May You Live in Interesting Times

(Today’s musical selection: “Buena Persona” by Lido Pimienta)

I finished my second book ever in French this week, Le Chemin de L’Espèrance (The Way of Hope) by Stephane Hessel and Edgar Morin. It lines up a political strategy for France to adopt in the face of movements like the Indignados in Spain and Chile, and Occupy Wall Street in the USA. We desperately need a book of this caliber in the States, although I am fairly certain that their LibertariSocialisCommunisEnvironmentalist manifesto won’t catch on any time soon. Nevertheless, they make two convincing points that must be applied the world over.

1) The planet is condemned to death or metamorphosis (pg. 11)
2) The current crisis mimicks that of 1929 in that it exposes and exacerbates anxieties, hates, ruptures, and lack of faith in the democratic system. Similar anixeties led to the rise legal of fascism and authoritarian governments in Italy, Germany, Spain, and many others, provoked a world war, and fed off of the generalized resignation of the people. (pg. 24-25)

I have to admit, part of me stirs with pride and excitement at seeing the Occupy Wall Street movement take off globally. Just about a month and a half ago, I was reading an article on Matadornetwork about Americans being total pushovers when it comes to protesting. The author had been living in Santiago de Chile, and witnessed the months of peaceful and not-exactly-peaceful protests that are now nearly six months old. When I was in Chile to teach English this year, working for the very MINEDUC the protesters

This is the business end of a Chilean police "Guanaco"

targeted, I watched the police take to the streets in riot gear, and occasionally beat the crap out of protesters. They deployed “Guanacos” (large, incredibly intimidating armored vehicles with water cannons on top), and I even managed to accidentally get tear gassed coming out of a metro station on a Sunday.

At the time, I was nervous. The Chilean news was grim, and implied that the protesters were violent, dramatizing police injuries and dividing the nation. I was a bit dismissive, I’ll admit…This is just how South America is, I thought.

This is an image from Oakland, California last night. The protesters are carrying a banner decrying police brutality, refusing to vacate an area in downtown despite several hundred police in riot gear demanding that they do so. The videos I’ve seen of what happened next are hauntingly similar to what I saw in Chile, and what other countries have seen in large-scale protests. An escalation from peaceful protest into police intervention.

Now comes the tricky part. Thanks to Twitter and other online outlets, it’s a little easier to get a wide variety of information (often from people actually on the scene) about events, even as they happen. Of course, if one is not actually witnessing the event it’s difficult to be certain about the details, but in this case it appears pretty clear.

Protesters fill the streets of downtown Oakland. The police create a line and barricade, in full riot gear. The protesters stand their ground. The police announce that they will remove them “by force if necessary.”

And then all hell breaks loose. [VIDEO]

I’ve watched several videos of the events last night, and I can’t seem to find any protesters throwing bottles or rocks as some news outlets and police reports claimed. These actions seem to be conspicuously absent when the sergeant was announcing that they declared the gathering an unlawful assembly. At least 80 protesters were arrested, several were injured, and a few police officers also had problems.

Without the arrest of nearly 700 New Yorkers a couple of weeks ago, the Occupy movement might never have spread the way that it has. But that was largely peaceful and involved a lone officer macing helpless protesters[VIDEO] (for which he has been disciplined) and some allegations of police getting carried away. Disturbing, yes. Widespread mishandling of a situation, not exactly. 

Oakland looks and sounds like a war zone. [VIDEO]

Tea Party Protest, Summer 2011

In the hours after the confrontation, the information has predictably drifted. Did the police use rubber bullets or didn’t they? Did the protesters throw bottles or were they raided as soon as they arrived? Did the police break the law (or the Constitution) or did the protesters? One surprising and slightly ominous observation from Twitter was that major news outlets were ignoring the story on their morning coverage. That, and that when Tea Partiers openly carried weapons at their protests they were not gassed, but peaceful (if indignant and angry) OWS protesters were.

I’ve been trying for the last several hours to watch the videos, give myself a moment to react viscerally, and then try to formulate a thoughtful and conscious reaction. It’s not working. I feel compelled to share the photos and videos that unsettle me, and make no claim to own them at all. I just want to make sure people see this. Of course, they might have technical issues in the next couple of days. Or I might get put on a watch list thanks to the ten-year-old Patriot Act (Happy Birthday!).

Things are happening. Big things. There is growing polarization of politics and societies. It’s getting harder to be in the middle on economic or social issues. Manechieism reigns.

May you live in interesting times.  

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