When a series of crackdowns on the Occupy camps suddenly occurred in, more or less, the same week, many observers wondered if perhaps the attacks had been coordinated at a national level. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan confirmed that suspicion during an appearance on the BBC - excerpted on The Takeaway radio program - when she casually mentioned taking part in a conference call with the leaders of 18 US cities right before the raids.
“I was recently on a conference call with 18 cities across the country who had the same situation,” said Quan.
It turns out one of the 18 leaders who sat in on the call was Portland Mayor Sam Adams. The calls, according to Adams, were organized “to share information about the occupying encampments around the country.” He described the calls to the New York Times as “check-ins to share information and advice on how various cities were handling the demonstrations.”
In addition to conferring with their fellow mayors, it appears city leadership also received an assist from the Department of Homeland Security, according to journalist Rick Ellis at the Examiner. Ellis spoke with a Justice official, who claims each of the Occupy raid actions were coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI, and other federal police agencies.
The official, who spoke on background to me late Monday evening, said that while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement.
According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.
The existence of these types of conference calls could help to explain the near-universal brutal police response to Occupy. A “massive show of police force” describes the scene of every raid, whether talking about major cities like Oakland or New York City, or other smaller Occupy locations like Chapel Hill or Nashville. This also helps to explain why assault weaponry like tear gas canisters and rubber bullets have been being used as a first-response rather than defensive measure.
Evicting protesters at a time “when the press was the least likely to be present” perfectly explains what happened during the eviction of Occupy Wall Street when Mayor Bloomberg dispatched the NYPD in the dead of night to raid the camp. Though police had obviously planned the midnight attack to keep media presence to a minimum, many still made the journey, but when they arrived numerous journalists were welcomed with a hostile response by authorities, and reported being bullied, threatened, and assaulted by police as they attempted to cover the raid.
Quan and Adams are the only mayors who have thus far admitted to the coordination, but if Quan’s statement is accurate, there are many other city leaders who took part in the calls. Crackdowns in Salt Lake City, Albany, Denver, and elsewhere in the past few days suggest the synchronized assaults were planned to deal a swift, crushing blow to Occupy. It’s unsurprising that such coordination would demand federal oversight, but it’s also deeply disturbing that a federal agency may have participated in the plot, since the whole reason Occupy exists is to address the corruption of the government.
It seems as though OWS has transitioned from the first and second parts of Gandhi’s formula for peaceful revolution, and have now entered the third and last stage: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you…” have come and gone. Certain establishment media players had their fun mocking the protesters as a bunch of bongo-playing, weed-smoking hippies. The movement grew rapidly, and it quickly became apparent that Occupy is not just comprised of hippies, but also the unemployed, union members, indebted students, homeless, and the other marginalized and forgotten people in our society.
Occupy is now firmly planted in the “then they fight you” phase where city leaders, through arbitrary application of laws, raids, and police brutality hope to crush the movement for good. It speaks to the effectiveness of the group that this last stage has taken not only a full-scale, nationwide coordination of 18 city leaders, but also allegedly federal oversight. Not bad for a group of a couple hundred kids who went to Zuccotti without so much as a vague plan in their back pockets.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
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