Why Occupy LA Will Not Go Gently Into That Good Night
As the occupations are attacked, one by one, from Wall Street to Oakland, and from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, waking up in the morning and reading the news is becoming a more and more depressing proposition. Men who have donned a uniform to defend our country can be attacked by the police with seeming impunity, college students sitting cross-legged looking like they’re about to start a chorus of Kumbaya can be pepper sprayed by a sadist like they are weeds in need of pruning, and, despite the fact that the whole world is watching, the occupations are gone and the ground won, has been lost. Or so it seems.
If you think Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Los Angeles were about building a tent city, laying claim to a piece of property, and holding that area indefinitely, then yes, the Occupy Movement has been defeated…but that’s not exactly a surprise ending, is it? Really, where’s the suspense there? A group of citizens that takes over a piece of property is going to face the police at some point, and unless the army joins the Occupy Movement…and brings their tanks…the police will always win in that scenario.
Some would suggest that the 99% face that reality, and channel our efforts and our anger into the voting booth next November, or into some local community initiatives. Imagine yourself standing in a voting booth or getting together with 5 other people at a food bank…yes these are worthy causes that I don’t mean to slight, but you’re alone doing them. When you go from a mass movement of thousands of people to a voting booth, you are suddenly one person, and just as divided from other people and powerless as you were at the beginning. And that is why the police were sent in to crush the encampments, to send people back to their homes and away from each other. In a country where the Supreme Court and a presidential candidate believe that corporations are people too, the prospect of students, anti-racists and immigration equality supporters joining up with unions to oppose the corporations, was way too volatile. It was like the youth and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s had come back with a vengeance…and with labor on their side. It had to be crushed, so it was crushed…but it was not killed.
Movements wax and wane, and though we in America are not used to looking to the Middle East for inspiration, if you’re like me, and a little sad consuming police repression every morning with your cornflakes, remember Tahrir Square…even though the Internet was shut down by the government, the protestors organized and got the word out through other means. Even though the government sent in the police, the crowds would just re-form the next morning. And in country after country throughout the region, people who love freedom waited for the inevitable repression to come. When the Egyptian Army joined the Egyptian people and cast Mubarak aside, something seemingly impossible happened, and no matter what the police forces of Syria or any other country in the region do now, the Arab Spring continues and spreads.
And so will the American Spring. Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Los Angeles showed us what was possible, an anti-union governor is facing recall in Wisconsin, and the troops are coming home from Iraq…all because of a progressive movement that’s been building in this country, a movement that crystalized around Barack Obama's candidacy a few years ago, and outgrew him as soon as the first Occupy tent went up. An awakened citizenry flexed their collective muscle, and in Occupy Los Angeles it took over a thousand cops to get them to disband…for one night. Do you really think this movement is over, or that it can be tamed into quietly going to the voting booth and futilely expressing dismay after having tasted it’s own power? Maybe if the price of gas falls below 3 dollars, the unemployment rate falls below 7 percent, and the cost of milk for my cornflakes stops mimicking the price of gas…maybe, but I doubt it. Every time I see a picture of another Occupy encampment being broken up, I’m going to close my eyes and picture the images I saw of the Oakland port shut down by demonstrators at sunset, I’m going to remember the thousands of people marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, I’m going to think of Tahrir Square, and I’m going to remember that if the problems don’t go away, the demonstrators always come back. Movements wax and wane, skirmishes are won and lost, but once a people have stopped their government in it’s tracks and rejected a war, once a group of protesting students sees thousands of union members join behind them and feels the power of their own hands taking hold of history’s wheel, it’s safe to say that Occupy Wall Street and Occupy LA aren’t going anywhere…and if they are, they’ll not be going gently.