The historic significance of Occupy Wall Street jumps into living history not only because of its timely anti-corporate message but also in many ways because of a simple democratic dare inherent in its operation. Ironically, what really makes the meaning of this simple dare resonate is the way law enforcement, the representatives of “the state,” has responded to it. Occupy has dared to publicly assemble, speak freely and petition against a corporate domination (or “corporate occupation”) of their government.
These democratic protest actions are, at least by the teaching many Americans received in our history classes, protected by essential rights braided into the earliest documents of the country. By simply not relenting in protest, Occupy has dared to call the democracy out on those idealized notions. Are ideas like free speech and habeas corpus for “We the People” just ideas or do they still carry on as mechanisms with practical traction? Besides protesting corporate control, the movement has brought to light the current state of those rights and protections we were taught we inherited as the most important operational mechanisms in the democracy.
The violent official reaction to Occupy’s simple rebellious act, democratically reclaiming the commons for public assembly in the name of economic and political justice, should serve as a tough but honest reminder as to where the public citizen stands relative to corporate power and “law enforcement.” Those simple rights of democracy are far less valuable to the very government that guarantees them as soon as you challenge corporate power.
The moment Occupy stepped over the line into demanding both political and economic justice, it would trigger an increasing amount of violence from local police departments. Exactly how seriously the Occupy challenge is being taken by those it challenges can be read in the dozens of brutal repressions against the movement.
We find troubling similarities between our pseudo- and para-military operations against foreign threats to our national interests (“terrorists”) and our current method of confronting Occupy, which with rare exception has engaged through legal public exercise of democracy. By comparing the state’s reaction to both, we find out exactly where anti-corporate protesters stand relative to the present American state. Perhaps we should have already known as soon as the first counter-terrorism units were spotted interspersed with local law enforcement at Occupy protests. By challenging corporate control of the state, Occupy has found far more repression than support from the government it seeks to liberate.
There’s the backhanded legal way, whether in New Orleans or Chicago, which can marginalize and then criminalize some of the very mechanisms of protest. After all, once protest action is illegal, those protesting are criminals. In an era where “threats to the status quo” are freely labeled “terrorist,” license is timidly rendered all the more freely to the state.
A state existentially threatened rarely waits for approvals of its authority. In an era too reminiscent of our counter-terrorism tactics, police are now regularly tracking and collecting data on Occupy protesters. They are arresting and even targeting journalists who cover the Occupy protests, nationwide. As early as November 2011, even former Chief of the Seattle Police Department Norm Stamper, commenting on police reaction to Occupy, was troubled by scenes of what he called “a war zone.” Imagery of violence against anti-corporate protesters has almost become redundant in its unnerving consistency.
The militarization of oppression against Occupy marks just how true the basic hypothesis of the movement is. The government taxpayers themselves pay for, using weapons bought by the taxpayers, getting orders from power-brokers elected by the taxpayer, will beat, maim and detain those taxpayers when they seek to liberate one piece of their common property (the government) from the control of a tiny but powerful minority. That powerful minority, argues Occupy, is a moneyed and entitled elite.
Whatever you think of Occupy’s goals or strategy, it gets harder and harder to deny the violence against anti-corporate protesters. To triangulate a sense of why this matters so much, let’s imagine the movement in negative. Instead of an anti-corporate, pro-regulation, pro-peace, pro-transparency movement, let’s imagine it as a pro-corporate, anti-regulation, pro-war, anti-transparency movement.
Unlike Occupy, which seeks to liberate the government and further improve its functions, “OWS-in-negative” would in fact look to weaken the government’s functions, while increasing the likelihood the government be committed to destruction externally instead of investment internally. In a fit of passion, OWS-in-negative might even reveal itself as the direct enemy of government, wishing it was small enough to “drown it in a bathtub.” Wouldn’t OWS-in-negative, if government was truly concerned for its own well-being above all else, be perceived as a far more dangerous threat than Occupy?
You’ll be hard-pressed to find reports of Tea Party rallies getting tear gassed and beaten by an angry state, outraged at this direct and powerful pro-corporate challenge. Occupy on the other hand has seen every crease of the Iron Heel, despite the fact that it seeks to improve and renew the state. The terrible lesson illustrated by the state’s reaction to Occupy’s participatory democratic actions is that when forced to choose, the American government increasingly sides with corporate interests over even its own well-being.