I had a conversation yesterday with a fellow news person, in which we discussed what could truly change the “Occupy” movement from an interesting mass protest into a movement. In a word: violence.
Violence, either on the part of protesters, or more pointedly, on the part of police in any city, would, in my mind, represent an inflection point in the disparate protests — really serious violence, or god forbid a death — could turn the occupy protests into what Kent State was for the anti-Vietnam war movement.
Well this week, it happened. This from the top of the fold on the BBC News website:
Activists taking part in the the Occupy Oakland protests have called for a general strike in the city.
The call to strike on 2 November emerged as protesters gathered late on Wednesday, one day after clashes with police left an Iraq veteran badly hurt.
On Tuesday evening police used tear gas and baton rounds to force protesters to leave their camp. Many have now called for the mayor of Oakland to resign.
Occupy Wall Street protests are now in their sixth week.
On Wednesday night up to 1,000 people filled the plaza outside Oakland’s City Hall to continue the protest, groups of people marched down the streets, reports said.
And of course, it’s all unfolding online:
Worse, is the news of just who was injured:
The man injured on Tuesday was named as Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old former US marine who, according to his friends, has served two tours in Iraq.
He remains in hospital with a fractured skull, but reports say his condition has improved from critical to fair and the veteran has been moved into an intensive care unit.
He was struck in the head with a heavy object, but it is not known what kind of object or who might have thrown it.
A group called Iraq Veterans Against the War claims it was thrown by police.
Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said an investigation into Mr Olsen’s injury has been raised to a “level one” incident – the highest priority for an internal policy report.
“The irony is not lost on anyone here that this is someone who survived two tours in Iraq and is now seriously injured by the Oakland police force,” Mr Olsen’s friend, Adele Carpenter, told Reuters news agency by phone from the hospital waiting room.
It’s not that military veterans are inherently more valuable than other Americans, but a United States Marine, a guy who put his life on the line for his country while the rich guys were busy getting bailed out, is a compelling figure for the media, and for the vast majority of Americans.
And this isn’t the fist Iraq war veteran to make news as part of these protests. And Glenn Beck can mock them all they want, average Americans will find these people to be more like them than a multimillionaire radio talk show host. Especially now that the media is now regularly reporting on the issues of wealth disparity and the travails of the 99 percent of Americans who aren’t super-rich.
The aftermath: more than 1,000 New York occupy protesters and the same number in Portland, Oregon marched in solidarity with Oakland Wednesday evening. And this was also the week Atlanta police forcibly cleared out protesters, including some who very visibly identified themselves with the civil rights movement, which is so closely associated with that city.
The fear of police crackdowns has been there for awhile, but the fact that in some cases, police may be resorting to force is a bad sign, since it will not only galvanize the protesters to dig in, but it will further the notion that the elite — the top 1 percent — are protected by wealth and iron bars around their gated communities and by the police force run by the government they essentially purchase via elections and lobbyists — from the other 99 percent.
And again, the fact that the protesters included a military veteran — not some random anarchist or stereotypical “hippie” — makes this more poignant.
What we’re looking at, I suspect, is a fundamental change in the prevailing narrative. I can tell you from a news perspective that the occupy protests are not going to be written off. And their presence is prompting more self-reflection in my business about how we cover the economy outside the Beltway and New York, which are fundamentally different in the way the economy is lived, from the rest of the country. In short: this is not going away.
The Guardian is another international news outlet following the occupy story on its homepage. And look for the Greek bailout, which thrilled Wall Street and the international finance community, to produce more anger on the streets there. There are truly two worlds out there: the rich, and the rest. And they’re not on the same page.
Meanwhile, more trouble for the mayor of Oakland.
And the San Francisco Chronicle runs an update on Scott Olsen’s condition at the top of the page.