The Clearing of Zuccotti Park
A few Saturday mornings ago I heard gun shots, blasts, and terrifying screams coming from outside. I jumped out of bed and ran to my window. Through a narrow slit of buildings I could see hundreds of people running down Wall Street, Police officers, and smoke rising up the skyscrapers. I quickly got dressed and dragged my roommate out onto the street to see what was going on. The protesters! I thought as I moved toward the action, they are shooting the protesters! I have to be there! As I got closer to Wall Street a man with a badge put up his hands and said “back up ladies, filming in progress”.
I asked another spectator what was going on. “They are shooting a scene for the next Batman movie”
“Are the protesters ok???” I cried.
He raised an eyebrow and shifted his weight. “Ummm yeah I think everything is OK.”
Not convinced by the Gotham City uniforms and “police” cars around me, I went to Zuccotti Park to uncover the truth. I sighed withrelief when I saw that it was business as usual at the park: tents, police, pamphlets, discussion, music, smoking, reporters… all was right in the world.
So, you can imagine my reaction when I read the park had been cleared of the protesters at 1 am this morning and 200 hundred people were arrested. How sly I thought. Evacuate the protesters in the middle of the night when it’s cold, dark, they have nowhere to go, and no one is watching. I was indignant. My heart started bleeding all over the floor and I made my way to the scene of the crime.
It was true; the park was empty of the protesters. There were no signs of the community kitchen, free library, or the tents where people were living just this morning. Where did everything go? The park was surrounded by metal fences and an army of city police. I joined the protesters who had returned and marched around the park to get a sense of what had happened and what the next steps are for the movement. Many of the protesters verbally attacked the police. They shouted “How do you sleep at night?” “Why are you standing so tall? You are the 99%! Don’t be corporate pawns!” “The Nazi’s just ‘did what they were told too’!” “Cowards! Fight back! We are doing this for you too! Join us!” “You are breaking the law! We have a right to be here!” The Police were mostly silent and tried not to engage the protesters. I wonder what was going through their heads.
It was true. We have the right to be there. (Notice my change in terms – I am now one of them. How could I not be? How can I see this and not participate? I am an active member of society, even if my vote doesn’t count, I still do.) There is a hearing today on the legality of the eviction and I was handed a copy of the court police restraining order issued this morning. The document states that “until this matter is heard on the date set forth (November 15th at 11:30 am) respondents/defendants (the city and police) are prohibited from: (a) evicting protesters from Zuccotti Park a.k.a. Library Park, exclusive of lawful arrests for criminal offenses (b) enforcing the ‘rules’ published after the occupation began or otherwise preventing protesters from re- entering the park with tents and other property previously utilized”. The police were acting on their own to keep the protesters from the park. Why?
Violence and evictions of protesters rose sharply over the last week. Recent polls show that American approval of the protests declined (hovering around 30%), which may be the cause or result of the recent shocking conflicts between protesters and the police in places like Oakland and the UC Berkeley campus. Some argue that now might be the time to organize the movement more effectively (i.e. politically) to appeal to Americans and focus and legitimize their claims. Here in lies the problem: if OWS is to exist as a force for change must it operate according to the rules of the game it seeks to destroy? This would be completely self defeating and politicians know and count on it.
If the OWS movement is to exist and succeed outside of the current system, which I hope it does, it will have to somehow change the prevailing ideologies that reaffirm the status quo. I believe this can be done because it has been done before. The Civil Rights Movement is an excellent example and a model of change that the OWS movement can emulate. I argue that the key ideological adversary of OWS is Neoliberalism: the political ideals of minimal government, free-market, and private property. Under this dogma, there is no concern for the individual welfare because markets are presumed to be prefect and as long as the government does not intervene (this means no Union rights either) everyone’s needs will be met according to the laws of supply and demand. The basic argument is intuitively sound (under the right conditions) and we have accepted it as undisputable truth. To sell this story, the conservative right has taken steps to conjoin these principles with our American values of individualism and freedom and the belief in the American Dream.
As a consequence, over the past thirty years neoliberal ideology has been naturalized by our society. But it isn’t true. The political-economy is complex and consistently unfair. Neoliberalism is founded on the premise that there is perfect competition, but in reality huge corporations have extraordinary market share and influence on both the economy and politics. Neoliberalism also makes the classical economic assumption that individuals make rational decisions based on self interest. The invalidity of this assumption has actually worked in the 1%’s favor. After corporate political action committees were legalized in 1974, the Republican Party aligned completely with corporate and financial powers and massive deregulation of financial ensued. “Deregulation allowed the financial system to become one of the main centers of redistributive activity through speculation, predation, fraud, and thievery” (Harvey, 2007). This history was made possible because time and again individuals in the working class, and other classes, vote against their own material interests. They do this because they believe in the sanctity of individualism and have bought the Neoliberalist story at their own cost. OWS must re-write the story to emphasize the critical importance of public and community good and sell it to society if they are to change the hearts and minds of Americans.
To see video that I took this morning of the protest, go to my facebook page at http://facebook.com/juliannetam
Harvey, D. (2007). Neoliberalism as Creative Destrution. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science , 610.