Friday, September 7, 2012

They Are the Po-Po Troopers, Vigilant Guardians of Citizen Discipline

Screengrab of Nate's live stream of last night's negotiations.

Rather than watching the political conventions when I had time to watch anything, I watched live streams from the streets of Tampa and Charlotte. Far more interesting what was going on in the streets.

Political conventions really haven't had much appeal to me since oh, about 1960, and the magical-seeming invocation and roll-call of the states:

"Mistah Chah-man! I rise from the Great State of Kentucky, home of the bluegrass, quarter horses, and the Most Bew-tee-full Women in the South, to cast Kentucky's 14 votes for the Next President of the United States of America, God's Own Favorite Son... "

You get the picture. I assume they still do that, but I don't think they show it on the teevee any more.

I have attended a few political conventions in California, as a protester and as a volunteer. They have their moments. But I don't recommend the convention process as any kind of ideal of political consciousness. In fact, it is my impression their role is to induce a kind of mass hysteria or trance, to induce unconsciousness in a word. What I call "mindless loyalty" -- what some others erroneously call "tribalism."

A Digression:
For those who don't know, a reminder: My grandfather was a Democratic Party chair in Iowa for almost 40 years, and my father stood for office as a Democrat, though he lost. My involvement in politics is much lighter in that I reject the Party apparat as far too corrupt and corrupting. In California, I've taken to the streets too many times to count, and I've largely been an equal opportunity protester, never limiting my protests to particular party affiliations -- and usually refusing to participate in scripted demonstrations organized by parties.

I've never stood for office, but I have served on numerous boards, commissions, formal and ad hoc committees, task forces and what have you, and have had long and intimate dealings with local, state and federal officials. I've been a government employee as well as a contractor. I know some of the ins and outs of what goes on, though there are times I would really rather forget.

I've voted in every election since I became eligible. In general elections, I vote Democrat. This makes me a Yellow Dog.

I've long been aware that the American electoral system is rigged in such a way that you don't really have a choice of ideals or policies and candidates are typically so similar that if they didn't have a (D) or (R) next to their names, you wouldn't be able to tell with which party they affiliate. This is by intent and design. The candidates are running for your approval to serve in the Government; once elected, their first loyalty is to that Government no matter what. Thus, Government interests come first, always.

Our Government, like most in the Developed World, is a wholly owned subsidiary of a relative handful of corporate and billionaire interests. We the People have very, very limited access to its power centers and even less influence over them.

This sad fact stands in defiance of the myth of America that proposes some sort of Democratic Republic always sensitive to and responsive to the Will of the People through the electoral process. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Elections matter because style and personality matter at least as much as policy considerations, and in American elections, you're voting on style and personality almost exclusively, almost never on actual policies. That's because those policies are determined way above the electorate's pay level, by people we've probably never seen or heard of. And in most cases those policies, once determined, are then sold to the rest of us like household products.

Who gets to determine what policies will be adopted and sold is a mystery in plain sight. We can see the workings of the machine, even some of its operators, but never quite witness what starts the whole thing in motion. Avoiding detection and responsibility seems to be a hallmark of those at the very top of the decision-making chain.

In most cases, you and I -- or the electorate in general -- are not included in that chain at all unless an election is required for implementation, and at the federal level that is very rarely (essentially never) the case.

Those who are included, however, pay attention when what's happening in the streets causes them significant discomfort and disruption. This will typically involve money. If their money flow is interrupted or it becomes significantly harder to raise the funds necessary to remain a viable office holder, then more than likely the office holder will do whatever it takes to accommodate whoever is providing the bulk of the money.

It's not just the appearance of corruption, it is corruption, outright. And it is corrupting to the political process not to mention what it does to the soul.


Observing the theatrics of the conventions from the view point of the streets as opposed to the images of what was going on inside reminded me of a lot of previous actions I've been involved in, and yet it was very different, too. The police presence was deliberately overwhelming, as has become customary in National Special Security Events such as WTO conferences and political conventions. But it was so overwhelming as to become ridiculous.

This was made manifest in the somewhat startling -- and funny -- appearance of squadrons of Po-Po Troopers in Tampa, dolled up in the most fashionable anti-riot military gear, assigned to protect the march of 8 Westboro Baptist Church members through the otherwise empty streets. It was absurd.

It was also the last time the Po-Po Troopers appeared in full get-ups in Tampa, and they never appeared at all in Charlotte. There were just far, far more police on view there, often three and even four rows deep on either side of a march. But none, as it turned out, dolled up to suppress armed insurrection.

For one thing, there weren't very many people in the streets at any given time. This is quite a change from previous National Special Security Events, and the reasons why there were so few demonstrators need to be explored. I don't have an answer at the moment.

In both Tampa and Charlotte, Occupy served as a kind of logistics hub, but it was not the central factor in such demonstrations as took place. Those who have been in Occupy knew the ropes and could help with organization, facilities and care, but for the most part they were not the ones putting on the Show. That was left to others, primarily a pretty vibrant anarchist contingent that went to both convention cities and put on essentially the same protest against the System in both cities.

There were, of course, exceptions to this rule.

The discipline imposed by police on these protests and protesters had a surprising effect, at least in my view.

People were allowed to march and carry signs and chant quite rudely ("1: Fuck Obama, 2: Fuck Obama; 3: Obama is a Fucking Traitor!" eg.) pretty much as often, long, and loud as they wanted, pretty much anywhere they wanted to do it, as long as it wasn't too close to the sites of the conventions. They were allowed to get within sight of the conventions, though, and if they chose to, they could stand within Protest Cages and carry on to their heart's content while delegates could observe them as if they were creatures in a zoo.

For the most part, protesters refused the Cages, so they marched and chanted and carried their signs well away from the convention action, always accompanied by extraordinary numbers of police. In Charlotte, there were so many, they generally outnumbered the demonstrators by 7:1 (at least that's a number I heard.)

Every march I saw, particularly in Charlotte, was corralled and tightly controlled with bicycle barricades, that is to say, by officers standing side by side with their bikes, forming a wall on each side of the march, a march that was confined to one lane of the street. Any street, whatever street. Behind the walls of bikes were ranks and ranks of police, some on foot, some on motorcycles, some (in Tampa) on golf carts. There were emergency vehicles along the routes (I guess in case somebody got heat stroke) and there were squadrons of helicopters overhead. Repeatedly, police would close off some preferred route with their bicycle walls, and there would be a confrontation, a stand off that might last a few minutes, or it might last hours. Neither side would budge. But off to the side there would be some sort of negotiation going on between a police representative and a protestor, and frequently -- it seemed anyway -- the police barricades would be removed and the march would continue on whatever route it had originally intended. In other words, the police backed down after receiving certain assurances of "peacefulness."

This was very different than the scenes four and eight years ago.

This year, nobody was bludgeoned, nobody was gassed, nobody was electroshocked or shot in the head with flash-bangs, there were no mass arrests. In fact, there were very few arrests at all. The police did not attack protesters the way they have numerous times in the past. The protest headquarters encampments were not harassed. Spontaneous and planned marches took place several times a day, sometimes taking seemingly arbitrary routes, and police simply accompanied the marchers. So far as I know, there were no incidents of vandalism. By some accounts, most of those who were arrested (and it was a very small number) got arrested deliberately as part of their protest action.

David Atkins over at Digby's Place went full Bourbon on the failure of Occupy to "organize" sufficiently to have an impact on the Democratic convention and its delegates, complaining about Occupy's interference with protests by well-organized outfits and groups like Planned Parenthood.

In order to be "heard" by Those Who Matter, claims Atkins -- who was a delegate at the convention this year -- one has to be organized, clear, and present. One has to be "inside" as it were. Like he was.

Occupy's determination to stay "outside" means no one Who Matters will pay them any mind at all.

How après nous... n'est ce pas?

Of course, he and those who think like him don't realize anything of the sort. They don't know they are on the wrong side of history. And they can't see much beyond their own extraordinary selves and the extraordinary lives they are so very privileged to live.

For the kind of changes -- revolutionary changes, systemic changes -- Occupy and others are demanding, being and staying "outside" is a fundamental necessity. There is no other way.

But in the context of this year's political conventions, the interplay between the Po-Po Troopers, the demonstrators, and the alternative media (via live streaming the protests) was an exercise in remarkable restraint and discipline -- as well as disciplining. In other words, the police were intent on disciplining the protests -- ie: making them conform to certain rigid rules and expectations. The demonstrators, for their part, seemed content to adopt their own rules and disciplines in response -- or on their own initiative -- on the premise that conflict with the Troopers (as opposed to principled confrontation) was not in the interests of either side.

It actually seemed more effective -- and may produce more lasting results -- than anything that was going on "inside." Well, except for Clint in Tampa, Clinton in Charlotte. I mean, certain things last.


  1. Check it out, Che.

    So seven people lie down on the sidewalk on Wall St. holding signs. They are not impeding foot traffic, as the pedestrians obviously move freely around them. (Until the police put up some barricades themselves, that is.) The seven are arrested. The two who have had their trials so far have been found guilty by the judge. Obstructing traffic and disobeying police orders. It turns out that the judge agreed with the Ass't DA that you don't have to actually be blocking traffic - only "risking the possibility that you might block traffic", whatever the fuck that means. Furthermore, the judge imposed a "conditional discharge"; if the same protester gets arrested a second time within the next year, he automatically and retroactively gets the full penalty imposed in this case (which includes jail time) rather than the probation these two got for now. The other five face their trials soon.

    Making up new laws on the spot at trial ("the possibility that you might block traffic") sort of puts a damper on protester enthusiasm, as does the possibility that any further protesting can result in automatic jail time.


  2. "I get con-fused
    when the law
    changes every day..."

    This is one of many means being employed to corral and stifle dissent in this country. It was like this back in the Gilded Age...

    No, it was worse, actually. Much as we complain about the repression right now, it was worse when people were being routinely shot down for marching and acts of civil disobedience.

    The jail time issue is a big one these days. What with the mass arrests and the various official sanctions available for use by courts and police at their sole discretion, it's a wonder anyone takes to the streets any more.

    Which may be part of the reason why there were so few in the streets of Tampa and Charlotte.

    People are scared.