As I sit here writing, I can hear the sirens from my apartment, and rotors of police helicopters overhead.
They are back.
Once again, protestors are unleashing a spasm of anger and disruption onto the streets in New York, and with similar marches across the country, are seeking to, as they loudly chant, "shut it down."
We know what led us here. A Grand Jury in New York City did not bring charges against an NYPD officer who aggressively subdued Eric Garner during an arrest. The officer put his arms around Garner's neck to bring him down- and then released the hold. Garner then had difficulty breathing as other officers put their weight on and restrained him, and he soon thereafter died.
According to the autopsy, Garner's death was attributable to "compression of the chest and neck" in conjunction with heart disease and asthma. It was tragic, and shouldn't have happened.
That said, the Garner Grand Jury decision, unlike the Mike Brown case, was a close call based on the evidence and burden of proof for criminal culpability. Our justice system is imperfect- and maybe this time the system got it wrong.
Millions of Americans have seen the video, regardless of the legal issues, and it is heartbreaking to watch a man dying on camera who was not posing an immediate threat to anyone.
But now the complexity of the case has faded into the background. The mechanisms of outrage have taken over, there are demands for sweeping reform to police training, a federal investigation (with no legitimate basis) is under way, and accusations of the most vile racism are leveled at anyone who fails to join the chorus of fury.
None of this changes the facts. There is no evidence, none at all, that the Garner Grand Jury decision, or the Mike Brown decision before it, were racist, or that either death resulted from racial animus. And yet cries of racism- and the need for a revolution in this country to combat it- get louder every day.
Before we can address what these protestors really want- not just vague notions of "social justice" or "fairness" but what actually motivates them- first we have to address who they are.
The protest movement roiling cities across the country has a name, though they don't refer to themselves with it. The agitators and organizers have rebranded themselves, but they are really just a new iteration of an old idea:
Occupy Wall Street.
Yes, this is the same basic political organism, the same amorphous movement, that started here in New York City back in the fall of 2011. One can argue about semantics, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who would disagree with me on this, but as I see it, in every meaningful way, this latest surge of Leftist activism is OWS all over again.
Just think back with me for a minute- we have seen this before- their slogans, ideology and emotionalism. The protestors chant the same mindless mantras when on the march- "whose streets? our streets!"- and deploy all too familiar rhetoric about revolution and transforming America into a socialist paradise. It's like they were trained in an OWS camp for radicals.
Still not convinced? Here are some other things we see now that are identical to the Occupy Wall Street movement: the placards professing a workers revolution, crowd coordination (yelling "mic check" to the crowd), they are using the OWS twitter account to organize and communicate- all of this is resurrected from the original Occupy Wall Street. Even the meeting places- like Union Square- and some of the direct action targets- like the Brooklyn Bridge- are taken directly from the OWS playbook.
The only real difference is the focus of the movement's rage. It used to be Wall Street, but now its cops. Racist cops.
But this too, in a sense, is not new. Occupy Wall Street, beneath all the incomprehensible half-baked Marxism, always had an element of anti-cop hatred and race baiting at its core. I covered rallies in 2011 where OWS protestors held up signs calling cops murderers, and in one case, calling for the "castration of the state" because of police brutality. The most aggressive, hateful rhetoric at OWS rallies always came from the anti-cop section of the crowd.
Whereas in 2011 these "police brutality" rabble-rousers were a fraction of the OWS whole, now they are the central rallying point. With the financial meltdown long gone from the headlines, racist police violence is the new call to arms for the Left. Mike Brown and Eric Garner have become the two main martyrs for the cause.
And in this mutation of the Occupy Movement, it seems the protestors have learned some lessons from three years ago. Part of the weakness of OWS was that it seized territory- ideologically and literally- that it then had to defend. It claimed to be about Wall Street corruption, but that was never really its focus. No serious financial reform efforts were discussed, nevermind achieved. Occupy Wall Street was more of a hobby than a movement, it was a political fashion statement hyped up as a earnest reformation.
Its even larger blunder, though, was to establish a campground in lower Manhattan, which was supposed to be a beacon of digital era progressivism, a sort of left-wing xanadu. I walked around Zuccotti Park countless times, and in reality, it was a squalid little shanty of whiny post-grads blogging about revolution on the iPads mommy and daddy bought for them.
Fast forward to today: this newer version, OWS 2.0, which is a hybrid of Ferguson rioting and Eric Garner outrage- is even more decentralized. Angry about something? Hate cops? Want to call people racist? Just show up. No need for infrastructure, you don't have to bring your own food. This movement can accommodate any and all Leftist malcontents. Always space for another unattainable demand to be shouted at people who just want to watch the tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center with their families in peace.
The media, of course, will do it best not to make the obvious connections here. Despite the ignominious dismantling of the Zuccotti squatter's paradise back in 2011, nothing has been taken from Occupy's failure, least of all by the mainstream press. Most news channels treat these protestors who block traffic with "die ins" and occasionally burn down buildings with a reverence befitting the Dalai Lama. It's disgusting.
Where all of this is going remains anyone's guess. If recent history is any guide, it will burn itself out over the next few weeks. Originally, the Occupiers of 2011 claimed they wanted to bring about profound changes in national policy. Then they were exposed, to the media, and to the cold weather, and they went away.
Momentous change didn't happen then, and almost certainly won't happen now.
But this does show us that the mechanisms and institutions of Leftist agitation remain well-oiled and ready to deploy upon the next crisis- whether rooted in racial division, class warfare, or some other convenient incitement.
And while the Occupiers of 2014 won't be able to cause a revolution, they may have just enough allies in our political class, and be able to bully just enough of America, to get our increasingly collectivist, authoritarian government to give them their way on a host of issues.
That's really what they've wanted all along. It's not revolution the protestors are after- its power. They don't want to overturn the system. They want to control it.
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