The Occupy Wall Street Protesters Earn Their Merit Badges:
Genuine political and social movements fuck things up. The civil rights movement? The anti-Vietnam War movement? The labor movement of the early 20th-century? None of them would have progressed if they had only existed under the sanction of local, state, and federal governments, if they had only acted or marched with permission, if they had done nothing to disrupt the daily routines of everyday people, if they hadn't gotten in the faces of the powerful. If your protest is approved by city hall, then you are participating in civil obedience.
It's why the Tea Party was never anything other than a costume fad. And like any fad, it had its most devout adherents, but, truly, it was the Beanie Babies of political movements. The Tea Party gave comfort to the wealthy and played by the rules. It's why it was a movement of old people and families: there was no threat that anyone was going to spill any of their diabetic fucking blood on any goddamn mythical tree of liberty. And just like all those people who bought Beanie Babies thought they'd get rich by selling 'em on eBay, only to end up with basements full of dead-eyed, worthless bears and frogs, the Tea Party will soon be bagged up and brought to the thrift store of history.
No matter if it was intentional or not, the mass arrest of 700 of the Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City on Saturday was a brilliant PR move, and it legitimized the snowballing activism as the beginning of a real movement. The media coverage has increased exponentially. For instance, NPR, which had been ignoring the protest, is now doing regular reports. The New York Times has had front page coverage.
The arrest of hundreds of peaceful marchers is proof that the demonstrations are having an effect. The NYPD, under the urging of the Bloomberg administration, no doubt, took a gamble, hoping that they could end the occupation once and for all. Instead, it ended up having the reverse effect, as the arrests and pepper-spraying the week before had, giving the protests more traction, more participants, and more power.
Wear those arrests as badges of honor, good provocateurs of the plaza. As Big Bill Haywood, the leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, said when he was imprisoned in Chicago in 1917, "A prison cell is the heritage we gain for the blood and lives our forefathers gave; they fought for religious freedom and left us with minds free from superstitious cant and dogma; they waged war for political justice; they carried on the struggle against chattel-slavery - these were the titanic battles that were fought, bringing us to the threshold of all wars - the class war - in which we are enlisted as workers." Now, Big Bill was given to hyperbole, but his point was that if you're gonna fuck with the powerful, the powerful are gonna try to fuck you up. But that the chance to battle should be inspirational, not dispiriting.
Remember, this is still the very, very beginning. Maybe, just maybe, as more actions happen, as unions get involved, as more arrests happen, as the tipping point of inevitable violence by authorities occurs, maybe we on the left can stop being such little bitches about the protests and unify behind them.
Later this week: Um, so what the fuck are we unifying behind?