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The V-Word

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Police violence by Alexander Higgins Blog

Debating the Government Monopoly on Violence

It will be instructive over coming months to watch the response of OWS protestors to the orgy of militarized police violence that has all but shut down the major public occupations. In just two months, the Occupy movement has used the combined tools of social networking, strategic outreach, consensus governance and mass civil disobedience to build the largest mass resistance in the US since the 1930s. The Office of Homeland Security and other federal agencies coordinating the simultaneous crackdowns seem to think a show of force will persuade protestors to give it up and return to their former lives. As many have nothing to return to (no jobs and, in many cases, no homes), I think this may be a serious tactical error. Even before the police crackdown, there was growing concern about keeping numbers up over winter, as well as inadequate representation of women, minorities and unskilled and blue collar workers. With a little nudge from the authorities, Occupy activists have made a good decision to regroup and engage in strategic planning.

I believe there will be strong consensus to resume their public occupations when the weather warms up. Nothing crosses the digital divide quite so effectively to Americans without Internet access. How committed the government is to stopping them is uncertain. Are the 1% and their lackeys are determined to suppress the Occupy movement by any means necessary? If so, how far are OWS participants are willing to go to preserve their movement?

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Our Culture of Violence

As OWS groups across the country strategize over winter, younger activists, especially, will ask why the police should have a monopoly on violence. These discussions won't take place on Facebook or Twitter, but they will happen (at least they are happening in New Zealand). A pending bill to authorize the indefinite detention of American citizens without criminal charges amplifies the urgency of these discussions. Violence is an integral part of the American psyche, as demonstrated by the continuing upsurge in gun ownership. We are all bombarded on a daily basis with mindless violence, through TV, movies and videogames. The view of American foreign policy presented by the mainstream media centers around violent retaliation. The vast majority of Americans will tell you that the US had to attack Afghanistan and Iraq to retaliate for the 3,000 Americans killed on 9-11. This pervasive emphasis on violence occurs in an intenseley competitive, consumer-driven culture in the absence of any moral framework to channel aggression into more "humane" or "civilized" outlets.

Government Violence Against Minorities

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In this social context, the OWS commitment to non-violence will be extremely difficult to maintain, especially as the movement reaches out to traditional blue collar and minority communities. I can't name a single working class or minority activist I have worked with in the last thirty years who would stand or lie there passively while the police beat them in the head or squirted them in the face with pepper spray. Police violence in minority communities is a daily occurrence.

The treatment of minority activists, even nonviolent ones, is especially brutal. December 4th is the 42nd anniversary of the unprovoked raid on Fred Hampton's apartment, in which the FBI and Chicago police murdered the Black Panther leader in his sleep. Four days later, on December 8, 1969 they carried out a similar raid in Los Angeles that Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt miraculously escaped. This was followed by years of federally sponsored "death squad" activity on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota (which Ward Churchill documents with FOIA memos in his 1990 book Cointelpro Papers), culminating in an armed FBI siege against American Indian Movement activists who had come to protect older residents. In 1985 the Philadelphia police, with federal support, destroyed an entire neighborhood by dropping a bomb on a household of activists belonging to the black liberation movement Move.

Fast forward to 2011, and police shootings of unarmed black men are so commonplace they are almost never prosecuted. This is on top of the thousands of cases of sub-lethal police violence (beatings, tasering, pepper spray) that all minority communities struggle to cope with as they go about their daily lives.

Is Occupy Wall Street Just a "Color" Revolution?

The main advantage of nonviolent resistance is its effectiveness in reaching large numbers of potential supporters. History shows that civil disobedience, by itself, is relatively ineffective in producing genuine political change. The nonviolent "color" revolutions in Eastern Europe and Egypt have been very effective in producing cosmetic regime change without challenging fundamental power structures. In other words, they get rid of the unpopular dictator but leave a US-friendly elite in control of government (just as Wall Street remains firmly in control no matter who we elect as president).

The success of nonviolent resistance as a recruiting tool stems mainly from its knack for provoking state violence. This provides dramatic mainstream media coverage that forces apolitical members of society to re-examine fundamental beliefs about freedom, justice and the rule of law. Although nonviolent civil disobedience involves lawbreaking, it does so from a moral high ground. There is a strong tradition in Judeo-Christian religions that people of conscience have a duty to uphold international, religious and humanitarian law when it conflicts with unjust national and local laws. Because these views enjoy strong public support, the Internet and social media can be used to recruit participants and supporters for nonviolent actions in the thousands and potentially tens of thousands. In contrast, using the Internet to recruit activists for "violent" actions, even those limited to property destruction, is illegal and provokes an instantaneous response from the authorities.

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The two biggest obstacles OWS will face in maintaining their commitment to non-violence will be the attitude of low income and minority groups who deal with police violence on a daily basis and growing concerns about the possible role CIA-funded left gatekeeping foundations have played in engineering the Occupy movement's exclusive commitment to nonviolence. This concern is heightened by the use of nonviolent guru Gene Sharp's materials at several Occupy sites.

The CIA Role in Nonviolent Revolutions

Sharp's longstanding ties with the CIA and the "democracy manipulating" foundations that instigated the "color" revolutions in Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa (including Egypt) receive little attention in the foundation-funded "alternative" media. However the issue has begun to seep into the blogosphere, thanks to good coverage in the French and Australian left-progressive media. One example is a well-referenced November 25th article by Tony Carlucci in Land Destroyer entitled "How to Start (a Wall Street backed) Revolution" ( first came across the article December 1st on the Occupy Oakland website. It was taken down a week later, which I find quite ominous.

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I am a 63 year old American child and adolescent psychiatrist and political refugee in New Zealand. I have just published a young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW (which won a NABE Pinnacle Achievement Award) about a 16 year old girl who (more...)

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