Friday, November 18, 2011


Probably you've seen this image, from today's Oregonian. A woman, screaming at a cop, gets more seasoning with her meal than she expected. 

I've been waiting before I weighed in on the Occupy Movement, a branch of which has been active in Portland for the last few weeks.

I have mixed emotions about it.

On the one hand, civil disobedience in pursuit of a just cause is valid and honorable. Lord knows we-the-people got screwed by Wall Street and big banks and very few of the folks who did it were punished for their actions. And with the economy in the toilet and the rich getting ever richer, if you aren't upset, you aren't paying attention. So I support them on that level, even if their desires seem passing vague. Life is unfair, we all know that, and would that it wasn't so, but ... what does this do to fix it?

On the other hand, the moment is all over the map, and that diffuse a focus is not the best tactic. It's not about camping in the park, though that seems to have been the biggest part shown to the world. Where shall we march today? Anybody got a charger for my iPhone?

Portland police have blown through more than three-quarters-of-million-bucks in overtime trying to keep things from getting out of hand downtown, and other crimes have been getting short shrift. If it's not an emergency call, don't bother, they don't have anybody to take the report. 

People say nobody is in charge of the Occupy movement, and maybe officially, nobody is, but there are folks who bring the megaphone, and who start the discussions, so the idea that all the animals in the barnyard are equal falls to the notion that some are more equal than others. Always been that way and is apt to stay so. Every tribe has leaders; sometimes, they aren't obvious, but they are there. Grass movements work best when somebody sows fertile ground.

The right to free speech, to assemble and petition our government are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment, and I haven't heard anybody in local government say otherwise. However, that does not mean you can assemble in the middle of the freeway, or  private property that belongs to somebody who doesn't want you there, and occupying a bank or a Starbucks isn't going to get the Supreme Court's blessing. You simply cannot go anywhere you want and do anything you want when you get there. And, welcome to Earth–what planet did you say you were from?

The Bill of Rights is not absolute, was never intended to be. Free speech doesn't mean you can stand up in a crowded theater and yell "Fire!"

If I can't sit on my usual stool at the lunch counter, or have to move to the back of the bus because you are protesting against racism, that doesn't hurt me, and good for you. 

If you are blocking traffic on a bridge and an ambulance carrying a heart-attack victim cannot cross to take him to the hospital as a result and he dies, whose rights are being violated? 

Yesterday, the tent city having been taken down last weekend, the protestors marched and started occupying banks in Portland. Which is fine, except that people who maybe had a real need to get their money in or out were being kept from entering. Guy who can't make his deposit and his rent check is gonna bounce? Again, whose rights are being violated?

Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins, and that's why we have police, to protect folks from each other. Civil disobedience breaks laws, sometimes unjust ones, but there are limits as to what is acceptable.

Stand in front of my bank, put your hand on my chest and tell me, Sorry, Dude, but corporate America sucks, so I'm afraid I just can't let you go in and support that! 

Really? Trust me, that won't the the smartest decision you make all day, though it might be the last one you make on your own for a little while. Bad tactic.

If you shove a police officer dressed in riot gear holding a three-foot baton or a pepper-spray fogger? Another bad tactic. Peaceful? Sure. Stand there passively, let them arrest and take you away, they shouldn't use any violence on you. Get feisty? Push and scream?  Punch the mounted guy's horse? That makes you stupid, and you get no sympathy from me. 

First time I really noticed this was watching the Chicago riots on TV during the convention in 1968. How smart is it to get into a man's face if he's standing there with a big, honkin' stick and leave to use it? 

Here on Earth, we don't think much of that notion. 

And this is not to say that some officers haven't stepped over the line and used too much force, because they have. And that's wrong, no two ways about it. But you had to know there were risks involved when you went down there, and if you didn't, see the last line three paragraphs above.

My advice? Re-focus. Develop some political power and use that. It will work better than camping in the cold rain and peeing in the bushes and blocking traffic. Being mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore! is not enough. You need a plan. 


Justin said...

You know I've been following Occupy very closely (hell, I made a song about it: ). Upon further thought, though, I feel like the anger is ever so slightly misdirected.

Entities ask for favors of Congress, and Congress gives it to them. Corporations want to keep their taxes next-to-nothing. Banks ask for bailout money for stupid mistakes they made. But who do they ask? Congress. Who enables them? Congress.

As shown in the Conrad Murray trial, you sometimes have to hold the enabler just as accountable. They could have devised a way to keep corporations from moving jobs to other countries, or instigating a %.5% tax on trading to pay back some of that bailout money, but they don't. They'd rather keep Obama from getting anything done while not offering any real solutions. It's maddening.

I vibe with a lot of issues expressed by various Occupy protesters -- bank greed, corporate greed, health-care issues, job scarcity -- but I think some of their numbers are better served in DC than Wall Street.

Shady_Grady said...

Sorry, I don't have much use for cops in the best of times.

We all have moral choices to make. Cops are choosing to pepper spray demonstrators.

Joey said...

Well said Steve. I am torn. While I believe in the right to free speech there is a limit on free action.

I believe that some of the protesters have forgotten what civil disobedience entails. To not resist, not fight back. If arrested, to go peacefully. Watch Cornell West and fellow supporters at the Supreme Court.Youtube video

Steve Perry said...

The pepper spray guy. Yeah. Offhand, shaking the can to make sure it sprays right.

Not mankind's finest representative, that campus cop.