President Obama’s address to the UN General Assembly was such an astonishing string of brazen lies and falsehoods it must have had the assembled international delegates choking on their tea or coffee. Whether he was declaring that “together we have worked to end a decade of war” even as he was just blocked from unilaterally launching a war against Syria, or saying “we have limited the use of drones,” when his administration has upped their use from 51 strikes in Pakistan under the prior Bush administration to 323 so far under his own administration, as David Swanson has so meticulously documented in his Top 45 Lies in Obama’s Speech at the UN, it was all lies.
But for Americans, perhaps nowhere was his lying so blatant and obscene as when he vowed that “we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent…” This, after all, was being said just one week after the second anniversary of the launching of the Occupy Movement, which we now know, thanks to documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice under the Freedom of Information Act, was crushed nationwide by a campaign of violent police assault coordinated at the highest levels of the FBI, Homeland Security Department and other federal police and intelligence agencies.
The US government’s heavy-handed campaign to destroy Occupy, and the concern it showed even before the first protester set foot in Manhattan’s financial district on September 17, 2011, showed how terrified the nation’s corporate elite and their political servants in Washington are of any mass political movement, however small, that doesn’t “play by the rules.”
Washington had lately grown comfortable with the protests of anti-war activists and social justice activists who, over the last decade or more had fallen into a run of politely coming together for permitted marches and demonstrations in Washington, New York or other venues, seeking permission first to gather, and then to march along predetermined routes which would be lined by police barricades, and riot-gear-equipped and militarized police. Even arrests were choreographed with police in advance, so that prominent activists could get themselves cuffed and booked, all with dignity and calm on the part of arresting officers.
Occupy was different, harking back to the 1960s and early ‘70s, when first civil rights activists, and later anti-war activists, didn’t bother with such niceties, and just showed up, protesting where they pleased and marching where they pleases, and sometimes, not going home at the end of the day, preferring to stay and obstruct ongoing normalcy. There we had police riots, mass arrests, and heavy confrontations — even the killing of demonstrators, by soldiers at Kent University and by police at Jackson State.
Occupy, like the rights activist of the early ‘60s and the antiwar activists of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, were unruly, obstructive, in-your-face, and demanding. But Occupy was also determinedly and avowedly peaceful.
That peaceful part didn’t matter, though. The unruly part did matter to the government and to the corporate executives, who saw these mostly young and anarchic opponents of rampant capitalist greed and warmongering as a real threat to their growing control of and undermining of American democracy.
Occupy, by its very existence, and despite the relatively small number of participants in each of the many locations where it sprang up, and even the relatively small number of participants it attracted nationally, boldly exposed the true ruthless and frightened character of America’s ruling class and the government that it has gained almost total control over.
The fraud that has passed as American democracy for several decades now has been enabled by the government’s ability (with able assist by the corporate media) to point to the peaceful demonstrations that have been allowed to occur, for example in opposition to the US launching of a war of aggression against Iraq in 2003, or against the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia.
Allowing peaceful marches and demonstrations that courteously and without confrontation seek permission from the authorities for their protests actually play into the hands of the propagandists in government who can then point to them as evidence that America is a free society, open to opposing viewpoints.
In fact, they are able to do this because that polite, law-abiding approach to protest allows the government to simply ignore protest actions, however large, as it did when a million assembled to say “No!” to an invasion of Iraq in early 2003.
Occupy elicited a wholly different government response. Mayors from 18 cities were organized and brought together through the office of the Secretary of Homeland Security in the fall of 2011 to “share ideas” about how to use techniques like deliberate police violence, obstruction of the media, and shared intelligence to crush the occupiers in their separate cities. Ideas that “worked,” like extreme police violence, the wearing of military gear, the use of flash-bang stun grenades and bean-bag or rubber bullet ammunition, night-time raids, blockading of or outright arrest or removal of journalists during assaults on demonstrators, and the “losing” or outright improper denial of park use permit applications — all these techniques — employed by different cities with success, were shared with other city police chiefs and mayors through the good offices of the FBI and Homeland Security, and then applied in those cities, as well as by others not in the original huddle.
There were even plans to assassinate leaders of Occupy , as documented in the case of Houston, TX, where the FBI, aware of the plan, did nothing to stop it, or to arrest the conspirators later (conspirators who may well have been either the Houston Police themselves, or private contractors hired by the city’s frightened banking and oil company executives.
So no, President Obama. As you are well aware, the US certainly does not oppose the use of violence by the state as a means to suppress dissent. Not in Egypt, where the US continues to supply arms to a military that has “killed its own people” by the hundreds, and executed captured demonstrators in order to crush dissent, not Bahrain, another US ally, where the government has crushed dissent by firing live bullets into unarmed demonstrators and killed people who were already arrested, and not here at home, where the government has a long history, continued by your administration, most recently in the case of the Occupy Movement, of brutally crushing those movements that are perceived as having the potential to gain broad public support and to pose a threat to the established order.
Whether or not the Occupy Movement could have grown bigger, the corporate elite on Wall Street clearly felt threatened by its rallying cry of “We are the 99%!” and by the way its actions and slogans clearly delineated of the ruling class and the rest of us, pulling the cloak off of the oligarchy that has taken control of our national government. And you obliged that corporate elite and responded to their paranoia by having your national security state apparatus orchestrate a violent crackdown on that movement, with riot-gear-clad cops bashing in the heads of young protesters and old supporters, dousing them in tear gas and mace to the face, arresting them en masse, hitting them with tear gas canisters, bean bags, rubber bullets and truncheons, overcharging many of those arrested with serious if fraudulent felony charges of assault, and even trying to link them with “terrorism.”
America supports the right of dissent, but only if it poses no threat to established authority.
But that’s not democracy. Heck, even China and Saudi Arabia allow a certain amount of protest. That’s just allowing a restive population to “let off steam.”
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).