Thursday, Oct 27, 2011, 3:10 pm
The Steady Occupation: After Police Violence, New Concessions or Soft Power?
Editor's note: Starting today, The Daily Occupation becomes The Steady Occupation, a less frequent but more sustainable round-up of updates, links and in some cases direct reporting on the Occupy movement that has spread from New York City across the world.
Stark battle lines in protestors’ struggles to occupy public space were crossed this week with a new level of police violence.
With arrests in Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Seattle, San Jose, Portland and now Oakland, where Allison Kilkenny describes police forces claiming only to maintain the public "health and safety" shot tear gas, bean bags, flash grenades and rubber bullets at peaceful protestors, the police response can be described as militarized. In a recent article for The Nation, Kilkenny says, "Police nationwide are are treating the occupiers as though they're terrorist cells."
However, just days after the large show of force in Oakland, many officials, courts and city councils are now changing their hard-line tone and offering an apparently more concessionary approach.
Across the country, anger for recent actions is being expressed and, apparently, being heard. In Cleveland, occupiers won the court’s permission to demonstrate 24 hours a day on Public Square. In Orange County, Cali., a late-night city council meeting granted the occupiers license to occupy public space overnight. In addition, the Orange County city council passed an emergency motion to add "the needs of the 99 percent" to their agenda, possibly leading to tents being accepted as a form of free speech. And, in an incredible turnaround from Tuesday's crack down, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan released a statement saying she now supports the Occupy Oakland protesters and will diminish the police presence there.
This hardened police push-back is also true of Chicago– on October 16, police raided Occupy Chicago's camp and arrested 175 protesters. This past Saturday night, CPD officers arrested 130 protesters. Among the arrested were registered nurses from the Chicagoland area, one of whom detailed on 'The Matthew Filipowicz Show' the harsh conditions in which they were held (allegedly as punishment for showing their Occupy Chicago support), picketed City Hall on Monday to condemn the Emanuel administration and CPD actions.
Other groups joined the National Nurses Unitd union, making City Hall a main focus this past week. Together with activists incensed not only by police treatment of Occupy Chicago, but also by the refusal to grant a march permit to protest the NATO and G8 summits next year, and alleged verbal threats against those planning to protest anyway, Occupy Chicago "occupied" City Hall to deliver their message directly. They marched all the way up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office and presented two petitions (signed by thousands) demanding permits for the May 2012 summits be granted and the charges against arrested occupiers be dropped.
After the protestor’s culminated efforts landed at his front door, the @ChicagosMayor Twitter account announced: "Mayor's deputy looks forward to setting up a mtg to sit down for a discussion...."
Does this represent progress and if so, what kind? Both Emanuel’s Deputy Chief of Staff Felicia Davis and Mayor Quan have complained that they don’t know who to address in the movement, but this is difficult to believe given the well-publicized format of the Occupy movements and the invitation from groups to speak at their General Assemblies.
It's hard not to wonder whether there's a sneaky disingenuousness the offer of a sit-down rather than a stand-up-and-use-the-people's-mic meeting. Even if it's not a deliberate tactic, Davis' lament that "I just need to know who the real, appropriate, valid people are" to meet with could sound like a provocation to a movement that prides itself on believing that all participants are real, appropriate and vali.
Meanwhile, for many cities' Occupy groups, escalating attacks have forced acknowledgement of latent differences over how to relate to the police. Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory says that at last night's otherwise triumphant Occupy Oakland GA:
Cops were clearly the most controversial topic of the evening. When a speaker shouted, “Police are not the enemy,” he was booed. This question of whether police are an adversary has arisen at other Occupy protests, but it’s especially potent in Oakland, where anger and outrage has long brewed against law enforcement.
Back in Chicago, a move to circumvent police conflict altogether and establish a permanent encampment was announced yesterday. Occupy Chicago's legal representatives, the National Lawyer's Guild, will be meeting with the City's Corporation Counsel today to discuss a permanent, round-the-clock location for the Occupation's home base.
"This movement is about building community and for that to happen, we need a home," said Occupy Chicago representatives. "We are beginning a conversation about how to put power back in the hands of ordinary people, taking it away from corrupt politicians and corporations. Together, we will create a new system, built on social and economic equality."
Michael Solomon, a fall 2011 In These Times editorial intern, is a graduate of the University of Oregon.