Police interventions fire up Occupy protesters

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 16, 2011 

WASHINGTON — After getting pepper-sprayed Tuesday night in downtown Seattle, 84-year-old Dorli Rainey of the Occupy Seattle movement felt fired up, ready for more protesting.

And like many other Occupy activists and social-trend analysts Wednesday, she said that similar police confrontations taking place across the country will have a predictable effect.

"It just grows the movement," Rainey said.

As they prepare for a "national day of action" on Thursday, protesters from Seattle to New York are feeling energized, preparing to turn out perhaps the biggest crowds yet of the 2-month-old Occupy Wall Street movement. Unions and liberal groups are teaming up with Occupy groups across the country in an attempt to boost the turnouts.

With thousands expected to participate, all eyes will be on the police, who have cracked down on protesters from coast to coast in recent days.

Marchers are expected to take to the streets in major cities including Seattle, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Portland, Ore., Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Washington.

In Washington, protesters hope to form a human chain that will stretch from Georgetown across the Key Bridge into Virginia. The rallies and marches are intended to draw attention to bridges across the country that could be repaired to create more jobs.

David Schultz, a professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., predicted that protesters will try to provoke police in an attempt to win public sympathy for their cause, noting that it was a winning strategy during the Vietnam War.

But, he said: "Police have gotten smarter in 40 years."

Thad Kousser, a political scientist at the University of California-San Diego, said the police interventions have been "good for the movement" because they shine attention on the protests.

"You want to go out in a blaze of glory, rather than just petering out," he said. "The worst thing that could happen to this movement is that people could abandon their tents during a time when no one's really noticing. You want to be forced out by the cops — that way you never retreated, you were pushed out by the man."

One protester at New York's Zuccotti Park — where, a judge ruled Tuesday, protesters will no longer be allowed to bring in tents, tarps or sleeping bags — agreed Wednesday.

"King didn't need a tent, Gandhi didn't need a tent, we don't need a tent," said Nocolas de Mones, 20.

Kousser said the police clashes will serve to "fast-forward the movement to its second act ... and it leads to a dramatic close of the first act."

Heather Gautney, a sociology professor at Fordham University in New York, said Thursday's protests have the potential to get ugly in New York, where marchers plan to block the Brooklyn Bridge.

The action in New York follows Mayor Michael Bloomberg's order of an early morning raid Tuesday to clear protesters from Zuccotti Park, in Manhattan.

"When the mayor — and a mayor who's a billionaire, by the way — sends a police force to guard Wall Street and use force against peaceful protesters, that plays right in the hands of this movement's narrative," Gautney said.

Zucotti Park protesters were notably fewer Wednesday, under 100, perhaps owing as much to the rain as to the police clearance the night before. But they were unbowed.

"We gotta keep doing it," said Evelyn Talarico, 66. "Keep going, going, going, no matter what it takes. If we can fight the weather, we can fight the government."

Marshall Ganz, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, said the actions of police so far "simply strengthen the cause" of the protesters.

"By putting their bodies on the line, so to speak, by occupying these parks and places across the country, what they've done is created a kind of moral urgency for an issue that needed to be urgent, and now is urgent," he said.

One analyst, Stephen Duncombe, an associate professor of media and cultural studies at New York University, said it was time for the Occupy movement to move on to broader engagement with political ideas anyway, and not dwell on confrontation with police.

"The goal was never to Occupy Wall Street. The goal was to foster a critique of the present system and imagine an alternative," said Duncombe. "In some ways, one could argue that the NYPD did them a big favor."

Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism, sociology and communications at Columbia University who helped lead protests against the Vietnam War, predicted that Thursday's demonstrations "are going to be very big."

He said that police actions are bringing out "extremities of feelings," adding: "I think a lot of people feel that their energy is restoked by this."

That's certainly the case with Rainey, a longtime activist who said she feared she'd get trampled when she got pepper-sprayed Tuesday night. She said a young Iraq War veteran helped her get off the ground as police pushed protesters back and helicopters whirred overhead.

"He saved my neck," Rainey said.

Rainey said she still had a cough and a lump in her throat in Wednesday but was doing fine otherwise, ready to return to action.

"We just cannot let them win," she said.

(Hotakainen reported from Washington D.C., Palmer, a McClatchy special correspondent, from New York.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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