The Empire’s No Longer Laughing
Dispatches From The Class War
“And then what are you prepared to do?”, is one of my favorite lines from “The Untouchables” (an otherwise-droll film which not even Sean Connery as a beat-cop-turned-Federal-agent could save). This is the line Connery’s character uses on Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness, when Ness was confronted with his first defeat – and later, as Connery’s character lies dying on his own living room floor, as a galvanizing statement to Ness.
It’s a good question.
I learned a lot during my trip to Washington. I met some good people (shared a tent with one for a couple of nights), and heard Chris Hedges speak (probably the only journalist who’s sufficiently connected the dots to know what the extended ‘Occupy’ movements are about).
Perhaps the defining moment for me wasn’t the pepper-spraying of several of our members outside of the Air and Space Museum, or the pathetic attempt to interrupt a Pentagon hearing – it was standing in the plaza during a general-assembly, in essence debating the First Amendment.
One half of the group (myself among them), wanted to tell the D.C. police to go to hell. They wanted us to understand that our ‘permit’ to be in the plaza ended that weekend, and that they could take action against us, up to and including arrest.
Their official negotiator asked us if being arrested was necessary to achieve our ends. This struck me as an odd question, but I later came to understand its true meaning – the best way to clip the wings of something like this is to co-opt it entirely. Arrest (or any other action by the authorities) loses its meaning if the aggrieved-party all but asks for it, and it’s carried out in a well-choreographed pageant.
We assured them that none of us wanted to go to jail – but that we were willing if it were necessary.
That’s when they extended the permit through February.
“But wait a minute,” I said to someone standing next to me, “I agree with this other guy here. We don’t need a permit. We have the First Amendment. It’s not up to them to tell us when to leave – it’s up to us to tell them when we’re leaving.”
The organizers of October2011 had other plans and saw it differently – they voted to accept the City’s offer to extend the permit – and thus, perhaps the only real, meaningful confrontation of the protest was avoided, entirely.
Four hundred people in a D.C. jail, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and two legal-advocacy groups could have succeeded in setting a legal precedent, added to First Amendment case-law, and eventually influenced national policy.
Instead, the organizers allowed themselves to be co-opted by the authorities. This is not how change is made using the protest-model, which is the reason why I came home. And yes, folks, it really is that simple.
Now, that said, here are some things everyone should take away from the Occupy movements:
1. They’re attracting people from all walks of life. I met working-class folks from Massachusetts and Virginia; white-collar people from California; recent college graduates and retirees, alike. They all had one thing in common – they were sick to death of ten years of war. From what I’ve seen, the people in Zuccotti Park are the same – the only difference is the message.
2. Contrary to the media, they’re not a disorganized rabble of opportunists – the organizers of these protests are some of the most-lucid, best-educated people I’ve ever met, and they do have a message. In fact, they are the message.
3. They’re in this for the long haul. Clearing the camps (an event which seemed to be coordinated for the same day last Sunday, whether in New York City or Portland, Oregon) isn’t going to shut these people up or make them go away – in fact, the People In Charge of Repression might do well to realized that while these people were encamped, they were docile; rousting them from their temporary, voluntary living-arrangements in city or private parks only puts them on the move. Don’t expect these people to go away over the winter.
4. Gandhi was right. “First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win” is a quote oft-attributed to the bespectacled little man who did much to bring about freedom for his native India. It appears that the laughing-stage is over; the nation’s media hasn’t been able to dissuade these people or their supporters; the right people ‘get it’, and their numbers are growing in spite of recent events.
Saturday, I decided to have a look for myself at one of the three most-active ‘Occupy’ camps in America – it didn’t hurt that it was going on right in my hometown.
Chapman and Lownsdale Squares are collectively a pretty place, most of the time; it’s in the government district, with the Federal building and City Hall a short walk away. The park there has been part of Portland’s scenery since the 1860’s – in 1861, the first fireworks display in Portland’s history were set off there, reinforcing in the public’s eye both Oregon and Portland’s commitment to the Federal union.
There’s a well-equipped brick building which houses the park’s bathroom-facilities (it was built around the turn of the century), along with a statue of Teddy Roosevelt as a ‘Rough Rider’ from the Spanish-American War.
In Lownsdale square just to the north, there’s a statue of a member of the Oregon Volunteer Infantry; ironically, at its granite base are two small cannon from Fort Sumter.
As I entered the camp through one of the many paved paths, I noticed a handmade sign – “This Isn’t A Party – Do Some Dishes”. About ten paces more, and a fellow asked me what I was doing. “Well, I wanted to see this for myself,” was my response. He identified himself as part of the ‘safety committee’; he pointed out that there were several people who’d come there to pick fights, and he wanted to make sure I wasn’t interested in causing trouble. “No. Not here for that. Actually, I wanted to see what the media weren’t telling us.”
We had a short conversation about the bathrooms – the city had shut them down several days before, and the odor of urine was evident. Where the campers were taking care of more-substantial business was anyone’s guess by now – but my new host informed me that the city had also asked local businesses to deny bathroom-access to ‘obvious campers’. Clearly, a ploy to make everyone leave.
If so, it didn’t work. I’d a feeling that anyone who’s camping in the rain in Portland in November wasn’t going to be deterred by a lack of ‘facilities’ – or much else, either.
I was invited to continue my walk. I walked from one end of Chapman to the other end of Lownsdale – and while I saw some very irregular living-arrangements, I didn’t feel particularly unsafe.
I did see a lot of scared people. Young ones. Old ones. A middle aged man who’d gone to the trouble of buying a gas-mask at a local army-surplus store. People who were in small groups, talking about what to do next. I got the feeling of a group of people on the eve of something they couldn’t define; something which was greater than they were. The apprehension was palpable; the city had given them three warnings to leave, and they expected a police-presence at any point to forcibly evict them from the park.
About halfway into my walk, a police officer asked me what I was doing. Somehow, I didn’t feel quite as safe around him as I did with the man who’d asked the same question earlier – he was armed with pepper-spray, a baton, and a firearm. Not exactly friendly attire – as I read recently, “If you want to know who’s there to start a riot, look for the people dressed for a riot.” I didn’t see any campers dressed for rioting (unless you count the gas-mask I saw earlier).
“Taking a walk”, I said.
“Well, be careful. This isn’t a place to sightsee.”
“I’ll be careful, sir.”
(Cops, by the way, call that behavior ‘P&C’ – polite and courteous – and they look for it; it’s a sign of submittal to authority.)
Although the media were quick, early on, to mention drug use and alcohol, I didn’t see any evidence of this. At the end of Lownsdale Square, I pondered what to do.
I crossed the street, and walked back on the Art Museum side. While I did, I read some signage: “How Is The War Economy Working Out For You?”; “I’ve Been Out Of Work For Three Years. I Am The 99%”; “Wall Street Got Bailed Out – We Got Sold Out”. As opposed to the hate-filled and misspelled signs at Portland’s only Tea Party rally, these used proper English, were spelled correctly, and didn’t rely on half-truths or outright lies.
(The next day, a large number of Portland riot-police surrounded the squares and began clearing out protesters. Mike Reese, Portland’s police chief, was interviewed by local media, saying that he was ‘pleased with the outcome’, and that there was ‘no violence’. Video posted to YouTube and on Occupy Portland’s website tells a different story.
A local musician and Occupy Portland’s sign-language interpreter, Justin Bridges, was beaten by Portland police on Sunday morning. Taken to the hospital, he still does not have the use of one of his legs, and one arm hangs limp. On the same day, Zuccotti Park in New York was cleared thanks to the machinations of the New York Supreme Court; an 84-year-old woman got a full face of pepper-spray during the clearout of Occupy Seattle, and the media praised the police in every case for their ‘restraint”.
The Empire’s no longer laughing.
They are on to the next stage of things – the point where they fight back. Just today, over 500 protesters were arrested nationwide, as they took the fight to the halls of the Elite’s money-machines (over 50 were arrested here in Portland). As this plays out, the Empire’s Fox News-worshiping supporters should remember some things:
First, it wasn’t a ‘liberal conspiracy’, ‘freedom-hating Democrats’, or ‘lazy hippies’ who melted down the nation’s economy. It was a cadre of impossibly-wealthy plutocrats and uberCapitalists who built a virtual Corporate State to serve their own interests at the expense of everyone else – and when their greed got the better of them, they were perfectly willing to bring down the nation’s economy and then whine like tittybabies for the rest of us to mortgage the future of our grandchildren by way of a ‘bailout’ so they could continue to live like gods.
They’ve created their gated communities – Versailles-on-the-relative-cheap – and continue to rake in upwards of $1,000,000 an hour while one person in five on the outside are unemployed, and one child in four goes hungry.
Second, it wasn’t AlQaeda which brought us to war ten years ago. It was an administration which had been bought-and-paid-for by those same plutocrats – the ideological descendants of the Reagan era political apparatus which had elevated support for Israel into a holy crusade. AlQaeda was a response from the people oppressed by the regime in Jerusalem; a special-delivery package from a group of people who’d long ago connected the dots on the motives for Israel’s behavior.
Third, these same ‘hippies’ who are denigrated on the evening news are the message – and they’re making it, loud and clear, to anyone who’s listening. Joe and Josephine Sixpack aren’t paying attention – they’re too busy getting their soundbite-education from Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity to realize that the beginnings of a revolution are in play here, and the message is simple: The Plutocrats bought the government and proceeded to rape, pillage and rob the entire nation. In response, the protesters are camping in city parks nationwide to call attention to this crime, and set it right.
You can bet that the bastard-whores on Wall Street and their political counterparts on Capitol Hill know this – that’s why the camps were cleaned out. Laughter didn’t work. From where they sit, it’s time to fight back.
So, the question remains – “And what are you prepared to do?”
It’s still a damn good question.
You have to do something. It’s no longer possible to sit on the fence and make excuses that you have kids, a job, a suburban house; the leaves need collecting, etc. The time for half-measures has come and gone. It was time to pick a side a good while ago.
I did – and I like those people; the protesters – the homeless ones; the kids who went to college and in return are drowning in $100K+ of student debt, with the greatest lesson learned being that the American dream had been killed by champagne-swilling cocksuckers on a balcony in New York; the guy with the gas mask.
They realize that the only ‘upward mobility’ in America has been the drain of cash upward into the coffers of the very few. They realize that these same people bought and paid for the government, and that if genuine change is going to occur, it’ll happen either with peaceful, or barring that, violent, revolution.
So far, the Elites have gotten a ‘bye’ – the protesters have been peaceful. To paraphrase Kennedy, they’ve asked that peaceful revolution be made possible.
The Elites have answered. They’re not laughing.
The next move is ours.
W.D. Noble- “And then what are you prepared to do?”, is one of my favorite lines from “The Untouchables”, It’s also what Occupiers across the country and in Portland are asking.