Thursday, November 17, 2011

Watch And Learn

Today has been sort of a clusterfuck protest-wise. No, that's not true, it's been a clusterfuck in terms of quelling protest which, to me, is pretty cool. What's not cool is that it's been tense and a little violent and chaotic.

It's no surprise to me that the act of restricting access to the home base of the camp has inspired larger protests at more locations. It's also no surprise that there's more anger among the participants. Having had personal and community property destroyed, confiscated, and mistreated the game now has a new set of disrespectful rules for both sides. I would love to know if this is all a big well-how-did-that-happen to city officials or if they just don't care. What anyone knew or suspected or prepared for doesn't matter now, though. The snowball has started down the hill and it's going to be bigger before it reaches the bottom. How much bigger we'll just have to wait to see. I thought today would be a good day to speak up about why I think this movement is valuable.

It's long been known in peaceful protest that one of the most valuable tools is observation. Sometimes a protestor can't physically or legally intervene when they see something objectionable happening. The act of standing and watching it proceed, though, can be quite powerful because it makes it difficult for the perpetrators to deny or put a spin on their actions. When I think of this type of protest I always think of a picture I saw of a Aryeh Neier in, I think, Washington Square Park watching protestors being beaten by police. He's wearing a tweed jacket and and dress shoes and standing just outside the barricade but leaning toward the confrontation and watching it intently. You can tell just by looking that he's going to remember every detail and pass the message on.

I don't know that anybody who decided to carry a sign or march downtown or pitch a tent in a park thought that their signs, feet, or tents were going to make political and financial titans quaver and submit. If they did I'm pretty sure they wouldn't be the types to have the fortitude to continue to camp and speak and drum and march for two straight months. They have, though. They have occupied one really tiny corner of New York City and continued to catch the eyes and hearts of people across the world. They sit under the construction of the new world trade center and barely a block away from the Ground Zero visitor's center. They can't throw a stone and hit the stock exchange but they could run a zip line from the top of it right down to their drum circle without too much trouble.

As you know, I've been down to Zuccotti Park and I've walked through the Boston camp. They don't smell, they aren't dirty, and when I've been there they haven't been especially loud. Louder than your average afternoon in a largely business-oriented neighborhood but not loud enough that I could hear them for blocks before I arrived. Or even a block. I think some of the local business owners probably do have legitimate beefs with disrespectful factions of protestors. Their shops are in an area where they don't get a lot of non-suit business. Some tourist business maybe but not a lot of middle to lower-middle class folks and hardly any people who are trying to pinch a penny. With a group as diverse as the OWS campers you can't escape having some assholes and part of the burden of those assholes has been shouldered by local merchants. Residents who complain about crowding and sanitation and noise I have less belief in. The park doesn't smell any different than the rest of New York and it isn't any dirtier than the rest of the city. There is as much crowding or more from the Ground Zero "attractions" as there is for OWS. The traffic patterns created by the NYPD to contain the camp and regulate campers are much more disruptive than just having the camp there. Once regulations were made to restrict drum circle hours what exactly are the legitimate complaints? What inspired city officials and the land owners to suddenly employ shady tactics to clear out the park and implement new rules?

I think they, and others like them, were uncomfortable being watched. I think the clearing of Zuccotti Park and the other encampments across the country happened because the protests are working on a somewhat subtle level. People in the banking and finance industries see these protestors every day either in person or in the media. They don't agree with them, I'm sure, but they can't get away from the watchful eyes. So frankly I'm OK with the fact that the movement doesn't have one targeted message or leader. I'm going to consider it a small contribution to the movement to navigate the city-wide disruptions that are bound to occur now that the camp has been dispersed because I think we're seeing that the mere act of observing is making some of the 1% pay attention to their own actions. I don't know how far that will take us but I think it's an important step.


  1. I think what scares the most is that officials were barring media. I read way too much in World Thought and Political Econ Systems. It just says that the officials are doing something wrong or illegal. It's the equivalent to a crooked cop taping over his name on his jacket before a raid. It's wrong.

  2. i will say this much about the protests: they're doing *something*. and while i don't necessarily agree with their demands (what demands they're able to articulate), i respect them for standing up and saying "no."

    now, you know i'm a gunblogger...unfortunately, that generally means people assume i'm a Republican, and that's just not the case. those who *are* Republicans are incredibly negative about the whole thing, and it sickens me. they use the individuals causing the most mayhem as examples for the whole group, yet those same people would get VERY loud and VERY angry if someone used one problem gun owner as the default for the rest of us.

    i wish there were some way to bridge the gap. i wish there were a way to get both the tea partiers and the OWS folks to agree on a few points. together, i think they could take the US by storm and actually make things happen. i also think if the police knew there were armed people in the groups of protesters, they wouldn't be so freaking violent.

    that's the part that's held me enthralled. i can't believe the police are treating American citizens as terrorists when they clearly aren't. there may be an errant individual who calls for fireboming, etc....but that's certainly not the whole of the protesters!

    i don't know where i'm going with this, so i'll end this comment. i hope you can figure out what i was trying to say. :\ my mind's such a jumble about it that i can't even lay down the framework for a post on my own blog, so i haven't said a word about it.

  3. This is so true. Great post.

  4. Cindy, I'm having a lot of trouble with the kind of casual violence and disrespect the police are showing while I know there are plenty of cops who sympathize with the movement. I'm baffled by the disconnect.

    Laura, I think it's a common tactic to take whatever crazy you can find in your opposition and light it up like it's everything. I'm amazed by the number of people here in NYC who haven't been to the camp and are buying the hype from channels like FOX about what's going on down there. I think you know I'm gonna disagree about having armed folks inside the protest but I want to explain why.

    From what I can tell of what's going on around this violence, someone - civilian or police - gets scared or frustrated and makes a move - verbally taunting or physically threatening - on the other side and then each side rallies behind their own and you've got a melee. When one side has a bigger weapon to deploy (pepper spray, tear gas, baton) the minute they get nervous they use it. My fear is that if we say, "The police have pepper spray, we need guns to beat that." then it's just perpetuating and escalating something that shouldn't be happening at all on either side. I don't believe that someone having a weapon will deter the other side from acting. The police have pepper spray and guns and it's not stopping protesters. Would I be OK arming both sides with pepper spray and batons and seeing what happens...I might. I don't think I should but I might.

    OK, I just pictured it and all I can see is that beautiful 84-year-old lady who got pepper sprayed in San Francisco. I wouldn't be OK with it. But that lady is why. What if guns had been drawn, what if she'd been killed?

  5. Kizz - i've been thinking on your response the past few days.

    i see your point, and i don't disagree...not completely, anyway. i still firmly believe the reaction from the police was caused partially by their knowledge that the crowds upon which they fired were unarmed. they haven't picked on any crowds in areas where carrying - either concealed or openly - is legal and common.

    The police have pepper spray and guns and it's not stopping protesters.

    that, i believe, is simply due to people being used to police having guns. there's a general "only ones" mentality (we are the only ones who should have $This because we say so) among the police in cities where altercations have happened.

    pictures of that lady's face after being sprayed down still weigh heavily on my mind. it would be a tragedy if someone like her were to get shot. it would be a tragedy if *anyone* were to get shot, but the police disagree and have fired on the crowds. sure, they've used rubber bullets, but those can be just as deadly as lead if they hit the right spot on a human. we've let this happen - we've given our police forces free reign to fire on American citizens. it has to stop somewhere, and i think these protests have the solution in their hands if they open their horizons.

    are guns necessarily the best answer? i don't think guns are *ever* the best answer, but i DO believe they can get a point across without anyone brandishing a firearm.