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Paramilitary Policing From Seattle to Occupy Wall Street

Norm Stamper, The Nation
Norm Stamper was chief of the Seattle Police Department during the WTO protests in 1999. He is the author of Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing (Nation Books).

… My support for a militaristic solution [to the WTO protests in Seattle] caused all hell to break loose. Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict. The “Battle in Seattle,” as the WTO protests and their aftermath came to be known, was a huge setback—for the protesters, my cops, the community.

More than a decade later, the police response to the Occupy movement, most disturbingly visible in Oakland—where scenes resembled a war zone and where a marine remains in serious condition from a police projectile—brings into sharp relief the acute and chronic problems of American law enforcement. Seattle might have served as a cautionary tale, but instead, US police forces have become increasingly militarized, and it’s showing in cities everywhere: the NYPD “white shirt” coating innocent people with pepper spray, the arrests of two student journalists at Occupy Atlanta, the declaration of public property as off-limits and the arrests of protesters for “trespassing.”

The paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders—a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood—is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy. And young people, poor people and people of color will forever experience the institution as an abusive, militaristic force—not just during demonstrations but every day, in neighborhoods across the country.

Much of the problem is rooted in a rigid command-and-control hierarchy based on the military model. American police forces are beholden to archaic internal systems of authority whose rules emphasize bureaucratic regulations over conduct on the streets. An officer’s hair length, the shine on his shoes and the condition of his car are more important than whether he treats a burglary victim or a sex worker with dignity and respect. In the interest of “discipline,” too many police bosses treat their frontline officers as dependent children, which helps explain why many of them behave more like juvenile delinquents than mature, competent professionals. It also helps to explain why persistent, patterned misconduct, including racism, sexism, homophobia, brutality, perjury and corruption, do not go away, no matter how many blue-ribbon panels are commissioned or how much training is provided.

External political factors are also to blame, such as the continuing madness of the drug war.

… Assuming the necessity of radical structural reform, how do we proceed? By building a progressive police organization, created by rank-and-file officers, “civilian” employees and community representatives. Such an effort would include plans to flatten hierarchies; create a true citizen review board with investigative and subpoena powers; and ensure community participation in all operations, including policy-making, program development, priority-setting and crisis management. In short, cops and citizens would forge an authentic partnership in policing the city. And because partners do not act unilaterally, they would be compelled to keep each other informed, and to build trust and mutual respect—qualities sorely missing from the current equation.

It will not be easy. In fact, failure is assured if we lack the political will to win the support of police chiefs and their elected bosses, if we are unable to influence or neutralize police unions, if we don’t have the courage to move beyond the endless justifications for maintaining the status quo. But imagine the community and its cops united in the effort to responsibly “police” the Occupy movement. Picture thousands of people gathered to press grievances against their government and the corporations, under the watchful, sympathetic protection of their partners in blue.
(28 November 2011 edition)

Man Outed As Undercover Cop At Occupy Oakland Condemns Police Brutality, Supports The Movement

Zaid Jilani, Think Progress
… In a video released last month, Oakland Police Officer Fred Shavies was outed as one of these plainsclothed officers at Occupy Oakland. …

Now, in an interview with Justin Warren, Shavies said that he was just doing his job and that he actually supports the movement. He said that the police brutality that occurred could be our generation’s Birmingham — referring to the civil rights struggle in the South — and that he hopes the movement is a turning point for changing the country:

“SHAVIES: I’m a police officer. I’m part of the 99 percent. […] In the ’60s when people would protest, would gather in order to bring about change, right? Those protests were nonviolent they were peaceful assemblies. They were broken up with dogs, hoses, sticks. […] It looks like there was a square, and police shot tear gas. That could be the photograph or the video for our generation. That’s our Birmingham. So, twenty years from now this movement could be the turning point, the tipping point, right. It’s about time your generation stood up for something. It’s about time young people are in the streets. […] Ya’ll don’t need to throw gas canisters into a group of people occupying an intersection.”

Watch it:

OPD Officer Discusses Viral Copwatch Video from Justin Warren on Vimeo.

Shavies’ brave words make him one of the few police officers who has publicly stepped forward to question heavy-handed police tactics and to openly support the 99 Percent.
(10 November 2011)

#OccupyWallStreet: A Leaderfull Movement in a Leaderless Time

Micah L. Sifry, Tech President
… Why this insistence on finding the supposed leaders of Occupy Wall Street? The reason goes beyond a desire to understand the movement’s goals, I think, into something more existential. For many traditional political observers like Brisbane and his colleagues, the notion that a political movement might arise without charismatic leaders is inconceivable. Every previous movement, after all, has had its figureheads. Think of Gandhi, King, Mandela. Or, at the less exalted level of recent times, think of Ralph Nader, Al Sharpton, or Michael Moore on the progressive left, or Sarah Palin, Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin on the Tea Party right. The same question was raised, if you recall, around the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, which were often described as “leaderless.” A movement can’t be leaderless, right? Who would we feature on the front-page? Who would we put on the Sunday talk shows? Who would we negotiate with? Who is the saviour that will rise from these streets?

No, political movements can’t be leaderless. The Occupy Wall Street movement is, in fact, leader-full. That is, the insistent avoidance of traditional top-down leadership and the reliance on face-to-face and peer-to-peer networks and working groups creates space for lots of leaders to emerge, but only ones that work as network weavers rather than charismatic bosses.

… Most of us come from a world and a generation that only knows one kind of leadership, the one whose organizational structure looks like this. The decider is on top; the worker bees are below. Everything about our industrial age institutions, from schools and churches to corporations and government, trains us to think of leadership as top-down, command-and-control. Give the right answer, get into the right school, get a good job, work your way up the chain of command, win the good life. But today, more and more of us live in a sea of lateral social connections, enabled by personal technology that is allowing everyone to connect and share, in real-time, what matters most to them.

And at a moment when so many traditional political institutions appear bankrupt, incapable of reforming themselves and paralyzed in the face of huge challenges, the result is an explosion of outsider movements for social change whose structure looks more like this:


Or this:


Or this:

Indeed, I think there’s a reason we keep seeing this recurring image of a filled circle rather than a hierarchy in today’s protest movements: all the points on a circle are equidistant from the center. Everyone faces each other, rather than many facing just one. Spots in the middle are hubs, but no one hub dominates. Resilience is built through the multitude of lateral connections between all the points in the network, so if any hub fails others can pick up the slack. And thus today’s networked movements are not only highly participatory, with many leaders instead of just one, they are also much stronger than movements of the past that could be stopped or stalled by the discrediting, arrest or killing of their singular spokesmen.

Last June, movement organizer Adrienne Maree Brown made a similar point in the context of the work she does training activists in Detroit who are trying to rebuild that city. Asked on Tavis Smiley and Cornell West’s radio show if what she was seeing develop there was a “leaderless” phenomenon, she answered,

“I love the term of a leaderless revolution but I don’t think it’s a realistic thing. I believe it’s a leader-full revolution. Every single person I interact with, I approach them as if they are the next person who is going to transform their community, and that they’re going to transform me. One of the most powerful things about most of the organizers in Detroit is that every single person gets approached as a point of leadership and as a point of community responsibility and strength…that’s only possible when everyone is being respected and heard and uplifted.”

Adjusting to a leaderfull world full of self-starting network weavers, transparent and accountable about their actions–from a world of top-down leaders who use hierarchy, secrecy and spin to conduct their business, will take some getting used to. But the Occupy Wall Street movement, like the Tea Party before it was captured and turned into a marketing vehicle for the Republican right, represents the flowering of something very deep about our networked age. it is personal democracy in action, where everyone plays a role in shaping the decisions that affect our lives. We may face huge challenges, but while some of our material resources are in scarce supply, we have an abundance of leaders coming.
(14 November 2011)

Penn State, my final loss of faith

Thomas L. Day, Washington Post
I’m 31, an Iraq war veteran, a Penn State graduate, a Catholic, a native of State College, acquaintance of Jerry Sandusky’s, and a product of his Second Mile foundation.

And I have fully lost faith in the leadership of my parents’ generation.

I was never harmed by Sandusky, but I could have been.

… I should feel fortunate, blessed even, that I was never harmed. Yet instead this week has left me deeply shaken, wondering what will come of the foundation, the university, and the community that made me into a man.

One thing I know for certain: A leader must emerge from Happy Valley to tie our community together again, and it won’t come from our parents’ generation.

They have failed us, over and over and over again.

I speak not specifically of our parents — I have two loving ones — but of the public leaders our parents’ generation has produced. With the demise of my own community’s two most revered leaders, Sandusky and Joe Paterno, I have decided to continue to respect my elders, but to politely tell them, “Out of my way.”

They have had their time to lead. Time’s up. I’m tired of waiting for them to live up to obligations.

Think of the world our parents’ generation inherited. They inherited a country of boundless economic prosperity and the highest admiration overseas, produced by the hands of their mothers and fathers. They were safe. For most, they were endowed opportunities to succeed, to prosper, and build on their parents’ work.

For those of us in our 20s and early 30s, this is not the world we are inheriting.

We looked to Washington to lead us after September 11th. I remember telling my college roommates, in a spate of emotion, that I was thinking of enlisting in the military in the days after the attacks. I expected legions of us — at the orders of our leader — to do the same. But nobody asked us. Instead we were told to go shopping.

… Our parents’ generation has balked at the tough decisions required to preserve our country’s sacred entitlements, leaving us to clean up the mess. They let the infrastructure built with their fathers’ hands crumble like a stale cookie. They downgraded our nation’s credit rating. They seem content to hand us a debt exceeding the size of our entire economy, rather than brave a fight against the fortunate and entrenched interests on K Street and Wall Street.

Now we are asking for jobs and are being told we aren’t good enough, to the tune of 3.3 million unemployed workers between the ages of 25 and 34.

This failure of a generation is as true in the halls of Congress as it is at Penn State.

Thomas Day is a graduate student at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.
(11 November 2011)
According to Micah Sifry: “Right now it’s flying around the web, driven by links from the likes of Michael Moore, who tweeted, ‘If you read only one thing online this week, please read this.’ “

Crimson Front: On Occupy Harvard

Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, Los Angeles Review of Books
On Wednesday, November 9, Occupy Harvard began. The university is frequently accused of being an “academic gatekeeper,” but the administration and police response to the nascent protest movement has made this gatekeeping uncomfortably literal: Harvard Yard has been placed on indefinite “lockdown,” meaning two-level ID-checks at every entrance. Further, unlike its sister-movement Occupy Boston, the less-than-week-old encampment has been the object of flak from other Harvard students, who complain about the inconvenience.

… Some people were new to the consensus-based process favored by the Occupy movement; others were veterans. Consensus can be messy and vertiginous, but the general assembly was wildly spirited. I heard a student exclaim, “This isn’t a protest or demonstration — it’s a process,” a sentiment that has run through Occupy mobilizations all over. In the span of five hours, an Occupation was established at the heart of one of the most visible institutions in the world. At least 20 tents still stand.

… Why “occupy” Harvard? Occupy Harvard itself has issued reasons for its existence, demanding a “university for the ‘99 percent,’ not a corporation for the ‘1 percent’” (with a short primer on what this could look like), an alter-model to the corporatization of higher education, and a demand for financial transparency, including the disclosure of all of Harvard’s investments. And several commentators, such as The Atlantic’s Adam Clark Estes, have contrasted the university’s “ballooning wealth” (aided by its status as a non-profit institution) with its unfair treatment of service workers. One oft-cited statistic is the 1 to 180 ratio between worker and administrative pay. At a rally on November 12 Harvard custodians voted unanimously to strike if a contract agreement isn’t reached by Tuesday.

It bears noting — whether one “likes” Occupy Harvard or not — what gumption it takes to reclaim space on the land of one of the most powerful (both real and imagined) entities in the world, and in the face of peer disparagement. After police locked down the gates completely, prompting participants to crowd the gates and chant together, some freshmen from balcony dorms yelled, “We are the 1 percent! We are the 1 percent!” (bringing to mind the widely disseminated video of investment bankers drinking champagne from their high lofts and laughing at Occupy Wall Street demonstrators). The editorial board of the Harvard Crimson initially castigated the Occupy Wall Street movement, and it wasn’t until very recently that it began offering supporting viewpoints, such as this evocative op-ed by three students drawing attention to campus hostility to serious alternative discourses on Harvard’s function in the wider socioeconomic landscape. A new awareness of the role that universities, and Harvard in particular, play in legitimating the current economic order is one of the most significant byproducts of the Occupy movement. The student walkout on Professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s Economics 10 course laid the groundwork for the campus occupation and brought national attention to an internal debate within the university.
(13 November 2011)

Hawaiian musician with ‘Occupy with Aloha’ T-shirt plays 45-minute protest song for Obama at summit… and no one notices

Simon Tomlinson, Daily Mail
A popular Hawaiian singer used his performance at a dinner of world leaders hosted by President Barack Obama to voice his support for the ‘Occupy’ movement.
Makana was enlisted to play a luau, or Hawaiian feast, for members of the Pacific Rim who had gathered in Obama’s birthplace Honolulu for an annual summit formulating plans for a Pacific free-trade pact.
During the meal on the resort strip Waikiki Beach, he proudly pulled open his jacket to reveal a T-shirt which read ‘Occupy with Aloha’ – using the Hawaiian word whose include love and peace.

He went on to sing a 45-minute version of his new song We Are The Many …

We Are The Many
Lyrics and Music by Makana
Makana Music LLC © 2011

Download song for free here:

We Are The Many

Ye come here, gather ’round the stage
The time has come for us to voice our rage
Against the ones who’ve trapped us in a cage
To steal from us the value of our wage

From underneath the vestiture of law
The lobbyists at Washington do gnaw
At liberty, the bureaucrats guffaw
And until they are purged, we won’t withdraw

We’ll occupy the streets
We’ll occupy the courts
We’ll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few …

YouTube video
(14 November 2011)
(14 November 2011)
UPDATE: Amy Goodman of Democracy Now has more description of what happened, plus an interview with Makana:

As President Obama met with world leaders this weekend at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Hawaii to discuss how to bolster global trade, activists with the group Occupy Honolulu protested economic inequity that they say would result from new trade agreements. Meanwhile, within the heavily guarded compound where the summit took place, renowned Hawaiian musician and guitarist Makana carried out his own act of protest. Makana had been invited to play instrumental music at the gala dinner Saturday night. At the dinner, Makana opened his jacket to reveal a t-shirt which read, “Occupy with Aloha.” Then, instead of performing the background instrumental he was scheduled to play, he started to sing a protest song he had released earlier that day. As world leaders including Obama and Chinese Premier Hu Jintao sat in the audience, Makana sang his new song inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, “We are the Many.” “I started out very subtly and subliminally. And I was like, ‘Ye come here, gather ’round the stage. The time has come for us to voice our rage,'” Makana says. “Then I realized that, ‘Wow! I didn’t get in trouble!’ So I played it again.”

More, plus video .