Yesterday, the day of the big Occupy protests in New York, I sat in a train most of the day, on the way to Washington D.C.
I’m here for the African Studies Association annual conference, but of course I’m going to head over to the National Mall too, and see what’s cooking with Occupy DC.
The dramatic and powerful protests in New York yesterday, captured magnificently in this NY Times slide show, can’t help but energize the movement around the country, and indeed the world.
I am struck again by how diverse this movement is–the people in these photos are old and young, of every ethnicity, most looking solidly middle-class. There is really very little of the “anarchist hippie fringe” that Americans tend to associate with protests, at least since the 1960s.
It must be hard for the cops, who are so solidly middle-class themselves, to have to play the bad guys day after day. They must know that their salaries have been shrinking against the cost of living just like everyone else’s, while the Bloombergs and the Buffets and all those Washington politicians have been getting fabulously wealthy.
Economically speaking, the cops are squarely within the 99% and should not be the enemies of the Occupy movement. But it’s very rarely been the case that police or soldiers break with their indoctrination in submission to authority, and side with the insurgents.
I pause as I type that word–insurgent–because it’s most often used to describe people in other countries who oppose the status quo, and turn to violent means to achieve their goals. It’s one of those words– “rebels” is another–that treads carefully between the poles of “freedom fighter” (a good thing) and “terrorist” (obviously bad).
The Occupy movement bills itself as a determinedly non-violent movement. All the violence that has occurred so far has been provoked or perpetrated by the police.
But for the first time, yesterday, I found myself thinking about the possibility of civil war breaking out again in this country.
No one wants violence in this country. We are a nation of shoppers, not fighters.
The Occupy movement has been galvanized mostly by young people whose expectations of joining the ranks of contented shopper-workers, like their parents and grandparents before them, have been frustrated by the economic downturn and the substitution of debt bondage for living wages.
These are very real concerns that are not going to go away because winter is coming. What we’re seeing here is, as others have noted, class warfare. Just like in the 1930s, when workers stood firm in picket lines despite the factory owners’ efforts to break them, these protesters are motivated by the absolute knowledge that the current system is unjust and insupportable.
If politicians from Bloomberg to Obama continue to ignore the idealism and the frustration represented by the nascent Occupy movement, it will only continue to grow in numbers and conviction.
It’s happened before in this country. It could very well happen again.