Reflections on the I-980/I-880 Takeover
Like any number of urban freeways, the I-980 and I-880 are lines of containment. They mark out the zones and boundaries of economic apartheid, making West Oakland into an island of poverty, a police zone, boxed in on all sides. A freeway, in this sense, is merely one of the most visible forms of the lines of force that cut up our cities and, in turn, our lives, that butcher them according to the logics of race and class, money and property. How can we see these arteries as anything less than instruments for the formation of a controlled population, instruments in the successive waves of urban centralization, white flight, gentrification? They are checkpoints and blockages—massive pours of concrete, of labor, erected to determine who gets to go where and how. And they have no meaning beyond the insinuation of the automobile into every facet of our lives, the automobile which is hallmark of US economic power in the twentieth century, token of class mobility, passageway to pseudo-freedom, emitter of poison gases, turning our lives into a cut-and-paste of frantic alienation and isolation, responsible for more deaths than the M-16. Who could love a freeway?
Those of us who chose to take our march onto the I-980 have been accused of turning our backs on the tactic that made the student movement so powerful and inspiring, the tactic which inscribed our actions in a lucid, anticapitalist language—occupation. Don’t worry. We haven’t abandoned anything, only expanded our repertoire. The last six months have been a process of experimentation, one in which it becomes difficult to distinguish the failures from the successes, since the two fold into each other, since each action, regardless of the outcome, is a process of learning, of adaptation, part of a living conversation, one in which there is as much disagreement as there is agreement. On a day dedicated to the convergence of political actors from multiple spaces across the Bay Area it would have made little sense to barricade ourselves inside a building on this or that campus. If there were a suitably central, common and defensible target, perhaps we would have occupied that. Perhaps we will next time. We still look forward to the emancipation of foreclosed homes and apartment buildings, shuttered workplaces, to the permanent occupation of university buildings. None of that is behind us. We are not yet powerful enough for these things. We are still trying to build a force capable of taking and holding a space, and then another, and another.
Some people have counterposed the occupation of buildings to the freeway takeover on the grounds that the former challenges property directly, that a building can be emancipated, communized, turned into a liberated zone for care and conversation, planning, learning, fun and eating and dancing. This is true, although it forgets that none of this liberation can happen if you’re surrounded by hundreds of cops, as is often the case with lockdown occupations that target essential buildings. Still, the obvious point here is that you can’t communize a freeway. You can only destroy it. But so what? There is much we will need to learn to destroy. We will have to learn to do this well, to shut down the flows and pours of capital and labor. Those who oppose this action on the grounds of a theory of property or value miss the fact that property is not a thing; it’s not matter. It’s a social relation, a form of interaction between people that is mediated by objects and signs. By commodities and commands. The freeway is no less a part of this relation than a university building. At the most abstract level, ours is a world in which there are bodies and there are values. The freeway is an instrument for circulating the former according to the self-expanding imperative of the latter. Buildings have no intrinsic value beyond this circulation—beyond the inbox of bodies and the outbox of values. As such, we must learn to attack not only the immediate place of production but its apparatus of circulation as well. We must learn both to destroy and to emancipate. It’s true that we must create new spaces, new relations, but none of this will happen without a negation of the old. When we shut down, if only for a few hours, the forms of compelled circulation that condition our lives, when we circulate against these forms, running along the freeway with banners and medic kits and black flags, with cheers and megaphones, cries of amazement and fear, we are a little part of the future, a future where all the obstacles to flow have been removed and all the flows have been blocked. I felt that. But yes, shutting stuff down is only one part of it.
On this day of convergence, we wanted to come together and we did. Those of us who were on the freeway can only laugh at the liars who sought, immediately, to paint this action as the joyride of a bunch of white-boy insurrectionists. On the contrary, we were women and men, white and Latino, African-American and Asian, gay men and lesbians and trans-people. We came from multiple political perspectives. We were anarchists and communists, liberals and libertines; students from UCs and CSUs and Community Colleges; teachers and public workers and taxi-drivers. We were 12-year-olds with skateboards. We were people who did and did not form a we, who formed other we’s inside of this one, people who might not agree on much but who were there together, for all kinds of reasons. Together we demonstrated that ruling class attacks—on public education, on jobs, on immigrants—will not necessarily be borne by managed and ineffectual forms of protest. We will not suffer these austerity measures quietly. Regular programming will be interrupted.
It is false, of course, to assume that the solidarity between those gathered on the freeway, the commonalities this action created, meant the complete and instant erasure of all hierarchies and all violence, the erasure of privilege, racism, sexism. This form of dissolution, sharing and solidarity is real, and has been attested to by many people, but just as often such situations of emergency and intensity bring out the worst in people, allow for the ugliest of manifestations. These situations have no innate political character; the social relations we want will not appear as if by magic. If we experience glimpses here and there of true collectivity, they are just that, glimpses. Still, it is hard to imagine anyone unmoved by the experience of hearing and seeing, across the street, the inmates banging on the windows of the County Jail as we were being arrested. It is hard not to think that, at that moment, the strength of the state which enforces separation, hierarchy and interpersonal violence, was not, to some degree, trespassed. The same goes for the motorists who got out of their cars and cheered and raised their fists as we were being led off the freeway.
Was it a fail? A win? We should not take 150 arrests lightly. No one should think of the action as successful in that respect. We wanted to get away, and we failed. We were hurt by police batons and by the legislative violence of the state. We lost time in the abyss of county jail. A 15-year-old (who, from all accounts, knew what he was doing) was grievously hurt, and there is nothing that can make such facts worth it, or justifiable. There is no calculus of victory or failure here. But the truth is that this is a part of the movement, too—those of us who arranged legal support, who are arranging benefit parties, who brought food and cars to North County and Santa Rita, who attended arraignments, made phone calls and sent emails to find out if those we loved were alright, were just as much a part of this process of experimentation as anyone. We learn how to care for another, and we learn from our mistakes.
This wasn’t an activist arrest action. No one wanted that, and no one sat down. We wanted to get away, we ran from the hail of blows the OPD delivered and most of us got caught, and from this perspective, we fucked up. But the idea that such an action meant certain arrest is false. The march was ragged, and too slow, and undisciplined. If there had not been a squad of riot police following us onto the freeway, many would have escaped. We could have taken a U-turn at the junction of I-880 and I-980 .We could have been faster, or organized into clusters. If there were more of us, we could have backed the police down with material and rhetorical force. We could have blasted past the police car on the Franklin exit, entered the streets and begun Round Two. We could have built barricades. But we didn’t, and so, in this respect, we failed. But the past conditional, the retrospection, this is all part of the movement. This is how we go forward. Nothing can take back the baton blows, the faces rubbed in asphalt, the arrests, the money lost on bail; nothing can take back the suffering caused to Francois Zimany and his family. But these things will impel us forward. They will have their effects.
Marches enter the freeway at multiple points, pinning the police in a half-mile stretch. Motorcycle cops race toward the crowd, then stop. There are too many of us. Tires are lighted on fire. Road signs are pulled down and used for barricade material. Traffic has stopped throughout the entire metropolitan area. The streets now completely deserted of police, people move through the main thoroughfares, looting the stores. One group passes by the undefended police station, destroying everything. A nearby college campus has been liberated, and many of the people from the freeway reconverge there, sharing out the looted goods, mending wounds, talking and listening and learning from each other, going over mistakes, planning for the next day, arranging jail support. There is friendship and argument and the cooking and eating of food, there are everyday task becomes themselves a part of the struggle and they are just as important as fighting. Inside the County Jail they know we’re coming for them. And this is just the beginning.