Tuesday, October 25, 2011

To the Barricades?

The Governor of New York ordered his state troopers to clear the Occupy protesters out of Albany, but the troopers decided not to try. They knew they were outnumbered and that they would not be able to control the protesters if they resisted arrest. The police in Oakland, California used teargas to disperse the protesters there. Some people on the scene said that the police had fired non-lethal projectiles at the protesters. Police in Chicago arrested more than one hundred protesters who refused to leave a city park where they had harmlessly camped out.

All over the country, police are trying to figure out what to do about the protesters, and the protesters are trying to decide how they want to protest. So far, no one has been seriously hurt. So far, the protesters have been peaceful. So far, no one has had to stay in jail more than a few hours. So far, the police have been restrained. History tells us this will probably not last.

No one knows how this will all end. In all likelihood, at some point the police in some of these cities will plant agent provocateurs among the protesters and have them throw bottles or rocks, so that the police will have an excuse for becoming violent. The press will initially accept the police story that the protesters became violent and that the police had to respond with force in order to protect innocent people and property. Later on, the truth may come out.

Once the police initiate violence against the protesters, most people will probably stay away from the protests, both because they will be afraid of being hurt by the police, and because Americans are peaceful people who won't want to have anything to do with violence, regardless of which side started the violence. If the scenario unfolds this way, the police will succeed in quashing the protests. People will feel dejected that the protests did not succeed in changing the country, and things will just keep getting worse. That is the most likely way the Occupy movement will end.

But successful police repression of the movement is not the inevitable outcome. It is possible that Americans will become outraged if the police use excessive force, as happened in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention of 1968. If the police get totally out of control, public opinion may become galvanized, as happened when Ohio National Guardsmen killed students at Kent State University. It is possible that the public will pour into the streets in support of the protest, as has happened any number of times around the world when people start to believe that they can make a difference, even if the police do not continue their efforts to stifle the protests.

The outcome of the Occupy protests will depend upon how committed some people are, how upset other people get, and how foolishly the police react. Nothing is predestined, which means there is hope.

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