Archive for November, 2011

Bring it on

By Steve Klinger

Police in cities across the country did the Occupy movement a great favor when they raided the mothership Monday night and evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park. In a coordinated series of actions that Oakland Mayor Jean Quan admitted included an 18-city law enforcement conference call, police raided encampments from coast to coast, using batons, pepper spray, riot gear and whatever it took, short of lethal force, to retake the parks, in the guise of public welfare and safety.

Some, like Bill O’Reilly, calling it a “legitimate political movement” for the first time only in pronouncing its eptitaph, boasted hopefully that “the Occupy movement is dead…and it’s a good thing.”

Not so fast, Bill.  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg screwed up big time, and so did his law-and-order buddies with their Gestapo tactics. The camps were actually becoming a major drag on the movement, though they were its necessary and effective beginnings. By mid-November they had drawn influxes of transients, druggies, drifters and grifters, far more interested in free food and lodging as winter began to bear down than in sweeping political change. Increasingly, they had filled the encampments with hard-core homeless and a variety of mentally ill social outcasts, whose tactics of Occupation were based largely on a misplaced sense of entitlement. They were draining energy from the political focus of the movement, sullying the image of the original Occupiers and deflecting focus from economic injustice in this country to stories of petty theft, drug use and assault, and spreading filth and squalor.

If left alone, many of the larger camps especially, in more controversial locations than Occupy Santa Fe, and with far less sympathetic mayors and police forces, would have descended into tent-filled slums in a matter of days or weeks, damaging the movement further and perhaps destroying it.

Instead, the widely broadcast brutality of cops with truncheons and klieg lights, dragging sleeping and nonviolent campers from their tents I the middle of the night, accomplished just the opposite of their objective. This is why the mood in Zuccotti Park the following day, after it reopened once a judge ruled that First Amendment rights did not include sleeping bags and tents, was one of liberation and near-euphoria.

As Gandhi famously noted: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Stage 3 had begun in cities across the United States. The cops and mayors and 1-percenters thought the Occupiers would give up and go home, but they miscalculated, as the forces of oppression always do, after they panic when they realize they have overreached, big time.

There is too much wrong in this country for those who have become aware of it to give up and go home. The Occupy movement changed the dialogue from the trumped-up,  red-herring deficit issue to the real subject of injustice and unfairness in America. The 99 percent are the 99 percent for a reason. The emperors have no clothes, and now everybody knows it.  There is no going home, as the 30,000 or so rallying in New York’s Foley Square tonight and marching across the Brooklyn Bridge are exclaiming, as the thousands more who flooded Wall Street earlier are proclaiming, as the hundreds and thousands in marches and protests in dozens of cities, which will spread to hundreds of cities by this weekend, are reminding those who would continue to oppress and repress them.

We don’t know where exactly it’s all heading, but it is looking more real by the hour. Marches, rallies, teach-ins, move-your-money actions, and why not a nationwide strike, boycotts, flash mobs? If the cops stay violent, and the mayors keep making condescending speeches about the public health and welfare, they become the movement’s best recruiting tool. Bring it on, Bloomberg and your media minions, for you know not what you have unleashed!

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Time to pull up stakes

 

In an ironic twist few would have anticipated two months ago, the Occupy movement risks being hijacked—not by the cops, the media or the money of Wall Street, but by the homeless. As wintry weather bears down on Santa Fe and a lot of northern cities and towns, the political activists in tents and sleeping bags are being replaced by transients, drifters, vagabonds, conmen and grifters, druggies and misfits of all kinds, looking for a handout, a tent, a hot meal and a place to hang that isn’t a church- or government-run shelter.

 

Those who are serious members of the OWS movement and have slept at the Railyard encampment here report an increasing number of occupants who have no interest in the movement except what they can gain from it personally. Instead of social or political commitment they have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. Naturally the mainstream media are picking up on the growing divisiveness, and it won’t play well on Main Street. People who don’t understand the movement or its goals are happy to exploit any perceived weakness or inconsistency. Violence, such that which broke out in Oakland a few nights ago, is the worst setback, especially when it is precipitated by the Occupiers, or appears to be. Camps full of disruptive misfits and social outcasts are nearly as bad.

 

On the one hand, the greed of the 1 percent and a gridlocked, dysfunctional government are largely responsible for the legions of homeless this society produces, and the movement cannot ignore them. On the other hand, parasitic and unstable transients, not the foreclosed and the economically displaced, are the ones filling the camps, and Occupy movements are facing a major strategic decision in one city after another.

 

To launch the movement, physical occupation of a park adjacent to Wall Street was a great political statement and a focal point for drawing participants and media coverage. Though most of the sites occupied in other places weren’t as meaningful, the symbolism of staking out a piece of public property as an act of civil disobedience was still powerful and appropriate. Now some are starting to question whether maintaining the camps is becoming a form of fetishism—an obsessive attachment to something that is not really the heart of the movement.

 

The time has come for Occupy groups to contemplate abandoning their encampments rather than seeing them be held hostage by drifters and grifters. Occupation was always a symbolic act, and more can be accomplished by the process most of the groups have now successfully established, of holding general assemblies and working/action group meetings in a variety of public spaces. Exercises in direct democracy, marches, rallies, picketing, teach-ins, and maybe even flash mobs, are effective tools each group can use, now that adherents have come together and the media are providing coverage. There are many targets on which the 99 percent can focus, and the Occupy sites are no longer essential for that purpose.

 

While the encampments have had a certain historical resonance as well, mirroring the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression, they could not practically speaking be expected to exist in the long term, so why not move beyond them now that they are becoming a logistic and a strategic liability?

 

This doesn’t mean the many outcasts they are drawing should be forgotten by the society that created them, but that is not a new problem or one the Occupy movement can allow to drag it down. America needs a message of unity from OWS and its supporters, not mixed signals, and not the negativity that is waiting to happen the first time a major casualty is reported from some Occupy camp. It won’t take long, it will happen any day now, and it will further undermine the confidence of the public and the image of the movement.

 

Onward, Occupiers—it’s time to break camp.

 

 

—Steve Klinger

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