My guest today is Ann Medlock, founder of the Giraffe Heroes Project. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Ann. What impelled you to write your recent piece, The Mayor & Occupy Wall Street?
photo credit: Susan Scott
Seeing with my own eyes that the reality and the coverage didn't match up. There was all that horse hockey about "cleaning up" the Park, as if the Occupiers were some kind of vermin. What I saw was people establishing a functional community in a tiny space-- Zuccotti ain't Central Park-- it looked more the size of a suburban house lot. The Occupiers were self-organizing housing, food and communications for a helluva lot of people and they were doing it well. No, it wasn't pretty--tents and clothes, tables and signs everywhere. But it wasn't dirty.
I thought the Mayor was full of it from the get-go. Because the permit was for Zuccotti, a privately owned space, he always could pull the private-property card. There are publicly owned areas downtown.
I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say, Ann. What's the deal with the fact that Zucotti was privately owned? If OWS had a permit, what difference could that make? Isn't a permit a permit?
I'm assuming it's a cleaner, simpler matter when it's public property. If it's private, the Mayor can always say, "Sorry, now the owners don't want you there anymore." Chanting "Whose park? Our park!" doesn't trump the fact that Zuccotti's not indeed publicly owned.
And there's nothing more important to some people than private property rights. Which leads to the other weird thing that we seem to accept--the definition some people have of "violence." As in, If you break a window, cops get to break your skull. I believe living beings and all their parts are off-the-scale more valuable than inanimate things. Maybe the photo taken this week will help people get it--the one of the octogenarian Seattle woman with the white gel of pepper spray coating her face. There is just no possible defense for an able-bodied, armored, masked cop doing that to a defenseless citizen. Especially when that citizen, like the vast majority of Occupiers, is committed to harming no one, breaking no thing.
Steinem is right--we need to get madder.
Maybe so. Although you live on the other side of the country, you're a native New Yorker, correct? Reports are in that many mayors coordinated their Occupy shut-downs and evictions with input from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Does that affect how you feel about what happened in New York City?
I was born and raised on a succession of US Navy bases but my chosen home base as an adult is/was New York--lived in Brooklyn, Queens and on the Upper West Side for decades.
The idea that federal agencies are helping coordinate these pushbacks of protestors only makes the whole thing more alarming. I love it that the pepper-sprayed Seattle woman lived in Germany as a child. She puts her concern about what's happening in this country now into that chilling context. It's time for us to yell "Stop!"
You founded the Giraffe Heroes Project, which celebrates individuals who stick their necks out for the common good. The inordinate use of force against peaceful demonstrators makes it harder and harder for anyone in the 99% to just sit by and pretend everything's hunky dory. Will the shut-downs mean the end of the movement? Is all the growing anger and frustration supposed to just dissipate?
If that's what mayors and college presidents are being told by Homeland Security and the FBI, some body needs a crash course in history. And a quick pass at Psychology 101. I bet the Luftwaffe thought they were bombing the Brits into surrendering. Hah!
I'll admit, I was discouraged after millions of people going into the streets all over the planet didn't stop the US from invading Iraq. But watching the roll call of Occupy sites flashing on the side of the Verizon Building in New York the other night, I was moved to tears of joy. The NYPD estimated that there were over 30,000 people protesting on the Brooklyn Bridge-- after that despicable dark-of-night performance at Zuccotti. When the retired Philadelphia police chief saw that coverage online, he put on his uniform and joined the protestors in NY.
That's how humans respond to repression. Got that, FBI and Homeland Security?
For me, for a lot of people, hope is back.
That's good, very good. Anything else you'd like to add?
Crash courses for police forces--and campus cops--in how to deal with their fellow citizens when they're exercising their rights as Americans. I'm actually embarrassed for the police. As that marvelous Marine in Times Square told NYPD officers, there is no honor in harming unarmed fellow Americans. [ed. note: the YouTube Ann is referring to has so far gotten 2,777,839 hits.] No honor. And the chants of "Shame on you"--yes, they should be embarrassed.
One of my favorite cousins is a cop--I had good exchanges with cops in Times Square and at Zuccotti--I don't buy the idea that they're hopeless bullies. But they need some rules for engaging with peaceful demonstrators.
Rule One: Words won't hurt you--you're a grown-up, you've got body armor on, for heaven's sake. Grin and bear it.
Rule Two: You will exercise force against only specific individuals who are causing real harm to others or, OK, to property. You will restrain those specific individuals from doing more damage, exercising as little physical force as possible. "Violence" in the form of breaking windows does not entitle you to break skulls--that's not a tit-for-tat balance. And property damage by a handful of jerks doesn't give you license to attack an entire demonstration.
A briefing on US and local laws wouldn't hurt either. The cops keep telling demonstrators they're breaking laws that don't even exist--they've been made up on the spot. Hey--that retired Philadelphia police chief--he talked about negotiating rather than hitting, about respect and restraint. He should be on the line to mayors and police chiefs instead of whatever ignoramuses the FBI and Homeland Security have handing out advice now. Norm Stamper, police chief in Seattle during the WTO demonstrations, has apologized for the enormous mistakes he made. He should be on that line too.
I hope the police take your good advice to heart, Ann. Thanks for talking with me again.
The Giraffe Heroes Project