Universal Translator

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hope Springs Eternal

As I mentioned last night, Matt Yglesias already has gone on record expressing the belief that Bloomberg’s decision to shut down the occupation of Zuccotti Park “has ensured continued relevance for the issue.”  And this does seem to be shaping up as the favored consensus among those working in the Left Blogosphere.

Over at No More Mister Nice Blog Steve M. refers to this phenomenon as “The Dubious New Pundit Meme:  Bloomberg Did Occupy Wall Street a Favor.”  He cites Ezra Klein arguing that Bloomberg’s clearing of the park was done “in a way that will temporarily reinvigorate the protesters and give Occupy Wall Street the best possible chance to become whatever it will become next.”  He also cites Derek Thompson of The Atlantic arguing that “[w]ether or not the protesters return to their tents, New York police have given them a chance to lift up, take stock, and pitch their energies in an issue worth occupying . . . .”

To be sure, in the immediate aftermath of Bloomberg’s Monday night raid this certainly is the preferred narrative of those of us on the Left.  Over at DailyKos Keith Olbermann has a diary up arguing that Mike Bloomberg’s ham-handed actions have rendered him “the hero of Occupy” and explaining that Olbermann will use his Special Comment on his television show to “trace Bloomberg’s forebears in over-reach and under-thought.”  A poll up at that site asked whether the Zuccotti Park raid has rendered the Occupy movement stronger or weaker, and 79% of those participating in the poll said it makes the movement stronger.

But I am afraid I tend to agreed with Steve M. on the dubiousness of this meme:

I don’t see it.  Maybe if the purging of the occupiers had been as brutal and violent as the October 26 clash between police and Occupy Oakland, this would be true – but why would anyone want something like that to happen again?  The New York occupiers are going to see this as an outrage, as are people who are already sympathetic, but to anyone who’s hostile to the movement, or even just wary, it’s going to look like a measured (and, for some, long overdue) response.  And OWS didn’t end this on its own terms, which conveys a sense of weakness.

From the beginning, the Occupy movement has been – as almost all non-violent direct protest actions always are – energized by the overreactions of the establishment against which it was protesting.  It didn’t really draw national attention until Tony Bologna was caught on video casually pepper-spraying young female protesters in the face for no good reason.  It picked up steam when the NYPD decided to entice protesters onto the Brooklyn Bridge in order to effect a mass arrest of some 700 marchers.  And I have written before about what a political miscalculation it would be for the establishment to continue to engage in such activity:  “Opening up on these protesters with truncheons and rubber bullets will – I think – only strengthen the nation’s general support for the cause.”

But implicit in the argument that it would be prove counterproductive for Bloomberg to kick OWS out of Zuccotti Park was the assumption that in order to do so he would (i) have to use force, and (ii) his use of force would be observed and reported by the media. (“I hope the OWS protesters have the sense to force the police to physically drag them from the park for the cameras.  If the protesters simply go willingly then there will be no drama and nothing to see . . . and they still won’t be allowed to resume their occupation.”)

Which is why, of course, Li’l Mikey Bloomberg was so concerned to create a media blackout surrounding his raid Monday night – even if he had to unconstitutionally restrict the press from doing its job in order to effect that blackout. 

And that blackout does seem to have achieved its purpose.  Writing over at Digby’s joint, David Atkins argues that the raid is now being reported as “A Sanitized Eviction” and cites in support of his argument the lead article in The New York Times about the raid.  Far from being incensed by Bloomberg’s denying the press its constitutional right to report on events, The Grey Lady seems anxious to whitewash the affair.  As Atkins points out:

This was not a clean, sanitary peaceful operation on rowdy vagrants.  This was a violent assault on the civil liberties of Americans peacefully protesting a corrupt system, complete with a coordinated and total media blackout.

As Dave Dayen and I have noted, these scenes and tactics are reminiscent of third-world dictatorships, not modern democracies.

Police brutality has been a fixture in high-crime, mostly minority neighborhoods for decades.  But this sort of highly coordinated totalitarian brutality combined with media secrecy hasn’t really been seen in the U.S. since the days of the civil rights movement.

* * *

Unfortunately, call me skeptical, call me a pessimist, call me a glass-is-half-empty kind of guy . . . but I think Bloomberg probably has been more successful in breaking the spine of OWS than anyone on my side of the issue really wants to admit right now.  The media blackout and the power of the 1% to spin the reported story any way they like means the movement isn’t going to get the shot in the arm that previous examples of establishment overreach granted it.

And – in no small part because OWS never got beyond doing much more than “occupying” Zuccotti Park and telling anyone who would listen that “we are our demands” – now that the Park can no longer be occupied it is difficult to see what the Occupy movement does next.  Oh sure, there are satellite Occupy sites all across the country, but it was Occupy Wall Street that really captured the nation’s attention.  With its destruction, the Occupy fleet has lost its flagship.

All of which is why, when I took that poll over at DailyKos that I mentioned earlier, I sadly had to report that in my opinion Bloomberg’s Monday Night raid probably did weaken the movement, perhaps the raid even killed it.

But I guess we’ll see, and – hey! – Hope Springs Eternal.

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