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Robert Creamer

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Mayors Who Attempt to End Occupy Protests Are on the Wrong Side of History

Posted: 11/16/11 11:10 AM ET

Over the last few days there has been what appears to be a coordinated attempt by many of the nation's mayors to end the Occupy Wall Street protests that have swept the country -- and much of the world.

Many justifications have been given: concerns about "sanitation," drug overdoses, the violation of noise ordinances, isolated assaults. But what do you expect? The Occupy encampments involve tens of thousands of people. Those are the kinds of problems that develop when you have groups of thousands of people.

In reality, the Occupy Movement has done a remarkable job coping with these everyday problems of governing large numbers of people in small spaces. In fact, I would bet that the instance of most of these problems in the Occupy encampments is far less prevalent per capita than most places in America.

Of course, there are sanitation issues that have to be addressed -- ever see the National Mall after a fourth of July fireworks festival? That's the nature of large crowds -- so work with the Occupy groups to solve them. But don't use "sanitation" as a pretense to try to end this important movement.

The bottom line is that the Occupy protests are disruptive. That's the idea. That's the idea of any serious protest movement: to be disruptive -- to stop business as usual -- to force the media and the society at large to focus on a critical, fundamental problem.

When Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus in Montgomery she was being "disruptive." So was the bus boycott that followed.

When the sit-down strikers that founded the United Auto Workers refused to leave the plants in Flint, Michigan in the 1930's, they were being "disruptive."

When Gandhi led tens of thousands of Indians in the civil disobedience that ultimately toppled British Imperialism, he was being "disruptive."

When thousands of Wisconsin workers refused to leave the State Capitol in Madison earlier this year, they were being "disruptive."

When the people of Egypt occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo they were being "disruptive."

The protesters who dumped tea into Boston harbor in 1773 were being "disruptive."

The idea of the Occupy Movement is to occupy Wall Street and other public spaces to demand that American government and business pay attention to the elephant in the room -- the exploding inequality in wealth and power between the 99% and the 1%.

The pundits who charge that the Occupy Movement doesn't have demands must be on another planet. They may not like their demand -- but the Occupy Movement has a very clear demand: end that inequality of wealth and power -- and end it now.

Protest movements that change history are always "disruptive" of the status quo. The mayors who are so concerned that Occupy is "disruptive" should instead turn their attention to the level of disruption caused by Wall Street, when its greed and reckless speculation collapsed the world economy cost eight million Americans their jobs and caused a recession that has lasted over three years. Now that's "disruption." And that's exactly what the Occupy Wall Street Movement is demanding be changed.

Some of these mayors are good people. But they are focusing on small-bore problems without backing up at the chart to look at the bigger picture.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement is not just a group of random protesters. They have spawned a critically important historic, worldwide movement that is born of the most fundamental problem facing American society -- the future of the American Dream -- the future of the middle class. The future of democracy.

Years from now people will look back at video of police in riot gear rousting Occupy protesters, whom they will remember as heroes of American democracy.

The question for these mayors is what they want their grandkids to think of them as they watch that video.

Will school children in 50 years think of them the way they think of Bull Connor as he ordered civil rights protesters driven from parks with fire hoses? Will their actions be described in the same narrative as Herbert Hoover's orders to remove the Bonus Marchers from Washington in the Great Depression?

The one thing we know from history is that once a movement that is rooted in a demand for justice has taken root, attempts to destroy it with brute force almost always make it stronger. And those who attempt to destroy these movements almost always fail.

This is a moment when mayors across the country need to look into their mirror, and decide which side they're on.

Whatever their intentions, the mayors who have acted to end the Occupy protests around America over the last few days are on the wrong side of history.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

 
 
 

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