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Let Wall Street Beware a Risen People

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The Occupy Wall Street protests begin in Los Angeles today. The Mayor and City Council should acknowledge the justice of their cause. The LAPD should treat them with courtesy. The financial powers should consider that their day of reckoning.

Of course the protests might come and go like a gust in the wind. But the wind is here to stay. The organizers are coming to fan it along, through the October 6 demonstrations and the American Dreamers meeting in DC next week.

No one can know where the wind will blow. The protests which are spreading are so far thin in numbers, organization and outreach. But sometimes the wind blows sparks.

This is no Seattle, where 70,000 trade unionists were assembled, where the clear and creative goal was to stop the functioning of secretive World Trade Organization for a week. This is not Wisconsin, where the present stirrings began, and where tens of thousands of people occupied the freezing Capitol grounds for months against the Tea Party's plan to strip away political and economic democracy.

And this is most definitely not Cairo, though Cairo is an inspiration. The sit-ins of 1960 were the invention of young black students, but it was also a year that celebrated the independence of twenty African states.

If the only response of the establishment to this spreading protest is to send in the police with pepper spray, batons, dragging nets, and undercover informers and provocateurs, that bankrupt act on behalf of the filthy rich could inflame hundreds of thousands to respond. Virtually every inner city uprising (riot, call them what you will) of the late 1960s began with a specific incident of police brutality, for example, an assault on a Newark cab driver in 1967. That's all it took, and it could happen again. Unlikely? Yes, of course. But the future begins by surprise, by accident.

It is not the business of the police to protect the lawbreakers of Wall Street or carry out the suppressive counter-intelligence agenda of the FBI. It should not be the role of the police to provoke a new cycle of law-and-order politics to benefit those who already have all the benefits. The police instead should look carefully at Wisconsin where, in a rare act of union solidarity, the police and firefighters took the side of the teachers, students and public employees in spite of the governor's policy of exempting them from his assault on collective bargaining. A traditional confrontation between police and protesters was averted in Wisconsin. Instead, the forces of "law and order" there aided and abetted the daily occupation of the Capitol by singing, chanting nonviolent occupiers. That's a possibility of solidarity the rich and powerful of Wall Street need to fear.

It is true that candles and fires inevitably burn out. The question may be what sparks are carried on the next wind, or how the embers are tended. Some may want to prove that there's only one righteous torch, one holy vanguard of fire carriers. We shall see. But the Wisconsin movement shows the example of many torch carriers blazing many paths. Not everyone can camp out around the one fire. Those who encamp also have to make a long march through the institutions, in the long ago words of Rudi Dutschke.

Sparks differ from words. Sparks ignite passion in others. Words engage the multitudes who are paying attention, who will do their part, if they feel this is about them. Words like: end these wars, invest in jobs, regulate and tax Wall Street, protect the future. In just six months, next May, both sparks and words may matter very greatly when the powers of NATO and the G-8 will gather in Chicago for five days. Think of it: all those responsible for the long wars, the financial crisis, the growing unemployment and budget cuts, and the erosion of the planet's life support systems... all of them. Think of the possibilities, a global protest of global power. Could this be where the winds are blowing?

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