Tuesday, November 15, 2011

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

In the 1960s, as protests for Civil Rights and/or against the Viet Nam war continued to grow and multiply despite attempts by the police and other law enforcement agencies to stop them, police tactics became more and more repressive and violent.

In fact, that's when the police became militarized, with so-called S.W.A.T. teams all armored up and weaponized on a level rarely seen in this country (though it also happened during strikes and other labor protests in the 1930s and throughout USA history whenever the interests of the "trusts"—i.e. corporations—were threatened by public protest).

We're seeing it again in the police brutality being used against protesters and reporters and observers and even just passersby (as with the innocent bystander who was seriously injured in Oakland last week, etc.) and last night at the original Occupy Wall Street in what was known as "Liberty Plaza" (until it was taken over by a corporation and named for one of the corporation's wealthy big shots).

It's ironic that the rightwing media machine and its mouthpieces (including their political "leaders"—elected or not) that are always going on about "freedom" and "liberty" (though usually unwilling to lay THEIR lives on the line for those concepts, letting the poor and deprived and needy among our youth do that for them) cannot stand to see people actually "demonstrating" those concepts by gathering to protest injustice and demand their rights.

When anyone left of Dick Cheney presumes their Constitutional right to publicly gather and protest, the rightwingers not only attack them for doing that but infiltrate their protests with provocateurs whose job it is to discredit the actions of the protesters while the rightwing media discredit the motives of the protesters.

This coordinated attack on one of our basic freedoms has been happening since the beginning of The Occupy Wall Street movement (but never occurred during Tea Party rallies, despite people carrying guns and being noisy and belligerent and even physical against those who disagreed with their ideas).

The first attempt to discredit the protests was to mark the protesters as disaffected young people who had no idea what they were protesting against or for. That was ridiculous on its face (I took part one day, as I've written, and saw many white haired folks and businessmen in suits and professors and teachers and even off duty cops and firemen etc.).

Then when the movement began obviously gathering supporters across the spectrum, the right—and the media it manipulates so easily—started criticizing the protests for "disturbing the peace" in some way, being too unhygienic or noisy or harboring criminals etc. and thus (from the rightwing perspective) justifying police intervention, no matter how violent.

The Oakland police were the first to move to all out militarization, and if they hadn't inadvertently seriously injured an Iraq Vet and then tried to keep people from helping him, which was caught on camera, they'd have probably gotten away with it (not from the perspective of the protesters and their supporters, including me, but in terms of media attention).

Other local governments—state and county and municipal—have gone the route of allowing the protests to continue until they can cook up the "legal" justification for repressing them, often violently. As in so-called "Zucotti Park" last night.

It is no accident that news helicopters were denied air space over the police action last night at the Wall Street Occupation in Manhattan, and that reporters were kept from getting close enough to take photos or be eyewitnesses to any police brutality, or were roughed up by some cops themselves.

I come from a clan in which there's always been police officers, right from the progenitor of the clan, my Irish peasant immigrant grandfather. So I know firsthand that there truly are "good cops" and "bad cops" and most police do not enjoy getting physical, let alone violent.

There were police last night who didn't rough up reporters, or protesters and there were those who did. But behind their actions are not just politicians but an array of powerful forces consciously or unconsciously doing the bidding of corporate powers and those whose wealth is dependent on those corporate powers.

Why should citizens not be allowed to gather in public and protest and stay as long as they like? Many in the media and among our citizens were impressed with the courage and lasting power of the protesters in "Liberty" Square in Cairo last year, despite police efforts to not just remove them but intimidate them and squash the protest. And they didn't have to contend with the cold!

The excuse is always that it's "disruptive" in whatever ways will most disgust the general public so that police action seems justified. But when someone makes too much noise or is un-hygenic or even commits a crime in your neighborhood, the police don't move in and remove you and your neighbors or destroy your homes.

It's not even ironic that people who supposedly live near Zucotti Park have complained about the noise from drumming. First of all most apartments in those kind of high rises don't even have windows that open, especially on the kind of chilly nights we've been having recently. And the noise from the construction at the nearby World Trade Center memorial and area is radically louder than any drumming (and we know the drumming doesn't go on at night because protesters are sleeping then).

What the authorities dread is the development of "Hoovervilles"—the kind of squatting communities that spontaneously appeared during The Great Depression around the country, like in Central Park and along the rivers in Manhattan (see MY MAN GODFREY among other films from the 'thirties) and expanded before the police, sometimes with the help of military troops, could remove them.

Tahrir Square in Cairo were lauded as heroes among many in the U.S. and the media), in which case (actual crimes) the police can do actual "police" work—not create-a-riot or military action—and find our who committed the crime and arrest them.

The most ridiculous part of all this was that Bloomberg, NYC's mayor, defended last night's action by saying the tents and sleeping bags were making it so "the public" (as if the protesters are somehow "the private"?) couldn't use the park. But I was there on the day when the crowds were the largest, according to all news reports and the police, and yet me and my then thirteen-year-old son and his mother and her younger sister and her boyfriend strolled around the park without any problems. The only problems were the rogue cops who were obviously itching to smack us down for daring to go against their bosses or their own private prejudices or politics.

And now—hey Bloomberg!—the park's been closed all day to the protesters AND THE PUBLIC(!) protected by a phalanx of cops in riot gear. Where are all the defenders of the Constitution now? (Protesting the closing of the park, actually.)

Where this militarization of the police and repression of protesters and demonstrators led in the 1960s and '70s was to calling in the National Guard and the four deaths of student protesters at Kent State (where even if rocks were thrown, although that's still debatable, being shot to death is not the reasoned or democratic response).

And where that led the protesters was the extreme radicalization of some of them who came to believe Mao's dictum that "power comes out of the barrel of a gun." I argued against that, because I don't believe it's ultimately true. But having the police use military tactics to deal with citizen protesters obviously can, and sometimes does, lead to some protesters becoming militarized themselves.

But more often agent provocateurs working for the police or corporations etc. encourage and instigate violence from protesters in response to violence from the police, to thus justify total repression of the protesters and their cause. And the agents' actions create paranoia among the protesters because it is unclear who is really protesting and who is there only to stir up trouble to discredit the protest.

Because of the Internet and the generally speedier transmission of images and words these days, what took the Civil Rights and Anti-War protests many years to evolve through stages of protest—and reactions from the authorities in the form of police actions—is occurring in a matter of only months for this movement. I'm hoping that doesn't mean that violence will escalate equally rapidly.

In fact I'm hoping the protests can remain non-violent like the early Civil Rights protests did, because the moral authority inherent in that approach won over many more supporters than when the protests turned violent in response to police violence.

14 comments:

JIm said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
tom said...

Hopefully they will switch to early morning through curfew and get some sleep and be there the next day. I don't think the OW movement is going to be closed down that easy. And brutality on the part of the police will bring more support. Hope they keep it peaceful.

Lally said...

And I hope they don't lose their focus and get distracted by skirmishes with the police and city and that becomes the issue rather than stopping the unbridled greed and political influence of corporations etc.

Lally said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
harryn said...

In principle, I'm all for the Wall Street Protests, civil disobedience, striking, and protest in general.
I was also active during the 1960's and 70's in Philly and NYC demonstrations but often became frustrated by the lack of cohesive direction then and now.

Let me play devil's advocate ...

For anyone that has a commercial business (and pays higher utility costs and taxes) - an 'occupation' is disruptive. Also for residents who choose location for convenience and ambiance.
Sacrifice often needs to be made for the greater good - but it has taken too long for its direction to become apparent.
With all the 'social media' available today I'm really surprised that this occupation energy hasn't led to more critical and decisive action. Lets face it, the problems are large and looming but the left is often directionless. That's why 'good' has to do something more than occupy space. The rallying of numbers has already made a point, but what now?
MLK's effectiveness was that he took the show on the road and had a clear and decisive message. I don't see it here.
Without further objectives it would be natural for the significance of such a demonstration to lose focus and momentum - becoming more of a rally for fifteen minutes of fame than consequential action.

I believe the notion of demonstration is to show a body of like-minded support for a cause - after that, there is a legitimate argument for for it being disruptive.

I'd never want to be so blind on the left that I begin to look like the right.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

As usual, Harryn speaks thoughtfully and wisely. What's the next step? What's the game plan?

As for the deleted one, he who said "no right is absolute," - including polluting the air with lies and hate under the guise of First Amendment expression.

JIm said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lally said...

Had to delete a comment which declared "sanity from the left is rare" as too blatant a lie posted for propaganda effect.

But Paul, I have to disagree with one of your basic premises. Having been at Zucotti Park and hearing from those who are spending a lot of time there, the "disruptive" aspects of it are minimal if not nonexistent.
What IS disruptive about it is the police presence and barricades. Without them, it would be less disruptive than Times Square at rush hour or anywhere near grand Central or Penn Station at rush hour—in terms of people on the street blocking pedestrian traffic etc. Or Madison Square Garden on a game or big concert night etc.
The financial cost of the police etc. could easily be diminished by eliminating their presence in any more than a couple of foot patrols and regular squad car drive throughs like at Tompkins Square park or central park or any other park of plaza in the city.
What's most disruptive is exactly what the occupiers are protesting, the financial games and crimes that led to economic disaster for so many in this country and around the world caused by Wall Street financial "institutions" (i.e, casinos gambling with the public's money but when they lose it not being held accountable etc.).
What's also disruptive is there no longer being affordable housing in Manhattan for anyone who isn't rich.
In fact I could make an almost endless list of everything that has been and is disruptive about the very things the protestors are demonstrating against and the terrible price it has and is costing all of us who aren't wealthy.
The damage done by eight years of Bush/Cheney and begun by Reagan to this country and its institutions will not be healed simply by focusing on one issue, though obviously that's a good strategy for impacting the media and most people's capacity for understanding the complexities of politics and the corporate power that dominates politics and the economy. But I believe the Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired those around the country who in fact are focusing on single issues and reversing some of the worst of the rightwing's power plays (as in the elections this month).
I too would like to see "the left" in this country become more sophisticated about their focus on and articulation of an objective and a way of reaching it we can all get behind, because as polls show most voters agree more with liberal positions and conservative ones, but one of the main differences between the left and right is that the right likes to follow leaders and be in march step with their fellow rightwingers whereas the left is suspicious of any top down leadership or lock step approach to problems, etc.
I could go on but that's plenty for now.

Lally said...

woops, several typos but the main one I'd like to correct is in the comment just above (six lines from the bottom) where I meant to type "than" instead of "and" between "positions' and "conservative."

harryn said...

Come on Michael - I just stopped by the alley to leave an opinion.
No one in their right mind could deny the improprieties caused by the unethical and covert machinations that are spun on Wall Street, in Corporate America, or with Washington legislation - that is what the occupation was most successful in identifying and rallying support for - but if things don't grow and change, they wither ...

That was my basic point. That it will continue to lose momentum if it simply occupies space.

Neither the protestors nor the media are talking about the fundamental issues anymore - now the discussion is about the unrighteous removal and incivility of people removing protestors or objecting to them - they're losing focus of the enemy and what the real issue is - those cops are part of that 99% who are as much at risk of losing pension, benefits, and jobs as the rest of us. From the looks of things, those changes aren't going to happen from Zucotti Park.
Furthermore, the park wasn't designed for this prolonged purpose. If we were trying to overthrow a dictator who lived in one of the adjacent buildings, perhaps there would be merit to the plan - but for the sake of preserving the integrity of this particular downtown community and the lifestyles of those inhabiting it, it's time to move on ... otherwise, the difference between a squatter and a protestor is signage.

My singular 'premise' is to be mindful of the situation, consequence, and value added ...

Lally said...

Paul, we seem to be talking across each other because there's little I disagree with. Fighting with the police is a deliberate outcome those who want Occupy Wall Street to fail create by having the cops crack down and evict etc. They know that will misdirect the media and the demonstrators. I don't really believe the "squatting" is that bad. It's actually really good for some local businesses. The park and that neighborhood are pretty much deserted at night, so the nearest pizza joint, a few blocks away, has been doing better business than it ever has, among others. Like everything in life there are "good" and 'bad" aspects to the protest. I'd love to see them take it to a higher level, organize and focus on specific goals and reach out, as was done in the '60s and other eras of protest, to not just natural allies—unions, teachers, etc.—but those who might not seem natural allies but can become them, like even some of the Tea Partyers who have been mislead and misinformed. It'd be great if the protesters were able to do the kind of "teach-ins" the anti-war and Civil Rights movements did, educating people to the realities of rightwing politics and policies and how they impact on the lives of the non-wealthy. Anyway, I always appreciate your input brother, especially when we don't agree on everything.

harryn said...

I'm with you Michael ...

I just don't think its that covert with the media nor the powers that be ...
More of a natural outcome of an impotent or poorly devised movement. And that's the frustrating and annoying thing about this. Flipping around on the news early this morning, during my coffee breaks, etc. - the removal of the OWS protestors, the alleged Penn State child abuse scandals, and Gingrich's rise to prominence amid the GOP pool. Not that they don't all deserve a by-line, but come on already - we've got some serious national issues that need remedies to insure a future that has been stifled for nearly 12 years now. Besides which, those are just the tips of a more endemic condition that plagues this culture.
OWS seemed to be a breath of fresh air comparable to the 'hope' Obama incited - but once again it dissipates from lack of clarity, messaging, and directive. I'm very sorry about that, but still retain hope.
I love your passion Brother ...

p.s. you must have heard that legislation has finally been introduced that restricts members of Congress from insider trading practices based on their knowledge of laws that are being passed. Till now, they were allowed to operate outside the law.
Zucotti Park isn't the arena ...

Lally said...

I hear you Paul. But the demonstrators in Zuccott Park may have emboldened, (and in some cases inspired) more direct action by others, including the introduction of that no insider knowledge trading by Congress people legislation.
And I do think there is a conspiracy of interests. Those who want to protect their greed at all costs recognize each other's interests as their own and have the wherewithal to buy (or buy influence) writers and media people and thinkers and politicians etc. to protect their interests.
I have no doubt there are spies who work for various intelligence agencies in Zucotti Park, that's what those agencies do, and after 9/11 and Homeland Security and all they're doing it even more so.
And I have no doubt that agent provocateurs are already being used, as they were in the Civil Rights era and anti-War era and during the labor disputes and strikes of the '30s and the WWI period etc.
It's age old tactics proven to often work. here was a documentary (might have been on frontline) I saw only a month or so ago about a charismatic young activist who had achieved some successes in combating injustices against poor African-Americans in a rural community in the Deep South and had then organized a small band of anarchists for the protests in Seattle in the late '90s and it turned out he was working for the FBI and got two young men who had committed no crime but were loosely connected to "malotov cocktails" that had been made but not used imprisoned (mostly because they refused to testify against each other). It's reality and these mostly young people in the Occupy movement may be too inexperienced or knowledgeable to understand all the forces arrayed against them, including criticism from supporters who mean well, like you and I, but aren't in the trenches with them dealing with all that's working to defeat them (including factions on the left etc.).

harryn said...

Yep - always agreed with Hillary's notion of a "vast right wing conspiracy", just that its much more overt these days. There's probably a logarithm that charts the left's tolerance against the right's oblique tactics. I think its time to shut down the government by moving the Occupation to D.C. - (I hope Jim isn't reporting my malevolence) ...
All I really know is that if this political and cultural trend continues I might be spending my golden years in another country - like the Peoples' Republic of Venice, CA ...
Talk about Deja Vu - just had a Wag the Dog Day Afternoon blend of memory.
Sorry to hear Jamie's thing was cancelled. Word has it that you would have paid to see me tango.

p.s. Ask Miles if that is a vintage Dan Electro "Nazz" - type bass he's using on the band's website. Sweet!
Also, just got a new Visual Sound Bass Volume Pedal he should check out - killer ...
p.s.s. Did you hear Bill Mahr on Letterman last night suggest treason regarding the congressional stale-mating - is that possible?