There was a hard lesson learned by many in the Occupy movement last week. When you push the so-called "establishment," they push back… with a vengeance. It was an "Iron Heel," response, with billy clubs in the ribs, pepper spray in the face and a general disregard of the right to peacefully protest.
Now, this isn’t Cairo, or Rome, but when the BBC or Al Jazeera sends out broadcast feeds offering shots of bloodied demonstrators on Wall Street and pepper-sprayed students at UC Davis, what's the difference? Images are images and in an image saturated world, you really don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
The U.S. is different, those in denial proclaim; and, of course, they have a point. They want to believe that OWS is a temporary phenomenon, nothing to get their shorts in a bunch worrying about. Certainly, they think, we'll never entertain the same sort of passion play that the Italians and Greeks have become inured to.
Who are these deniers? The usual suspects; those that inhabit the stratosphere at major banks and investment houses; the blathering pundits at Fox News and their talk radio brethren; certainly, much of the political establishment and their supporting institutions But the smart money also smells the fear. Why else would a lobbying group, populated by ex-Boehner staffers, proffer a pitch to the American Bankers Association to help counter OWS's message. And, as reported by Chris Hayes at MSNBC, they were asking $850,000.
Do the deniers really believe that OWS can be sent packing into the sunset?
OK, I've seen this wishful thinking before during the Vietnam era when the Johnson administration seemed deaf and dumb to popular outrage. When a virtual army of demonstrators gathered to "confront" the war machine, at the Pentagon, they were literally beaten back by a phalanx of baton wielding U.S. Marshalls and tear gas slinging National Guardsmen. It was all captured vividly in Norman Mailer's 1968 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Armies of the Night. I remember it well. I was there and caught a lungful of CS gas as a keepsake memory. That example of over-reaction did nada in quashing popular opinion against the war; it did quite the opposite.
If there is an iconic musical moment from that era that plays well with what’s going on now, I’d say take Bob Dylan's classic, "The times they are a changing…" — but make it bankers and brokers who should come "heed the call." They need to take OWS's commitment to changing a casino-style economy — where the house, Wall Street, invariably wins all the pots — seriously.
Part of OWS's current strategy emphasizes direct action; and, by direct action, I'm not saying it's all boots-on-the-ground protesting Goldman and nothing else. There's another side to Occupy that plays out far from public view. Participants form groups and subgroups to gather, analyze and process the kind of information that is usually not accessible for the everyday joe's out there; for instance, the role played by derivatives and CDOs in stoking the flames of the foreclosure crisis.
In a way OWS has a home court advantage, where members can stay glued to their computers exchanging information with one another via social media. So, the cops may trash the tent cities; arrest the participants, ban the protests, but as long as there's an internet, OWS can continue to engage in a non-violent "guerilla war" of sorts.
For the deniers, OWS may have been driven from the parks, but they've now taken to the highway; not one, but many. From these highways, side roads have emerged, each finding its own "occupy" theme. An alternative banking group spins off another subgroup, Occupy SEC, and so on. Foreclosure does the same; as do student loans. The possibilities are endless; and while the movement is, for all intents and purposes, leaderless, its actions are well thought out and strategic. Unfortunately, this is what the deniers fail to grasp.
It brings to mind the catchy tune from My Fair Lady, where Alfie Doolittle hopes for the impossible, "with a little bit of luck." It will take more than luck; or crushing blows from nightsticks and a fog of pepper spray, to get rid of OWS.
That, I submit, is undeniable.
Joel Sucher, a filmmaker with Pacific Street Films in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. is working on "Foreclosure Diaries," a documentary about the financial crisis.