November 02, 2011

Rising tensions over the Occupy movement

The police and authorities in various cities have started to crack down on the Occupy movement and evict them from their sites. The worst such incident using force occurred in Oakland where police used tear gas and so-called 'non-lethal projectiles' (an euphemism for anything other than bullets) with one victim suffering brain injuries when he was hit by a projectile fired by the police and is now awaiting brain surgery. A general strike has been called for in Oakland today.

The Oakland mayor and police chief have received calls for their resignations and are now trying to distance themselves from the brutality that they unleashed. What makes it worse for them is that the victim, rather than someone who could be dismissed as a dirty hippie and therefore underserving of sympathy, is a US marine veteran who had served two tours in Iraq. This has put authorities everywhere on the defensive, though it hasn't stopped them from trying to remove the protestors.

This week's violent clashes with police in Oakland appear to have re-energised the Occupy movement in America, creating political liabilities for civic leaders across the United States, who had seemed poised to follow Oakland's lead and, in some cases, issued orders to clear the streets.

The Oakland protesters were back in force on Wednesday night, 24 hours after they were supposed to be gone for good, demanding the resignation of the city's mayor.

The Daily Show had a segment on the Oakland crackdown.

Stephen Colbert also spoke about it.

I think the authorities are underestimating the widespread but quiet sympathy that exists for the Occupy movement. A lot of people in the US feel politically impotent, that they have no say in the decisions that are made. They may not know what exactly the Occupy movement hopes to achieve but they know that that a small and very wealthy cohort of individuals are manipulating the political system for their private benefit and that the Occupy protestors are the only ones doing anything about it, and for this they are grateful. And the movement has already achieved had one major effect: The conversation has now shifted to talk about jobs and income inequality and in terms of the 1% vs. the 99%, and not about the deficit.

Meanwhile in Egypt there was a demonstration and march on the US embassy, starting at the now iconic Tahrir Square, in support of the Occupy movement and in protest of the police actions against the Oakland protestors. Given that Tahrir Square was the inspiration for protest movements around the world, this was a fitting symbol. There are also protests in Greece over the bailout package that will, like the bailouts in the US, is not meant to bail out the people of Greece but to siphon public money to recompense the big banks for the losses they sustained for their risky behavior. It is interesting how the French and German and US governments are horrified that the Greek government is planning to put the bailout plan to a referendum, as if the thought of people having a say in their country's future is something to be deplored. And big protests and a march on the G20 meeting today in Cannes resulted in the police blocking the marchers from entering the city. The war against the oligarchy is going global, as it should.

Chris Hedges and Amy Goodman, two of the best journalists around, appeared on the Charlie Rose show and provided a thoughtful look at what is going on and what the events symbolize. This took place last Tuesday before the Oakland crackdown so that was not discussed.


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An excellent discussion with Rose - diametrically opposed to the superficial distractions of Fox. No wonder the Republicans constantly target PBS funding.

Hedges trenchantly reminds us of a crucial lesson from the Great Depression: FDR - an American aristocrat - saved capitalism from its own worst excesses. This time around, the oligarchy has dispensed with the liberal "safety valve."

Having grown enormously wealthy and powerful over the last thirty years, and having sailed away with impunity from the most extensive (and expensive) financial fraud in global economic history, the American elite believes itself to be invincible. And with a stagnant economy making further personal enrichment a question of taking more from everyone else, rather than harvesting gains from actual growth and wealth creation, our class war has become more explicit than ever before.

Sadly, I do not share the optimism of Goodman. The Occupy movement is a long way from being the unstoppable force needed to challenge the immovable oligarchic object. We the People are going to be put in what they consider our rightful place. As George Carlin knew, they have us by the balls, and they're going to start squeezing.

Posted by Richard Frost on November 2, 2011 12:32 PM

Great post, Mano. Interesting quote from The Guardian (UK) article you linked to: "[The] interim [Oakland] police chief, Howard Jordan, was similarly defensive when he spoke to reporters, denying that his men had used rubber bullets or flash-bang grenades, as some protesters alleged and adding: "It's unfortunate it happened. I wish that it didn't happen. Our goal, obviously, isn't to cause injury to anyone."

I'm not a weapons expert, but those YouTube videos sure look like flash-bang grenades. And lining police up with riot gear (including batons and shields) seems an odd way to achieve an goal of non-injury. A fascinating up-close video was filmed by Media Roots (on YouTube; couldn't post the link here.) Democracy Now! also has an interesting video available on Vimeo.

Posted by Tim on November 2, 2011 01:47 PM

I agree with Richard Frost. Excellent discussion. However, Mr. Rose's opening question, "What is this about?" frustratingly continues the mainstream media's narrative that OWS is not being clear about what the movement wants. Mr. Hedges, fortunately, says it best: "These people are being very clear."

Posted by Tim on November 2, 2011 02:29 PM


To be fair, a good interviewer often poses questions from the point of view of an intelligent but uniformed person in order to get the guest to lay out the basics of the case. I think that was what Rose was doing here.

It is different when the person is editorializing or responding to an interview and acting as if he/she has no idea what is going on.

Posted by Mano on November 2, 2011 02:41 PM