As an early supporter of the #OCCUPYWALLSTREET protest movement, I wrote a request a few days ago to the protesters involved with that movement. While waiting to for a good time to make that request public, an online acquaintance put forward a statement (from a conservative perspective) which covered some of the same points I wanted to make... so I put it off a bit more. But now, I feel I need to put out the statement in a timely manner -- because my concerns expressed therein suddenly feel more justified. I will post that statement immediately before this one and point out, once again, that I was spreading information about this protest while few others were and have consistently done so from the beginning. And while I certainly claim no ownership of this movement (I can't and wouldn't), I humbly request that those involved with the movement read these messages from an early supporter.
Today, while looking at the Guardian's "live coverage" of the protest, I came across some statements and words which heretofore I had not regularly seen in association with this movement. The first was a statement by someone name Christopher Longenecker who was identified as the "head of march planning and tactics." This title in itself struck me as odd in the context of a heretofore leaderless movement but then the quote given from this person was even more shocking: "We don't do illegal actions."
What? Double take. Really? So all the people up until now, on the first days of the protest, who made this occupation happen from the first day, who left the sidewalks and took to the streets in violation of official orders, who were they? At best, this Longenecker person seems confused. Civil disobedience has been a known ingredient and accepted tactic of this protest movement from the get go. And, surprise, civil disobedience is illegal. So... who was this Longenecker speaking for when giving quotes to the Guardian? How was this person given such authority and such a title as "head of march planning and tactics." I highly doubt such a title and role was granted by the consensus process. I'd bet dollars to donuts that it certainly wasn't granted at a meeting with all of the protesters heretofore involved with the occupation.
So then this Longenecker person continues to accuse "provocateurs" of misleading the march onto the Brooklyn Bridge Saturday when 700 people were eventually arrested. He speaks of "pace-keepers" who were "scattered throughout the marches, including the one on Saturday," and says that "One of the pace-keepers was standing between the march and the highway and she was yelling as loud as possible that what was on the road was an illegal autonomous unplanned action – that the legal route was over the walkway and they weren't supposed to take the highway." Well, if that's the case, if these protest officials, under the title of "pace-keepers," were at the march... then why weren't people listening to them? Could it possibly be that the protesters simply ignored their directions and chose to take the more bold route where a bigger story would inevitably be made? One person at the protest on the bridge had a sign that read, "NYPD, please respond civilly to civil disobedience." Why would this person have such a sign if illegal civil disobedience was entirely unplanned? Are we to believe this person might have been an agent provocateur? Get real.
And so then... another person, Thorin Caristo, was identified by the Guardian as an "OWS media spokesmen" and apparently said they were working through video to identify provocateurs. But, at the same time as pointing out so-called provocateurs, this person said, "We are a really open democracy here. Saturdays situation happened really quick and showed the vulnerability of a group that has no leaders." So what if these supposed "provocateurs" are merely offering a more appealing course of action? What if people are choosing by their own volition to take the more aggressive and unpermitted protest routes -- with the implied understanding that it might entail more risk? What if some people calculated the risks for themselves and knew that the Brooklyn Bridge march would even further put this protest on the map? And so what if someone is arguing for such action, direction, and tactics? That does not make them a provocateur in the negative sense, it makes them an agitator -- and fairly successful ones at that. It's possible, and they might have been provocateurs, but that hardly seems proven and actually seems to the contrary.
So... I'm sorry (not really) if other protesters aren't heeding the "heads" and "spokesmen" and "pace-keepers" and other supposed leaders of this movement. But obviously they don't need you and are putting this protest on the map despite you. And while I might be accused of being divisive, I'm not the one accusing those who don't heed your orders (or those who are offering different plans) of being agent provocateurs. And I'm not the one attempting to hamstring the movement by making such spurious claims about it not engaging in illegal actions. And while I'm also not making any direct accusations, I'm reminded of the anti-war protests a few years back in Oakland where the police actually took on the leadership role in protest marches. That's something to keep in mind.
In my other article on this subject I wanted to bring up the recent demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin. Those protests had potential but they essentially failed because of the leadership. While the recall election didn't really change much, a general strike was in favor amongst a lot of the rank & file and would have shut the state down until Walker was ousted from office. But that's the thing... the Wisconsin protests were hindered by the leadership and an unwillingness to truly inconvenience business as usual. This has not seemed to be the case so far in NYC -- and this protest movement is growing as similar occupations pop up around the country.
By all means... stay Gandhian if that's what you, and the other protesters are cut out for. But don't confuse Gandhian non-violence with pacifism. The weakness of non-violent activists in recent years, however, has been precisely because of that confusion. Non-violent does not mean obedient and within the confines of legality. If you want to have a non-violent protest, or even a non-violent revolution, people are going to have to take risks and be prepared to sacrifice. But you don't need a figure-head or a leader like Gandhi, or MLK, or Ralph Nader, or Christopher Longenecker to act together in solidarity.
I'd go further to say that those who don't go along with the non-violent tactics should not be condemned out of hand, but I don't know if my point will be understood. I'm thinking about the unemployed guy whose brother died in Iraq, whose grandfather had his pension stolen, whose grandmother had her house foreclosed, whose sister is imprisoned for trumped-up drug charges, and whose mother lost her job to downsizing despite record profits at the corporation she works for. Such people exist, and may act rashly, but who are any of us to condemn them for acting out in that context? I'm not necessarily saying I would condone any or all actions they take, but I might not entirely disown or condemn them. Further... I don't see harm to non-sentient inanimate objects as violence. I see property destruction more along the lines of civil disobedience. But I digress, and don't want to confuse the issue. My simple opposition to corporate fascism by itself opens me up to criticism by itself (as it does others) without being criticized by those who I would consider as my allies.
So, by all means, you people involved with the #OCCUPYWALLSTREET movement should keep up the good work. Continue with your Gandhian tactics as you see fit. Consider tactics that might disrupt business as usual without so many of you getting arrested. And be wary of leaders who would hamstring your movement, marginalize you, and claim to speak for you as a whole. This arose as a leaderless movement and should continue to be so! Keep up the good fight! Your numbers are growing, the public supports you, and you just might get the revolution you seek.