Sunday, November 20, 2011

Occupy, Occupy, Here Comes Occupy

I’ve been wanting to comment on the #Occupy movement for quite some time, but events keep outrunning my prose. That’s still true today. So this is just going to be some disjointed musings to emphasize how delighted I am with these young people—the ones who’ll have to live in the mess we’ve created—and how crucial I think their movement is. Just consider: a few weeks ago, the wacky right seemed firmly in command of the entire political spectrum. Obama was reeling from hits to every one of his proposals, no matter how lame. All we heard was the Tea Party and the rantings and ravings of the Republican pretenders to the White House: Tweedledum and Tweedledumber-by-the-minute (I mean really, has there ever been such a gathering of cruel, incompetent morons in a presidential primary?)

Now, though, the #Occupy movement in city after city has changed all that. Just this morning, for example, I read a piece about the latest initiative in Congress: Ted Deutch, (D-FL) has offered a constitutional amendment (he calls it OCCUPIED: Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy) to affirm that “rights protected by the Constitution belong to human beings, not to for-profit corporations or other business entities.” It would “prohibit business corporations and their associations from using money or other resources to influence voting on candidates or ballot measures anywhere in America.” Amazing. The Democrats in Congress are clearly feeling the heat from the occupiers, and some, at least, are starting to find some damn backbone.

Of course, it won’t be enough. But this is what such movements are supposed to do: change the debate, and force legislators to act rather than hide behind mealy-mouthed rhetoric. And just before this, I watched a video of a few dozen occupiers marching—on foot, along the highway where people can stop and congratulate them—from New York to Washington. They plan, according to some of their interviews, to barge in on the deadlocked “Super Committee” that’s supposed to be coming up with compromise measures to reduce the deficit. Of course, this “stupor committee” will do nothing of the kind, but the occupiers are pushing ahead, getting some press, and dramatizing the determined inaction of the U.S. Congress.

Even before that, I read the beautiful op-ed written (NY Times)by former poet laureate Robert Hass about his encounter with the police at UC Berkeley’s occupy gathering last week. In brief, Hass and his wife, poet Brenda Hillman, decided to monitor police behavior the night they were to remove the occupiers from UC’s Sproul Plaza. Instead, the Hass’s found themselves stuck in a crowd being forced together, and when Hillman sought to engage a policeman in dialogue, he struck her to the ground, also striking Hass when he tried to come to her aid. Hass, nursing bruised ribs, decries the militaristic tactics of the Darth Vader forces that have attacked, without provocation, the occupiers from New York to Denver to Oakland to San Francisco in what many see as a coordinated attempt to intimidate the occupiers, break their movement, and discourage any others who might be thinking of joining them. It hasn’t worked so far. Each broken-up demonstration has simply come back stronger—a fact we learned in the 60s, i.e. that inducing the authorities to overreact is part of revolutionary strategy. And these days, i.e., post-9/11, one hardly has to induce at all. The militarized police forces—the equipping of whom has become a booming industry for America’s military-industrial complex—seem to all be either on hair-trigger alert, or specifically instructed to beat the hell out of a few hundred demonstrators, regardless of provocation or law-breaking, to send a message. Fortunately, the message is having the opposite effect. Police brutality is encouraging, rather than discouraging more people to join the movement. And if polls are correct, millions of Americans, like myself, are cheering them on from the sidelines.

The police will, and already have scaled back their brutalities—especially after the horrific video of a helmeted officer walking calmly back and forth spraying pepper gas directly on a sitting group of UC Davis students blocking a sidewalk; which spraying called forth condemnation and an investigation by the UC Davis Chancellor. But things have gone very far already, and the police, like all authorities, are fixed in their attitudes. Crowds threaten them. Protest types disgust and alarm them. Used to intimidating, used to immediate compliance with their orders no matter how unreasonable, their responses are virtually automatic (their force has been rationalized by one spokesperson who said “linking arms is a form of violence”). Indeed, the conflict between police/soldiers and unarmed demonstrators has become the emblem of our time—in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Yemen, in Burma, in Libya, in Syria. The only question in any such situation is how far these “upholders of law and order” will go to snuff out the legitimate cries of the suffering.

And this is why, in the end, the #Occupy movement is so important. Ordinary people, mostly young people, are demonstrating that the situation—of inequality, of organized theft, of corporate malfeasance, of ecological disaster—has become so dire that they are willing to put their bodies on the line to change not just rhetoric, but everything. Even former lawmen—I know of two who have recently joined the occupiers, Ray Lewis, former police chief of Philadelphia (arrested), and Norm Stamper, former police chief of Seattle—are adding their voices to the rising chorus. Where all this will end is anybody’s guess: it could fizzle in the cold and wet. But one thing is sure. Those in power are taking note, and planning furiously to deflect the movement, infiltrate the movement, discourage and discredit the movement (this just in: Reader Supported News is reporting that a well-known DC Lobbying Firm has proposed an $850,000 plan to conduct ‘opposition research’ on the Occupy Movement and construct ‘negative narratives’ about it. See it at There is fear in their hearts, because they know that the movement has focused on the one truth that cannot be denied: We really are the 99%, and without our cooperation, they cannot maintain their exploitation of the masses. For that alone, I salute the occupiers. And hope, when the time is ripe, to join them.

Lawrence DiStasi

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