In The News
Bloomberg blew it as Occupy spans America
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted November 18. 2011
A bridge is symbolic. It signals connection, enterprise, communities growing toward each other. Once upon a time, before that antiseptic term “infrastructure” dominated our political discourse, it was clearly hands and hearts we were talking about in rebuilding America. There was little dispute on any side. Modernizing, maintaining and polishing tracks, roads, spans -- these ribbons of commerce -- was a massive move toward economic recovery no matter who proposed it, and both parties had in the past.
The partisan obstinacy that keeps blocking common sense underpins the popularity of the Occupy movement.
The mistrust of the current political process helps explain its insistence on no leaders, no established political control, no neat traditional legislative agenda – just a new sense of political action that constantly reminds the citizenry of the insulting economic suffocation of normal working people that has to be thrown aside to get America moving.
On Nov. 17 bridges became the second step symbol for Occupy and another national day of action for America’s unions. Thousands of Occupy-sympathetic marchers in hundreds of communities forgo emphasis on encampment to head for rickety, crumbling and neglected bridges coast to coast. Occupy was not so much abandoning its tent cities – though many organizers are clearly rethinking the best future to keep the media and the public engaged.
Not surprisingly in Wisconsin, Recall Walker dominates attention and produced 50,000 petition signers in the first 48 hours. So “Get to the Bridge” Nov. 17 became mutual action. In Milwaukee it was specifically a push for more inner city jobs and an ordinance initiative from Ald. Ashanti Hamilton and the Good Jobs coalition of Wisconsin Citizen Action. But even that afternoon, Occupy, Recall and Jobs were intermingled chants.
But this was precisely the week that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, usually an astute politician, lost his cool. In the dead of night he had police move in with mass arrests to do what they had failed to do before, evict Occupy Wall Street from the small Zuccotti Park, public but owned by private corporations that supported his tenure.
There were immediately several social and even legal problems when a judge supported Bloomberg’s move as protecting the rights of others in the Park, virtually unknown before Occupy except for Wall Street workers sneaking a smoke.
Bloomberg’s reputation as a Wall Street tycoon brought stunning rebukes as a baron beneficiary who abetted corporate greed while giving lip service to free speech with “no compunction about ruthlessly repressing those who dare exercise their constitutional right.” Some residents annoyed by the protest echoed FOX News, who proclaimed the protest “dead,” suggesting that taking away the occupiers’ sleeping bags would kill the movement.
But many New Yorkers reacted with anger to Bloomberg’s iron hand even as the movement was growing in importance and elected officials around the nation were finding more intelligent ways to handle the issues.
An intern political operative could have predicted the consequence. Bloomberg simply fed the beast he was trying to stop and wound up acting as a catalyst for growth. A movement largely contained to one park actually exploded across New York City, blocking all entrances to the New York Stock Exchange, swarming in clusters around subway entrances (where many commuters smile and clapped the occupiers on the back as they headed for the turnstiles) and rushed to the big blockade --- a protest by thousands at the Brooklyn Bridge.
The bridge as a symbol for more jobs dominated Occupy Boston, where the span in question was so rusted as to be deemed too shaky by the police for a mass march across (which sort of made the protesters point). Another span was the centerpiece of a gigantic peaceful California protest.
And in Milwaukee, several hundred protesters shook off the cold at Carver Park and then marched to the North Avenue span over I-43 (one of the few bridges being targeted where city workers had been engaged all day in doing repairs). As these protesters chanted and even sat down in the street, dozens of police squads and even Chief Flynn watched without interfering for 90 minutes, a demonstration of control and cool that a lot of New Yorkers must now envy.
This protest participants were strongly African Americans and Latinos, the local communities that have suffered most deeply from entrenched unemployment and income disparity here. But diversity in demographics and motives are often quite prevalent at these protests, notable in Wisconsin where Recalls, Occupy, union rallies and other activities are actually working together with Gov. Walker as the primary target.
All this is a strong reminder that something quite different is going on in America that can no longer be dismissed by conservatives as job avoiders and closet anarchists.
The range of peoples and classes involved is quite remarkable. The young in cold weather may dominate the streets but the sympathizers cross all ages and political origins, and even the street reflects variety. When you see an 80 old grandmother willing to be beaten down to make a point, when you see returning war veterans locking arms in anger that they can’t find work, when graduate students ready to launch a profession are forced to live in their parents’ basements, when even those with jobs are joining the events and married middle age couples stroll down to Garden Park on Locust St. near Bremen St. -- the largely unused patch of land where Occupy Milwaukee now roots -- to ask how they ca get involved, change is in the air.
Occupy and Recall Walker share something else in common – they no longer trust the normal pace of democratic procedures.
They seek to keep their temper but speed up a process that has been stifled by a rich opposition controlling procedures, from legislature to the courts.
All this may finally be pushing the envelope of civic disobedience, but it’s because so many Americans feel that civil society has not been particularly obedient to the values inherit in its founding.