Friday, March 23, 2012

Wrestling With Demons

While watching OWSHDTV Livestream from Union Square last night, I came face to face with some of my own demons of the movement, and I thought I'd spend a little time today discussing it.

After all, I've had no problem discussing some of the demons other people have been confronting in their interactions with the Occupy Movement. It can be tough to wrestle with and deal with what we really don't want to see or hear or have to face. We're used to objectifying and abstracting so much of our outer experience, it is easier than it should be to demonize that which we don't like or don't understand in others. I do it, though I try not to, or rather, I think I'm trying not to. But I know I fail.

So what I saw last night brought me up short. I began watching the livestream shortly after 9:00pm Pacific Time, midnight in New York, when "the park is closed" and the barricades go up around Union Square. (How quickly we become used to new procedures!) Apparently the livestreamer had recently been in an altercation of some kind with a police officer; from what I understood from the exchange going on between them, the officer had pushed the livestreamer out of the way in order to emplace the all-important barricades at the bottom of the first set of steps; the officer was apparently kicking items left by people on the steps down to the lower pavement.

The livestreamer was taunting and insulting the police officer, and he was challenging him to justify his behavior. Ordinarily, this type of citizen behavior toward Authority wouldn't bother me, but it did last night, because the livestreamer went from taunts and insults to threats against the officer and his family. The officer didn't become violent or abusive toward the livestreamer, but he did respond verbally. I couldn't catch much of what he said, but I did hear him say "my family" and "my house." It seemed at one point that he issued a challenge to the livestreamer, but I couldn't hear the exchange well enough to be sure. After some back and forth, a supervising White Shirt came over and whispered to the officer; shortly thereafter, the officer refused to engage the livestreamer and ostentatiously pretended not to hear his additional taunts, insults, and challenges.

What bothered me about this episode were the implicit or explicit threats against the officer and his safety by a livestreamer. There have been instances of people getting in officers' faces and physically struggling with them when they are abusive (which in New York seems to be a daily occurrence now that Occupy has re-emerged.) But this was different. From what I heard, at any rate, apparently the officer had simply disrespected the livestreamer by pushing him out of the way as he went about his task of setting barricades. The task itself is idiotic as far as I'm concerned, and the very idiocy of "protecting" a public park from access by the public night after night with hundreds of police officers in attendance ought to be embarrassing enough to the NYPD officers who participate in it. As it seems more and more to be.

But this time, a livestreamer took it on himself to challenge this particular officer to justify his behavior (which I have no problem with), and appeared to threaten him (which I do have a problem with.)

The officer, for his part, stayed cool but he appeared to be rattled, and if the White Shirt hadn't intervened, it might have turned ugly in ways I don't think we want to see, at least not under these circumstances. Either the officer might have physically attacked the livestreamer. Or it might have gone a different way had the livestreamer kept bullying him. That's what he was doing. He was bullying. The officer might have had a breakdown -- which can be very dangerous. The man is armed, after all, and if he is goaded and bullied enough, there's no telling what he would do. At any rate, he was clearly upset enough to be thinking...

An argument can be made that the officer was only getting some of his own medicine, but in this case, I think it went well beyond that. The livestreamer did not try to do anything to the officer physically; he was using psych tactics to goad him and get his goat by threatening him and his family with "internet exposure" and "anonymous attacks." I'm sure NYPD discusses what can happen to officers who are targeted by Anonymous (Officer Bologna anyone? Sounds like Officer Lombardo is in the cross-hairs as well) or by other groups -- CopWatch was mentioned during the exchange described here -- who make it a point to expose and publicize wrong-doing by Authority. And the implication was that physical consequences were possible.

I don't see any strategic value in that sort of implied or actual threat against police officers or any other authority figure. I admit, however, that this is my personal belief; others may see it differently, and in the case I was witnessing, it's more than likely that the livestreamer was running his mouth rather than making any kind of conscious threat at all. It did not appear as if he understood how his words might be taken.

At any rate, the livestreamer moved on and for a time he joined a mic check soapbox group who were speaking out against the police and offering their testimony about police brutality and other issues. There was one apparently drunk young man who returned over and over to say that he had been "beat down" by the police, he was fed up, and all he had to say to the police was "suck my dick!" And anybody else could suck his dick if they didn't like it.

Over and over and over again. Other people were also speaking out against the violence and thuggery of the police, but most were trying to find alternatives to the way things were and had been, and some spoke of how indirect confrontation could work better than direct confrontation in dealing with police violence. One said, "The thing they hate most is for you to smile at them (paraphrase)." Every time somebody made a positive suggestion, the apparently drunk young man got up on the soapbox (a plastic milk crate) and went into his "suck my dick" routine.

I found it offensive and disturbing. The police don't care, not in any fundamental way, if someone mouths off like that. The people who might care were those around him who were hearing this over and over. One said, "I like dick sucking." Others said, "Sucking dick is a good thing" as a way to deflect his rage, while one suggested playing games with the police as a way to undermine their authority.

The drunk fellow was having none of it. I think everyone could understand his anger and frustration with the police; but even the livestreamer was offended by his approach, as was I. Eventually, the livestreamer moved on saying there were many other people in the park and he didn't have to listen to this guy going on and on about his favorite obsession.

I got to thinking about these incidents in the context of the offense many expressed against Occupy for the kinds of actions some people engaged in (the "Black Bloc anarchists" as Chris Hedges put it) that they found inappropriate or over the line. I got to thinking how absurdist some of that argument became ("wearing bandanas is 'violence' if people think it is or could be a symbol of violent behavior") . I got to wondering where to draw the line, or if there really is a "line" between what is and is not acceptable behavior in this nonviolent resistance campaign.

I was personally offended when I saw these two incidents last night; that does not in any way absolve the police or Authority in the abstract for their many acts of suppression and violence against Occupy demonstrators nor does it absolve them from their gross indifference and negligence toward people's suffering. They are responsible for that -- as a group, not simply as individuals. But when I see offensive actions by my comrades in this struggle, it can be bewildering and disorienting. Having witnessed this last night (albeit vicariously through a computer connection and a camera lens) I think I gained a little more sympathy toward those who are so wrapped up in their own sense of being offended because somebody broke a window or threw a bottle when time was.

Of course my recommendation is always to "let it go." There's nothing we can do about something that has already happened, nor is there anything we can do about virtual actions we witness on the livestream.

We can affect our own behavior -- and to some extent our own reactions -- going forward, that's all. If we can be aware of how we are reacting -- rather than focus so much on how other people are acting -- we might gain insight into how to find that "space between" that I mentioned in an earlier post. That almost unexplored territory that lies between polarities of beliefs and actions.

How can we wrestle with demons without becoming demons ourselves? How can we foster our better angels?

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