Discussing OWS (7): The state of #OccupyWallStreet and its lack of reliable allies

An assessment of the state of the movement, excerpted from Michael Greenberg:

“Lately, the contest has entered a new phase, with police pushing reporters aside, and sometimes arresting them before a crackdown, in order to avoid a repetition of the kind of scenes of brutality that propelled the movement’s rise when they appeared on YouTube. When police evicted protesters from Zuccotti Park on November 15, journalists, as The New York Times reported, were “herded into a pen out of sight and sound” of the action. At least twenty reporters were arrested, and a CBS News helicopter was ordered to leave the airspace above the park. At a demonstration on December 17 more reporters were handcuffed and arrested. And on New Year’s Eve journalists were physically harassed while trying to cover a protest.

Protesters have paid a considerable price. An earnest, rather mild librarian from North Dakota named Jeremy was bewildered and frightened to have been charged with assaulting an officer—a felony—after police tackled him during a demonstration at the New York Stock Exchange on November 17. “The cop said that when he swung at me he injured his finger.” For weeks a police satellite truck was parked in front of Katie Davison’s apartment building, apparently monitoring people who came to see her. On November 15, hours after protesters were evicted from Zuccotti Park, one of her visitors, Amin Husain, was surrounded and beaten by five policemen without provocation. Husain had never been arrested before.

The crackdowns scare away less hard-core supporters. Actions now routinely involve a diminishing group of three hundred to five hundred demonstrators or less. Some activists I spoke with preferred the smaller, more concentrated quality of the actions, partly, I suspect, because it gave them the elevated feeling of being the street fighters, the incorruptible ones, the keepers of what is pure. Skirmishes with police could be seen as proof that they were a bona fide threat to the system.

“We’re about guerrilla strategy,” an activist told me, “poking holes and retreating. Few revolutions have avoided bloodshed. Our challenge is how to make nonviolence effective.” One of his ideas was to pitch pup tents in parks, bank lobbies, atriums, and plazas. “We fill the tents with cement, a symbol of our permanence, a message to police that we’re not so easy to dislodge.” Under his arm was a book called Military Strategy by John Collins, a kind of primer on the art of war with a blurb on the back cover from General Anthony Zinni, former chief of US Central Command.

There is a persistent anxiety within the movement of being “co-opted” by potential allies—the word crops up frequently in conversation. The country’s largest labor unions were among the earliest supporters of Occupy Wall Street, donating money and space. The movement’s two most impressive marches by far—in Foley Square on October 5 and November 17—were largely made possible by the teachers, communications workers, and hospital employees who showed up in significant numbers at their unions’ behest.

Yet a wariness of organized labor’s hierarchical structures and establishment contacts has prevented a deeper alliance. Overtures from left-leaning factions of the Democratic Party have been met with similar resistance. The open nature of the general assemblies and working groups, it was feared, made the movement vulnerable to takeover by such groups, though there seemed to be little evidence that any such takeover was in the works. Many demonstrators argued, in effect, that the integrity of the fledgling anarchist experiment must be protected at all costs.

Occupy Wall Street had succeeded, after all, where the “old left”—afraid of damaging Obama, and meekly plodding on—had failed in recent years. Traditional liberals, its members said, didn’t understand the particular generational impulses behind the movement, its new way of protesting and—here was the central point—of making people feel listened to and heard. Still, despite the large number of sympathizers it had gained, the movement, after being expelled from Zuccotti Park, seemed in danger of remaining more or less what it had been in September—a group of freelance activists with no reliable power base or allies.”

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