Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Occupy" Mothership Goes Down...

 **UPDATE 8:25PM** Protesters have been permitted to return to Zuccotti Park, but under much more restrictive conditions have lost their motion before a judge.  However, questions remain, especially over the treatment of the press and the cover-of-darkness nature of the raid.

As you may already be aware, early this morning, at the order of Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park was cleared out.  The dispersal was swift and by turns brutal.  As bad as that was, there was a blatant media blackout of the police action.  Although legal efforts are ongoing to force Bloomberg to permit the effort to return to Zuccotti, the event strikes at the very heart of the movement, if not their efforts.

First of all it necessary to note that Occupy Wall Street did something that nobody else seemed able to do.  We are talking about income inequality and economic justice in a way that this country simply does not.  Focus has been restored to corporate monoliths that have only enriched themselves at the expense of their employees, customers, and ultimately even themselves.  Anarchists and 60's leftovers aside, the goal and any mainstream occupier and their middle and lower class supporters has been to save people and capitalism itself from a corporate culture that lacks accountability and, one of the very prerequisites of a healthy capitalistic system, competition.

We have moved passed the howling over deficits to jobs, first and foremost.  For people of your editor-in-chief's generation this is the preeminent concern, the idea of a sounds future and a job, has been swallowed by the maw of this gloomy economy.  As politicians tell us that the "job creators" need more tax breaks on top of the one's we've got while we take on more debt to finance an education to land of job (assuming we do) that pays less due to the glut of works, it became unbearable.  Occupy was and is, the primal scream of NO!  Why would we have to be the generation that like many of the institutions around us would simply have to do more with less?  If nothing else, that question and broader questions about the American we want to live in, are finally being discussed.  Even Republicans, especially the ones with an eye to a general election, realize like any frightened politician, that there is grave risk with a stalwart defense of the 1%.

However, Occupy is at a crossroads.  Frankly, it has been for some time.  The occupations raised awareness and they raised the discourse and where possible they should not end.  The reality is that Occupy has outgrown the occupations.  That they became literally a nationwide movement is astonishing.  They did what even took the tea party months and without Koch-ed up front groups like Americans for Prosperity and corporations masquerading as people like Tea Party Nation.  With winter setting in and officials' patience wearing thin, tactics may need to change.  Diehards should demonstrate daily.  Marches should be held in the snow.  Perhaps among the most iconic images of the Wisconsin protests against Scott Walker were the tens of thousands demonstrating outside Scott Walker's Citadel the Wisconsin State House even as snow blanketed the grounds.  Days of action like the Oakland Port Shutdown may be necessary, but efforts must be made on the part of organizers to condemn and ferret out ANYBODY that engages in destruction of property.

The camps themselves have become problematic.  It seems evident that Oakland's second dispersal and how relatively calm it was compared to the past was at least partly an acknowledgment of the problems due to the transient nature of "occupiers" in a city known for its crime and poverty.  New York was not the same and vapid claims of denying the park from being used by others simply falls flat.  If there were health concerns, then Occupiers would likely have gone and cleaned it like they did last time and Boston's occupy movement has been given clean bills of health by inspectors.  Of course, Occupy Boston's situation is complicated by the fact that the Rose Kennedy Greenway would need to ask the cops to evict them in order for an eviction to be legal.

The homeless at the camps is also a problem, but one that speaks to the way we treat the homeless and the criminalization thereof.  However, that problem is very difficult to solve without unraveling a thread of an issue that is related to the cause of the 99%, but not one that most in the middle class can get on board with.

There are broader concerns about how the police have reacted in these raids on occupiers and protesters generally.  Many, if not most cops are professionals and are following orders.  Nuremberg defense aside, unless physically assaulted, we do believe that most cops do their jobs right even if folks like Bloomberg are doing their job wrong.  That said there were definitely excesses in today's raid.  The problem is the Tony Bolognas that pepper sprayed a trapped group of woman; or the riot police that fired a tear gas canister into Scott Olsen's head and the second cop who fired a flashbang at the protesters trying to minister to him as their pleas for medical assistance went unheeded.

Informal input from readers of the Washington Post suggests Bloomberg's move was the wrong one, but the part that may get people fired up far more (and we suspect it will) is the media blackout.  Reporters, many freelancers for larger news organizations were arrested, attacked and kept at a distance such that the Fourth Estate was unable to keep the police accountable.  If not for the Youtube generation, it is possible that crimes committed against peaceful protesters could have gone unnoticed or at least unsubstantiated.  The idea that the press were kept away to keep the situation from getting worse is ridiculous.  Certainly the right to assemble and the right to speech were offended by yesterday's raid, but they could be dismissed (wrongly we might add) out of concern for public health and safety.  However, there is no credible argument for censoring or intimidating the press.  Brian Stelter, a New York Times media reporter describes the scene to colleague David Carr in this video we were unable to embed.

Among the most troubling aspects of the opposition to "Occupy" has been a simple demand to "go home."  We'll ignore the irony of the command to "get a job."  But what should those occupiers do at home?  Watch the Kardashians?  Maybe we should ignore our crummy jobs and just find out for what Lindsay Lohan was recently arrested.  Maybe we should just grow up and solve our problems by drinking and resenting poor people for getting $32 a week for food.

If Occupy wants to be more than a footnote in history or left as a radical anomaly, it does need to adapt.  As Ezra Klein argues it is better that Bloomberg evict them than somebody die of hypothermia and Bloomberg's tactics notwithstanding, Klein is right.  Moreover, this can galvanize the movement to keep going on with daily or weekly marches if not twenty-four camp outs or drum protests that evoke a the culture of protesting, but may serve little political purpose.

This movement is not the same as those in the 1960's and although it was probably informed by the veterans of that time it is not the same thing.  It is also not the same thing that a Canadian magazine conjured up over the summer.  It has to be smarter than it was.  It has to be more persistent than it was while not losing its goals or its commitment to peaceful protest.  It has to keep talking and keep the attention of an easily distracted media and public, but it may have to be prepared to do that without permanent residences.

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