The people criticizing the “lack of demands” given by organizers and/or protestors, should also be mindful of the original purpose of Occupy Wall Street. I was told that the sole intent of the organizers was merely to show up in large numbers and be seen. Motivated by bailouts for millionaires, never-ending wars, massive home foreclosures and pervasive layoffs, the only goal of Occupy Wall Street was “protest via presence.” In light of the ever-growing numbers at Zuccotti Park, the spontaneous occupy movements that it spawned in over 100 U.S. cities and the additional 1,500 protest movements it has inspired globally, the original goal of Occupy Wall Street has indeed been achieved.
What has been particularly interesting are the responses of law enforcement to the mostly non-violent occupy movements. While Occupy L.A. has been relatively peaceful, the same cannot be said for the occupy movements in other cities. Footage from Occupy Oakland is hardly distinguishable from the footage of clashes between protestors and police in Tunisia or Egypt. Thanks to YouTube we’re able to watch the police attack on an Iraq War veteran and those coming to his aid; police pepper-spraying unarmed women; and the unprovoked police shooting of a photographer complying with their commands.
Occupy Wall Street has seen several clashes between peaceful protesters and the NYPD. The forceful actions of the NYPD in service of Wall Street bring to mind the forgotten history of the U.S. labor movement. During this time corporations enlisted the use of the Pinkertons, the U.S. Army and the National Guard to control strikes and protests, often violently. Given this history, recent revelations of substantial monetary contributions from JP Morgan Chase to the NYPD reminds many of the “good ole days” where these hired hands were used for strikebreaking. These “donations” also shed light on what many deem the excessive and adversarial posture taken by the NYPD toward the protesters.
What would be humorous, if they weren’t so troubling, are the creative methods cities are deploying to arrest protesters and otherwise end the occupy movements. By invoking rarely used ordinances against everything from the use of umbrellas, to a 150 year old law banning the public wearing of masks, police seem to have left no stone unturned in their quest to curtail fundamental rights of assembly and free speech.
Police aren’t the only ones who seem to view themselves as adversaries of the occupy protesters. Politicians in general seem to, at best, tolerate the movement and, at worst, demonize citizens choosing to exercise their constitutional rights. Elected officials like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Republican Presidential candidates Herman Cain, Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachman, and Rep. Peter King are just a few of the politicians who have made hostile, crude and disparaging remarks about movement participants.
This should come as no surprise. Since the founding of our nation, politicians have deemed themselves separate and distinct from those they are entrusted to represent. Let us remember, it was none other than James Madison, the principle framer of our Constitution, who argued that the primary goal of government should be “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” This adversarial view that pits those governing against those governed has remained intact since the very founding of our nation. This too is what is being protested at occupy movements all across America.
As I reflect back on my visits to Occupy Wall Street and Occupy L.A. I now recognize that I was in the midst of the rawest manifestation of democracy—dissent. Being well aware of the “un-patriotic” labels given to participants by detractors, I’ve come to believe that the opposite is true. By the time my visits to the occupy movements were over I not only understood that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” but also, as Mark Twain, wrote:
“In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.”
As I see it, the occupy participants are indeed those brave, hated and scorned patriots at the forefront of change, their cause… to check the unrestrained opulence of the minority—the 1%.