An Open Letter to the Justice for Oscar Grant Movement: Suggestions on Next Steps, Strategy and Unity Building
The righteous anger and indignation on graphic display in Oakland, California Thursday, July 8th at the mockery of justice rewarded to Johannes Mehserle for murdering Oscar Grant and the open collaboration of several non-profit organizations with the government to contain and delegitimatize the people’s resistance is a clarion call. It’s a call not just for justice for Oscar Grant and the countless victims of police terror, but for radical, systemic change. The anger, and its focus, indicates a heightened awareness on behalf of a new generation of working class Black, Latino and Asian youth of the intractable contradictions between the imperialist state and oppressed peoples and the willingness to challenge them.
A new phase of development and a new set of challenges now confront the movement to win justice for Oscar Grant. The inexperience of the youth forces engaged and the current weaknesses and fragmentation of the left make this a very, very delicate time. If certain conversations aren’t had, if certain lessons of the past and present aren’t incorporated, and if certain contradictions aren’t addressed, then all of the radiant energy on display July 8th could easily fade, or just as easily turn its wrath in upon itself and miss its true target.
This small contribution is an attempt to help ignite conversation, share reflections from critical movements of the past, and offer suggestions in the hope of helping to facilitate strategic and programmatic development within the movement.
On Next Steps and Organizing Orientation
- Joint Reflection: to move the Justice for Oscar Grant Movement forward progressive forces focused on building the democratic mass movement, should join forces and come together to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Justice for Oscar Grant Movement over the past year and half. One of the two main objectives of such a collaboration, in the short term, would be to produce a joint assessment and a unified set of demands, both tactical and strategic, to help anchor the movement in its next phase of struggle.
- Joint Assessment: This assessment should be issued as a statement and/or document that provides a clear analysis of the movements weaknesses and errors and some strong points of orientation to try and anchor, sustain, and guide it going forward. Some key points of assessment should include (but not be limited to) the following: a) A firm condemnation of collaboration and opportunism; but avoiding personalized vilification of the social forces that collaborated (being mindful of the lessons of COINTELPRO); b) A statement of distinction on the role of political and community organizations as opposed to non-profits; and clarity on the reformist orientation and political limitations of non-profit organizations; c) The function of organization in the movement to combat infiltration (as appears to have occurred within the Black Bloc and other formations); d) The need for strategy to help facilitate forward development and political advancement of the movement(s).
- Joint Strategy and Work Plan: The second primary objective of such a collaboration would be to draft a one-year strategy and work plan to realize the unified demands that are put forward to the movement to democratically accept (understanding the independence of initiative of each formation), modify, or categorically reject.
This convergence of forces, although necessarily centered in California, particularly the Bay Area and Los Angeles, should seek to build and consolidate a national and international organizing initiative.
On Demand Expansion and Development
- The opening of a Federal Investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) can and should be used as a national organizing opportunity. However, more self-determining justice initiatives should be organized simultaneously to challenge US hegemony (internally and externally) by internationalizing the struggle. More concretely, an independent “people’s or citizens” commission should be established to conduct an autonomous examination of the evidence, issue indictments, and pressure the DOJ and its process. This commission would ideally consist of family members, community activists, lawyers, jurists, etc. and call on various international bodies within the United Nations (UN) and International System (such as the Inter-American Court) to intervene in the case and challenge the racist policies and practices that enabled it.
- The demand for resources and economic development must be supported unequivocally, but modified in a manner that puts limits on the controls of City Hall and its near exclusive access by “grasstop” forces. A means to accomplishing this (not without its faults or limits by any stretch) could be the institutionalization of participatory budgeting systems to determine the use of the cities resources to ensure they are used to address and service human needs such as adequate housing, health care, education, etc.
This synthesis is an attempt to combine and expand on the demands originally articulated by the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP), By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) Coalition, and the New Years Movement (NYM).
- We demand that Officers Pirone and Domenici be indicted for murder.
- We demand civil restitution and reparations for the family Oscar Grant, and the victims of Police violence by the OPD and BART.
- We demand that BART Police be disarmed and disbanded.
- We demand that the Police Bill of Rights, which shields the records of police misconduct, abuse and murder, be immediately abolished, and that all police records be made public.
- We demand that an independent “peoples commission”, drawn and determined by the citizens of Oakland, with international jurists determined by this commission, be granted oversight into the Federal Department of Justice investigation of the murder of Oscar Grant, and systemic violations of civil and human rights by the Oakland and Transit Police.
- We demand the termination of all Gang Injunction laws and policies in Oakland and throughout California on the grounds of their unconstitutionality and their violation of civil and international law.
- We demand that Oakland be declared a sanctuary city, and that all ICE raids and racial profiling policies and practices targeting Latino/a, Black, Asian and other oppressed peoples be terminated immediately.
- We demand that the City of Oakland, the State of California, and the Federal Government provide massive funding for education and jobs in Oakland that are allocated and distributed via a transparent and democratic public participatory budgeting process.
One-Year Plan Targets/Tactics
- Conduct a mass and coordinated non-compliance action in Oakland and Los Angeles the day after Mehserle’s sentencing, that calls for Student walk outs and strike or “sick out” actions by Public Sector, Transit, Dock, and other workers that disrupts the regular flow of “business” to raise our demands and demonstrate the power of mass action.
- Organize broad, neighborhood Police/Copwatch formations, and work to create “liberated zones” in Black, Latino, Asian, and white working class and poor communities, where the police are prohibited or curtailed in their activities.
- Organize a massive local, regional, statewide, and national “Justice for Oscar Grant” petition drive to pressure the DOJ and build support for the movement’s demands (buttressed by broad internet and social networking interface to support and broaden reach).
- Develop a broad people’s media and cultural workers initiative to provide educational, motivational, and agitation tools and resources for the movement and to provide sufficient analysis and coverage to frame the movement from its own perspective and counter the reactionary framing and attacks of the bourgeois media.
- Hold a People’s Tribunal, with international observers and jurists, to pressure the DOJ and its deliberations.
- Utilize Inter-American and United Nations special action procedures and special rapporteurs to conduct international investigations, recommendations, and sanctions on the US government for its failure to protect the human rights of Oscar Grant, the victims of police violence, and the targets of the various racial profiling laws and policies sanctioned by the government.
- Organize local, state and national referendum and legislative initiatives to realize and support the movement’s demands. A possible start could entail running progressive candidates in Oakland who stand on a platform based on the movement’s demands in the upcoming elections to help define public debate and pressure the government to comply.
Without a doubt, accomplishing all of this is a tall order, particularly for a young and fragmented movement. But, as the history of the peoples’ struggles against white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism here and all over the world demonstrate, no political challenges are insurmountable. If we dare to win, then we must dare to struggle against the internal shortcomings and subjectivities of the movement that hinder us from building the operational unity needed to execute initiatives of scale such as those proposed in this paper. The struggle for unity does not mean that we should stop struggling against collaborationist and opportunist ideas and practices. It simply implores us to do all we can to seize the opportunities at hand. With organization, strategy, discipline, and determination we can and will win!
In Unity and Struggle.
National Organizer – Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Director of Education, Training, and Field Operations – US Human Rights Network
Kali can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.