The Oakland occupation was shut down last week, albeit temporarily, on the grounds of concerns about safety and security. Rather than assume we know what ‘safety’ and ‘security’ mean, this invites some inquiry. Can ‘safety’ be secured in the midst of an activist movement?
Sexual assaults of various sorts had been rumored in Oakland, as well as thefts, drug use, and transgressions on public property. Marijuana use is hardly a major concern in Oakland California, where it has been effectively decriminalized through medical permissions, and the smell pervades the city's parks, but the possibility of a lawless space inviting violence of one sort or another is an image that could certainly garner public support for a crackdown. Images of Waco might come to the surface, the religious cult in Texas where a culture of child rape instigated a heavy state response that cleaned out the compound with resultant deaths. In Oakland, the state actions on October 25 were similarly extreme, seriously injuring Iraq veteran Scott Olsen.
Clearly, today’s political occupations, whether in Oakland or in New York, where I live, are not in any way analogous to Waco. They are not closed cults, vulnerable to abuse by charismatic leaders who are accountable to no one, but open communities with totally open borders. That openness is precisely the challenge to safety and security. As a survivor of child sexual assault myself, I want the problem of sexual violence taken seriously in its own right, not as a pretext for some other agenda. And I want a realistic approach to security.