|The future of the Occupy movement hangs in balance, as the harsh winter approaches New York City [GALLO/GETTY]|
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is talking tough again, darkly hinting that he may have to take action to shut down Occupy Wall Street. He now claims that the community in Lower Manhattan is upset by the occupation of Zuccotti Park and he must heed their wishes.
The problems: there have been cases of urination and defecation. The drumming is too loud. There is a seeming fear of violence from the street people and homeless the park seems to be attracting.
So it appears that his honour has found a new pretext to send the police in to clear the park. He has already sent his cops to arrest alleged law breakers in the encampment, accompanied by headlines urging “get tough”.
In the eyes of much of the press, the endgame is in sight because the protesters just don’t know how to act, how to be responsible. The New York Times reports in a Friday page one report: “Demonstrators Test Mayor, a Backer of Wall Street and Free Speech.” Even some Democrats have joined in calls for a crackdown in the name of keeping the upper class neighbours safe and sound.
As in many stories, however, what’s not said is often what’s most important.
First, after the last merry-go-round with a top city official who claims to support free speech – but perhaps in some other city – Occupy Wall Street met with community groups. They cleaned the park thoroughly. They cut back the hours of drumming to two. They set up a liaison to respond to complaints and enunciated a “Good Neighbour Policy”.
As for the expulsion of bodily waste, the Occupation has offered to rent “porta-potties”, those mobile toilets that are used in all public events. The City and the real estate company that owns the park has said no. Don’t you think they know what happens when people have nowhere to go, as the weather gets colder? Maybe they feel the need to encourage more waste and chaos?
The Occupation also suggested that the City Sanitation Department move some dumpsters into place in the park. Again, the answer was no.
“I want to see somebody – some CEO, some CFO – punished criminally.“
– Ed Koch, former Mayor of New York City
So two of the most cited problems have solutions that officials reject.
As for homeless people, Occupy Wall Street security has reported that city correctional officials and some welfare officers have actively encouraged homeless people to go to a park where they will be fed and can sleep.
Occupy Wall Street has strict rules against drug use and alcohol use. But they can’t always enforce them against people who have been encouraged to go to the park to, among other things, cause trouble.
In other words, city officials, who are expressing so much agitation are actually exacerbating the problems, and then pointing to them as a reason the occupation must be forced to end. The cops also have spies in the park and are monitoring developments closely. They had repeatedly refused to protect the park from the presence of predators – who they now blame on the protest.
Unfortunately, many media outlets are not interested in probing for the causes of problems and just focus on the effects.
Fox News is hostile to the protests, and so can be counted on to throw out every negative they can find. Earlier efforts to stigmatise the protests as anti-Semitic failed. Now they are stoking fears of more chaos.
Politics is what is driving the increasingly hard-line opposition, not pride in civic improvement.
Forced to take drastic ‘action’
A day before the mayor indicated that he may just have to “take action”, he criticised the protesters for focusing on Wall Street. Congress is to blame, he insisted, politicians not financiers. Few media outlets noted that Bloomberg made his fortune on Wall Street and his news company serves its customers. This conflict of interest is blatant, but rarely noted.
That the one per cent which protesters are denouncing are sticking together is not surprising. The mayor is demonstrably on their side.
An earlier mayor, Ed Koch, who has turned more conservative in his later years than even the Republican Bloomberg, is not quite so willing to let Wall Street off the hook.
The NY Daily News reported him saying: “I do believe in punishment.” Koch then went on to blast the SEC for only fining Wall Street titans such as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup for their financial misconduct.
“What the hell do they care? That’s the cost of doing business,” Koch said of the banks. “I want to see somebody – some CEO, some CFO – punished criminally.”
The reason Bloomberg doesn’t like Occupy Wall Street is because he likes Wall Street (especially while his police are occupying the place).
He believes in punishment too – punishing protesters.
Fox News carried a complaint about the excessive (and expensive) police uber-presence there because a restaurant owner says it is keeping business away and forcing him to close. Fox went on, of course, to blame the occupiers for the restaurant’s decision to lay off workers.
After all, you couldn’t have so many cops, if there weren’t so many protesters.
And around and around we go
Many New Yorkers seem obsessed with the protests. As the comedy channels satirise it, a New York Times business editor noted that an article the newspaper carried on the latest financial fraud drew ten comments from readers before anyone tried to blame the problem on Occupy Wall Street – the latest whipping boy in the financial crisis.
In other cities, there have been violent attacks on the Occupy Movement. Activists in Oakland, California, called for a general strike to defend their right to peacefully and non-violently protest.
Musician Boots Riley who is part of the organising effort said: “We’re ushering in a new phase in organising. It’s a one-day general strike. It’s a warning shot. It’s beyond saying that ‘we are the 99 per cent’. This is showing that the 99 per cent can be organised, that we won’t be limited to the rules and regulations that unions have confined themselves to in the last 60 years.”
The general strike, as a tactic, has not been that successful in the United States – because it requires a major organising effort, far more than appeals on the internet or in press releases. Noam Chomsky was sympathetic but cautioned protesters “to build and educate first, strike later”.
Many in the Occupy movement are criticising violent incidents in Oakland that counteract their policies of non-violence.
If the Occupy movement had not been as successful as it has been in broadening the national conversation to include the issues of economic equality, it would not be drawing as much hostile flack from the press or politicians.
Many Democrats fear an activist movement can hurt their re-election prospects by focusing on unsolved problems. Others see it as a direct challenge to months of debate on the need to cut deficits and impose austerity.
To date, this movement has survived snowstorms and police attacks. Its tougher challenges may have just begun.
News Dissector Danny Schechter is a blogger, author and filmmaker. His latest DVD is Plunder: the Crime of Our Time. He also hosts News Dissector Radio on ProgressiveRadioNetwork.com. Comments to Dissector@mediachannel.org
Follow Danny Schechter on Twitter: @dissectorevents
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.