The Empire Strikes Back in Futility: Reflections on the Occupy Movement and the Repression it has Sparked

Occupy Wall Street isn’t about real estate, and its signal achievement was not assembling shivering sleepers in a park. The high ground that the protestors seized is not an archipelago of parks in America, but the national agenda. The movement has planted economic inequality on the nation’s consciousness, and it will be difficult for any mayor or police force to dislodge it.

- Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, November 20, 2011



An Iron Law


The wealthy masters’ governmental agents and servants reserve the right to brutally attack popular protest when and where Democrats claim nominal authority no less than where and when Republicans hold top elected offices.[[1]]. An iron unstated law holds across the much-bemoaned “polarization” of the American one-and-a-half party system. It is fine, this law holds, to call for more freedom and democracy in officially designated enemy and non-allied states like the former Soviet Union, China, Venezuela, and Iran (today). But Americans who question the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire at home had better prepare to be smacked down when they manage to receive popular support. If authorities deem that standard methods of derision, denunciation, and media disappearance (invisibility) are insufficient for defeating domestic dissent, those who would bring democracy to the “homeland” (a revealing term, to say the least) from the bottom up had better keep an eye out for the night-riders of the 21st century police state. They may come face-to-face (well, face-to-Darth Vader visor) with the high-tech billy clubs of American government’s well-fed right hand, which grows stronger despite (and in accord with) the neoliberal starvation of “the left hand of the state” (Pierre Bourdieu) – the parts of the public sector that help and support ordinary people..


Military Policing in Democratic-Run Homeland Cities and on Liberal Campuses


The hold of the iron law has been demonstrated in the recent armed-force repression of the Occupy Movement in a number of predominantly Democratic-run cities and at the outwardly liberal University of California. The assault that has received the most national attention took place in Manhattan’s Zucotti Park, birthplace and epicenter of the national and global movement against economic inequality since Occupy Wall Street protestors first claimed the space on September 17, 2011. It was an ugly affair. An eyewitness account from the Naked Capitalism blog last Tuesday suggests a totalitarian state operating under the orders of the .001 percent financial chieftain-turned-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (an Independent who nominally presides over a predominantly Democratic-run city) – the twelfth richest person in the United States, with a net worth of $19.5 billion:


“The area around Zuccotti Park was subject last night to a 9/11-level lockdown over peaceful, lawful protests by a small number of people…Martial law level restrictions were in place. Subways were shut down. Local residents were not allowed to leave their buildings. People were allowed into the area only if they showed ID with an address in the ‘hood. Media access was limited to those with official press credentials, which is almost certainly a small minority of those who wanted to cover the crackdown (the Times’ Media Decoder blog says that journalists are describing the tactics as a media blackout). ..reading the various news stories, it appears they were kept well away from the actual confrontation (for instance, the reported tear gassing of the Occupiers in what had been the kitchen, as well as separate accounts of the use of pepper spray and batons). News helicopters were forced to land. As of 10 AM, reader Wentworth reported that police helicopters were out in force buzzing lower Manhattan.” [[2]].


On the West coast, around the same time and also in the dead of late nigh, police from Oakland and surrounding jurisdictions drove occupiers out of Oakland’s downtown with tear gas, “non-lethal ammunition” (bean bags and rubber bullets) and flash-boom concussion grenades. The City of Oakland’s civil rights attorney Dan Siegel resigned his position with the city after the decision was made to launch a second raid on Occupy Oakland  by his one time friend from the University of California at Berkeley, Oakland’s “progressive” Democratic Mayor Jean Quan. The first raid ordered by Quan put a military veteran in intensive care and was described in chilling terms by a security guard who observed a massive, Nazi-like police rush on 100 or so hundred peaceful occupiers last October 25th:

“It was terrifying to see …there were just so many policeman… the numbers were incredible….they lined up almost like in a phalanx, on the street, and then they moved in….There were helicopters flying about and with high beams on the camps…the beams were moving across every which way…there were young people in these camps and children, infants in a lot of the tents and this was just, seemed like this was completely out of whack with the situation….they shot the tear gas into the middle of the camp, and at the time, there were dumpsters lined up in front, at the entrance, on the corner because the occupiers were trying to conform to the new regulations that the city of Oakland had given to them….the police moved those dumpsters to the side and then they moved to the next stage of taking the barricades and kicking them down. And then they moved in and the first thing they hit was the information tent, and they just started just tearing everything down… this was a military type operation, the way they moved in. It harkened back to old footage I had seen of Nazi Germany where you know you had the Nazis, the SS going in and picking up innocent people. It had that tenor. …the helicopters, and the lights, and the loud speaker, all those were all intended to create panic and terror for the people inside….It was something like out of a Star Wars movie except instead of being in white they were all in black. …they were all in riot gear…with the visors, they looked like automatons, they just moved in, in a line…They had these vehicles that looked like armored boxes, black, special riot vehicles….the thing that stays in my minds eye is in the middle ground with the lights from the helicopters, the police moving in and just stomping on these tents, and moving in one layer, after another, moving in deeper and deeper.”[[3]]

Liberal Democrat-ordered repression reared its ugly head not far from downtown Oakland, in Berkeley, California eleven days later. University of California at Berkeley students were inspired by the notion of occupying public space in defense of the commons against the rich and powerful. On the evening of November 9, 2011, they begin to build a campsite in front of Sproul Hall, the place where students touched off the Free Speech Movement nearly half a century ago. Sproul’s steps are named after Mario Savio, the eloquent graduate student who famously pronounced that “There is a time…when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”


The odious machine went into bloody action the next day, beating students in the full light of day. [[4]]. University of California poetry professor Robert Hass, a former Poet Laureate of the United States, described further events on the famous liberal campus:


“a line of Alemeda County deputy sheriffs in Darth Vader riot gear formed a cordon in front of me….The deputy sheriffs, all white men, except for a young woman, perhaps Filipino….had black truncheons in their gloved hands that reporters later called batons….Earlier that day a colleague had written to say that that the campus police had moved in …and that students had been ‘beaten viciously.’ I didn’t believe it. In broad daylight? And without provocation? So when we heard that the police had returned, my wife, Brenda Hillman, and I hurried to the campus. I wanted to see what was going on and how the police behaved, and how the students behaved….”

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