Operation Urban Warrior Hits Oakland

Revolutionary Worker #1001, April 11, 1999

We received this report from correspondents in the S.F. Bay Area:

On a typical weekday morning, the only boats in the San Francisco Bay are commuter ferries, and the only aircraft crossing overhead are traffic helicopters or high-flying commercial jets.

But Monday morning, March 15, was different. Beginning at 8 a.m. waves of huge military helicopters took off from aircraft carriers anchored in the Bay and landed at the Alameda Naval Air Station near Oakland. When they touched down, dozens of Marines poured out in full combat gear. After the helicopters came and went, a half-dozen 88-ton armored amphibious landing craft came ashore, dumping Marines, tanks and armored personnel carriers.

The Marines had invaded Oakland. Operation Urban Warrior--a week of urban military exercises--had begun. And a wild, interesting, and revealing week it was--in more ways than one. While the Marines tested strategies for suppressing the people's struggles around the world, some real people's struggle broke out against them. Throughout the week there were more than a half-dozen demonstrations in Oakland and Monterey to the south (where the Marines were carrying out a similar operation called Sea Dragon). There was broad debate in the media and among many people throughout the area. Protesters took over Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown's office and waged an hour-long struggle with the police.

Anti-People Urban Warfare

The Marines repeated over and over that Urban Warrior was about training to give disaster relief and humanitarian aid to help people around the world. They invited the local media to a tour of the exercise to sell this point--and we took part in this tour. The minute we walked into the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in southeast Oakland--where the Marines carried out their combat exercises from March 16 through 18--it was clear we were entering a war zone, not a humanitarian relief operation. The first thing you heard were gunshots, and the first thing you saw were Marines running across the street with M-16s and tanks rolling down the streets.

The Marines tested a scenario called a "3 block war in 3 dimensions." The "3 blocks" refers to the escalation from "humanitarian relief" to riot suppression to urban combat. The "3 dimensions" are tall buildings, the street level, and the underground tunnels and sewers that crisscross major urban areas. Local people were hired to play the required roles: pleading refugees, angry civilians, cops, even reporters.

As we watched this exercise unfold, it was clear the Marines considered the masses potential enemies from jump. Under their scenario, the Marines were on a mission to give "humanitarian relief" to refugees fleeing a natural disaster. While those playing the role of refugees were transported by bus, a Marine officer told them, "Keep your heads down and your hands up." The point was to keep them disoriented so they couldn't scope the area, just in case they were guerrillas. There were also "checkpoints" where Marines stopped, frisked, and IDed refugees. It brought to mind police checkpoints in South Central L.A. or apartheid South Africa.

The refugees were eventually taken to a Marine processing center and then to a migrant shelter. Everyone was frisked for weapons. The Marines then interrogated them to find out who was who, get intelligence on the local situation, and meet any officials in the crowd. All this information was typed into computers linked with a central command post on a ship in the Bay.

In the scenario that the Marines practiced, tensions built up among the refugees and a mock riot erupted outside the processing center. Refugees threw things at the Marines and yelled, "I want food now." The Marines then practiced "controlling" the situation.

Just then, a group acting as anti-U.S. guerrillas drove up and threw a simulated grenade at the Marines. One Marine went down, while the others deployed and returned fire. The refugees were still in an uproar, so more Marines were brought in keep them confined. Different ethnic groups among the refugees were separated--to supposedly keep them from fighting each other.

In the exercises in Monterey, some of the "rioters" were dressed in Arab head-wraps, others in bulky sweat shirts and baggy jeans, and still others pretended to be Korean. This effort to stigmatize different oppressed peoples as "the enemy" outraged many in the Bay Area.

Urban Warrior also involved British Royal Marines and U.S. Marines training for "hostage situations" in an urban housing area. They went into an apartment building in order to "take out" the "terrorists" who held refugees hostage. The idea was to "search and destroy without risking friendly forces." No doubt the British Marines drew on their experience in fighting the Irish Republican Army and suppressing the people in Northern Ireland.

Throughout the tour, the Marines showed off the latest technology. One was the "Mobile Counter Fire System"--an armored truck with cameras and audio sensors. If the truck is shot at, its audio sensors determine where the shot came from and automatically return fire in two seconds. Another was "SARGE--Surveillance and Reconnaissance Ground Equipment." SARGE is a remote-controlled vehicle that looks sort of like a dune buggy, which can be dropped into a combat zone from the air in order to scope out the situation.

Urban Warrior also tested computer and communications equipment that link individual soldiers in the field with each other and the central command. This is done by means of small computers worn by the Marines which are hooked into a global positioning satellite system. One Colonel said that this "cuts through the fog of war" and enables all the Marines on the ground as well as the commanders in ships offshore or planes to know where everyone is and coordinate their actions.

These high-tech weapons will pose challenges for the people resisting U.S. intervention. But they also made us think about the imperialists' vulnerabilities. The U.S. is afraid of getting caught in major ground wars for fear of being defeated and/or sparking political opposition at home. So they've devised a whole range of new technologies to try to limit casualties and the number of troops they need to deploy.

Imperialist Vision Guiding
the U.S. War Machine

The scenarios tested during Urban Warrior are part of a much broader strategy. The rulers are planning to suppress and control the world's people in the difficult and complex terrain of large urban centers. (See RW #998, "Marines Invade Oakland.") In an article in Armed Forces Journal International, Major General Scales describes how the Marines see the world shaping up: "The future urban center will contain a mixed population, ranging from the rich elite to the poor and disenfranchised... Day-to-day existence for most of the urban poor will be balanced tenuously on the edge of collapse. With social conditions ripe for exploitation, the smallest tilt of unfavorable circumstance might be enough to instigate starvation, disease, social foment, cultural unrest, or other forms of urban violence."

The Marines are not training to eliminate the horrors of starvation and disease--they are training to maintain and expand U.S. domination and global power. As the Marines themselves put it, they envision seizing the power, transport and distribution centers in a city to gain "control over the urban environment."

One colonel told us flatly that none of these scenarios could be used in the U.S. because it would violate the Constitution. But his boss, Marine Commandant General C.C. Krulack, recently wrote that Marine "deployments may well be in support of our own cities in response to possible terrorist acts in the future." And we witnessed some aspects of the growing militarization of U.S. police forces and the closer links between the police and military that is taking place. The Oakland PD surrounded and protected the Urban Warrior exercises from protests, while the Marines reportedly invited local police and fire officials to witness the exercises and share information.

The War for Public Opinion

Operation Urban Warrior was also a political invasion. While the troops deployed to Oak Knoll for combat exercises, Marine spokespeople deployed throughout the Bay Area media. These PR men in combat fatigues stressed the "humanitarianism" of their tanks, helicopters and M-16's.

The PR operation was integrated with the combat exercises. At Oak Knoll, when local media people were taken around to see the exercises and the new technology, there was always a Marine showing reporters what's what. It was interesting to see how the bourgeois journalists operated. Many asked technical questions about the equipment. No one asked about the politics of Urban Warrior, the impact of Marine assaults on the masses, or what else the Marines were training for.

The Marines emphasized that they were completely open and wanted the public to see everything they were doing. But we think our group included Marines in civilian clothes pretending to be journalists. They seemed to be observing the media's response to their show. They also asked questions so Marine spokespeople could say things they wanted us to hear. And they may also have been testing the Marine's ability to answer various questions and do PR work.

Diverse Protests, Sharp Struggle and Broad Debate

The Marine war machine may have been in high gear, but the people had done some planning and organizing of their own. It turned out to be a week of broad debate in society and nearly daily protests involving diverse forces--from long-time activists to radicalized high school students.

In both Monterey and Oakland, the Marines were confronted by about 100 people as soon as they landed. Many of the Oakland demonstrations were organized by the Coalition Against Urban Warrior which included anti-war veterans groups, church groups, American Federation of Teachers, American Friends Service Committee, Grey Panthers, Middle East Children's Alliance, Peace & Freedom Party, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Oakland Tenants Union. Views ranged from anti-imperialist and revolutionary to opposing Urban Warrior as a "waste of our tax money."

The Monterey coalition included Veterans for Peace, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the Green Party, local students, a Santa Cruz bicycle group and affinity groups from the Resource Center for Nonviolence of Santa Cruz.

Opponents of Urban Warrior were heard throughout the Bay Area media. Opinion pieces opposing Urban Warrior were published in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune. The San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local alternative weekly, carried a major exposure of the exercises as urban counter-insurgency along with editorials denouncing the operation. Coalition members were interviewed a number of times in the media.

One Marine colonel spent an hour on Pacifica radio network's KPFA station in Berkeley in a revealing debate with opponents of the exercises, including RW correspondent Larry Everest. Guests and callers challenged the colonel on the imperialist character of U.S. actions around the world, as well as the bloody toll of the Marine intervention in Somalia, the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Marine shooting of Esequiel Hernandez in Texas.

Youth Jump In

A bold action by youth sparked the biggest uproar and further spread the controversy over Urban Warrior. On March 16, the day after the Marine invasion, 100 people picketed City Hall in downtown Oakland. About 25 students, youth, and their supporters--called the Coalition for Justice--broke off, went into City Hall, and marched up to Mayor Jerry Brown's office.

Brown was elected Mayor of Oakland last year after campaigning on the basis of "inclusion" and making things "better" for the people. Yet, after San Francisco turned down the Marines and Urban Warrior, Brown welcomed them with open arms, saying how this would bring millions of dollars to the city. This outraged many who hoped he would be different than other establishment politicians.

One former student from Fremont High School in Oakland who works with the Coalition for Justice told the RW, "Brown talks about Urban Warrior bringing $4.5 million to Oakland, but who is getting that money? They should be spending it to teach teachers, not Marines." She added, "I think the Marines see the youth as `the enemy.'<|>"

When the students got to Brown's office they demanded a meeting. They were told he wasn't in and they had to make an appointment. Instead of leaving, the demonstrators walked into Brown's office, determined to stay until they saw him or made a statement against Urban Warrior.

One city official began calling the police on his cell phone, and the youth demanded he stop. Freaked out, this official locked himself in a closet so he could keeping calling. Meanwhile, the protesters reportedly unplugged phones and computers and put them in a corner so they wouldn't be damaged, then moved a desk and furniture to block the door.

According to witnesses on the scene, including city officials, when the police arrived they didn't try to negotiate with the protesters. The cops forced the door open with a crow bar. They pried it open a few inches, then reached in with a can of mace and started spraying. Soon the room was full of mace. The youth went to the back of the office and sat down with arms linked as a show of non-violent resistance. The police then knocked open the door with a battering ram and attacked and arrested the demonstrators, injuring one woman who was denied medical treatment.

Twenty-two protesters were arrested. Some were initially threatened with charges of felony assault, robbery, false imprisonment and misdemeanor trespassing. Two of the leaders of the protest were held for several days before their $16,000 bail was reduced.

The city administration tried to vilify the protest. The staffer who locked himself in a closet said he'd been "held hostage." Brown's press secretary claimed the protesters grabbed mace from the police and sprayed it around. At the same time that Marines were training in the city to use force and violence against the people, the head of the Oakland Police Officers Association declared with a straight face, "The group decided to take the `mob mentality' approach and used force and violence to achieve its goals."

The city's hostility further outraged the opponents of Urban Warrior and many throughout Oakland. The Coalition for Justice began a hunger strike to protest the continued imprisonment of two of its leaders, and over 60 people disrupted the City Council meeting on the night of the arrests.

Even some members of the city administration denounced the police action. One City Councilwoman said, "Usually, things don't turn violent until the police show up and there's an overreaction. Usually, it's not the protester starting the violence. They came to protest because Jerry wasn't coming to the meeting tonight. They have a right to protest." A City Council vote to oppose Urban Warrior ended in a 4- 4 tie.

A Look at the Real Jerry Brown

One casualty of Urban Warrior was Mayor Brown's reputation as a "maverick," "New Age" politician who opposed the U.S.'s huge military budget and its interventions around the world. During the run-up to Urban Warrior he ducked the debate, even avoiding City Council meetings, and refused to meet with the opponents of the Marine exercise. After the occupation of his office, Brown stepped up his defense of the Marines and the Oakland PD's assault on the sit-in.

Brown repeated all the police lies about what happened and claimed the youth just wanted "to cynically exploit the Marine training exercise to get some publicity and indulge a misguided need for theater and futile gesture." He said, "There is no civil right to take over a public office." Brown also raised the ridiculous claim that opponents of Urban Warrior wanted the Marines to train in other countries, not in the U.S.

Brown's arguments for Urban Warrior were an explicit acceptance of the framework of the U.S. imperialist system. He wrote that opposing the Marine exercises was "narrow." And he argued, "Military policies like Star Wars and Central American policy are decided by the president and the congress. If you are against even military training, you are not going to be listened to on the really critical issues."

Brown's support for Urban Warrior came on top of his firing of the Chief of Police and an effort to force out the head of the school system. Both moves are preparation for clamping down harder on Oakland's masses, especially the youth. A rash of new nicknames for Brown sum up the feelings of many about his regime, including "Oaklander Uber Alles" and "from Governor Moonbeam to Mayor Mussolini."

Challenging the Marine Carnival

The Marines and the City of Oakland wrapped up the week of counter-revolutionary military preparations with a pro-Marine carnival at Jack London Square. On sunny Saturdays and Sundays there are usually thousands of people strolling, shopping or taking in the sights in this area. But protest and controversy dogged Urban Warrior right until the end.

On Sunday, March 21, the Marines organized guided tours of the Bon Homme Richard--a new amphibious assault ship--hosted by smiling Navy and Marine personnel. They gave out posters and bumper stickers. There was a recruiting table and chin-up exhibition. A 20-foot-tall inflated Marine figure with weirdly huge biceps served as the backdrop. Further down the mall a Navy rock band played--in uniform. Red, white and blue balloons were hung all over the place.

At nearby Alameda Point, the warship USS Hornet and 60 different military technologies and weapons were on display. There were also aerial demonstrations, and Navy and Marine Corps bands and drill teams. Protesters called the displays a "weapons petting zoo."

But there were also 75 or so anti-Marine protesters on the scene. The police at first confined them to a "protest pen," separated from the crowds of shoppers and sightseers. But before long people left the pen and staged a spirited marched down the street and past many onlookers, led by a giant Art & Revolution puppet of the "two faces of Jerry Brown." The police dogged the march all the way, preventing the demonstration from marching through the heart of the Square. Meanwhile, three "Peace Navy" boats sailed back and forth past the people checking out the Bon Homme Richard, with signs saying "No Gunboat Diplomacy."

The RW was at events throughout the week, and paper sellers heard some interesting comments from the people. One 15-year-old student said that Urban Warrior had been discussed all day long at Castlemont High. "They are afraid of people opening their mouths or people rising up and protesting all sorts of things," she said. She saw Urban Warrior as connected to attacks on bilingual education and to police brutality.

Another young man told RW sellers that the rulers are afraid of everything the youth do today--"what we wear, what we think and do." One older man said, "We need revolution or radical change and the system is against that." Another added, "This is the most racist country in the world and now they are doing military training here to protect that."

RW sellers also talked to a number of off-duty Marines who watched the anti-Urban Warrior march with curiosity--and in some cases followed behind. They report that at first some of the Marines got the paper as sort of a joke or curiosity. But after actually looking through it, they got drawn in and began more seriously reading it. Some Marines began complaining about getting tested with an anti- anthrax vaccine. And a number had heard of--and were sympathetic to--the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Urban Warrior was designed to build public support for the Marines, but opponents of the exercises not only sparked broad debate over the role of the U.S. and its military, but raised big questions among some of the Marines. It wasn't precisely what the Marines and the Bay Area establishment had hoped for.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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