organizers in the Bay Area led two major demonstrations: the Friday Ferguson Solidarity march from Downtown Oakland to Berkeley, and the Saturday “Block the Boat for Palestine” march from the West Oakland BART station to the Oakland Port. These two marches could have been separate, focusing on their own single issue demands for justice in Ferguson or in Palestine. Rather, their demands, rallying cries, and frameworks intersected and crossed together. Speakers at the Palestine march called for justice in Ferguson and demonstrators called out “hands up don’t shoot” in the face of police barricading the entrance the docks. Speakers from the Philippines, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Palestine called for an end of militarization and occupation across their own communities, from Oakland and Ferguson to international US violence. While Media outlets have tried dividing world events into single-issue items, from the murder of Michael Brown and the subsequent police response separate from US conflicts abroad, these demonstrations put forth a radically different narrative that challenges dominant understanding of these conflicts, structures of oppression, and state violence. What these two marches illustrate is a strategy of organizers across their particular focuses for a common enemy to organize against, with US militarism being clearest antagonist.

200 people marched from downtown Oakland through UC Berkeley during the August 15th march in solidarity with the people in Ferguson.
According to their event page on IndyBay:

“18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by police and they left him for dead in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. To the good people of Ferguson, take heart – and take your streets. You are not alone, we will take the streets here in Oakland. The time has come for more than simple justice for these atrocities. The time has come to draw a line in the sand and say “no more dead kids,” no more police killings and beatings. Anonymous is drawing a line in the sand, and that line runs right down the middle of Main Street Ferguson, Missouri. Police impunity ends with the barbaric death of Mike Brown. Occupy every square inch of your city. Open your homes and help in any way you can the protesters who will come to your city from every part of Missouri and the USA. Businesses and householders that are near protest rallies, open your WiFi routers so that live streamers and other independent journalists can use the Internet connections. Feed each other, keep each other safe – and stay in the streets until we are totally victorious in all our demands.”

Most media outlets have created a narrow perspective of the Police brutality that focuses on the domestic aspect as well as individualizes this as a problem of individual officers rather than the entire structure. Huffington Post has focused on the police brutality during the demonstrations in Ferguson, showing reports of Militarization of police forces, and of SWAT teams attacking demonstrators in Missouri. But their perspective ignores how US state violence is an everyday occurrence nationally and abroad. Media outlets also have individualized the problems of racist police force and police brutality, honing in on the individuals in the case.

Countless reports have gone in depth on the personal lives of Wilson and Brown, sympathizing with Officer Darren Wilson while victim blaming Michael Brown saying he was “no angel”- a thug, a shoplifter, or at worst a dabbler in the rap musics (side-eyeing you NY Times). This individualized analysis does not account for how police brutality is a national issue. The reality is that every 28 hours a black or brown youth is killed by the police. Police brutality and misconduct is not just an issue in Ferguson, with this graph of a study of US police forces showing that police violence is a systemic aspect of US nationwide (and beyond). In the survey, over half of police approved with the statement “always following the rules is not compatible with getting the job done,” and that “it is not unusual for a police officer to turn a blind eye to improper conduct by other officers,” while 84% had witnessed another officer using excessive force. These Oakland demonstrations, rather than calling out one racist cop in Ferguson, pin the blame squarely on the state itself in perpetuating violence and racism rather than these individuals.

The Saturday “Block the Boat” demonstration, organized by over a dozen community groups calling for an end of the occupation of Palestine, sought to shut down the Port of Oakland so an Israeli ship could not unload its cargo. Estimates from 800-3000 people marched from the West Oakland BART station to the docks, calling for the port to not unload Israeli cargo as part of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement to economically pressure Israel to stop its occupation, illegal land grabs, and racist policies towards Palestine. While the UN has condemned Isreals human rights violations resulting in many EU nations discouraging trade with many Israeli businesses, especially produce from Israeli occupied territory in the West Bank, the US has continued to support Israel with military aid.

Organizers of “Block the Boat” didn’t just focus the demonstration on the injustices occurring in Palestine. Rather, they contextualized it and put forth a broader analysis and understanding of these issues, demanding that the US continual support of human rights violations globally connects the injustices in Palestine to problems globally. Present were groups such as BAYAN, a Filipino leftist organization, the ANSWER coalition, Youth for Palestine, and several organizers from Haiti and Puerto Rico. During the rally, these organizers put forth a lens that marked US state violence as the core problem as a better way to understand injustices occurring from the Philippines to Palestine and from Oakland and to Ferguson. This central framework is that US racism is both domestic and international, the US militarizes domestic and international forces to oppress brown and black bodies abroad and at home, and that international solidarity and coordination is needed to confront and challenge these issues.

Image courtesy of America Wakie Wakie
(Image courtesy of AmericaWakieWakie)

With two actions, two days a part, on two seemingly isolated issues, it would be a mistake to assume that these events and injustices are not connected. Rather, the speakers at the rallies, the banners, and the chants all illustrated narrative that marked the US state, through imperialism, racism, and police militarization, is responsible for events from Ferguson and Oakland to Palestine.

This key to these tactics of solidarity, in both marches, where that they put forth platforms that not only sought a greater level of justice in Ferguson, Oakland and Palestine, but they made explicit the ways in which these problems can be challenged in any community. As one Seattle organizer from Bayan, a Filipino anti-colonial organization that had a large present at several block the boat actions across the west coast, said:
“ BAYAN is participating in the Block the Boat NW actions because we see this as a way to confront Israel and bring attention to their war crimes. We want to make it known that as Filipinos we also face state-sanctioned violence and human rights abuses supported by the U.S. government. U.S. imperialism continues to play a crucial role in suppressing people’s movements, from Ferguson to Palestine to the Philippines.”

When individuals and media coverage has sought to isolate Brown’s murder as an individual incident, outside of race, state violence, and class, calling any other analysis as “race baiting”, organizers are refusing to accept this discourse, and are putting forth these structural injustices at the center stage of their demands both abroad and in the US. While more time is needed to see how these demonstrations play on shifting dominant discourse, building momentum, and creating more change, it is a powerful sign of larger and broader popular movement to come.

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