Occupy Reality: #context, re: peaceful protests (and more)

by Adam

Mickey Z.

“Democracy don’t rule the world/You’d better get that in your head/This world is ruled by violence/But I guess that’s better left unsaid”

— Bob Dylan

Just as talk begins of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) seeking to expand beyond Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza, comes NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly telling tales of (unarmed) protestors (purportedly) “targeting” (heavily armed) cops.

“These people wanted to have confrontation with the police for whatever reason.  Somehow, I guess it works to their purposes,” Kelly told WCBS in New York before adding the obvious: “They’re going to be met with force when they do that.”

Kelly went on to add: “We’re going to accommodate them as long as they do it peacefully and in accordance with the laws and regulations.”

He had no comment, of course, on members of his police force remaining in accordance with any “laws and regulations,” but the larger issue—as I see it—is the whole “do it peacefully” part.

As I’ve walked through Zuccotti Park, I’ve often heard folks (especially those giving interviews) talking (boasting, even) about how peaceful OWS is. Without getting into the pros and cons of dissidents being so proud of obeying laws, I will say that the scene at OWS is definitely not peaceful.

There’s nothing truly “peaceful” about an environment surrounded by heavily armed defenders of the corporate status quo—no matter how many folk songs you sing or organic banana peels you compost.

In fact, I’ll go as far as saying: In today’s society, there’s no such thing as a peaceful protest.

We need a far more holistic view of our culture in order to pursue a far more holistic approach to change. So, before I expand on the point above, I want to first address some other criticisms being launched—without context—at OWS:

Charge: Brookfield Office Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park, put out a statement, which read, in part: “Sanitation is a growing concern. Normally the park is cleaned and inspected every weeknight … because the protestors refuse to cooperate … the park has not been cleaned since Friday, September 16th and as a result, sanitary conditions have reached unacceptable levels.”

#context: Eighty-one tons of mercury is emitted into the atmosphere each year as a result of electric power generation. Every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. Every second, 10,000 gallons of gasoline are burned in the US. Each year, Americans use 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides. Every day, 13 million tons of toxic chemicals are released across the globe…but we’re focusing on the “sanitary conditions” in Zuccotti Park (supposedly) reaching “unacceptable levels”?

Charge: There’s damage (allegedly) being done to plants in the park.

#context: Really? Let’s talk damage: Thanks to the dominant culture, 80% of the world’s forests have already been cut down while 200,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed every 24 hours.

Charge: Protestors are making way too much noise and it’s bothering their Wall Street neighbors.

#context: I’m surprised the critics can hear anything over the sound of chainsaws clear-cutting and mountaintop mining explosions and predator drone detonations and the screams emanating from slaughterhouses, vivisection labs, and fur farms across the globe. Or how about just the cacophony caused by the multi-billion dollar Freedom (sic) Tower construction directly across the street from OWS?

Charge: New York City has already “wasted” $2 million in overtime to cops assigned to the protest.

#context: Let’s compare that amount to the 54% of American taxpayer dollars that fund the largest “occupation” force in the history of humanity: the US military.

Charge: OWS lacks a coherent message.

#context: Pardon us, but all the comprehensive and meaningful agendas like “Yes We Can” and “Hope and Change” and “Shock and Awe” were already taken.

Which finally brings me back to the whole “peaceful protest” concept…

The reason OWS is perceived by most as a peaceful protest is because the army of the rich (NYPD) has created a ring around it—filming the occupiers’ every move and threatening immediate and unrestricted violence to anyone it deems as a worthy target.

I repeat: There’s nothing truly “peaceful” about an environment surrounded by heavily armed enemies.

The occupiers may be displaying almost exclusively peaceful behavior but the brutal logic of violent deterrence is a 24/7 factor influencing this choice. If someone in OWS wanted to try a different tack, well, Ray Kelly already explained that one: “They’re going to be met with force.”

In a broader sense, this scenario epitomizes the implicit daily violence of human culture. The primary reason why we play along with the current system (pay for food and water, pay rent, etc.) and often tolerate the intolerable (toxins in our food, reduced civil liberties, etc.) is because if we didn’t, we’d eventually face violence from the State (eviction, arrest, detainment, prison, etc.).

Taking things to an even wider view, simply using a computer to type this article means I’ve agreed on some level to the mining of coltan (a major component of computer circuitry) by child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where mining profits are used to fund a ruthless civil war and the slaughter of the world’s largest primate (Eastern Lowland Gorilla) to make room for coltan mines. Every keystroke I make is an act of violence.

I could go on—the examples are virtually without limit—but it’s easier to sum up for now: Industrial civilization is built on and based on and functions on overt and covert violence. Any discussion of non-violence that ignores this reality is an exercise in deep denial.

Until the pervasive presence/threat of cultural violence is diminished and ultimately eradicated, we must never stop exposing it, factoring it into our words and actions, and finding ways to sabotage it.

The revolutionary process involves the nuts and bolts of daily, even hourly resistance—hard work like reaching out to those who’ve been heavily conditioned by mainstream culture. This can be an agonizingly slow, inch-by-inch effort—but it’s crucial.

The revolutionary process also involves broadening our scope and making wider and wider connections—aiming for holistic perspectives and thus, holistic justice across lines of gender, age, ethnicity, species, ability, sexual orientation, class, and more. This is abstract work but no less arduous. For those you already in tune with the OWS groove, it’s crucial.

Either way, the path we must tread could be summed like this: Occupy Reality #context.


Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.