I’m on record as being of at least two minds, if not six or seven, regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement, and I remain ambivalent – confident in my support of many of the individual goals, rather less confident in many of the tactics the movement employs.
And as I’ve said in various places: Nonviolent civil disobedience is disobedience. Complaining about arrest (let’s be honest: whining about arrest) when you’ve been breaking city ordinances for days or weeks on end in order to make a socio-political point is not only disingenuous, it’s self-defeating. Arrests are, in no small part, the point of civil disobedience.
And yet, having said that: Last night the Oakland Police Department came down like a fist on Occupy Oakland, greeting the nonviolent protesters in riot gear (translation: spoiling for a fight), ultimately unleashing tear gas, projectiles euphemistically known as “bean bags” and flash grenades (also known as “flash-bangs,” if I understand correctly).
The rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech are enshrined in our Constitution; the right to endlessly “occupy” public property, thus rendering it useless to other members of the public and/or creating health and sanitation issues, is not. The latter does not negate the former, however. Arrests are reasonable when people refuse to leave public property. Creating the kind of mayhem that can be seen in the following photographs is not.
I cannot conceive of a better way for the Oakland Police Department to increase support for the Occupy movement.
I’m the first to say that this movement shouldn’t be compared to the revolutions in the Middle East or the Palestinian resistance, not least because the Occupy folks have the right to vote, haven’t been tortured, aren’t facing live fire, and need not fear that having their picture taken might result in summary execution. These differences matter, and the problems America faces are big enough without having to engage in blatant disrespect for the struggles of others.
But another reason that Occupy Oakland (or Wall Street, or Atlanta, or Chicago, or wherever) isn’t Tahrir Square is because Americans have every right in the world to feel genuine shock at being met with tear gas and “bean bags” on their streets.
If the Oakland Police Department’s goal was “not as bad as the Middle East,” well then, I guess they succeeded. Well done and kudos! But I was rather of the opinion that the goal was something more along the lines of “maintain American norms and values and act in concert, however imperfectly, to perfect our union.”
I’m on record as saying that I probably won’t join the protests for a variety of reasons, at least one of which is very personal.
But you know what? If I lived in Oakland, I have a feeling I wouldn’t be blogging right now. I have a feeling I’d be making a sign, and packing a few onions in my bag.
The Palestinians say that when you get hit with tear gas, you should hold an onion to your nose.