Why a police raid on the Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park could be a blessing in disguise for the movement. Now, they don’t need the park.
My colleague Marina used this space earlier this week to write about Occupy Wall Street’s slowly diminishing presence in both official news media and user generated news feeds like Twitter. Well, OWS’ news cycle problem has been solved, but that’s certainly not why the raid on Zuccotti Park can be spun into a good thing for the movement, which is celebrating its two-month anniversary today with planned protests all across New York city.
Bloomberg’s Raid Was Inevitable, Maybe a Good Thing
No, getting back to the top of the news cycle is hardly worth suffering a brutal police crackdown. And while Zuccotti’s eventual downfall seemed inevitable in many ways — how would Mayor Bloomberg of Bloomberg TV, Bloomberg Businessweek and the Bloomberg Terminal let this go on indefinitely? — the violence that the NYPD brought to the raid was as inexcusable as it was unsurprising.
And in another sense, despite Bloomberg’s many connections to finance, city government concerns itself with law, order, and cleanliness for the most part. You can choose to interpret his crackdown however you see fit, but many mayors did the same all over the country — maybe in coordinated fashion — in defense of preserving law and order. While I disagree with their actions, their interest in law and order isn’t exactly the product of the corporatocracy in Washington that OWS is trying to dismantle. It’s similar, but much smaller.
Ezra Klein has already explained how being booted from Zuccotti could have been a blessing in disguise for the movement on practical grounds: “In the event that someone died of hypothermia, or there was some other disaster…coverage could turn. What once looked like a powerful protest could come to be seen as a dangerous frivolity,” he wrote on his Washington Post blog.
Means and Ends
As someone who has been following the protests relatively closely for the last couple of months, I had become somewhat dismayed at Occupy Wall Street’s fixation on the defense of the spaces it was occupying. Granted, the whole point of the movement is to occupy things, places, parks, etc. But this goal is but a means to an end, and that end is to dismantle the relationship between big corporations and government that has poisoned both and made America a worse place for most people (99 out of every 100, as the argument goes).
Getting back to Marina’s point, Occupy Wall Street recently lost most of their media attention to Occupy Oakland, which had a horrific confrontation with the notoriously violent Oakland Police Department earlier this month. But Occupy Oakland was occupying downtown Oakland — hardly a center of corporate wealth in the country, let alone the Bay Area. If they were attempting to have their occupations be at least in proximity to a locus of power — Occupy Wall Street has done a great job of this — they’d be better off occupying office parks in nearby Walnut Creek, or heading over the bridge to San Francisco.
And it was Occupy Oakland’s clash with police — not their protest itself — that dominated headlines because the drama is more interesting than the passivity of an occupation. While that is the media’s fault, it also reflects the increasing inefficacy of the impulse to occupy public or semi-public places — this will only lead to more clashes with police, who answer to their superiors, who in turn answer to the top brass, who in turn answer to the mayor, who in theory answers to the public but, disproportionately, answers to the business community.
Which brings us back to square one: how our democratic processes has been subverted to serve corporate interests, which is what OWS wants to combat in the first place. By occupying public spaces, protesters put themselves at odds with the most heavily armed (not to mention lowest!) rung of this command chain — which doesn’t bode well for them. If they’re going to clash with police, it ought to happen during a rally. An active protest is, for obvious reasons, more sympathetic and engaging than the easy-to-mock hippie staples like drum circles and silent clapping that characterized the coverage of the Zuccotti occupation.
The occupations served an excellent purpose in the movement’s infancy — it’s what drew the initial attention and got thousands of others who might not normally sleep outdoors involved from coast to coast. The movement has captured the zeitgeist already, and their actions today could lead to something even bigger. Civil disobedience will continue to be central to the movement (how could it not?) but permanent encampments seem unrealistic at this point.
They have our attention now, and they don’t need to sleep outdoors to keep it. Right now, Bloomberg TV can’t stop talking about the madness right outside the doors of the Stock Exchange. That’s pretty amazing. That’s what OWS wanted when they started two months ago, and a hardcore group of 200 or so camped at Zuccotti to keep the flame lit. I don’t think they need Zuccotti anymore; they’ll be bigger without it.