I was extremely pleased to see my take on the original Occupy Wall Street protest posted online today, but I feel it may already be largely outdated. I wrote the piece in early October as an attempt to understand what the movement was all about. Although I never fully agreed with what most protesters were advocating, I was surprised to find myself generally sympathetic to their complaints.
Now, several of the occupations, Oakland in particular, are fighting for their survival against police assaults. This video of the police raid on Occupy Oakland brings to mind the assaults of Hosni Mubarak’s thugs on the protesters in Tahrir Square this winter.
It gets worse. This video shows a police officer firing a flashbang grenade at a group of people attempting to help a young protester who had just been wounded by a tear gas canister.
At Occupy Nashville, the police even seem willing to arrest members of the media and charge them with resisting arrest for covering the story. Regardless of how you feel about the original message of Occupy Wall Street, this should be very alarming. These people are American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights, and they shouldn’t be attacked like an invading army.
I recently reread “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan,” Hunter S. Thompson’s account of the controversy surrounding the killing of journalist Ruben Salazar by a L.A. sheriff’s deputy (using a tear gas cannon, incidentally) in 1970, and one line struck me as particularly appropriate today: “When the cops declare open season on journalists, when they feel free to declare any scene of ‘unlawful protest’ a free fire zone, that will be a very ugly day–and not just for journalists.”
Why the Occupiers started protesting is immaterial for the moment; that they have a right to protest is paramount. If we abandon that, we abandon everything that makes this country worth preserving.