Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy America: Doing it Right

I have been following the activities of various Occupy camps.  I used to be a political organizer, so I am very familiar with the process and protocol of protesting.  In all my decades following politics, I have never seen a movement like this.  Perhaps if you are a generation older than me, you may have.  Not since Dr. King has there been a movement like this.

Mark my words, this is the beginning of the end of our current power structure.  (Trust me, I saw the financial collapse coming too).  This Occupy movement will work.

Unless it doesn’t.  And there is one good reason it might not.

The protesters.

OccupyWallStreet began as a non-violent protest.  As long as the protesters involved remember this and stay true to that principal, the Occupy movement will succeed.  If they do not, the movement will fail.

And it very well might fail.

I have been keeping tabs on OccupySF and OccupySacramento, mainly because they are close to me and I know both areas well.  (I currently live in SF, and used to work in Sacramento).  For the most part, I have been impressed by what I have seen.  Their dedication is amazing.  And I am equally impressed by OccupySF’s intention to gather peacefully and lawfully.  I love the fact that they even had signs up saying no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco smoking is permitted in the camp.  If anyone needs to smoke, they must to go completely off the block where protesters are gathered.  I love this for a number of reasons:  1)  It shows law enforcement that OccupySf is serious about complying with the law and respectful of their surrounding.  2)  It shows the world that we are not a bunch of pot-smoking hippies playing bongos, as the right wing would have us believe.  3)  It ensures that the participants in the movement remain clearheaded at all times.  4)  It means the camp can’t get busted for drugs or public consumption of alcohol, thereby discrediting the movement.  5)  The camp collectively voted on this rule.  (How cool is that?!)

There are a number of reasons that non-violence works.  Chiefly among them is the core principal of doing things peacefully, and as lawfully as possible.  For the most part, this is what I am seeing.  But there are a few areas where the Occupy movement is falling short.

Martin Luther King said, "Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."  I am seeing protesters screaming “Fuck you!” at cops.  Really guys?  That SO isn’t helping!  Lest we forget: the cops are NOT our enemies.  Might there be police brutality?  Sure.  Might protesters get hurt?  Yes.  Does that mean we should take the stance that the cops are just WAITING to beat heads in?  No.

Personally, I don't think people should expect police brutality at all. And that fact that we've come to expect it is a bit unnerving. As long as people are lawful and respectful there should be no cases of police brutality or arrests.  And if there are, then that could further the Occupy movement by shining a more favorable light on it.

Granted, there are a few bad apples in every barrel.  But come on, aren’t we the 99%?  The same is true for the police force.  99% of them are GOOD.  Only 1% is perpetuating the violence.  It really is not fair to judge the 99% on what the 1% does, now is it?

It seems that some members of the movement have already decided that the police are the enemy.  They are NOT.  Your experience in this movement will depend entirely on one thing:  your interaction with the police.  Instead of chants like, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, SFPD has got to go!” or “Police go home!” how about instead chanting things like, “You are part of the 99%!” or “Police come join us!”  This isn’t us vs. them.  It is us AND them.  Making it only us.  The trick here is getting THEM to see that.  And as long as you are spewing all that hatred and animosity, that is never going to happen.

Take one protester I saw.  He screamed “Fuck you!  Fuck you!  Fuck you!” over and over again for a full minute until an officer finally hit him.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not for a second condoning what that officer did.  But I DO question whether or not the situation would have unfolded as it did without all the fuck you’s.  I am seeing people who have already made up their mind that the police will be violent.  You need to build a RELATIONSHIP with the police.

If I went into my marriage thinking it was only a matter of time before we got a divorce, how do you think that marriage would go?  Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.  Like it or not, you WILL have a relationship with the police.  The only question is how would you like that relationship to go?

The police are going to do what the police are going to do.  They have to follow the orders they’ve been given.  How are YOU going to interact with them?  How are YOU going to respond to their requests?  How are YOU going to make their jobs easier?  Those are the questions you should be asking yourselves.

This isn’t India under British rule.  This isn’t the racist South in the 1960’s.  The police don’t hate us.  They don’t want to turn fire hoses on us.  They don’t think we are animals with no rights.  Stop treating them as though that is the case.

Be polite.  Thank them for their service.  Ask them how you can help make things go more smoothly.  Shake their hand, and look them in the eye as you do so.  Remember that the person you are shaking hands with is part of 99%.  You are Occupying for him or her too!  Treat the officer accordingly.

"Non-violence ... requires greater heroism than of brave soldiers ... The world does not accept today the idea of loving the enemy. Even in Christian Europe the principle of non-violence is ridiculed ... Christians do not understand the message of Jesus. It is necessary to deliver it over again in the way we can understand ... But I must say that so long as we do not accept the principle of loving the enemy, all talk of world brotherhood is an airy nothing. "  These are the words of Mahatma Ghandi.  Remember him?  The guy who led a whole country to freedom against the ruling class that hated them and treated like second class citizens?  If that can work against the British, with guns, ready to kill and feeling totally justified in doing so, surely it can work on American police officers with pepper spray and twisty-ties.

Speaking of twisty-ties.  You guys do know that our goal in this movement is not “get arrested”, don’t you?  Let me say that again.  Getting arrested is NOT the point of this movement.  And in fact, we would do better to have little or no arrests.  For as long as the American public can remember, freaky wack-jobs have been protesting and demanding to be arrested.  Do you know what most of the American public does when this happens?  Roll their eyes and mutters, “Freaky wack-job!”  What will make America stand up and listen are us following the laws, remaining calm, and NOT getting arrested.

Do you know why?  Because most protesters show up precisely TO get arrested.  The very fact of arrest suggests impermanence.  They are here to get arrested, and then go home.  What will amaze and wow the American public is the realization that we are NOT going away.

AND, more importantly, and I cannot emphasize this enough:  WE MUST BE FOLLOWING THE LAW!

Take OccupySacramento for example.  They chose for their site a park that is closed to the public after 11 pm.  They chose to use for their base, a park that is closed to the public after 11 pm. Then they complain when they get arrested!  Of course you are getting arrested, OccupySacramento.  YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW!

They could easily remedy this situation.  Move the base of operations to a park that is NOT closed to the public, or simply move to a sidewalk in front of a bank.  Sidewalks are public property.  They do not close, and people cannot be arrested for gathering there.  I have pointed this out several times to OccupySacramento, suggesting they move their camp.  Yet, night after night, they stay at the same park.  You know, the one where they are breaking the law by being there?

This saddens and angers me to no end.  It saddens me because I thought we were smarter and more evolved than that.  The problem is that that particular park is closed after 11 pm?  GREAT!  Move somewhere else that isn’t.  PROBLEM SOLVED!  It angers me because this is my movement too, and this makes us look bad.

I know they are claiming the right to peacefully assemble.  They DO have the right to peacefully assemble.  Just not in that park after 11 pm.

Until the movement reaches clarity on what non-violence and this movement is about, things will continue to break down.  This is not a chance to riot.  This is not a chance for anarchy.  We MUST maintain order.  Otherwise we will look back on this movement, years from now and call it the “downfall of our society”.  Michael Moore is right (whether you like him or not).  It is either non-violence now or violence later.  It should be a no brainer.

But just in case, let me spell it out for everybody, just so we can be clear on what is needed:

We MUST follow the laws.  Even the stupid ones like closing a park at 11 pm.
We MUST include the police officers in our movement.  They are part of the 99%.
We MUST speak to everyone, ESPECIALLY the police, in a civil, respectful tone that acknowledges they bring something to the table too.
We MUST chant only positive things, at all times.
NEVER, at ANY TIME must we spew hatred at the police (or each other).

"Wherever there are jars [conflicts], wherever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love. In a crude manner, I have worked it out in my life. That does not mean that all my difficulties are solved. I have found, however, that this Law of Love has answered as the Law of Destruction has never done." ~ Ghandi

Repost this, retweet it.  We need to get the word out until every single Occupy camp out there has gotten the message.


  1. EXCELLENT! This movement really does have the potential to change the course of the country, and I hope that it keeps building momentum. You're absolutely right about the need to respectful, LAWFUL demonstrations, though. Done right and with an eye on the prize, we could be on the brink of a phenomenal uprising.

    Gotta keep the focus where it belongs. Well done!

  2. Thank you. People get excited about change, I get it, but they also need to obey the laws. The laws are there for a reason.

  3. This instruction and offering of guidelines is excellent. Hopefully most of them will be respectful. I looked at the Occupy Orlando site on Facebook and I saw some tomfoolery going on. I was disappointed to see that. Mostly the site is good - just that someone chose to post some misleading information. Also suggesting that people should not bring water bottles, but to drink from the lake instead. Hello???? Lake water? No way. We have amoeba in our lakes here, not to mention the many ducks and swans who pollute the water.

    I'm watching the movement and hoping for success. We have become puppets in our nation, bowing and scraping for approval and meekly accepting whatever is dished to us. It should not be. We are a stronger nation than that.

    Thank you for writing with such clarity!

  4. Thank you so much, Darlene! My guess is the person posting about the lake either not from the area, or a plant, trying to get people sick.

    Don't forget to repost! This really needs to get out there (on OccupyOrlando's page, maybe?). ;-)

  5. Lillyth, thanks for posting this. I think your point is well-taken, it is not doing the movement(s) any favors for protesters to act unlawfully. Better to be respected for doing things right than to give your opponents the opportunity to call you fringe lunatics.

    What I think the protests have missed so far are concrete, achievable goals. I suggested one possibility, a "demand" union, in my blog post on the subject, but there are probably a number of other specific things they could work towards. I suspect they will find themselves frustrated until they start coming up with goals that are achievable, even if that's something "negative" like taking over the Democratic party.

  6. You summed that up very nicely, Kyle. I think you are right too. Their goals are too airy-fairy. While I agree with what they have posted, they do need to come together in a more concrete manner. My conservative friends are just blowing them off as a bunch of hippies.

    The thing is, (funny that! It's back to the 99% thing) most of the people in the Movement are normal. It's that one percent that are freaks that are being aired.

    I think the more concrete demands will surface, once enough people get there. In the meantime, let's try obeying the law.

  7. occupy Atlanta is also staying in a park that it's unlawful to stay over night in and they announced they were not going to leave. I agree it would be easier to have your voice heard if you just follow the laws. Especially the little simple laws like that. Some people live by the mantra that even negative press is good press, but I don't believe so in this matter.

  8. Well said, Angie! Make sure you post this on Occupy Atlanta's page!

  9. SO THANKFUL you posted this; i don't watch TV and did know there was a protest but not to this extent. AWESOME and your voice is so CLEAR and right on. Keep up the good work..we are behind you!