I read an online comment, yesterday, advocating that the Occupy Wall Street movement disrupt freight-rail services, or even break windows if necessary, in order to gain greater attention from society at large. The writer argued that marches are ineffective and that the movement’s tactics to date allow too many people to ignore it and go about their lives. He suggested that without greater attention from society at large, the movement would founder, and concluded that the movement must “exact a cost on society” if it is to be successful.
The writer’s frustration with the slow pace of change and lack of material, widespread support for Occupy Wall Street is understandable. While I suspect that the movement is cheered by many millions of people from what they deem a safe distance (whether literally or figuratively), the numbers of people actually putting their lives and reputations on the line are, thus far, only thousands. But, every movement has to start somewhere and with a relatively small group of people.
As a child I watched the antiwar and civil rights movementsof the 1960s and 1970s grow from similarly modest foundations to widespread empathy, acceptance, and support. They, too, began with meetings, marches, slogans, and, yes, occupations of physical space. The press and many in society ignored or derided them. After years of sustained effort, however, masses of people came to accept their goals as noble and embraced their ideas.
Elements in the antiwar and civil rights movements did eventually employ violent or destructive tactics, but these came after brutal acts of repression by local, state, and federal officials. At various times and places protestors smashed windows, burned buildings, and blocked trains. Some rioted and looted businesses; a few threw bombs. People lost their lives on both sides of the conflict.
The movement we know today as Occupy Wall Street may yet lead to comparable violence and destruction. Certainly we see that government officials have either learned nothing or else forgotten the lessons of several decades ago. When New York mayor Michael Bloomberg sends thousands of paramilitary forces to disrupt lawful protests with chemical weapons and batons, he is initiating the use of force, which is never moral or just and only invites defensive violence from his victims.
Perversely, this kind of official repression only feeds and strengthens the movement. The movement would grow anyway, aiming as it does at ending gross and intolerable injustices, but repressive actions such Bloomberg’s accelerate the process. When people see gun-bearing, baton-brandishing, helmeted police pepper-spraying defenseless young girls and dragging kids through the streets, most are repulsed. Those who cheer the thuggish police antics are either ignorant of their own interests or malevolent; many of these are undoubtedly sponsors or beneficiaries of the fascist (“crony capitalist”) regime that the Occupy Wall Street movement seeks to end.
If Occupy Wall Street is to maintain its moral authority, it must remain non-violent. That is not to say that its members should allow themselves to be beaten like dogs or shot dead in the streets, but only that they must never initiate the use of force themselves. And, if force must be used in legitimate self-defense or defense of innocent others, it must be proportionate to and calibrated solely to remove to remove the proximate threat.
The suggestion that the Occupy Wall Street movement must ‘exact a cost on society’ in order to bring about a better society is illogicaland would be self-destructive if followed. Were participants in the movement to adopt that tactic, they would lower themselves to the level of the blood-soaked savages currently occupying city halls, state houses, and government buildings in District of Columbia, who shrug off the deaths of innocents in the War on Drugs or “shock and awe” slaughters of brown-skinned people half a world awayas “collateral damage.”
The fascists among us have created enough victims already. Occupy Wall Street must stop the carnage, not create more of it.