After launching a largely successful campaign to shut down all of the major commercial shipping ports on the west coast of the US, the occupiers are now moving on to what they are calling the “second phase” of their movement. They are interpreting Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” cover as a vindication of their difficult struggle to confront the predatory corporations and to expose their corrupt political allies in the government. The activists are encouraged by the fact that this eastern establishment publication has now been forced to acknowledge their significant influence on American culture.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters are very aware that they are part of a larger global pro-democracy/anti-corruption movement. The series of demonstrations which fueled the “Arab Spring” started long before the folks at Zucotti Park in NYC decided to set up their tents and begin their own permanent occupation.
When demonstrators in Yemen occupied a square in the nation’s capitol, military troops opened fire on them. Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkal Karman, a journalist, refused to cooperate with the government’s repressive policies towards the press and now she has became an internationally recognized spokesperson for her people.
During the last few days, another two dozen protesters have been killed by forces aligned with President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Demonstrators have been shot, imprisoned, tortured and beaten to death in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, and many other nations. People around the world have been paying the high price for freedom with their own precious blood. These activists are willing to make the sacrifice because they refuse to cooperate with dictators and empire builders whose only goal seems to be the oppression of the poor and the protection of the rich.
Beginning with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in September, the “American Autumn” has now erupted all across the US with solidarity occupation groups springing up in Canada, Europe and Asia. No one could have predicted such a widespread public show of discontent by the American people. Even tea party participants are impressed by the massive support the occupiers have received from labor unions, teachers associations, student groups, community coalitions, healthcare workers, environmentalists, political independents and economic reformers.
When the current uprisings in the US began back in September, both the corporate news
media and Republican presidential candidates tried to dismiss the Occupy Wall Street
movement as meaningless. They accused the demonstrators of being disorganized,
misdirected and ineffectual. But after 600,000 people removed their money from
corporate banks on “National Bank Transfer Day” on Nov. 5th, the political and financial
establishments began to wake up. They finally started to take their opposition seriously.
Utilizing local police departments to do their dirty work, mayors across the country have been forcibly evicting the occupy camps. As a result, we have witnessed scenes of police using tear gas, concussion grenades, pepper spray and in some cases rubber bullets on mostly peaceful demonstrators.
What message does this send to the rest of the world?
I maintain that the images of police abuse have only served to highlight the hypocrisy of our own foreign policy. We have all heard the grandiose statements of support for uprisings in other countries made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. Both of our national leaders have condemned the violence that has been used against demonstrators in Syria, Libya, Yemen, etc. They have called upon these governments to recognize the rights of the people to challenge their leaders publicly by staging protests, and by expressing their political opposition through the practice of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Given these lofty statements by Clinton and Obama which have proclaimed the US’s support for freedom and democracy, how is it then that none of our political representatives in Washington, DC are bothering to condemn the use of violence and force being used against protesters in our own country? Apparently, the use of flash/concussion grenades on unarmed demonstrators at the Port of Seattle on Dec.12th was somehow justified by an overwhelming need for restoring public order? The implication here is that international protections on civil and human rights won’t be applied to protesters in the United States of America.
Consider the following images of brutality that are being broadcast around the world:
!) Video of New York City police officers assaulting a protester who was holding an American flag.
2) Photos of an 84 year old women in tears after being pepper sprayed by Seattle police at an Occupy Seattle protest.
3) Photos of US Army war veteran Scott Olsen on a stretcher suffering from a cracked skull after being struck in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police in Oakland.
4) Footage of Washington State Patrol troopers using tasers on demonstrators at the state capitol building in Olympia.
5) You tube videos of campus police dousing non-violent demonstrators with pepper spray at the University of California Davis.
One of the main problems with these incidents is that police agencies are reacting to acts of peaceful civil disobedience as if they are acts of criminal intent. The state of mind of most criminals and that of a protester are very different. The former is motivated only by destructive self-interest, whereas the latter’s intention is hopefully to make a better world for us all. Most of the demonstrators are protesting against violence and injustice – they strongly disagree with the destructive actions of agitators among them.
This non-violent attitude among most of the participants of the Occupy Wall Street movement is the very reason why they have gained so much support among the disappearing middle class and from powerful labor unions. The average “soccer mom” from Peoria, Illinois is certainly not going to support a group of violent extremists.
Their commitment to peaceful resistance is also why much of the international community interprets the police crackdowns on occupy groups in the US as unnecessary acts of political repression, rather than as law enforcement activity designed to protect public safety. At major demonstrations in European nations such as in Italy and Greece protesters do sometimes throw Molotov cocktails at police, but in the US instances of physical violence perpetrated by activists are relatively rare.
Police violence used to suppress demonstrations in the US has not diminished the number of protests. On the contrary, these acts of oppression have only increased public support for the Occupy Wall Street activists. The images showing clear evidence of police misconduct are so dramatic, and the unfolding story is so compelling, that no one really wants it to end – at least not the media or the demonstrators.
One may disagree with some of the specific tactics being used by the more radical demonstrators, but their national campaign to stop “business as usual” has been mostly successful so far. No organized destructive force has been able to co-opt or steal the movement and the folks in power in the US are now very much aware of the sentiments of the majority of the 99% - they are angry!
These American uprisings have evoked some intense emotions from politicians and from conservative media pundits. Within the political halls of power in Washington, DC, the Occupy movement has raised alarms about the potential for a peaceful revolution in this country. Our elected representatives know that the Occupy Wall Street movement could have a major influence on the results of the next national election. The Republicans are hoping that all the “dirty hippies” will simply go home and take a bath and then decide not to vote. The Democrats, however, feel that they have the upper hand now that the GOP has positioned itself as the Wall Street party. But will the occupiers support them?
The Democrats believe they will receive political benefits from the occupy movement, but they are not willing to align themselves directly with the movement. Most of the occupiers want nothing to do with the Democrats or with any other organized political party. As usual, most of the progressives in these occupy groups want to vote for a third independent party. They are dreaming about a Bernie Sanders presidential bid…
The question on everybody’s mind is: “Do the occupation groups around the country have the willingness or the political savvy required to launch their own slate of political candidates?”
In response, I will quote Eli Sanders (The Stranger December 14, 2011):
“But the real answer to the ‘what next?’ question is probably the same as it’s been since the Occupy movement began in late summer: You’ll know when it happens.”
No one could have predicted the rapid growth of this new national political movement. I doubt anyone really knows how things are going to unfold in the future.
The lesson has been this:
If you think you know what’s going on you are probably wrong!