This post is directed at the OWS protests that are flaring up around the globe….and the violence and vandalism that the mass media loves to focus on….
This opinion piece was written by Bill Berkowitz for Truthout,,,,and it asks some good questions…..
As has been now widely reported in the national and local media, after a peaceful march on Wednesday, November 2nd that shut down the Port of Oakland, a relatively small band of people occupied an abandoned building in downtown Oakland, broke windows around the downtown area, and spray-painted slogans during the early Thursday morning hours – defacing many small downtown businesses, including businesses that had been supportive of the goals of Occupy Oakland.
Every nascent movement has its fair share of mischief-makers. Sometimes police provocateurs lurk in a crowd waiting for an opportunity to disrupt a demonstration. Sometimes there are those who see no other way forward but by instigating violence; some call it heightening the contradictions.
The November 2nd General Strike shut down several city banks, garnered support from a number of other businesses and blocked the night shift at the Port of Oakland the fifth busiest port in the U.S. Some 7 to 10,000 peaceful protesters (including yours truly) – from all walks of life – participated in these marches and rallies. Labor was broadly represented.
Many who participated were undoubtedly new to political action. Tired but euphoric, Occupy campers and thousands of protesters returned to their tent city and homes believing that the General Strike — the first in Oakland since 1946, succeeded in its mission.
Demonstrators in several cities around the country, including Philadelphia and New York, held solidarity rallies with Occupy Oakland. The early reporting in the mainstream press and on local television lauded the protesters for their numbers, their diversity and their non-violence.
It had been a good day for Occupy Oakland and the Occupy movement in general.
And then a small band of protesters sprang into action. The mayhem that ensued was unfortunate, counter-productive and stole the day.
An abandoned building in downtown was occupied, many storefront windows were shattered – including those of businesses that had supported the strike, fences were ripped down, graffiti sprayed, and the police predictably attacked. This time, unlike the police riot in late October – when the police used tear gas and rubber bullets, during which Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was hospitalized with a critical skull fracture after he was hit with a projectile — which brought national attention to Occupy Oakland, and support from all across the country, police use of tear gas and “flash bang” grenades action would not garner sympathy from folks across the country.
Instead of headlines about the huge crowd, its’ diversity and peacefulness, the headlines on Thursday morning read: “Occupy Oakland Protesters Tear Gassed by Police” (ABC News); “Riot police fire projectiles, arrest dozens of Occupy Oakland protesters” (Los Angeles Times); “Occupy strike descends into chaos” (San Francisco Chronicle); “Peaceful Occupy protests degenerate into chaos” (AP). The Oakland Tribune, the local daily newspaper, headlined its story “Occupy Oakland, city regroup after night of confrontation.”
Movement building is both an art and science, and its ebb and flow can be shaped by unforeseen events. In the case of Occupy Oakland, it was the confluence of the initiative of a few dozen protesters, a city of political activists, a righteous cause “We are the 99%,” and a police riot that ultimately brought thousands to downtown Oakland.
Savvy organizers were able to mobilize quickly and effectively. The movement broadened from dozens in tents camped out at Frank Ogawa Plaza (renamed by the protesters Oscar Grant Plaza after the young unarmed man killed by BART police) to thousands. Teachers, public employees, office workers, the unemployed, students, seniors, and Mothers with children in strollers joined the activists that initiated Occupy Oakland. In terms of age, ethnicity and race it was a very diverse crowd.
Growing a movement often depends on how it is perceived. If it is dynamic, creative and achieves some of its goals, more people will join. Even small victories will bring more people and more energy to the movement.
Randy Gould, the Kansas City, Missouri-based editor of Scission (formerly The Oread Daily), who has been involved with his local Occupy movement and closely following national developments, offered this perspective:
“Most every Occupy Site in the country has people arguing about this today. Many opinions are being expressed. Keep in mind that the whole Occupy Movement is one big populist shindig. It may vary from place to place, but the ‘Occupations’ are full of people from all over the political spectrum.
“Some see this ‘broadness’ as a really good thing. Some, like me, question it. Combine a so-called leaderless movement with no common political orientation and what do you get? Who is to say, who represents what, who is to do what, what tactic is correct, which slogan to shout, what sign to hold up?
“At some point the Occupy movement has to decide what it wants to be and whose interest it wants to represent … or it will implode. For how long can you have anarchists, Marxists, Ron Paul supporters, right wing libertarians, dogmatic pacifists, liberals, feel good people, angry people, people who intend to defend themselves and more, capitalists, petty bourgeois, workers, unemployed, business owners, professionals, anti-racists, racists, and all that and more in an ‘ain’t we got fun’ atmosphere?
“How can you expect to enforce discipline while pretending not to enforce discipline? How can you honestly complain about some group or another ‘using’ and ‘abusing’ your ‘movement,’ when you invite every one in and make decisions in General Assemblies that change from day to day?
“You want a really broad based movement? You got one. You want to say it isn’t about [a specific] set of politics, it isn’t right or left?; You got it. You want the 99 %; well you got em.
“And you got all that comes with it.”
Gould added, “In the end, let me reiterate one point. That building did not have to be seized last night. That and the violence that followed did steal the thunder from an impressive day. That is too bad.”
In the coming months, the Occupy Movement will face all sorts of challenges. Obviously the weather is one of them. Police action against encampments could occur more frequently. Its survival will in part depend on the strength and breadth of its supporters.
It will also depend on the ability of the Occupy Movements to continue to craft and define itself as an inclusive movement with appeal beyond the usual protesters. As is evident in the challenges of the Oakland General Strike, this also means being able to create a community where random vandalism and acts of violence are not tolerated and are clearly labeled as not of the Occupy movement.
I posted this in The Daily Agitator and wanted to get everyone’s in-put…..My thought is that anyone committing violence or vandalism is crapping on the movement as a whole….it should not be tolerated!