‘Public protest shall be polite, quiet, and invisible, and that is the way they will let us be free.’
Your right to peaceably assemble for the redress of grievances, and how you may do it, and what you may say, will be defined by the police power of the state, backed by its political establishment and the business elite. They will define “acceptable” forms of public protest, even (and especially) public protest against them. This is the way it is now. This is the way it has been for some time. It’s just that people didn’t notice. And that was the problem with the Occupy protests. They resisted the marginalization — both literal physical marginalization, and the kind of intellectual marginalization that keeps real solutions to real problems out of our kabuki political debates. They could not be ignored. In 1831, the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison wrote of his own cause:
I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.
That was the real problem with the Occupy people. They were being heard.
Late last night, the New York Police Department, apparently decked out for a confrontation with the Decepticons, cleared Zuccotti Park of the campers who had occupied it for nearly three months. It was, as all of these things have been, a fully militarized operation, launched with a maximum of surprise by armored tactical police who even brought a helicopter, in case they needed air support. They also uncrated all their exotic toys for the occasion. The operation netted the police about 100 arrests, and it is being said that it went off peacefully, although accounts on that do vary. (Keeping the press out while the action is being taken is a particular tell.) The action followed several days of similar operations in Oakland, and Denver, and St. Louis, and a particularly nasty bit of business in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where authorities appeared to require a tactical unit with automatic weapons to protect an abandoned building. All of them took the place by surprise, and in the middle of the night. These are basic military tactics.
The former car dealership building at 419 W. Franklin St. is owned by Fayetteville businessman Joe Riddle and has stood empty for many years. The town condemned it Monday as unfit for human habitation.
Nice that they could finally get around to that. Urban blight? Okay. Urban blight containing political protest? Not Okay. Got it.
In almost every case, there was the ritual defense of the First Amendment by the nervous mayors who sent in the riot cops. There was the assertion that they were only acting in the interest of public safety and public health. The mayor of Portland, Sam Adams — proof enough that the Almighty has a deft touch with historical irony — seems like a decent enough skin. He makes as cogent an argument as you can on Twitter that the Occupy movement needs to get beyond simply occupying physical space, which is true enough.
(Although fobbing the whole thing off on “Washington” seems to be ducking the issue. Income inequality is everywhere. The theft of the nation’s wealth was the theft of the wealth of the entire nation. That’s been the whole point. Should the protests against the Vietnam War been restricted to the area around the Pentagon? Should every civil-rights march been confined to the National Mall?)
Unfortunately, it’s hard for people to hear reason from a mayor who’s about to set upon them a faceless force in body armor that seems to have beamed in from Mars. Like all the other mayors in all the other cities, Mayor Sam is being led around by his “business community” and his police force. Never has civilian control over our thoroughly militarized urban police forces seemed so tenuous. Never have we seemed so close to being subject to a private police force that answers, primarily, to the economic power of the financial elite.
Some mayors don’t care. Michael Bloomberg in New York clearly steps to the tune called by his peers, and by the New York Post, the local franchise in a vast criminal enterprise run by an Aussie T&A merchant. Mayor Sam out in Portland at least seems to have a vestigial conscience about what he was forced to do. The matter rests in New York with the courts, and the protesters won a preliminary victory there this morning. But the precedent has been set, all over the country: Public protest shall be polite, quiet, and invisible, and that is the way they will let us be free.
Just so we understand…
Tea Party guys with assault rifles at Presidential speaking venues: No problem
Unarmed hippie protestors in abandoned buildings or annoying people who got 70 billion of our dollars: Respond with tactical teams armed with automatic weapons, tear gas, rubber bullets, nightsticks and fists.