Not With A Bang, But A Whimper: How California's local governments' "moderate" response to #OWS might be more dangerous to the movement than outright crackdowns

In Oakland, after the police used tear gas and rubber bullets on Occupy protesters, the mayor released a statement (PDF) apologizing for the excessive force and listing a "compromise" position which would ostensibly allow Occupy to continue without police opposition - so long as nobody stayed overnight.

The San Francisco mayor's office says he supports the protests but is citing "health concerns" and saying they can't stay much longer.

Fresno justifies their intent to remove Occupy protesters because they "failed to meet permit requirements" such as "limiting the gathering to about 20 people" along with, predictably, not staying overnight.

I read these stories and I wonder if, in a way, California's generally-liberal nature is actually working *against* the Occupy movements here.  This is California, we love us a good protest, but do it quietly and only during park hours with a small number of people, if you please.

Oakland's "no camping" stance is ridiculous because...err, you do realize that the point of Occupy is to, well...occupy?  To take over and hold a space in the name of the people, as a visible community together against oligarchic oppression?  "Only during daylight hours" completely fails to address this.  Without the community, without the living-together-encampments, Occupy is just another Tea Party.

San Francisco's "okay but not too much longer" stance misses the point again: an Occupy that lasts a couple weeks then goes home is just a blip on the radar; to do the work that Occupy is trying to do, it needs to make it clear that it's not just a passing fad, that it's a serious movement that will not just go away and cannot just be ignored.  It's taken nearly two months for #OWS to gain even the piddly amount of mainstream media coverage it's gotten.  It would have been no coverage at all if they'd gone home after a week or two.

Fresno's complaint about the protest being too big for a permit is basically a gentle request to defang your own movement; the point of the Occupy protests is to show a massive display of solidarity.  To demonstrate the 99% principle, to show that we really do outnumber the 1%.  Making sure only 20 people show up sort of defeats that purpose.

And that's the problem with these demands.  They are so reasonable on the surface and designed to appeal to the moderate person's sense of compromise, but to comply with them would strip the essential meaning from the Occupy protests.  They would see them reduced to a useless, token gesture, easily ignored and dismissed.  But because they're framed as moderate, common-sense compromises, to reject them and continue to preserve the core principles of the Occupy movement leaves it open to being painted as "radicals" who refused to negotiate with the authorities.  Bad PR, and fodder for mainstream media attempts to discredit the movement - "We tried to negotiate, but those hippies wouldn't budge!"  And I am very much afraid that disregarding the pseudo-reasonable demands of local governments who are trying to compromise the movement into irrelevancy will set the stage for ever more violent clashes as they use that refusal as justification for "extreme" tactics out of "necessity".

I hope - and I think most likely it will happen - that the Occupy movements negotiating with the local governments stay true to their principles and refuse to conform to "acceptable" levels of protest.  But I'm concerned what that refusal might do to the general representation and public opinion of Occupy and that it might provoke further police violence.  And I'm not at all sure which path is best, in the end.



CaitieCat said...

Absolutely agreed.  I wish there was an Occupy within range of my being able to be there.  Now that I'm carless, I have no way to get to Toronto, and my own city doesn't have one.  :/

Jadelyn said...

I have a few near me, if I can get into the City or Oakland, but...I'd have to go alone, as Ozz's job requires he keep a current security clearance for the refineries and an arrest at a protest - or even being seen there - could damage his status at work, and my social anxiety starts shrieking at me when I consider going to an unfamiliar area full of people with the potential for police violence *alone*.  Bleh. 

CaitieCat said...

I dig - I have the reverse problem, that I can't look for jobs with security clearances because of my need for meds that are currently illegal. 

Which, of course, is the way the feudal overlords like it: the fewer options we have, the more gold-plated bidets they can afford.

Jadelyn said...

That sucks.  Also I'm pretty sure "gold-plated bidet" is the best euphemism for obscene wealth ever.  ^_^

CaitieCat said...

I wish it were mine - I think I saw it at Hullabaloo, or possibly echidne-of-the-snakes.  :)

RachelB said...

I'm an Oaklander and was talking with a classmate earlier today about how odd Mayor Jean Quan's relationship with Occupy Oakland has been.

My classmate said that public space in the U.S. is primarily designed on the Frederick Law Olmstead model: "Give people a little pretty green space in a city, and they're less likely to riot."

That made me think, I wonder if various public officials in California, who are used to civic activity, thought, "Okay, this is fine, we'll let them blow off some steam by spending time outside in a pretty place. This will make them less likely to riot."

And then when various Occupy sites started to become self-sustaining, with infrastructure and division of labor, they started to look like mini societies. And, presto-- all of a sudden the hometown Occupation looked not the sort of safety valve that makes people more compliant in the long run, but like a long-term social experiment. Or an alternative to (and hence, a threat to) the state, with people who were exercising rights, rather than seeking permission.

What happens if the occupation is more effective at feeding hungry people and decreasing violence against homeless people than any mayoral administration in recent memory? If I were a mayor, even a progressive one, I suspect I'd be really anxious right now.

In fact, though I'm not mayor (for which I am grateful), I'm still anxious about how all this will turn out. And I'm still trying to work out my thoughts about consensus-based decision making, direct action, and electoral politics. I've got about 19 big unanswered questions right now, ranging from "What conception of 'public' do rules about public space imply?" and "How do you solve conflicts that aren't quickly responsive to peaceful mediation?" to "How do you theorize non-interference without leaning on ideas of private property?" and "What if you're in a bartering society and no one wants or needs your skills?" It's been a lot to take in.

Jadelyn said...

Very true.  I think what it boils down to is, we have this idea of what "protesting" is, and Occupy is going past that definition.  In a way that, as you say, is offering an alternative model and thus threatens status quo in a way even the biggest protests never really have.

I also think your questions are very good ones.  Occupy is happening in public spaces, but the police claim to have authority to disband the protests, so how "public" is "public", so to speak?  I agree that we have a far overreaching police presence, but I'm not sure I can get behind total abolition of some kind of policing force because there *are* cases that can't be mediated away.  Etc.

But you know?  If nothing else, these are excellent, nuanced conversations to have, and I'm grateful that Occupy is drawing attention to them (not that people weren't wrestling with these issues before, but Occupy has, for better or worse, brought greater public notice).

And, I don't recognize your username - if you've been here before and I'm just forgetting, my apologies! - but if you are indeed new to the blog, welcome!  :-)


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