Wolraich: The Grim Possibility Of War With Iran
dag Observes the 19th Anniversary of the Low-Speed Chase in LA
Wolraich: The Grim Possibility Of War With Iran
dag Observes the 19th Anniversary of the Low-Speed Chase in LA
One of the things I found frustrating when conducting a protest rally was gazing over along the periphery and seeing all of the bystanders. They stood there, arms folded or akimbo, maybe holding shopping bags when the action was in a downtown site, and gazed upon whatever spectacle we had put together. Sometimes one individual would lean toward another and make a comment - maybe about the protest or maybe about how they ought to take off and go do what they had originally planned.
Of course we had flyers prepared and would send a few of the more gregarious amongst us to hand em out and attempt to further engage the bystanders. As I watched them watch us, in my protest state of mind, I would send out the telepathic messages - come join us, don't just stand there, get involved, make a difference. I really just couldn't understand why they would choose, when given the option, to not join in a stand against clear cutting or animal experimentation or whatever the cause of the day was.
Ever now and then we would get one of the bystanders to join in. A couple of those went on to become highly engaged activists themselves, at least for the time that I knew them. And more than a few gave their verbal support and promised to make a phone call to a representative, write a letter, etc. On the flip side there were always the detractors and took the opportunity to tell us we bums, idiots, and their favorite line "go get a job."
The explosion of the web and social media is creating an ever larger crowd of bystanders who watch through live feeds on the televisions, smart phones and laptops. In each one is the potential bystander who ceases to become such, who joins in the action or movement that they are seeing unfold before them.
Lilly Loofbourow at The Awl recent blog "The Livestream Ended: How I Got Off My Computer and Onto The Street At Occupy Oakland" detailed one such person - herself. She began:
When I heard the “We Are the 99%” slogan, I worried. I am movement-skittish. I don't like being spoken for. Anytime I hear the language of political clichés, whether about “workers” or “job creators,” my ears shut down. I know those vocabularies, and I don't agree with the worldviews that produce them.
....I listened with enormous interest [to her partner who went down to the Oakland site in its first few weeks], but I still didn't go. At the risk of making this too much about me, I need to make my beliefs and reasons clear, such as they are (and were):
• I do not believe the police are evil.
• I do not believe in utopian societies.
• I distrust extremists of whatever stripe.
• I believe inflammatory rhetoric shuts down rational thought.
• I was (and remain) afraid of nighttime Oakland—the desperate Oakland that Occupy Oakland insisted on caring for and actually living with.
• I am lazy, prone to migraines, and unwilling to be cold, wet, uncomfortable and in constant danger of arrest.
In short, I'm a moderate: small, fearful, skeptical, selfish, with privilege aplenty. I have health care through the university, where I'm both a student and a teacher. I'm half-Hispanic, but I scan as white. I'm a not atypical Bay Area type: liberal, taxpaying, cautious, law-abiding (maybe to a fault), trying to hang onto the things I have. I have an iPhone, for heaven's sake.
She details the events as they unfolded for her
After the live feeds from the networks turned off during the police crack down on the protesters that Tuesday night in Oakland, she finally did go down there. She has some interesting takes on the fact that when the police moved in is just by chance the networks lost their ability to do their feed. The whole blog is worth the read. But for the moment what is of interest here is she chose to get involved and see it in person rather through one form of media or another. She ends:
And that's how I—a mealy-mouthed moderate visiting Occupy Oakland reluctantly, and for the very first time—was not only welcomed but spoke, was listened to, and was heard. I'll note here that the proposal passed, unamended, and the planning committees are open to anyone who wishes to be involved. The debate continues, and you can participate as much as you want to. After three decades as an American citizen and years of leaving messages for my representative, only last night, speaking into the human microphone, did I feel for the first time that my political participation could matter.
The best answer I can muster for the question of what an engaged citizen tired of being a spectator can do is this: try the ordinary channels and try being one of the 99%. It is not perfect. Nothing is. But there is room for more than your vote or your money: there is room for you, your body and your brain. It offers something our political system (increasingly peopled as it is by disembodied, bodiless, shadowless “corporate” persons) doesn't. It's this: talk into the human microphone, and your voice doesn't disappear. It's amplified. Talk, and you stand a chance of leaving, not a mark—nothing quite so permanent—but a chalk outline of a shadow that shows that you, too, were once here.
Her experience is probably a good outline of a multitude of others who have participated in the Occupy actions. When I say that there is good that comes out of these actions, in good part it the type of experience Lili had of which I am thinking.
I came across this blog as a result of clicking on a link that took me to another blog on The Awl site: The Night Occupy Los Angeles Tore Itself In Two. by Natasha Vargas-Cooper.
The basic jest of this blog was how the issue of whether OLA should take no drug stance and how this created a split within the occupiers:
As one original organizer of Occupy LA described it, "on one side there’s the hardcore Politicos-Get-Shit-Done process freaks and on the other are people who think they are starting a new society."
Smoking weed cuts to one of the main dilemmas within a leaderless, horizontal, movement like Occupy Los Angeles: who makes the rules? Who enforces the rules? Going even further: should there even be rules? Is this a narrowly focused social movement bent on economic reform through massive but nonviolent participation? Is it a petri dish of something new?¹ There is a wing of the Occupy LA that sees their encampment as a radical new mode of living; one that not only rejects income inequality, but any sort of action that enables one group to represses any other. This means contempt for anything like a parliamentary up or down vote, or adopting the same drug laws as 'the outside.' When someone lights up, especially during daylight hours, there is an instant sense of polarization between those who are willing to behave and those who aren’t. Finally those differences exploded.
For me, as a bystander to the Occupy phenomenon, watching it unfold in the various cities and towns across the country, it is this broadening of the agenda from a protest against the 1% to something about overhauling the whole system that is most striking. I have no interest in putting my energies toward starting a new society since it will only end reflecting the same dysfunctions present in the current one. I see a strong strand, and not just a fringe one, of anti-government sentiment that ultimately is no different and no more asinine than the one expressed by many of those in the Tea Parties. A perfect example of this is when Occupy Oakland wouldn't allow the paramedics into their site, which was on the key events that pushed the city to shut it down.
For this by bystander any inclination to participate at this time dissipates when to do so would mean I am putting my stamp of approval on the effort to look for some non-representational form of government as part of the solution. There is a good reason we have representational government, even at the town and county level. I am not interested in attempting to create little self-governed societies within the larger society.
So after doing a few errands on my way to the current cafe where I write this, I passed my local Occupy protest. I didn't know it was going on still, but there they a few, maybe a few dozen of them. There was a moment as I contemplated whether to park my car and join them for a few moments. And then the first sign that caught my eye: We Are Scott Olsen.
Well, to be perfectly frank, I am not Scott Olsen. What happened to him was an awful thing. I hope he has a perfect and speedy recovery from his injury. From the reports he is what one can describe as a good soul, one of those people willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. But the truth of matter is that I see his injuries as a consequence of bad decisions from both sides of the barricades. The protesters who started throwing bottles and rocks are just a culpable in Olsen's injury as the police, who did use questionable tactics and most likely were vastly under-trained to deal with such confrontations.
Did Scott Olsen have a right to be there to express his disapproval for the ending of the Occupy Oakland site? Yes. Did he in any way "deserve" what happened to him? Definitely No.
Did the group with whom he associated with in order to express that disapproval have the right to throw bottles and rocks at the police, something which would most highly cause a violent reaction from the police. And this is the problem - it is in my opinion impossible to separate out what happened to Scott Olsen from the actions that led up to it.
So while he is, as the saying goes, in my prayers, I do not identify with him because I don't identify with a number of people who chose to take the path of violent confrontation with the police a way to express their disapproval. When the first rocks and bottles were thrown, Olsen's decision to stand with the crowd means whether one likes it or not that he is part of them. That is the problem with violence during protests like these: you can't say ultimately that there was violent and non-violent protesters when it comes to the police perspective. Once the crowd shows that it is willing to do harm, their sole focus is on dispersion, arrest and subduing everyone. And more often than not they're going to over-react (which does not mean that they should be given a pass in the aftermath).
From SF Chronicle a description of the struggle that the events on Tuesday highlights:
But the street confrontations are bringing focus to a central question that those in the Occupy Oakland camp debated repeatedly during their 15 nights outside City Hall - whether demonstrators should opt for violence against police, meeting force with force.
The majority has supported nonviolence, and many are frustrated that some in the crowd threw bottles and paint at police. But some protesters favoring aggression are determined to continue the tactic. At the heart of the debate is what message the movement wants to project and in what way.
David Hartsough, who helped lead civil rights sit-ins and marches in the South in the early 1960s, said he has urged Occupy participants in Oakland and San Francisco to redouble nonviolence efforts.
"If people had fought back when police put the dogs on them in Selma and Birmingham, they wouldn't have gathered the support they got," said Hartsough, who founded the San Francisco-based Nonviolent Peaceforce.
When Tuesday's protest devolved into a volley of rocks and tear gas, some organizers took to bullhorns. "If you throw something, you're as bad as a cop," one speaker said to the applause of several hundred people.
A chant followed, conveying the same message, but then someone from the back of the crowd lobbed a glass bottle that shattered on police helmets. Officers responded, lobbing tear gas again.
Occupy Oakland protester Casey Jones, 28, wore a T-shirt Wednesday reading "thrash and burn," and skateboarded up and down Broadway yelling, "Bring it on!"
"I'm all about the riot - we need to be violent," he said. "We need more numbers. We'll just keep marching on."