Naomi Wolf in 2009
[Update below after the fold, video - what not to do.]
[Update: Kevin Gosztola, Live from #OccupyStLouis, MO]
Professor David Harvey (CUNY):In the video above, Naomi Wolf makes an important point about the "Disney-ication" of contemporary American (non)protesting. The ubiquity of permits that regulate the terms of public access to public property have psychologically "kettled" attempts at effective protest, progressively since the outbursts of the 1960's. "Free speech zones," introduced during the Bush administration, are only the latest examples. Park curfews and camping restrictions on public lands, primarily aimed at the homeless (first they came for the homeless...), have been growing steadily for decades in an irreversible ratcheting fashion. But it is restrictions against impedance of traffic that should the most troubling.
And, finally, they use the monopoly of violence that all sovereign states claim, to exclude the public from much of what passes for public space and to harass, put under surveillance and, if necessary, criminalize and incarcerate all those who do not broadly accede to its dictates.
As Ms. Wolf correctly points out, (non-violent) disruption of business-as-usual is the only truly effective means of protest. The French know this well - its population, easily the most effective protest public in the Western world, regularly demonstrate this. The first tool they pull out of the kit is stopping traffic. And the leaders do tremble, and concessions are quickly made. As the #Occupy movement is looking past mere concessions, this is the least that they should do.
Car culture in the United States has handed the authorities a happy unintended consequence. The public is so in love with its road freedoms that they are loathe to object to traffic regulations. Witness the ho-hum reactions to the NYPD's kettling of marchers to the sidewalks - this is considered reasonable, even by the occupiers themselves.
This needs to stop. #OccupyWallStreet, and its growing cadre of sister movements mushrooming across the country, need to bear the initial ire of the general public and exercise this basic and necessary tool of non-violent cooperation - that of stopping traffic (and this includes pedestrian ease-of-access) - in order to get the attention of sleep-walking America that something is really wrong. Initially, they will only notice that there is something wrong with their habitual access to travel, but this symbolism will eventually, perhaps painfully slowly, turn their attention to the why of it. Why are these people doing this to me? they may, they will, eventually ask themselves.
In the instances where #OWS is shown itself to most effective, it has been when the soldiers of the oligarchy demonstrate their batshit crazy reactions to traffic impedance. The "taking" of the Brooklyn Bridge, the pepper-spraying of protesters forcibly kettled to the sidewalks with orange ad-hoc fencing, the spittle-inflected screams of the police when crosswalks are overly "occupied," rubber-bullets fired at defiant tent-raising - these are the moments when the movement has moved forward. Negotiations with authorities over lawful occupations within "lawful" guidelines and fealty to permit restrictions merely keep the elites in their safe-zone. The occupation must expand on the areas of protest that prove to be either effective or, if need be, fatally demonstrative of the oppression under which we all live today.
It is worth remarking that the bank action of November 5th is also a traffic-impedance exercise of the most threatening kind - removing the control over the flow of money, on their terms, is an especially threatening non-violent non-cooperation. Expect all resources to be thrown at mitigating that action. And the threat of their response is a signifier of the value of the bank action. This, along with stopping physical traffic, should quickly be moved to the top of the protesters' agenda.
One final thought - winter is here and, if last year was any indication, it may be a rough one. If a significant number of #Occupiers drift away from their resolve as the snow drifts its way in, I say leave your hearts in Zucotti Park. Spring is just around the corner, with its perennial promise of hope and renewed passion.
2012 is going to be a very unhappy year for the 1%.
Update: Video shows marchers asking permission from policeman to march. No. March. Forward, non-violently but firmly. Make the authorities demonstrate their unreasonable and unconscionable willingness to use physical force to impede peaceful citizens exercising their right to march on the institutions of government:
This has to stop