Before the sun rose on Friday, a couple dozen activists had chained themselves to the doors of the Oakland, California federal building with the intention of shutting it down.
With their arms linked together with plastic tubes, each protester standing in front of the main entrance of the federal building displayed a sign stating their nationality’s solidarity with Black resistance.
Representing Palestine to Syria, the Philippines to Korea, these activists declared their support of the burgeoning uprising that is pushing back against what they describe as the racist violence of the police and criminal justice system in the US. Activists also asserted that they are linking their movements together.
“My role as a Palestinian American is inextricably tied to the Black struggle and it is imperative to stand side by side to fight racist wars,” protester Reem Assil told The Electronic Intifada as she was chained to the building’s entrance.
“I am sending a message to my government and to our community that we support Black resistance unequivocally.”
The direct action was planned in concert with a host of actions planned to take place throughout the Bay Area and the United States this weekend in an effort to reclaim the annual birthday commemoration of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The action was planned to last precisely four hours and twenty-eight minutes, representing the length of time that eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was left dead in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, last August after police officer Darren Wilson shot him at least six times, including twice in the head.
As Rania Khalek has reported, there are “growing bonds of solidarity between the Black American and Palestinian liberation struggles, which have intensified” since sustained nationwide protests calling for racial justice began in Ferguson after Brown’s killing.
“Reclaiming militancy and internationalism”
In response to a call from Ferguson Action — a social movement that began in Ferguson but organizes nationally against police violence — activists around the country are staging protests and direct actions to re-assert the radical vision of Martin Luther King Jr., which they say has been whitewashed over the years.
Friday morning’s action in Oakland was organized by Third World Resistance, an ad hoc coalition of San Francisco Bay Area groups that came together for this weekend.
Third World Resistance was spearheaded by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) and BAYAN (a group that opposes the dictatorship in the Philippines), and includes the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Haiti Action Committee, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and many more local organizations representing Korean, Chicano and Vietnamese communities in the US.
“For MLK weekend, we are reclaiming the militancy and internationalism that was the hallmark of the last phase of Dr. King’s life,” a statement handed out by the group said.
AROC was also responsible for the historic Block the Boat actions at the Oakland Port that repeatedly prevented Israeli Zim cargo ships from docking in the Bay Area last year. At the time of the Block the Boat actions, Lara Kiswani, the group’s executive director, made clear that AROC was committed to building a long-term movement that would represent a broad coalition of forces.
“We have a long history of working side by side with Black liberation movements in the Bay Area, and today is part of that history,” Kiswani told The Electronic Intifada.
AROC has worked with other community organizations in the Bay Area to oppose the militarization of local law enforcement offices and the surveillance of people of color. Last October they helped persuade the Oakland mayor to discontinue hosting Urban Shield, an annual weapons expo and SWAT training event.
“It is not about taking away from any individual struggle, but about deepening and strengthening our analysis of the US government and its role in repression at home and abroad,” Kiswani explained.
“Connecting the dots”
Third World Resistance was welcomed by the ONYX Organizing Committee, the local group that is loosely coordinating the 96 continuous hours of action planned for this weekend in the Bay Area.
Cat Brooks of ONYX told The Electronic Intifada that she was thrilled to see this coalition’s action kick off the weekend of protest.
“Before Dr. King was murdered, he’d begun to connect the dots between global and domestic violence and the connecting dot was capitalism — across the globe,” she said. “Our allies [who] are organizing have done a beautiful job of articulating that their vision is in alignment with lifting up the Black struggle.”
The protesters who had chained themselves together across the entrances to the federal building had committed themselves to getting arrested if the police escalated it to that point. However, police presence remained minor throughout the morning.
A handful of police officers from the Department of Homeland Security, which maintains jurisdiction over federal property, oversaw the protest and did not intervene at any point.
While the main entrances remained blocked for the duration of the action, organizers redirected federal employees to side doors and alternative entrances. Kiswani said that while employees may be going to work, most people were not accessing the services inside because the main entrances were blocked.
Third World Resistance will reconvene to form a contingency in a final rally and march scheduled for Monday in Oakland.