Over this past weekend the #Occupywallstreet protests in New York were hit by at least 80 more arrests for nonviolent offences. Videos of assaults, take-downs and pepper sprayings by officers (some who seem to hold high ranks) are now making the rounds online, infuriating countless viewers. These actions come as a timely reminder that Wall Street and the surrounding financial district are already occupied by the armed representatives of the state.

Last year’s G20 protests in Toronto brought issues of police brutality to the forefront, and ever since there’s been a spiralling set of stories about murders, abuse and injustice. Unlike the G20 protests, though, where (some) protesters struck back against store-fronts and cruisers, the protesters in New York have so far been entirely peaceful and civil, with protesters going no farther than to block sidewalks or hang tarps. Nevertheless, arrests and assaults are escalating. In a tactical sense, this is a huge gamble for the authorities – not only are they risking a much more powerful backlash, but unlike single-weekend protests arranged around summits like G20 meetings, the current Wall Street protests arent’ set to end. If the millions of people within reach of these protests get angry enough to show up, there will still be people to welcome them.

The strategy being used against these protests is increasingly ugly. If there’s one aspect of these policing actions that bothers me, it’s the recent shift toward targeting the most vulnerable members present. I’m no stranger to batons, pepper spray or Roman-Legion-style police formations. What’s different now from the “good old days” of OCAP and Quebec City is that police no longer seem to be concerned with large aggressive-looking males causing chaos, instead, they’re going after some of the most vulnerable people they can reach: young women, older folks and the disabled (prosthetic limbs, of course, being “weapons”). Arrestees get pepper-sprayed, illegally strip-searched and may even be sexually assaulted, with the hopes of frightening them into staying home next time. This helps destroy the free, festive and liberated atmosphere that exists at such protests, and maintain the illusion that protesters are threatening “troublemakers”, because as this repression gets worse, only those big, tough and brave enough to resist a “kettling” can show up. What happened this week on Wall Street shows once again that no rioting Black Bloc is necessary for mass-arrests. The police act according to orders, and those orders are given by people who have a lot to lose if these kinds of protests ever ‘catch on’.

The second big hurdle hit by these protests is an overwhelming disinterest and scepticism by the mainstream media. After spending most of this year cheerleading for similar protests against regimes in Egypt, Libya or Syria, they’re taking a very different approach to the Wall Street protests. Everyone loves a good riot (in China, Iran, etc) – until it’s happening in their own back yard. According to the press, protesters are “confused” and lack focus, coherence or leadership. While it’s true that there’s no great uniformity of platform or ideology at these protests, the assumption that this is a bad thing is very questionable. After nearly a century of Red Baiting protesters for their (alleged) unquestioning adherance to authoritarian ideologies, the criticism has seen a complete reversal. Would the Wall St. Journal be happier to see a Lenninist vanguard with a strict party policy? (Probably…) Leaderless, self-directed movements are the product of more than a century of evolution. Vanguards don’t work – they’re not inspiring, they’re explicitly anti-democratic and generally end up doing horrible things if they ever get into power. The “left” learned from the failures of Stalinism decades ago – when will everyone else?

Protest, resistance and civil unrest have been evolving since the dawn of of the industrial age. What we’re seeing now in New York, Spain, Egypt and other places like them represents the next stage in this process. These people-powered demonstrations address many of the main problems of 20th century protests: they’re self directed, diverse, and ongoing. Put more simply – they run themselves, meaning no need for a vanguardist “leadership”. They reject traditional political parties and invite many people with different personal and political backgrounds to join. And they keep going as long as there are people to carry on, instead of packing up and going home when the summit ends. These are the seeds of a truly popular movement, and exactly what many of us have been dreaming of for years. If the Wall Street protests lack focus or coherence, it’s because this movement is in its infancy and hasn’t yet come to those conclusions. The fact that this is being done in such an open, democratic and painstaking way only goes to show that it is, in fact, aspiring to be something truly different.

There are now over fifty cities across America joining in these occupations. In the past week, OccupyWallStreet has recieved words of encouragement from Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Immortal Technique and Cornel West. Word is spreading in the overseas media, and there’s even occupations in the planning stages next month for London England and even Toronto. We may soon have a much closer look at this kind of action.

Occupytogether.org
Occupywallst.org(Secure)
OccupyToronto(Facebook)

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