In the US, the message from the mayors is simple: You’ve made your point. Now go to your room and shut up. We’ve got a lawn to keep up, and you’ve spoiled it. America’s “grown-ups” as the political class likes to think of itself, have never had much patience when it comes to the “children”, as its mere citizens are known. And yet, America’s democratic revolutionary origins are at the very centre of a radically different vision of what American exceptionalism is all about.
The situation in Los Angeles is particularly exemplary. Although city officials welcomed Occupy LA at first, for weeks on end Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others have been saying it’s time to leave. Villaraigosa - like Obama - is a former progressive organiser turned neo-liberal politician. He was a teacher’s union organiser when I first met him in the 1980s, as part of a progressive precinct network aimed at getting disaffected progressive voters to the polls.
Also within the coalition’s core was the LA National Lawyers Guild’s executive director. When Villaraigosa first took office in 2006, his first big battle was against the teacher’s union he used to work for. He took them on with the backing of billionaire real estate developer and education “reformer” Eli Broad. Five years later, as he faces off against Occupy LA, the current NLG executive director, James Lafferty, is one of his major opponents.
With no sense of irony, Villaraigosa thought Thanksgiving weekend was the perfect time for an eviction. “It’s clear that this mayor cares more about dead grass than a dead economy,” Lafferty responded at an Occupy LA press conference. “The 99 per cent that have been thrown out of their homes, jobless, without proper healthcare and all the rest seem to be less important to him than that lawn.”
“A captured pirate was brought before Alexander the Great. “How dare you molest the sea?” asked Alexander. “How dare you molest the whole world?” the pirate replied, and continued: “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor.”—Pirates and Emperors - Noam Chomsky (via noam-chomsky)
“The argument that formal legitimate hierarchies are better than illegitimate informal ones strikes me as extremely weak. True, inequalities of influence, power, charisma, will always emerge – though not necessarily to any major degree, how much they emerge varies enormously. Making it clear they are not legitimate gives others the means to challenge them when they become genuinely oppressive or undercut the autonomy or effectiveness of the group or its members. Formalizing a leadership structure and making it official does not make it easier for the other members to control, does not make it more transparent, and does not make the leadership less likely to do other covert things they’re not supposed to be doing – if anything, an argument could be made that the exact opposite is the case. To be honest, it’s the notion that formalizing a leadership structure would have such beneficial effects that’s genuinely naive and utopian.”—[D. Grabber]
"All else equal, one should have less trust in someone to effectively manage something that is more complex,” said co-author Aaron C. Kay, PhD, of Duke University. “Instead, people tend to respond by psychologically ‘outsourcing’ the issue to the government, which in turn causes them to trust and feel more dependent on the government. Ultimately, they avoid learning about the issue because that could shatter their faith in the government.”
Among the most effective chants of the O.W.S. protesters has been a simple message: “The whole world is watching.” The chant is powerful because it is true. This is the age of the smartphone and the live-feed. And so, in New York on Monday night—or rather, at one o’clock on Tuesday morning—when Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly deployed thousands of cops to clear O.W.S. out of Zuccotti Park, they did so under the deepest cover of darkness, and they forbade the press from seeing what they were doing.
The N.Y.P.D. descended on the park with deafening military-grade LRAD noise canons and several stadiums’ worth of blinding Klieg lights, and while they worked, they drove journalists steadily back further and further from their area of operations. (Even the airspace over southern Manhattan was closed during the raid to prevent news helicopters from filming, making a mockery of claims, by the mayor and the police, that they were keeping reporters at bay for their own safety.) A number of journalists who attempted to stand their ground, identifying themselves to the police and insisting on their long-established legal right to work, were treated like protesters—roughed up, shoved, put in choke holds, pepper-sprayed, and otherwise manhandled, and at least seven reporters (including four who’d sought refuge in a church, and one from the New York Post, which has been calling for such a police operation against O.W.S. for weeks) were among the nearly two hundred and fifty people arrested during the crackdown. So was a City Councilman, Ydanis Rodriguez, who was taken into custody blocks from the park, and bloodied in the process.
The paramilitary-style eviction of O.W.S. from Zuccotti park was not our Guernica; it wasn’t our Tiananmen Square, nor even our Tahrir Square—as Nicholas Kristof of the Times, and many other commentators not so firmly in the media mainstream, have suggested. Thankfully, the Occupy encampments across America, and the state power arrayed against them did not represent anything like the forces of revolution or of oppression that we’ve seen in those foreign uprisings. That is precisely what makes the police violence that has become such a common spectacle so troubling: protest is an essential American democratic tradition, and you don’t have to support the protesters (or oppose the dismantling of their camps) to condemn its forcible stifling.
Of course there have been piecemeal incidents of violent criminality (vandalism and assault) by protesters; and, in confrontations with police, some have fought back. But the conduct of the overwhelming majority of Occupy activists has been highly disciplined in its adherence to the rigors of nonviolent civil disobedience. So why have we had to watch police—who are our employees, operating in our name— slamming anddragging unresisting men on the street, kneeling heavily on people’s heads while binding their wrists too tightly in flexicuffs, and pepper-spraying already captive women in New York; billy-clubbing peaceable demonstrators and dragging them brutally around by their hair when they offer their wrists to be arrested in Berkeley; and tear-gassing and flash-banging them at Occupy Oakland? […]
In a democracy, a mayor who believes he can shut down the press at will is not defending public safety; and a mayor who believes the police can be unleashed to manhandle the citizenry without answering for it cannot claim to be on the side of law or order.
Citizen! It has recently come to our attention that you wish to exercise your first amendment freedoms. In order to ensure compliance with Free Speech Safety standards please obey the following rules to ensure that your protest in conducted properly.
You can exercise your rights in a designated Free Speech Zone. Anyone who is caught outside specified zones participating in a free speech action will be beaten and jailed.
You must apply for a permit to designate a Free Speech Zone. To apply for a permit please contact the Board of Permitting and Public Safety. It is expected that you will have your sanitation, safety, education, environmental impact and concessions permits before applying. Anyone found participating in a free speech action without a permit will be beaten and jailed.
Free Speech Zones operate between the hours of 9am - 5pm, anyone caught participating in a free speech action outside of those times will be beaten and jailed.
All citizens participating in free speech actions must be properly dressed to identify themselves to authorities, corporate representatives and interested third parties. These uniforms can be purchased at several Free Speech Distribution Authorities located throughout your community. Anyone caught participating in a free speech action without proper attire will be beaten and jailed.
No items will be allowed to be carried into the Free Speech Zone. Anything that is not attached directly to your person or is out of compliance with the standard Free Speech Zone attire protocol will confiscated before entering the Free Speech Zone. Those caught with foreign items are subject to beatings and possible incarceration at the officers discretion. Any property confiscated will be promptly destroyed.
The first amendment is important to us, and we hope by obeying these simple rules you can make our community a safer and happier place.
“Mr. Bloomberg met daily with several deputies and commissioners, and as more business owners complained and editorials lampooned him as gutless, his patience wore thin.”—
This meme, of journalists describing elected officials (or, nonsensically, municipalities) as moving to dismantle these protests because their “patience wore thin” is particularly irksome. Because, and any competent editor/reporter should know this, the right to peaceably assemble isn’t subject to the “patience” of an elected official. To describe it this way is to accept that citizens are allowed in any public space only at the sufferance of their government, and at least for now in the U.S., that simply isn’t true.