Occupy’s Moment of Truth

On the next four Fridays, I will participate in OWS “spring training” in preparation for the Mayday General Strike.

I am inviting all my friends and comrades to join me, but with an important caveat.

Those accepting the invitation need to understand what they encounter will be unlike the demonstrations of last fall in at least two unpleasant respects. First, even the most law abiding and passive stand a good possibility of being arrested. The police have begun to make all protestors, not just those engaged in civil disobedience their targets. And these seemingly arbitrary arrests, which really should be called police abductions, are now often followed by hours confined to foul smelling paddy wagons in plastic cuffs ratcheted up so as to inflict maximum pain and lingering discomfort. Secondly, the arrests themselves are routinely accompanied by rough tackling, arm twisting and in some cases body blows from riot gear clad police. Even those not being arrested may find themselves on the receiving end of a baton swung roundhouse style, or poked into a rib cage, resulting in bruises and, at worst, broken bones. Of course, copious amounts of tear gas, pepper spray and flash bang grenades are also part of the mix.

But it is important not to focus excessively on the immediate perpetrators of these tactics, namely, the local police forces, as they are merely following orders emanating from the highest levels of the federal government. What these exercises in extreme brutality tell us is that rather than reconsider the hyper-militarized response which had the direct effect of swelling OWS ranks last fall and winter, the authorities have clearly made the decision to double down. They have calculated that wholesale police violence will eventually loose its power to shock and that it will no longer go viral on youtube or social media or be found the front pages of newspapers or local television. Having become routine, violence will have become a fully legitimated form of maintaining public order.

With this recognition, almost everyone, not just OWS and its sympathizers, but anyone with the vaguest affinity for the Bill of Rights or basic decency needs to recognize that we have reached a moment of truth. If the government succeeds through in its violent suppression of OWS, still more egregious assaults on civil and human rights are sure to follow. Any hope for the peaceful, constitutional protected petitioning for redress of grievances will have become entirely meaningless.

Now is the time for us to flood the streets and that means, on the most practical level, whenever the call goes out for demonstrations-tomorrow, next week, but especially on May 1 we need to find the time and commitment to respond. Our numbers will demonstrate much more clearly than any words that imposition of an effective state of martial law is not just an atrocity but an error.

This will require something which most of us, myself included, will have to admit is in short supply: courage. The courage to accept the possibility of physical discomfort, pain and even injury. Should we not succeed exercise courage now, the trajectory of police violence will intensify to the extent that protestors will inevitably find themselves making the ultimate sacrifice-as they have in huge numbers across the Middle East-in Egypt, Syria, Yemen.

That these are the stakes should be clear to anyone with their eyes open. We must put our bodies on the line. Now more than ever.

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