When the gods dance...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Boots Riley: Occupy Oakland's Leader in a "leaderless" movement -- Dictator?

Boots Riley: Oakland General Strike Is "Like Us Flashing Our Guns"

via EKA Photography
Boots Riley at Occupy Oakland

The Occupy movement doesn't have a leader, but Oakland activist-rapper Boots Riley is serving as one sort of de facto spokesman for his hometown's defiant occupation, lending the collective grievances a high-profile voice.

Inspired by public gatherings in Greece and Spain, the self-described "outspoken Communist" visited Occupy Wall Street in September, went to Occupy Oakland on its first day, and performed there on the protest's fourth day. Last week, when crowds marched to retake Oscar Grant plaza after being kicked out, Riley was there with them. And today, as the Occupy movement attempts to shut down Oakland in a rare "general strike," Boots Riley will be out marching again.

"This is just a warning," he says of the strike, "like us flashing our guns and saying, 'This is the power that we have.' We're going to shut the city down, we're going to close the port, and from there, we're moving on."

Riley has been airing his anti-capitalist views as part of Oakland hip-hop outfit the Coup for years. In 2001, the group was widely criticized for album cover art, shot months before Sept. 11, that depicted its members blowing up the World Trade Center. (Warner Bros. pulled the album that very day, but the art leaked and the Coup faced heavy scorn.)

The Detroit native and longtime Oakland resident is now one-half of Street Sweeper Social Club, a fiery rap-rock project with former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello featuring polemical, class-conscious lyrics. But Riley says he's especially optimistic about the Occupy movement, and hopeful that a successful general strike will serve as a huge inspiration to future efforts.

"There's been movements where people just simply block traffic, or people are going around, trying to figure out where is the victory point," Riley tells All Shook Down. "What's going on here is something in which we have a defined goal of what we want to do. Of course, the larger goal is undefined. But what we do know is that this setup is not right, that the fact that the 1 percent is leeching off the 99 percent is not going to hold water."

Riley's advice for the Oakland police force -- which called in every officer to work during today's general strike? Get out of the way.

"If you want to prove that you're sincere in thinking you're part of the 99 percent, stand down," Riley says. "Let us do what we want. Show us that you're not just merely here to protect the status quo."

Despite his outspoken views, Riley argues that violence on the part of the protesters -- whether it's breaking windows or throwing bottles -- isn't going to help the movement at all. A pamphlet was circulated around Oakland recently calling for an end to nonviolent protests in favor of more forceful ones. Riley calls the issue of violent versus nonviolent protests "irrelevant."
"What we're doing, the violence that we're using, is our bodies stopping the system from working," he says. "Our goal is to win."
via blogs.sfweekly.com


The Bay Area's Occupy Dictator?

I have been with the Occupy movement from the very beginning...indeed when it was in the planning stage.  I think the success of Occupy is vital to the survival of our country.  I anguished over breaking ranks now.  I have always supported every Occupy action even though I may have disagreed with some tactics.  But I feel compelled to speak out now.

Many of you in the music biz know Boots as the MC for the Coup: excellent, meaningful, political Bay area hip-hop. Boots can be a mesmerizing, energetic MC and speaker. He has a wide fan base, especially in the Bay. Plans are to release a new album soon -- after quite a hiatus -- with his partner Pam the Funkstress.

Boots rather rapidly has risen to be not only MC (spokesperson) for Occupy Oakland, but from what I have experienced. has pretty much taken control of the Oakland movement. Even some talk of changing the name.

The issue that has created much discomfort for me is the upcoming West Coast Port shutdown. In fact, I cannot in conscience support this action.

At first Boots or someone announced that the unions were behind the strike. Then another announcement came a few days later, from Boots, indicating the longshoremen and teamsters were not involved "officially." Boots knows, however, that they are "with us in their hearts" because he knows how exploited they are. I've asked several times if anyone from OO actually spoke with the unions and I received no answer. I went on to ask what the purpose of the Port Shut down is and again, no clarity from the "rank and file" Occupiers. Finally I was told to read Boots page on FB. He knows.

I don't believe there was any other motivation behind the OO Port action than, as Boots says, "This is just a warning," he says of the strike, "like us flashing our guns and saying, 'This is the power that we have.' We're going to shut the city down, we're going to close the port, and from there, we're moving on." OK. Hubris I think, but this man is all about the power.

Finally, like it was pulled out of a hat, Boots issued a statement that the whole shut down the Left Coast action is in support of ILWU Local 21 in Longview Washington. That union clashed with police in a wildcat strike on September 9th for what seemed to me to be valid grievances. As far as I know the strike continues and centers around the installation of a more modern grain elevator and its effects on workers in this small port town.

I think the question to ask is: how will shutting down all ports on the West Coast move negotiations forward for the folks in this small port town? Personally I think ILWU Local 21 is sadly being used to fulfill someone's grand vision. This tactic I think is way out of proportion to the specific grievance. If you want to help Local 21 I guess you might actually go to Washington and help them block the mega grain ships from Japan.

So, you say, mistaken direction so what? My discomfort arises from the processes in place since Boots took over, as it were. He, talented dude that he is, is also a charismatic MC who wants things done his way and pretty much has created an environment where dissent is ridiculed and pushed out of the way. Since anyone may participate in a GA and anyone may vote, a hip-hop celebrity has a way of drawing votes for his agenda.

But this is my problem with Oakland and certainly not the intent of the whole Occupy movement. All political movements attract those who hunger for power and recognition. The wrong power-seeker, however, can destroy a whole movement. This is not about me. This is not about Oakland. This is not about Boots. If Occupy wishes to change America then it better start thinking about how to win the hearts of Middle America. But, as one Oakland Occupier told me, "...we don't give a fuck what others think."

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