Sunday, November 20, 2011

How Did We Get Here?

Last week, University of California-Davis police pepper sprayed peaceable protesters sitting on the ground with their arms linked together.  Video and many eye witnesses confirm that those so assaulted demonstrated no threat to anybody, never mind to uniformed officers in riot gear.  Ironically, one of the things the students were protesting was the use of unwarranted force at the UC-Berkeley campus earlier in the month.  In the past few weeks, there have been scores of Occupy site-related arrests and tens of thousands of dollars of personal property, medical supplies, computers and more have been confiscated and in some cases destroyed. Law enforcement agencies have used LRAD weapons, chemical agents, rubber bullets, batons, dogs, horses, and have even brought to the scene of a peaceful protest a very tank-like  "12-ton armored personnel carrier."  Occupy Nashville itself has endured the arrests of over 55 people in two nighttime raids and, as recently as this weekend, members of that occupation were subjected to verbal insults from an employee of the Nashville Fire Department.

While we can be glad these abuses of authority are finally getting media attention, I think it behooves us to take a look at how we got here and why there are some people who believe this egregious behavior is justified, as demonstrated by their nauseating comments online about "vermin" and more on such sites as The Blaze in their reader comment sections.  How is it that citizens of the nation that proclaims itself the defender of liberty around the world not only accept, but in some cases, even celebrate violence against those who are exercising their 1st Amendment right to free speech?  Why does Newt Gingrich, a leading contender for the nomination to the highest office in our land, believe he can dismiss the Occupy movement with a statement like, "go get a job, right after you take a bath?"

In order to overcome our innate compassion for the humanity of others, there must first be some demonizing process that renders those we wish to see as enemies as somehow not human, different.  We need to see people as "other" than we ourselves are before we are inclined to attack or justify the attacks of others because human beings mostly do not want to attack those they see as the same as themselves.  It's only when we deny feelings and/or ascribe immorality and worse to people that we're able to want to hurt or, indeed, even to remove or exterminate them.  Nazi propaganda worked to do this for years before the German public was able to look away as Jews and others were led to their deaths.

Today, corporate owned media and the politicians beholden to the same corporations are working hard to do the same thing to the Occupy movement.  Local news crews will roll up to an Occupy site at 4 a.m. and grab the first person they see in the vicinity or on the perimeter to "interview" and then run a story as if it was inside information from the movement when the reality may be that the person they interviewed was simply walking through the area or a hanger-on on the edge of the grounds looking for food when he was sober enough to walk.  Photographers will shoot and publish the pictures they believe most likely to, well, get looked at.  While that may be a worthy goal for a photographer, it's not a very good way to tell the truth about an event or movement if the pic of the day is a clown in a rainbow wig carrying an offensive sign.

I have witnessed numerous Occupy Nashville events live streamed or been present myself for them and then been dismayed the next day to see how they were either distorted or not even covered by media.  I hear, repeatedly, the same story from other Occupy sites and on the occasions I've been able to see those events streamed, I've frequently been dismayed by the press misrepresentation of what happened.  Someone is raped or drugs are sold near an Occupy site and it's reported as if the movement is a haven for criminal activity, all the while ignoring the fact that people were raped, murdered, and drugs were sold nightly in the same block before the occupation began.  The truth is that occupation sites are not causing crime; rather, they're presenting a very public mirror of the problems in our country and nobody wants to acknowledge that.  Especially not when you can make the Occupy participants appear as "different" in the process.

Even as pepper spray and batons are wielded by law enforcement officers, other agents of the corporate controlled government do their work behind the scenes to demonize as well.  Recently released emails from the Tennessee Highway Patrol and others reveal accusations of urinating, defecating, and orgies on the plaza in Nashville.  One includes the alleged comment by a female associate that she was glad she was accompanied on a visit to the plaza because she would have been afraid to be there otherwise.  This, of course, is the same plaza occupation that many families come to every week for events because it is a clean, safe place to be.

Ann Coulter tells her audience the Occupy movement is "demonic" and seems to take heart in fondly recalling the shootings at Kent State in 1970 as some sort of parable for our times.  Rush Limbaugh jaws to adoring fans that the occupiers are "lousy hippies, thieves, rapists, purse snatchers, muggers", while no less than the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor refers to them as a mob.  Occupy participants are to be labeled anything, it seems, other than citizens exercising the rights granted them by the Constitution of the United States.

If this all seems as if it's tied together too neatly, that's perhaps because it is.  Just this week, there was confirmation that the nationwide crackdown on Occupy sites is a well funded (to the tune of $850,000) and highly orchestrated plan to smear the movement and mayors across the country collaborated about how best to eradicate the occupations in their cities.

Occupy Nashville has a pending law suit against the State of Tennessee for attempting to evict them on the basis of a hastily enacted curfew and therefore currently enjoys a bit of a least on the curfew issue.  But, what of other issues?  Although the state legislature will not be in session again until after the first of the year, there's evidence that the state may try once again to shut down the occupation here on the grounds of some alleged safety and sanitation issues by drafting new legislation.  

Where is this going?  Will there be another Kent State tragedy?  I hope not, but it's hard not to argue that the stage is being set for just exactly that.  Protesters from Occupy Nashville recently infiltrated an appearance by Donald Rumsfeld and later reported their dismay at how uninformed the other attendees were about who and what the Occupy movement is about.  The event was sponsored by The Heritage Foundation.  Those who attended from Occupy Nashville reported a lot of fear in the room, fear that the movement is about socialism, communism, Obama lovers, spoiled rich kids, slackards, aging hippies...the great unwashed, if you will.  In listening to their accounts, I was reminded of the Nashville socialite quoted recently in a local publication when she sniffed, "It's our plaza, we paid for it," when asked how she felt about the Occupy participants being on the plaza the same night her group had an event planned at the adjacent Tennessee Center for the Performing Arts.  I was reminded of Marie Antoinette too, but that's another story.

Compared to other cities, Nashville has enjoyed a relatively good relationship with local law enforcement officers on site.  I was personally appreciative in witnessing one THP officer move to pick up from the steps the discarded military uniform dropped when a protesting father of a veteran was arrested on the plaza and humbled that he had the grace to walk over and hand it to the other protesters who had requested that it be picked up.  It's my premise that he did that because he was able to see the humanity of those around him, in spite of the efforts to dehumanize them.  He wasn't afraid of the scary bogeyman stories.  I saw video of a Metro Nashville police officer as he very appropriately dealt with Occupy Nashville protesters celebrating their evening with Rumsfeld by dancing in the street by telling them to move, telling them where they would be legal, and then letting them continue to celebrate peaceably if joyously.  If you watched the 8-minute video of the pepper spray assault at UC-Davis, you may have noticed one officer who was not in riot gear.  One officer was shown several times, bare headed, unshielded.  He even appeared to have a smile once or twice as he effectively controlled the protesters appropriately while the rest of his peers were in gear as if they were fighting terrorists instead of peaceably sitting students on the sidewalk.  He, too, saw their humanity and not the lies...not the "other" that the media and others with their own interests have tried to push.  I saw the press release issued by Portland Police Chief Mike Reese in which he advocated peaceable coexistence between Occupy sites and law enforcement.  

This movement and Occupy Nashville have work to do.  We must take it as serious business to become the media and introduce ourselves so people know who we are, why we're here, what we want.  We can do that, and in the process have a lot more dancing down Broadway and Portland police chief stories.  Alternatively, we can let the lies go unchallenged and wait for them to come get us.  Gandhi told us, "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."  We need only to survive first.