During Occupy Wall Street's March for Racial Justice and Against Police Brutality march last night, the Occupiers gave me a glimpse into their game plan going forward, and it's looks like things could get really ugly.
In strategic terms, the OWS next phase plan can be broken down into two parts:
- The Occupiers will force a major confrontation with police.
- They will attempt to effectively shut down a portion of New York City.
It is not clear to me in what order those events will occur, or when either will be attempted, but I do believe after hearing and seeing the marchers in action that both a confrontation and shutdown are now goals of the OWS movement.
What I observed last night was a march that highlighted Occupy Oakland's new temporary status as the heart of the resistance and the Occupiers' deep rage against the police.
Solidarity with Occupy Oakland has in fact become a huge rallying cry for the Wall Street Occupiers. Their recent clash with Oakland police resulted in the serious injury of Iraq war veteran, Scott Olson, which has given considerable momentum to the overall Occupy movement.
In addition, the Port of Oakland has been successfully shut down, much to the pleasure of the Occupy Wall Street crowd in Zuccotti Park. While there are rumors that Oakland, not downtown New York, will officially become the epicenter of the OWS movement, what I saw during the March For Racial Justice Against Police Brutality led me to believe that the Wall Street Occupiers are readying for their next phase.
I arrived at Zuccotti around 3:00 PM yesterday. A group of Occupy Veterans had marched in protest from Zuccotti park earlier that afternoon, and I could still see some men milling around the crowd in army digitized camouflage uniforms later on as the sun was setting.
The organizers left little to the imagination regarding OWS plans going forward. More "general strikes" are in the works, it's just a matter of organizing the participants and picking a day. As the Occupiers prepared to march on Police Headquarters (located at 1 Police Plaza, and often referred to as One-PP), one organizer gave the crowd some history on general strikes, and explained that the Occupiers hope to shut down cities across the country and the globe.
Here is a transcript of her comments on the Occupy Oakland and the way ahead:
"The last city in the United States to have had a general strike, it was 1946. Today is not quite a general strike, it's not too f***ing bad, in fact right now there are at least 5,000 gathered at the spot of Occupy Oakland three hours before the rally. Many city workers were told not to bother, don't come in, shut the city down. Many students, as well as teachers and professors, have walked out of school, and are gathering in Occupy Oakland. And we are here today to stand in solidarity along with our brothers and sisters in Tahrir Square, in Chicago, in Denver, and in Oakland. Because ours is a global movement, and this is our day of action."
And below is the raw video from the event:
Another march organizer was even more explicit in his threats about citywide shutdowns:
"We are Oakland. If you move on Oakland we'll shut you down. If you move on New york, well shut you down. The people have the right to stand up whatever city they're in. Right now new york is showing you the happy face, Oakland showed you the other face so we here we'll deal with the face were given. If we see the ugly one, we'll move on it. If they let us stay here we'll be here in peace. The choice is not that of the 99, it's of the 100. The 1% will suffer the consequence if they try to take away our rights. New york in general strike, Houston in general strike Sacramento in general strike. We will go wherever we need to when they try to shut us down."
Below is a short clip of that exchange on city shutdowns across America:
A member of Iraq Veterans Against the War seemed to have a Freudian slip when he told the crowd that they were about to embark on an illegal march, and some of them would probably be arrested. He was quickly corrected by agitated organizers who stated their belief that the Constitution gives them the right to march when they want, where they want, without heed of local laws.
The march, technically called the "March For Racial Justice and Against Police Brutality," moved north up Broadway without incident. The usual gaggle of reporters and photographers walked a few feet ahead of the main protest group and jockeyed for the best oncoming shot. Along with the standard refrain of "All day, all week, occupy wall street," the protestors worked in the chant of "Oakland, New York, Wisconsin, We Will Fight, We Will Win."
But most interesting to me was the cry of "Students and workers, shut this city down."
I arrived just a few minutes ahead of the main protest column at NYPD headquarters. There were metal barricades around the entire space, and police standing at intervals of about 10 feet on all sides. Somewhere around 500 protestors were gathered.
Some Occupiers in the crowd worried aloud that it was a "trap" by the NYPD, and that the police were going to pen in all of the protestors and arrest them en masse. On the contrary, and to the Occupiers' apparent disappointment, I overheard several NYPD officers explain to protestors who asked them that they were free to gather and speak to their hearts' content within the plaza area enclosed by the barricades.
Once all elements of the march caught up, the anti-police portion of the evening kicked into full swing. The human microphone was actually necessary this time, as the people were packed in closely enough that it was difficult to get near "facilitators" who gave the speeches.
One of those facilitators pointed to NYPD headquarters in the background and said that "to people of color, this building is a tombstone...here lies Sean Bell... Abner Louima..." and listed the names of several more individuals killed by police. The speech went on to call for the protestors to "make some noise for Oscar Grant," referring to an unarmed man killed by police in Oakland whose death lead to widespread looting and riots.
Accidental or not, and regardless of punishments meted out to the officers who made grave errors, all the police were considered guilty last night.
"We will defend these neighborhoods," another Occupiers said, "we will march to these communities of color." The theme was simple enough: the police are bad, and the Occupiers will march on poor neighborhoods to further impress upon minorities that the police are racist murderers.
The Occupiers even took an oath to to this effect on the spot. One organizer told the crowd to raise their right hands, and say "I swear to protest under the First amendment Rights whenever there are acts of brutality or other oppression of rights for communities of color."
But the moment that received the biggest reaction from the crowd was when an Occupy Oakland medic who claimed to have been with Scott Olson on the night he was wounded spoke up about the recent clash with police. A placard with Olson's photo on it was passed around the crowd, carried by Sgt. Shamar Thomas, famous for his own clash with the NYPD on October 15th.
As I walked away from the protest in front of 1PP, it became clear to me that Occupy is putting a dangerous narrative in place. The Occupiers are setting up the police as the enemy, and Occupiers are the so-called liberators. Whatever Occupiers have to do in the course of their revolution to end oppression will be justified in their minds, because the alternative is racism and murder at the hands of the police, or so the propaganda goes.
It is a deeply cynical premise that will be incredibly effective at inciting a mob.
Based upon what I saw, I think the protestors will purposefully flout the law at some point with a sit-in or street blockade, knowing that if the authorities use force in response, they will be skewered in the media. Once the message of "police brutality" is sufficiently embedded in the public discussion surrounding Occupy, the protestors will be able engage in direct action with impunity.
Then they can really "shut this city down."
If the people of the City of New York decide the Occupiers cannot be touched-- for fear of causing a casualty like Scott Olson in Oakland-- the Occupation will have won a massive psychological victory.
And if somehow the police brutality meme fails to seep deep enough into the public mind, the Occupiers will continue orchestrated face-offs until there are so many "police brutality" videos on the internet, only those paying close attention will know that it was all planned to be that way from the start.
Assuming that happens, honest citizens will be left wondering how all the ensuing chaos and violence could ever be necessary. If the Occupiers really are the 99%, why couldn't they just vote for leaders who would reform Wall Street? Wasn't that the whole point?
But we already know the answer. The Occupiers have said it from the beginning:
'It's revolution, not reform.'