First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win.
- Mohandas Gandhi
An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.
- Victor Hugo
It seems like it's been forever since we first heard about a small group of protesters camping out in the middle of the Wall Street district. In reality, it's been a little over 2 months. In that very short time (in political movement terms), they have galvanized the planet, touching off similar movements in other cities and other countries. Their approach - strange to the minds of most people used to traditional governance models refined through centuries of trial, error, and enlightenment - brought uncertainty and bewilderment to those outside the encampments. What were their goals? Who were their leaders? How did the plan to make these changes happen?
Strangely, it seemed their only goals were to make their grievances heard. No demands, no lobbying congresspeople... Eventually, some demands WERE forthcoming (such as reinstating Glass-Steagall, and other financial reforms in the interests of economic justice), but for the most part, their purported purpose was to get people to think and to open their eyes.
As it became clear that the protesters were not going to get bored and leave, the power hierarchy (both political and financial) got nervous. Ignoring them was not proving fruitful, and was becoming harder to do as the size and quantity of encampments grew. Ridiculing them and infiltrating them with agents provocateur
was also useless, as the groupthink was not susceptable to provocation.
That left the only response that they knew how to use - violence.
The heavy-handed police response in NYC, Portland, and Oakland was a lose-lose for the powers-that-be in those cities. The cliché "the revolution will be televised" has held true. Videos of police pepper-spraying and clubbing non-violent and other essentially harmless people has created an outrage against the use of excessive force, as well as growing sympathy towards the protesters, where the sympathy had started to wane.
At UC-Davis in California, the officer casually spraying a group of sitting students with weapons-grade pepper-spray (essentially, a chemical weapon) has provoked a nearly unanimous outcry against the wanton and unnecessary attack on our first amendment rights. The officer has been suspended (WITH pay)
, and state senator Leland Yee (D) has called for an investigation
In Seattle, the police pepper-sprayed an 84-year-old woman
, and may have caused a 19-year-old 3 months pregnant woman to miscarry
after being hit in the stomach and pepper-sprayed (even after letting the police know she was pregnant).
Force - when used by police - is supposed to be employed when necessary to take control of a situation, and in direct proportion to the necessity. Was an 84-year-old woman a threat?...How about a 19-year-old pregnant woman?... or perhaps a group of students sitting quietly on the ground?...
We've seen this over-reaction in the past. When Bull Connor used police dogs and firehoses on civil rights protesters in 1963, the public outcry to the video seen on TV was enough to get the Kennedy administration involved. He intervened in negotiations, and made use of the National Guard to keep the peace. There was more violence and years of troubles, and the Johnson administration finally made things official, but it was the images and video of non-violent protest being brutalized by excessive government force that turned the tide from indifference to sympathy to demands for action.
Will the same thing happen here? Can it happen?... is the model too different? Currently, more people approve than disapprove of OWS, but the majority of people are unsure
. Perhaps the recent violence will change those numbers. There's also the constitutional amendment being floated by Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL)
to outlaw corporate money in elections, and end corporate personhood. This covers two of the "demands" of OWS (and people everywhere that care about fair elections), so perhaps the movement is gaining some traction.
There have also been rumors about the FBI and/or DHS coordinating the attacks on the protesters. While there are no hard facts to back those up, they nonetheless "feel" true when all that we get from the federal government is silence.
It's time for that silence to end. While it may be difficult for the president to agree completely with the OWS movement and it's goals, it should be easy for him to denounce the violence being perpetrated on his fellow citizens while they are attempting to exercise their 1st amendment rights. Please, Mr. President, ask for calm... Ask for a "cease fire".
It's what JFK would do.