The Great Fear is Democracy

Mayor Bloomberg, don’t pull the plug on Occupy Wall Street.  Please do not stage a police riot, sending New York’s finest shock troops against the growing downtown community of nonviolent American democrats.

In the wake of the October 5th mass march and mobilization, the previously dismissed youth-led assembly near Wall Street can no longer be put down as an anarchist beach party.  Among the estimated 20,000 who gathered on the 5th were members of both public and corporate labor unions, high school and college students, community groups and thousands of ordinary New Yorkers as well as a scattering of elected local politicians.  OWS is rippling through city life.

The October 5th mobilization expanded the social base of the OWS message.  While kick-started by mostly white youths in their ‘teens, 20s and 30s, the anti-Wall Street movement is becoming a true New York gumbo in terms of the diversity of race, age, nationality, occupation and social background of participants.  The only group apparently not represented was upperclass white men, those who run Wall Street in New York and throughout the country.

By carefully avoiding the trap of corporate democracy and proposing a set of respectable demands, OWS provides a social and intellectual space for a wide association of interested parties to name the evil troubling them and to make suggestions as to how to address these concerns. Truth comes from the bottom up.  Popular democracy.

The combination of rage and critical analysis represented by OWS is spreading to growing numbers of New Yorkers and to people in cities and towns throughout the country.  Those who exercise power in Gotham, particularly Mayor Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and their Wall Street cronies, are fearful of such critical rage.  Their careers are at stake; they will be tempted to resort to mass arrests, pepper spray and head banging to closedown the OWS threat.  Watch out for a police “riot” to end the occupation.

Professional politicians, media pundits and corporate lobbyists champion corporate republicanism, the masterful scheme of indirect democracy that contains and directs popular sentiment.  For them, the political system, like the corporate marketplace, is a business in which deal making has replaced popular assembly, deliberation and decision-making.  OWS seeks to reestablish these very old American values as part of contemporary politics.

* * *

Hosni Bloomberg has never been a friend of democracy, especially its most popular expressions.  For “Billion-Dollar Mike,” the expression of popular democracy threatens the powers of his principle constituency, the developers, bankers and other vested interests who’ve long backed him.

Bloomberg’s most shameful, Mubarak-style wheeling-and-dealing was buying a third term as mayor in 2009.  Through backroom payoffs and promises to city council members and the Democratic Party apparatus, Bloomberg orchestrated the overturning of a two-term limit for a mayor that had been twice voted for by New Yorkers.  Such is his support of popular democracy.

Spending an estimated $100 million, he ran in a field of six other candidates, beating Democratic Party candidate, William Thompson, Jr., by a pathetic 50,000 votes out of more than 1 million votes cast.   He got 550,000 votes, thus paying $180 a vote; the price of a vote has gone up in New York since the days of Tammany Hall.

In 2005, the good mayor refused to grant a permit for a May Day March to kick-off at Union Square.  The event’s organizers, the Troops Out Now Coalition and the Million Worker March, had applied for a permit in November 2004, giving the city sufficient time for review and approval.  May Day marches have been a feature of city history for nearly a century, celebrating the values of organized labor and immigrant life; early marches championed the 8-hour workday.  The ostensible reason given by the city administration for denying the permit was that May 1st is a busy shopping day and the police were over stretched.

Billion-dollar Mike showed his Hosni muscle during the 2004 Republican National Convention held in the Big Apple.  The mayor did not want to embarrass Republican bloviators at Madison Square Garden with a mass turnout of New Yorkers opposed to Bush policies.  So, he unilaterally prevented citizens from exercising their 1st Amendment right to free assembly by denying a permit for a rally in Central Park.  And the reason given by the Bloomberg administration for the denial of popular democracy: to protect the park’s recently renovated Great Lawn.

This did not stop New Yorkers from gathering to protest the convention.  To counter popular mobilizations, Bloomberg pushed the New York police to arrests some 1,800 protesters and illegal detain them on the infamous Pier 57, aka “Guantanamo on the Hudson.”  It was ultimately revealed that in prosecuting those arrested, the city used perjured testimony and altered videotape to press fabricated charges.

Which brings us to today’s Occupy Wall Street popular assembly.  Media attention has exposed the role played by New York Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, aka “Sergeant Pepper,” who has been repeatedly caught on videotape pepper spraying nonviolent demonstrators.  Sergeant Pepper was previously accused of abusing protesters during the 2004 Republican Convention.

More serious, Hosni Bloomberg endorsed the police operation on Saturday, October 1st, in which over 700 protesters were arrested crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.  As many have reported, including some from the mainstream media, New York’s finest deliberately deceived marchers into getting busted.  Some officers gave false directions and undercover agents provocateurs led unwitting marchers into a pre-prepared trap.

* * *

In a September 16th interview on a local New York radio station, WOR, Mayor Bloomberg acknowledged that high unemployment in the U.S. could precipitate a social crisis not unlike those wracking parts of North Africa, the Middle East, Britain, Spain, Greece and elsewhere. He stated: “You have a lot of kids graduating college [who] can’t find jobs. That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kinds of riots here.”

These “kids,” let alone the rest of us who’ve gathered daily as part of Occupy Wall Street, are not rioting.  As OWS participants increase in number and reflect a fuller range of New Yorkers, they are beginning to articulate a more coherent and comprehensive analysis of the crisis gripping America.  It is a crisis that has many dimensions, causes and consequences; and no simple answers.

Establishment politicians like Bloomberg and Quinn have signaled their intention to call for forceful police action, including mass arrests, to stop popular democracy.  With one hand outstretched as a loyal Democratic pol, Quinn dutifully acknowledged: “We all have the right to protest.”  With the other hand holding a club, she made her position clear to all: “When exercising that right becomes a public safety issue, the NYPD has to take actions to maintain order.”  Watch out for elected officials and mainstream media invocations of “public safety,” watch out for agents provocateurs; the police are on their way.

Mubarak is on trial for crimes he committed against the people of Egypt.  The outcome of his trial is, in all likelihood, pre-ordained; Mubarak will walk or, at most, receive a slap on the wrist.  The system in Egypt is likely as rigged as is the system in the U.S.  How else can one explain why there were trials neither for Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld for leading the U.S. into a false war, nor for the bankers and regulators who caused the Great Recession?

One can only hope that Bloomberg will not instigate a police riot to end the OWS assembly.  However dubious his mayoral record is to date, a mass police assault on a peaceful popular gathering, like those that took place in Egypt’s Tahrir Square or Tunis’ Mohammad Bouazizi Square, will leave many arrested, injured and enraged.  For all his billions, Mike Bloomberg wouldn’t be able to buy his way out of such a shameful legacy.

Put differently, will Bloomberg be the next Nelson Rockefeller?  Rockefeller’s legacy is stained by the horrors of Attica.  Whether remembered as a vice president, governor, philanthropist or philanderer dying in the arms of a mistress, the blood of Attica defines his legacy.  He gave the order for all those killed (both police officers and inmates) and injured during the deadliest prison uprising in American history.  Will Occupy Wall Street be Bloomburg’s Attica?

David Rosen can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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