When undercover police agitators attack…
I’m originally from Louisiana and, when I went home to visit family for Thanksgiving break, one of the most eagerly anticipated activities on my to-do list was to visit Occupy NOLA. I grew up in Louisiana, had spent most of my life there, and had a wealth of experience navigating its infamously treacherous political landscape. The mere existence of an Occupy movement in that climate was miraculous, and not surprisingly the only real occupation was confined to the city of New Orleans, an oasis of left-leaning Democratic voters in a sea of delusional right wing, conservative, evangelical zealots.
First, a little background information…
I moved to San Francisco from Baton Rouge, LA about a year ago. Prior to stumbling upon our Atlantean paradise here in the Bay Area, I was the Democratic candidate for Louisiana State Representative in my district. Unfortunately, when party switchers gave the GOP control of our state legislature, they also gained control of redistricting and gerrymandered the borders to make it impossible for me to win. I often said that politics in Louisiana had the feel of wandering through the ruins of some ancient city. With some imagination, you can almost look through the crumbling rock and moss-covered foundations and faintly discern the ghosts of a time when something great once stood there. As you spoke to the numerous poor and disenfranchised around the state, you could hear the whispers of a seemingly ancient era when Louisiana was a prime example of a perfectly executed Socialist welfare state. It was the first state to offer free school books to children; it had a social security system before the federal social security administration was a twinkle in FDR’s eye; it had the most generous pension system in the nation; it boasted a free charity hospital system that offered medical care to all citizens free of charge; and all of its citizens lived secure in the knowledge that we, as citizens of Louisiana, were in this together.
Fast forward to the Jindal administration. The charity hospitals are closed, the process of completely privatizing public education has begun, college is now affordable only for the wealthiest citizens, our prisons have been handed over to corporations, and yet the state budget deficit continues to grow as each legislative session sees one tax break after another cross the Governor’s desk for a signature. Under the administration of Governor Jindal, Louisiana has seen drastic social engineering as well in the form of Orwellian government entities such as the Commission on Marriage and the Family. This is the environment in which the Occupy movement found itself struggling in November of 2011.
When I arrived at the camp, my first reaction was envy. The park was spacious, open, and very pretty. My favorite feature was the centrally located gazebo-like structure that was presumably intended for picnickers but was an ideal location for holding a GA on rain days. The occupation itself was somewhat unusual however. The tents were arranged in groups called “pods”. These pods were located at least 20-30 yards away from one another, fenced off, and categorized by various ideologies such as the “Anarchist Pod”, the “Christian Pod”, the “Legalize Cannabis Pod”, etc. I was there to attend the GA scheduled for that night but was told that there hadn’t been a real GA in weeks because the various pods couldn’t manage to maintain civility. Consequently, each individual group had begun to exercise its own GA process and operate independently of one another. I was shocked. After spending so much time with Occupy Oakland, I was used to dissent and conflict but I had never heard of a camp this divided against itself.
As I learned more about the history of the camp, it became clear what had taken place. With no experienced activists around to keep an eye out for the ever-present provocateurs, saboteurs, and agitators, the police and conservative astro-turf groups had been allowed to infiltrate and divide the camp unchecked. I heard stories about how this person or that person was responsible for each of the pods turning on the rest of the camp, but the running theme is that all of the individuals responsible had vanished never to be seen again once they had successfully poisoned the occupiers against one another. The fact that this tactic was so artfully implemented was not a surprise. I know both Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his sister, Senator Mary Landrieu fairly well. While I may not agree with every decision that they make, there is one thing of which I am certain: They are incredibly intelligent and are almost always 3 or 4 steps ahead of most of the people around them. Mayor Landrieu knows how violent and heavily armed the population of New Orleans is. He’s also aware of how violent and sociopathic the New Orleans Police Department is [they are just as bad, if not worse than the Oakland Police]. In the interests of avoiding a bloodbath in front of New Orleans City Hall, he took the path of least resistance and used counterintelligence to infiltrate and sabotage the camp, ensuring that it could never be organized enough to be even remotely effective.
By allowing infiltrators to operate without any resistance from occupiers, Occupy NOLA has given us an example of what the effects of this practice are when allowed to reach their intended conclusion. The most emblematic anecdote that I can offer is a story that was told to me on a third visit to the camp that weekend. As the vitriol between pods grew more and more intense, people began to feel somewhat unsafe in the camp and many occupiers who stayed overnight would carry long knives and in a few cases, were armed with handguns. In response, a small group of occupiers declared themselves to be the Occupy NOLA security team and a few of these armed themselves with baseball bats and other “self defense aids”. One night, an argument broke out between a male and female couple and, at one point, the man grabbed his girlfriend’s arm when she tried to walk away. In response, an occupier pepper sprayed the man in the face…. A matter of 3 weeks prior to this, I had been tear gassed and beaten on the streets of Oakland by officers from any one of 14 different police agencies. We Oaklanders wiped the blood from our eyes and through the dense smoke of OPD’s grenades, we joined together as a unified movement and stood against the fascist brutality of OPD’s pig stormtroopers. After that, I cannot describe the heartbreak I felt hearing that, while we fought against OPD’s brutality here in Oakland, an occupier in New Orleans had willingly done the same thing to one of his comrades because of the fear, paranoia, and anger fostered by irresponsible and, by then, conveniently absent undercover police officers.
The lesson I took away from this experience, and that I hope, after sharing it with you, will be taken to heart as well, is that the spectre of our enemies operating undercover and attempting to subvert this movement is a real one and carries with it very serious dangers. Occupy Oakland is unique among all other occupations. Our unity, our solidarity with one another, our sense of brother/sisterhood, is not the protect of ideological or sociological homogeny; the Occupy Oakland family was forged by the fire of exploding grenades and grew stronger as we were hammered against the anvil by a swinging baton. The beauty of that bond makes it all the more precious and deserving of our vigilant defense.
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