Us and Them: Arresting Democracy

I know the police cause you trouble
They cause trouble everywhere
But when you die and go to heaven
There’ll be no policeman there

— Hobo’s Lullaby by Goebel Reeves

On September 17, 2011, a group of protesters gathered at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan under the banner:  Occupy Wall Street.  Within weeks the Occupy movement and its message of income inequality and corporate dominance of the political process spread across the nation and the globe.  By the end of October occupations were reported in some 2,000 cities worldwide.

On or about November 10, a conference call engaging some eighteen American cities initiated a coordinated crackdown on OWS encampments.  Police actions from that day forward have been persistent, forceful and often violent.  How else do you explain the use of tear gas, pepper spray, batons and pepper pellets to disperse, corral and arrest non-violent protesters?

Evidence has emerged that federal authorities, including Homeland Security, were tapped to advise or coordinate the assault.  While a contentious debate has broken out concerning the particulars, who else but a federal agent could have coordinated mayors and police chiefs in disparate communities across the nation?

Moreover, if it is not so, where are the denials?  What political advantage can be gained by maintaining neutrality in this fight?  Is the president with us or with them?  As the late great Howard Zinn said:  You can’t be neutral on a moving train.

To the students who were pepper sprayed or the activists who were gassed or the protesters who were clubbed, it does not matter who gave the order or who remained silent to maintain deniability.

It probably did not matter who gave the orders to the officers on the street either.  The orders were given and the officers carried them out.  But it might have mattered how those orders were phrased.

I know something about what it is to be an officer of the law.  My father patrolled a beat in our town for twenty years.  In the summer of Watts he served as a liaison to the minority community.  An honest, fair and impartial cop, he told me what his captain said as he was called to duty at the community college where students were staging a protest of the Vietnam War:  “We are supposed to uphold the law and keep the peace.  We’re not supposed to take sides… but you know what side we’re on!”

I learned then that there were two kinds of law officers:  cops and pigs.  My father was a cop.  Those who lead with their clubs, those who pepper spray student protesters, and those who form lines of oppression against peaceful demonstrators and clear the way with tear gas and rubber bullets are pigs.

As a general lot, cops have always tended to be reactionary and intolerant.  Confronted with any dissident group, raw instinct draws them to an adversarial posture.  When pressed into crowd control they strike a pose and draw a line:  Us versus Them.

My father knew better back then and the police on the streets should know better now.  The cause of the occupiers is fundamentally different than the antiwar demonstrators.  The very same people the occupiers oppose are waging war against police, firefighters, teachers and nurses.  Police forces across the nation are being downsized, their salaries and benefits under assault, their right to collective bargaining challenged and their unions under siege.

The rest of the workforce faces job exportation.  Public employees face privatization.  Charter schools are just an excuse to hire non-union teachers.  Private security forces will soon replace police and private contractors will take over fire departments in the name of budgetary restraint.

The occupiers speak for everyone who draws a paycheck.  Consider that the next time you are called to clear out an occupied encampment.  Consider it a dress rehearsal for the Hoovervilles to come, when thousands upon thousands erect makeshift camps not out of choice but out of necessity.

As for the mayors who gave the stamp of approval for this crackdown, your political careers are over.  The occupiers were doing your job.  They were performing a public service.  They provided food, shelter, clothing and care for the forgotten homeless.

We could see the writing on the wall early on.  At first the media was intrigued.  They characterized the occupy movement as the Tea Party of the left and tried to frame it as a partisan divide.  But the occupiers refused to sell out.  It was not a partisan movement.  The media then stepped up its criticism:  The movement was without leaders and without a clear message.  (Ironically, the message was as clear as ending the war.  It could easily be summarized as taking back our government from the corporate elite.  Us against Them.)  Next, they began to focus on health and safety, rats and public urination.  (Welcome to life on the streets.)  They took their cues from the mayors and ran stories on the detrimental effects on small businesses and the costs of policing the occupations.

It was all smoke screen.  It was all prelude to the crackdown that was to come.  The corporate media answers to their corporate masters and they tipped their hands.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the presidential wannabe with his Wall Street pedigree, took the lead in showing America how to step on the little guys who dared stand up against the real power brokers of the world.  How does libertarianism square with suppressing freedom of speech and the right to assemble in protest?  As if we didn’t already know, the mayor made it clear whom he stands with in his irrepressible quest for the highest office.

It’s over, Bloomberg.  You might have thought the media blockade was a stroke of genius but it didn’t work out.  We’re all reporters now and every act of brutality was recorded for posterity.

Before you pat yourself on the back, you didn’t stop the movement.  You only pushed it back.  You can’t kill an idea.  The movement will transform, grow and prosper.  It is written in the wind.  You might as well try to shoot down the sun.

As for the men and women in blue, the next time you are called to action to enforce crowd control on nonviolent protesters, the next time you are ordered to clear encampments in parks and public spaces, remember who cut your health benefits after September 11, remember who cut your wages and broke your unions, remember why your children will not be going to the university, remember how your neighbors lost their jobs, their homes, their pensions and take a step back.

t’s us against them and, like it or not, you are with us.

Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by Dissident Voice and others. Read other articles by Jack, or visit Jack's website.