Sunday, October 16, 2011

This Is Wrong and They Know It -- "The Whole World's Watching"

Photo by Jeremiah Mayhew, who has been doing brilliant work photo-documenting what's been going on.

Last Night's Arrests

What a strange sensation to get up this morning and find the OccupySacramento Facebook page filled with extended arguments on the value of using precious police resources to get your ass arrested for some unfocused cause.

Up to last night there had been approximately 35-40 people arrested over the course of the Occupation for "failure to disperse" at the rather flexible closing time of the Plaza.

Last night, I'm not sure of exactly how many demonstrators were arrested -- these numbers always change after a while in any case -- but those who were arrested were not the Usual Suspects. They included Cindy Sheehan, Karen Bernal, and Russell (whose last name I forget, but he is in a wheelchair and is part of the internet committee/working group for the Occupation). There are reports that several officers were in tears as they conducted these needless arrests, carrying out orders from On High, but to what object?

Night after night, people in Sacramento get arrested -- voluntarily, let the record show -- on behalf of the First Amendment guarantees of free assembly, free speech, and petitioning for redress of grievance. They know the reason they are out there, why they are resisting, and they pretty much know the consequences for doing so (though, of course, Authority can and does change those consequences to suit itself.)

The arguments that seem to have become intense last night have to with the fact that so many people have been arrested over so many nights; it was a media circus last night because of Cindy Sheehan (who has been arrested many times for civil disobedience connected with the Imperial Wars of Aggression); and because some people believe it doesn't work to make your point.

That's the most interesting argument to me. How can people, many of whom say they are sympathetic with the movement, insist, apparently sincerely, that civil disobedience doesn't work to make your point? It boggles the mind. Aren't these people aware of any history of social progress at all? Is it even possible that any substantial portion of Americans do not know of the long tradition in this country and all over the world (thank you, Mahatma) to engage in civil disobedience when the other avenues of politics don't work?

Nobody who is doing this in Sacramento is doing it frivolously. This is one of the most mindful group of civil disobeyers I've ever personally witnessed. They know what they are doing. They know why. They are not following a leader into the paddy wagon. Most of them have no personal agenda at all; they are consciously doing this solely for the benefit (they hope) of all.

And yet, the argument rages: "It doesn't work, you're wasting resources, do it the right way..."

No. When the situation reaches the point where civil obedience no longer works, the Right Way is to resist. Engaging in civil disobedience is correct and at this point, it's necessary. It may or may not lead directly to some desired change in the status quo -- in this specific case, honoring the Constitutional First Amendment protections instead of trying to restrict civil rights. And while the distinction may be a fine one sometimes, these actions are on behalf of honoring civil rights as opposed to civil liberties.

I can't argue with that.

The underlying issue here is the Occupation itself. As I've said, the OccupySacramento is not yet an actual Occupation. It is what I call a "coming-and-going" because the bulk of the Occupiers do vacate the Plaza every night at closing time; they break down the camp and store it in a panel truck parked at the corner (with permission from the city) and then they set it up again every morning. The people who are most involved in this logistical process get very little sleep, they are very tired -- because it is physically exhausting to keep doing this -- and we all wonder why the city manager hasn't used his independent authority to waive the restrictions on access to the Plaza after some arbitrary hour. It is a simple thing. It could have been done at the outset (many cities are cooperating with their Occupations without any civil disobedience at all; others aren't); it could have been done at any step along the way. Instead, the City Manager continues to order the arrests, and so we have the startling sight of dozens of police vehicles, up to seventy police officers -- in light riot gear -- confronting a dozen or so sitting (or sometimes prone), absolutely nonviolent and often silent, passive resisters, who get relatively gently zip-tied, hoisted up, and escorted to the paddy wagons and taken to jail, where apparently they are "guests" in the tanks until they're released the following morning or afternoon.

Some of them have been arrested over and over, but others volunteer for the first time every night, and the police stand there with tears in their eyes, batons at the ready, wondering what the fuck they're being ordered to do this for.

Then there's the guy on the hunger strike -- into his sixth day.

Why can't they just leave the Occupation alone?

That's the question being asked of Authority and clearly internally by Authority everywhere.

Before I went to my comfy bed (talk about privilege!) last night, I was watching the preparations for clearing the Occupation in Chicago from Grant Park. Oh the memories, some of which I mentioned earlier. It was a similar scene but not the same scene as the DNC police riots of 1968. It's in almost the same location as the nighttime tumult of 1968, so the site itself is evocative. The police -- so far as I could tell from the livestream feed until it abruptly went dead -- were not at all inclined to riot, and the Occupiers were engaged in classic nonviolent resistance: they linked arms in a circle around the tent encampment, and then they sat down. "♫We will not be moved♪." The police then formed a standing line around the perimeter of the demonstrators. There were reports of preliminary arrests. But there were also reports of very positive relations with the Chicago police, nothing like the fury and animosity of the past. There was no sign of violence before the feed went dead, and I haven't had a chance to check the news yet for updates.

The arrests in New York yesterday at the CitiBank branch are looking more and more bizarre the more info and video is coming out. I watched the action on the Livestream as it was happening, but the camera was outside the perimeter established by the police which was quite a distance from the bank entrance. So the story of what happened is still being pieced together. What we saw was stupid in the extreme. People were literally being arrested and hauled away for nothing; that is, they had done nothing that would be wrong in any rational world. Whether they made any kind of ruckus inside the bank I don't know, but from what I've seen, they didn't. They were, for the most part, quiet outside the bank as well, at least until the arrests began. At which time they protested, loudly. From all appearances, the arrests were made because CitiBank customers were trying to close their accounts.

And people will ask, "Why are you protesting that way? Why don't you do it the right way?"

This will be a perpetual argument, I think. Everyone wants to be a critic. How well I know. And everyone seems to want to be the Authority.

And then there's the issue of direct democracy in the Occupations which is triggering a whole other layer of dispute. "It's a MOB!!!! Eeek, run away!!!"

200 Arrests in Chicago over night:
Some pictures from Chicago last night (Facebook album link)

Santiago de Chile yesterday:


  1. I'm reminded of an old movie, I think it was Gunga Din in which the evil leader of an Indian insurrection was seemingly modeled after Gandhi, in appearance if not in behavior.

    The establishment tries not to differentiate between effective legal and non-violent resistance and illegal, violent resistance. It's not like they want people to be able to change anything, after all.

  2. I was told yesterday that some local citizens are complaining that the police are wasting enormous resources on these arrests of nonviolent protestors night after night, when they should be patrolling the streets "protecting and serving."

    The tipping point is nigh.