Protests and rioting erupted in Oakland over the New Years Day murder of Oscar Grant by police. From some of the news reports and raw video I've seen, it seems the escalation was caused by about only 200 protesters who left an evening rally to head towards downtown.
Although it's been difficult to piece together the exact timeline, it seems like an initial police contact with the group was overwhelmed and scared off -- hence the abandoned cruiser that got trashed in the intersection.
I found the video of the attack on the McDonalds pretty interesting also, because it looks like a handful of folks separate themselves from the larger mob and just start heaving shit, in spite of being away from the cover of the group and in plain view of non-participants just driving down the road.
One article claims that "a group of anarchists, who were not part of the organizations hosting the protest rally, were responsible for igniting the violence." There's also an interestion mention that:
The core group of the mob appeared to be about 40 people, several of whom were with Revolution Books, a Berkeley bookstore. A man distributed the "Revolution" newspaper - whose tagline is "voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, U.S.A." - as he shouted "This whole damn system is guilty!"The author doesn't really explain what is meant by "core group" but presumably means the folks engaging in most of the criminal behavior and encouraging others to do the same. Another account documents how anarchists were maintaining momentum when others backed off -- inasmuch as folks continued to return to the action, it is obvious anarchists provided a necessary opening that allowed others to express their desires. The spontaneity of the action meant that police were somewhat unprepared for what was happening and the protesters were able to control their space for a period of time.
The small size of the crowd and the brazen MickeyD's attack are evidence to me, though, that it doesn't really take a lot of folks to get something like this going. Assuming the vast majority of the crowd did not have any street fighting experience, and if what the newspaper reports is true, then a handful of agitators that ignited the violence were able to share that energy with others and keep folks going for several hours roaming through the street.
In the end, however, there were over 100 arrests made, which is about half of the estimated participants, so the longer-term success and sustainability of their spontaneity is debatable. Proportionately, though, compared to the resources and effort put into creating the RNC riots and the retaliation therefrom, these smaller events yield as much fruit or more with a fraction of the input.
The real difficulty is finding creative ways to open space so that one's daily urge to, say, smash up a McDonalds becomes something that feels realistic. Total spontaneity burns out quickly, and formal organization is ripe for repression. The street-level fallout from this murder will fall short the wrath exacted by anarchists in response to the murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Greece; what insights can be gleaned from the Greek experience that we can translate into our own organizing in Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere?