The Daily Occupation: Democrats Support the Spirit of Protest, Arrest the Protesters

Patrick Glennon

Spurred on by the growing success of Occupy Wall Street, solidarity movements turned out in mass on October 15 across the globe. On a day that witnessed the convergence of 5,000 protesters in Times Square, protesters echoing the 99 percent” mantra marched through London, Sydney, Chicago, L.A., Hong Kong, Berlin, Madrid, Toronto and scores of other cities. With perhaps the sole exception of Rome, all of the protests were largely non-violent, attracting a new level of media attention to what had initially been a neglected and disregarded movement. And as the media pays more attention, it becomes harder for politicians (especially Democrats) to refrain from doing so. Nancy Pelosi praised the “spontaneity,” youthfulness and diversity of OWS in a recent speech. David Axelrod, chief strategist for President Obama, has credited the movement with shifting political discourse in the right direction. In an interview with ABC, Axelrod stated that protesters and the popular sentiment they represent are vying for a “financial system that works,” whereas, “Republican candidates … [will] roll back Wall Street reforms and go back to where we were before the crisis and let Wall Street write its own rules.” Even Barack Obama has discreetly tossed overtures onto the table, implying at yesterday’s MLK memorial dedication that, were he alive today, MLK would support the occupy movement and champion the people’s right to “challenge the excesses of Wall Street,” although the president hedged his bets in characteristic fashion by adding without demonizing those who work there.” But while some Democratic leaders lionize a newly emboldened occupy movement, a countercurrent within the party seems terribly at odds with this sentiment. Democratic mayors across the U.S. have stood by while protesters, exercising their right to free speech, have been raided and arrested—sometimes violently—by police.
Joe Macaré discussed Saturday’s non-violent, mass arrests in Chicago on this blog post yesterday. The relatively peaceable and considered measures taken by the Chicago Police Department, however, were denied other encampments in recent weeks. On October 11, Boston police aggressively raided the city’s occupy camp early in the morning, arresting 141 protesters—including a contingent of pacifist veterans. Likewise, San Francisco experienced yet another raid last night, replete with arrests and the confiscation of personal belongings. Dozens were arrested by riot police in Denver last Friday. In Raleigh, 20 were arrested, charged with second-degree tresspassing, and had a complete list of their names released to the public. Occupy Raleigh had this to say about the incident: They said if we took out signs down, we could stay. Then they said if we were quiet, we could stay. Then they arrested us anyway.” As liberal politicians attempt to co-opt popular anger for next year’s elections, the actions by Democratic mayors uncovers a deep contradiction within the party. Democrats’ praise for OWS loses its earnestness in the face of suppression by liberal leaders. Of course, those leaders aren’t above claiming sympathy for protesters even as they send in the riot police. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee in particular seems to have internalized the divide between rhetoric and actions that characterizes his party, stating I support the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street movement… protesters are acting within their First Amendment right to free speech and freedom to assemble,” while also supporting the initial police raid on the night of October 5 during which tents, food, and other personal property was seized. In Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock both piously invoked Occupy Denver’s First Amendment right to protest while praising police for shutting the protest down. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, meanwhile, decided to get round the discrepancy by issuing the bizarre claim that Occupy Boston had been hijacked by outsiders who come in from city to city” and even people who come from another country.” And whereas President Obama indirectly endorses the message of the 99 percenters, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—the president’s confidant and former chief of staff—silently oversaw the arrests of 175 peaceful protesters aligned with the movement. Dissent is increasingly under fire from the very people who hope to harness popular discontent with social and economic inequity, and turn it into electoral support. Joe Iosbaker (whose activism led to the FBI raiding his home, an event profiled by Jeremy Gantz for In These Times here) spoke in Chicago on the global “Day of Rage” this last Saturday. As an organizer of the protests planned for the upcoming G20 summit next May, he told the gathered crowd that not only had the city of Chicago (the host for the summit) denied a permit to march, but it issued a threat of indiscriminate arrests should activists decide to convene. If the Democratic party wishes to remain relevant to its voters, perhaps it should smooth out some of the inconsistencies in regard to its electorate’s right to speak and assemble freely.
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Patrick Glennon is a writer and musician living in Chicago. He received his B.A. in History from Skidmore College and currently works as Communications Manager for the Michael Forti for Cook County Court campaign and as the web intern at In These Times.
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