Feministe on OccupyWallStreet

Posted on September 27, 2011


Occupy Wall Street protestors face police violence — Feministe.  Over the last, 4-5 days (when people actually started to pay attention or even know what was happening) I’ve heard a lot of different sentiments.  One common one is dismissal.  “there’s only x amount of people there”  “they’re not making a difference” “it’s just a bunch of hippie college students” bla bla bla.  No matter WHAT you think about their goal, or how they’re trying to accomplish it, something needs to be said for the fact that about 90% of Americans are pissed off at the way things are going, these people actually are trying to do something about it, and that deserves recognition.  Which is one reason I appreciated this post from Jill over at Feministe so much:

Like Samhita says over at Feministing, “You can say what you will about protests that are not strategic or focused and those are legitimate critiques – but the fundamental power of protesting when all other avenues have failed us is important to any semblance of democracy we might have, whether it be a strategic single issue protest or a faceless unanimous mass uprising. If protesters aren’t listened to, represented or covered, we have all but lost our voice.”

Regardless of how I feel about the relative merits of some aspects of Occupy Wall St. — and regardless of whether you think the protestors arereclaiming the future or are a bunch of hippie socialists — we should all be concerned with how the NYPD is handling the situation. The protests have been, by almost all accounts, peaceful, even if the protestors didn’t have a permit. The NYPD is nonetheless making mass arrests, using mace, andmanhandling protestors. That kind of disproportionate response should scare all of us — especially when much of the media coverage has amounted to, “Well the protestors are a bunch of spoiled children anyway.”

Look at the picturesand tell me that seems right. Try to envision Tea Party activists or even abortion clinic protestors — two groups that routinely protest without permits, and with varying degrees of peacefulness — being maced, arrested en masse, violently thrown to the ground, or roughly dragged down the street.

A terrifying number of important rights and liberties have been curtailed in the United States over the past ten years, often under the guise of keeping us safe or fighting evil. For the most part, Americans have looked the other way. But when peaceful protests are met with violence, and when force is used to silence political grievances, we all lose.

What’s sad is how normalized this response from police has become:

No matter what our political positions or our feelings about any particular group of activists, it should give us pause when a peaceful protestor has to decide if speaking her mind — or just showing up — is worth getting maced, arrested and brutalized. In looking at the photos and reading the accounts of the actions taken against the Occupy Wall St protestors, even the most right-wing among us should be disturbed. We should all be angry.

Most of the people I know who are focused on creating real change, by direct action or any method knows that the status quo will be defended with violence.  We know what’s at stake, and what we are risking every time we go to a protest or try to organize something.  We know stories that have been passed on about infiltration, agent provocateurs, all of it.  And we deal with it as it comes, we prepare for it, and we don’t usually talk about how fucked up it is explicitly, though we know this is part of why we do the work we do.  It has become such a normalized part of our strategies.  I definitely think it’s time we highlight this as a huge part of the problem.

I have a feeling we will see more and more situations like this.  We’ll see more protests ( because, duh, things aren’t getting any better). The media and naysayers will respond the way they are supposed to (the way they did with Occupy Wall Street and the way they did with the protests in Michigan/Wisconsin) by diminishing what is going on (both in numbers and in diluting the message) and painting the protesters as fringe individuals.  Through this they will try to justify the brutal tactics used against the people (while never actually naming or conceding that such tactics were way out of line).  But with the internet the truth will come out.  In one of the videos I saw of police brutality in NY the people were chanting “the whole world is watching” and perhaps that alone will be what it takes to keep police forces in check in the face of constitutionally protected actions of civil disobedience.