I was at the Democratic Women's Summit with a few hundred other women, a couple of blocks from the Capitol today. A newspaper reporter I know (I'll let him tell his own story) whispered to me there was trouble at Occupy Denver, and I jumped up, following Congressman Ed Perlmutter who was also on his way there. When I arrived, there were many hundreds of protesters and what looked like a couple hundred law enforement officers lined up combat-style in riot gear. The roads were blocked off near the Capitol, and there were dozens of police cars, ambulances and other emergency vehicles.
Congressman Ed Perlmutter made his way over to the State Patrol and started talking, shaking his head, nodding, looking very concerned. His animated but private conversation went on for some time. I glanced at twitter on my smart-phone, and read that some protesters had advanced to the State Capitol, prompting the police reaction. The crowd was indeed bi-sected by Broadway, with half being on the Capitol side of the street, and the other half in Civic Center Park.
I was told the police had just shot a guy out of a tree using lots of rubber bullets, and shot some others in the crowd with them as well. A man walked passed me with a swollen and bloodied neck, dripping with freshly-applied, foaming hydrogen peroxide. The smell of mace or pepper spray was heavy in the air, and it was hard to breathe for some (like me). A few protesters had gas masks on, while others offered vinegar soaked rags to those around them. (I declined, but backed away from the smokey smell.) Arapahoe County Democratic Chair John Buckley, who just happens to be a lawyer and a former paramedic, was also there. People were shouting, "Video, take photos, start tweeting, get medics".
The crowd seemed peaceful except for two very agitated men getting in the faces of the police, taunting them and jeering at them. The police were stoic, in precise combat line position, staring straight ahead. A few of the police looked frightened. It was very, very tense. I took some photos of them, and although they didn't acknowledge me, I said, "I know you are not the enemy. Thank you for not reacting to these guys". One female police officer glanced at me and smiled, and then returned to staring straight ahead, stoically. It occured to me the two men may be Sabateurs (either that, or they were just plain crazy).
I was there about an hour, then returned to the Democratic Women's Summit, just in time for a panel of state legislators taking questions from the crowd. I asked them if they supported Occupy Wall Street. Senator Morgan Carroll answered on behalf of many of her colleagues on the panel (paraphrasing):
"I support the reasons they are protesting. Income inequality, unemployment, home foreclosures, education concerns, and so many other issues are what's behind the anger. Their frustrations are valid, and it is our job to make the policy changes that fix these problems. We need to re-direct that anger, that angst, into a constructive force for positive change in CO. I wish we had one tenth of them testifying at our hearings every year. We need their voices and their perspectives to inform public policy, to make life better for every person in Colorado."
After the meeting, I returned to the park and saw that the large crowd was still there, facing the long line of police in riot gear, although the sun was starting to set. Things were still tense. After I left, I heard from other observers who remained at the park that the police put on gas masks and cleared out the two dozen or more tents. According to twitter reports, between fifteen and twenty people were arrested today.
The sad part of today's story is that 99% of the protesters were peaceful, apparently law-abiding citizens, there for a little nonviolent protest. I suspect 99% of the police and state patrol officers really didn't want a stand-off either. The irony was that on both sides, these were all working people who just want a chance at the American Dream -- people who have to feed their families somehow. Where were the one percent that created this mess? Where were the corporate CEOS, the bank Presidents, the Wall Street executives who profitted from the pain of others? Why were they not the ones feeling the sting of the mace in their eyes, or the rubber bullets hitting them?
And where was our Governor and our Mayor who ordered the heavy-handed police presence? Why weren't they on the balcony of the capitol with a megaphone trying to calm the crowd, or out in the street like US Congressman Ed Perlmutter, trying to mediate between the two groups? How do the Mayor of Denver and the Governor of Colorado justify spending so much money to combat two crazy people, and a crowd of peaceful demonstrators? Why weren't there hundreds of law enforcement personnel in riot gear in 2009 when gun-toters from the NRA and people wearing tea bags hanging from their hats were pushing and shoving peaceful health care reform advocates at town hall meetings all over the state?
The elephant-in-the-room question is this, "What is the government going to do about this situation long-term?" Everyone knows you can squash a demonstration with violence or intimidation, but you can't squash a movement. When will Coloradans hear what they really want to hear -- that their legislators are listening, and their legislators understand their pain and frustration? When will the good guys, legislators like State Senator Morgan Carroll and US Congressman Ed Perlmutter, get a live, televised press conference with the Mayor and the Governor and share what they heard today from ordinary Coloradans? When will the people of Colorado hear their Governor say, "I'm listening. I refuse to be influenced by big business. My door will always be open to you, Colorado. Hold me to my promises"?