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One continuing disagreement that we’ve had within Occupy Orange County is over the extent to which Occupy should focus on defending our First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly versus trying to rally people to support our substantive critique of money and power in government. Almost everyone in the movement agrees that we want to focus on matters such as the destruction of the middle class, the ability of the financial sector to destroy the economy without punishment, the role of money in politics, etc. How, though, do we do it? We are fighting to get people’s attention — and people rarely give sympathetic attention to opposition politics willingly, especially when (unlike with Tea Partiers) people get arrested.
That was the fundamental problem we had to solve with Occupy Orange County. We knew quite well that getting arrested in a civil disobedience First Amendment protest would alienate most observers around us, at a substantial personal cost to people in the movement, without likely gaining much support for our movement. So, we cooperated with Irvine, Fullerton, and (with less success after five fatiguing months) Huntington Beach to be able to exercise our First Amendment rights to their limit without breaking the law. We got some decent publicity, etc.
Some anarchist-tending folks within the broad and heterogeneous Occupy movement (not, by and large, originally from OC) wanted to provoke confrontation with the authorities for its radicalizing and attention-getting effect. The idea is that by overreacting, the police look really bad to the viewing public, and then mumble mumble mumble and then capitalism falls and is replaced with anarcho-syndicalism. (Or with neo-feudalism. These things can be hard to predict.) I don’t agree with the point, largely because I don’t think that a true revolution in the U.S. would point us in the direction of social justice, and I think that it detracts from achievable goals like reversing Citizens United, repealing Glass-Steagall, etc.
That said, it’s easier to provoke confrontation than thought, so I understand why this view has its appeal. Particularly, if one can provoke the police to do something really stupid and extreme, there’s the chance that the public could turn in one’s favor. But the question is: how can one get the police to do something so stupid?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Los Angeles Police Department!
Based on Twitter reports, it seems like OccupyLA members handed out chalk at the regular monthly ‘Artwalk’ event, after recent arrests at OLA for chalkupy actions. Many non-occupiers began using chalk and creating their own art, which is when riot police attacked.
An initial arrest of a woman for chalking, shown in this picture, drove the crowd (most of them non-occupiers or activists) into the streets.
Facebook post from Occupy Austin
I’m having a hard time confirming exactly what happened, but I do know that there have been recent arrests prior to this in Downtown LA for chalking. I don’t know whether they’ve been for chalking “on sidewalks” (which I understand to be legal) or chalking on the grounds of public property (which I understand not to be legal.) To me, the right to chalk on sidewalks is a First Amendment right mildly worth defending and the right to chalk where it’s illegal is hardly worth asserting — but the right to be free of violent and disproportionate police responses is worth fighting for (even though I think that it detracts from a focus on the core concerns of Occupy.) And, sure enough, the LAPD has apparently provided the overreaction.
This is from a Facebook post from 3 a.m. or so from the Occupy Orange County page:
Congratulations to the LAPD — unless something really important has been left out of the story (which is always a possibility), YOU win the “Stupid Overreaction Award” of the day. You’ve radicalized a bunch of people who were not part of Occupy but instead just part of an ArtWalk, you’ve given the anarchists within Occupy a bloody shirt to wave, and chances are that you’re going to lose a lawsuit or two (or more) over this as well.
A smart city government, rather than sending out police with guns shooting rubber bullets, would have send out janitors with push brooms and buckets of soapy water. The people who want Occupy to be about “chalking” win this round — who can defend the needless violent attacks on something as minor as easily-cleaned chalking? I don’t think that this helps us get money out of politics, but if the police want Occupy to be about opposing police brutality, it looks like they’re going to get their wish.
Here’s a great song for the occasion from 1973 by 10cc that some smart band will no doubt cover soon:
“Load up, load up, load up the rubber bullets!”