Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Tale of Two Actions

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."  (Charles Dickens, opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities)
Occupy Nashville has staged a number of direct actions in the past few months as part of its occupation.  Some of them, most notably, perhaps, the infiltration of Donald Rumsfeld's Nashville appearance in November, have appeared to have been well thought out and were generally well received, cheered even.  A large group gathered on the plaza and marched to where Rumsfeld was speaking, while four members of Occupy Nashville were able to infiltrate the gathering undetected so they could confront him about his part in what the Occupy movement is protesting.  The mission was accomplished and celebrated afterward with dancing in the streets, as many at-home supporters of the movement enjoyed it vicariously as it was live streamed.  Local media gave the coup its due as well.

Members of Occupy Nashville speak after infiltrating the Rumsfeld event.

Not all direct action events have been as well received.  The most notorious of those occurred in the early hours of Sunday, December 4th, when some from Occupy Nashville attempted to commandeer an abandoned building.  Unlike the group who left the plaza weeks earlier to protest the Rumsfeld event, those who marched from there about midnight on the 3rd didn't know that there were plans to end up taking over a building before the night was done.  The march was stopped, in route, and they were informed at that point of the plans.  This march, publicized in advance, included families who had come to the plaza to participate in support.  In the end, some protesters turned back and did not participate in what many later referred to as a disaster in terms of the movement's transparency and a public relations nightmare.

In the past 24 hours, there were a couple more events undertaken by Occupy Nashville and the two of them provide yet another contrast between what's a worthwhile direct action and what's not.  The group staged another well publicized event, this one a mock funeral for Mr. Bill O.F. Rights, in response to the recent passage in D. C. of the NDAA.  After gathering on the plaza, a funeral procession wound through downtown to Riverfront Park and the Cumberland River, where Mr. Rights was cremated and his remains were given proper disposal.  Strains of country music wafted at times from bars in the tourist district, as Mr. Rights was eulogized repeatedly on corners when the group had to stop for red lights.  The protesters marched peaceably, were never provocative in their behavior, but were seen by many Nashvillians out during the afternoon rush hour.  It was a scene that few but Occupy Nashville could pull off, indeed. This event was also streamed and very well received.  Comments in chat and elsewhere have noted the appropriateness of the funeral metaphor, the detailed planning, publicity, and execution of the action.  The classiness that is so often Occupy Nashville.  It was a stunning winner, all around.

They should have stopped there.  Near the end of the funeral demonstration, a member of the stream team loudly boasted that there would be another direct action later in the night, suggesting it would be something special, something not to be missed, even.  A surprise.

Just before midnight, a link was posted on the Occupy Nashville live stream chat, linking to what was referenced as "the other channel."  For the first time, a tent from ON was pitched off the plaza and was instead in place across Charlotte, outside Governor Haslam's office on Tennessee's Capitol Hill.  (NOTE:  The stream first originated from OccupyNashvilleForever , but later switched to Occupy Nashville from the ON media tent on the plaza.  Team member who was streaming didn't change.)  For at least two hours, any who clicked on links to the stream posted on social media at the repeated behests of the streamer could watch and listen as some from Occupy Nashville tried to provoke an arrest scenario from the Tennessee Highway Patrol by occupying the grounds across the street from the plaza where the occupation has been heretofore.  Along the way, they could be regaled by more F-bombs than you have appendages, sprinkled with such gems as, "You women are all about empowerment, we need a f***ing woman's face up here to go to jail," as a plea was made for others to join the group and, "I'm gonna go f*** with the troopers a little bit," while, well, while, just what?  

One night this week, I saw a member of the stream team comment in chat that the experience of being in front of the camera on live stream is "addicting."  His word.  Last night, I heard another, the streamer himself, proclaim jubilantly, "Do you realize how awesome we are right now?"  Well.  

Occupy Nashville has been awesome.  It wasn't last night.  My friends, the Tennessee state legislature will reconvene in just a few short weeks.  For almost two months, ON has enjoyed respite from the nightly fear of eviction that has plagued Occupy sites across the country, but the party can come to a halt as quickly as it began.  The injunction against the state is about a narrow issue, and anybody who thinks there aren't some lawmakers in Tennessee itching to push for new legislation that could still evict the occupation is probably also looking for Santa to come down the chimney this Saturday night.  

Direct actions and live streaming of those events are powerful tools for public relations and politicians are nothing if not politicians.  They will be listening to their constituents at least to some degree when they meet in January.  In other words, Occupy Nashville needs the support of Nashville.  To date, Nashville has mostly supported her occupation, the State of Tennessee and her agents to the contrary.  Whether or not that continues to be true as the movement goes through the winter remains to be seen, but it would be a damn shame if during the remaining time before the legislature reconvenes we see any more shenanigans like took place on Capitol Hill last night.  When people who are still asking about Occupy, "What do they want?" see what ON was putting out last night, it's hard to answer with more than they just wanted a fight.  One can only hope that future direct actions will be about more than that.  Lord knows there's plenty to pick from.