The Occupy Drift: From Wall Street to Police State

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 23 2011 12:44 PM

The Occupy Drift: From Wall Street to Police State


The stories about the Occupy movement today are not about Wall Street. They're about the state; they're about cops. I've been watching a livestream of a New York press conference, updating the world on the outrage that was the trashing of the "People's Library." One by one, college professors and activists take turns explaining why this was so rotten.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"I truly believe that knowledge is power," says one activist. "To see how the people's work has been thrown out like so much garbage is heartbreaking."


"Precious, rare works connected to the Occupation were destroyed," says a college professor.

"The destruction of this library was an attempt to silence and destroy our movement," says another activist, Mindy Pink. "What kind of a people are we if we can't create a public space where people can share books with each other?"

The photo above, which I take from ThinkProgress, is of the note Occupiers passed to President Obama in New Hampshire. With only a couple of seconds to speak, the protesters wanted the president to focus on, and be shamed by, arrests of comrades. We're not hearing much about the actual demands of the movement. We're hearing about the arrests, and passing around meme/photos of cops shooting pepper spray at kids. Matt Taibbi does yeoman work tying these stories together.

Not to belabor the point, but the person who commits fraud to obtain food stamps goes to jail, while the banker who commits fraud for a million-dollar bonus does not. Or if you accept aid in the form of Section-8 housing, the state may insist on its right to conduct warrantless "compliance check" searches of your home at any time – but if you take billions in bailout aid, you do not even have to open your books to the taxpayer who is the de facto owner of your company.
The state wants to retain the power to make these subjective decisions, because being allowed to selectively enforce the law effectively means they have despotic power. And who wants to lose that?

This makes sense, and given what the protesters are facing out there, it would be crazy if they didn't focus on it. In the waning days of the Wisconsin protests, there was an outsized focus on whether or not protesters would be allowed to keep sleeping in the state capitol building -- also tangential to the cause. The difference: There was an obvious electoral goal to shoot for after the capitol stopped being occupied. The goal was defeating Republicans in recall elections. (I spotted "Recall Scott Walker" signs within seconds of getting to the capitol.) The cops and firefighters who'd been hassled by trying to keep the situation under control stayed on the liberal team, getting out Democratic votes.

I'm not sure if the Occupy movement will kep that alliance. The critique of the state here is more radical than the D/R dynamic allows for. If Occupying becomes a quest for the right to stop being hassled by cops when you build libraries in parks, it serves a purpose. But it doesn't serve the 99 percent. It serves some smaller population of angry dreamers -- dreamers who don't recognize that they're asking for this state to flex its power to redistribute and regulate wealth.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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