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FREE SPEECH VICISSITUDES October 28, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Social Environment, US Politics.
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Jesse McKinley and Abby Goodnough were on the case for The New York Times reporting that direct democracy, by one reading, cannot be accommodated in the public space. The article identifies three issues: crime, sanitation and homelessness.

The case concerned the violent eviction of the Occupy Oakland protest on Tuesday. They reported:

After weeks of cautiously accepting the teeming round-the-clock protests spawned by Occupy Wall Street, several cities have come to the end of their patience and others appear to be not far behind.

Here in Oakland, in a scene reminiscent of the antiwar protests of the 1960s, the police filled downtown streets with tear gas late Tuesday to stop throngs of protesters from re-entering a City Hall plaza that had been cleared of their encampment earlier in the day. And those protests, which resulted in more than 100 arrests and at least one life-threatening injury, appeared ready to ignite again on Wednesday night as supporters of the Occupy movement promised to retake the square. Early Wednesday evening, city officials were trying to defuse the situation, opening streets around City Hall, though the encampment site was still fenced off.

But after about an hour of speeches, the crowd removed the fences and swelled to about 3,000 people. The protest, however, remained peaceful, as leaders led demonstrators in a series of chants in a call-and-response style. “The whole world is watching Oakland now,” was one phrase repeated as passing cars honked in approval.

This reporting does not convey the atmosphere that was created. Amy Goodman at Democracy Now said the you tube video looked like a battlefield. Max Blumenthal provides both fuller description and context:

With the rise of the Occupy Wall Street, a new generation of mostly middle class Americans is learning for the first time about the militarization of their local police forces. And they are learning the hard way, through confrontations with phalanxes of riot cops armed with the latest in “non-lethal” crowd control weaponry. Yesterday’s protests in Oakland, California were the site of perhaps the harshest police violence leveled against the Occupy movement so far. Members of the Oakland Police Department and the California Sheriff’s Department attacked unarmed protesterswith teargas canisters, beanbag rounds, percussion grenades, and allegedly with rubber bullets, leaving a number of demonstrators with deep contusions and bloody head wounds. It is not difficult to imagine such scenes becoming commonplace as the Occupy protests intensify across the country.

The police repression on display in Oakland reminded me of tactics I witnessed the Israeli army employ against Palestinian popular struggle demonstrations in occupied West Bank villages like Nabi Saleh, Ni’lin and Bilin. So I was not surprised when I learned that the same company that supplies the Israeli army with teargas rounds and other weapons of mass suppression is selling its dangerous wares to the Oakland police. The company is Defense Technology, a Casper, Wyoming based arms firm that claims to “specialize in less lethal technology” and other “crowd management products.” Defense Tech sells everything from rubber-coated teargas rounds that bounce in order to maximize gas dispersal to 40 millimeter “direct impact” sponge rounds to “specialty impact” 12 gauge rubber bullets.

In the face of the police violence, the protesters returned and then resolved at a General Assembly to hold a general strike. And meantime it seems the Mayor had a change of mind issuing a press release saying the the protest could stay. Aimee Allison reported in the San Francico Chronicle:

Late last night, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan issued a statement about the police crackdown against Occupied Oakland protesters. In it, she expressed concern for those injured and a commitment to minimize police presence in Frank Ogawa plaza, at least for now. Her statement follows national and international outcry over police treatment of unarmed protestors.

Jean Quan wrote that she will “personally monitor” investigations of police misconduct. Yesterday, the ACLU of Northern California and the National Lawyers’ Guild demanded a full investigation. The groups also asked the Oakland Police Department to immediately produce records about the use of force in responding to the early morning raid of the Occupy Oakland encampment and the evening demonstration, and the detention of those who were arrested.

Meanwhile Occupy Orange County things seemed to be working out differently. To quote in full from the website:

Late last night after a 5 and-a-half hour marathon city council meeting, in which 72 speakers took the floor to express the need for the Occupy OC Tent Village to be accepted as a form of free speech, the city council
passed an emergency motion to add the needs of “The 99%” to their official agenda. This was a feat which, according to one more conservative Councilman, he had never seen in 7 years of service.

The council members each spoke in turn to the civility, articulateness and peaceful process represented by the Irvine Occupation at contrast with the several other Occupational Villages in California, which were, at that
very moment being tear-gassed. The general sentiment being: “This is quite clearly the model. And the occupation most in tune with city needs.”

One councilman stated clearly, “I disagree with most of what you’’re saying. But you’’ve clearly shown that this is an issue of free speech. So if you need to sleep on our lawn… by all means… sleep on our lawn.”

Shortly after, a motion was brought to the council to grant license to the occupiers to occupy the public space overnight citing the unusual form of the movement. (Another first in council history.)

It was then passed unanimously to the sound of thunderous applause.

Shortly thereafter, the City Council was invited to attend the General Assembly of the People. (Which takes place each night in the Occupation Village at 7:00 PM.)

On a personal note… I myself was stopped by the Mayor on my way up the hall, when he said, “You know what concerns me?” “What’s that”, I asked. Expecting him to cite a civil code. – “Do you have enough blankets, or should I get you some?” He asked.

And that… my friends… is a reason for hope.

[Emphasis added.]

There is, of course, direct democracy and local democracy. It seems where, as apparently in Orange County, these have common features they support one another and thus the lesson that we onlookers can draw, even allowing for the absence of a First Amendment as such, although the principles expressed should not be foreign but rather quintessential to our own form of democracy. It is not surprising that the media, entangled in the top-down democratic processes is wrong footed when a bottom-up movement begins to happen.

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