Dr. King does not care about a Monument, His Grandchildren are Marching Arm in Arm
News is by now getting around that today there were mass arrests
of Occupy Wall Street protesters—700 or more—on the Brooklyn Bridge. As
over a thousand marchers made their way toward the bridge a few minutes
after 3 p.m., they split into two groups. Some followed members of the
Direct Action Committee who led the way up the elevated pedestrian
walkway in the middle of the bridge. Another group, however, broke away
and took to the Brooklyn-bound road on the bridge’s south side,
eventually filling the whole roadway so that no traffic could get
through. The front row of them locked arms and proceeded. At first,
police had blocked neither entrance.“That was not planned at all,” Direct Action Committee member Sandy
Nurse told me, looking down from the pedestrian walkway onto those
marching on the roadway. “I think there’s a lot of people in that group
that don’t realize what they’re getting into.”
Before the marchers on the roadway reached the first stone tower, and
having been led by a phalanx of senior police officers, they were
intercepted from the other side. (Even The New York Times offers
evidence that the police may have purposely planned to lure marchers
into a trap.) Out came dozens of dark-blue shirted officers with plastic
cuffs—actually, cardboard boxes full of them. Some officers unrolled
the same type of orange nets they had used the previous Saturday to make
nearly 100 arrests, while others lined up opposite the protesters,
halted them, and began to apprehend and cuff them, one by one.
For a few minutes, the scene was very tense, as could be observed
from above on the pedestrian walkway, where hundreds more marchers were
passing by. On the roadway, there were scuffles as some force used
against those being apprehended. “This Is a Peaceful Protest!” people
chanted. And: “No! Sleep! Till Brooklyn!“ But soon the whole process
assumed the appearance of routine, and, for those waiting to be taken
away, of solemn dignity.
At the front and back, with the crowd of marchers on the roadway
surrounded on three sides by nets, police continued cuffing them and
leading them away, one at a time. Slowly. Most of the marchers sat down
and waited. “If you sit down, there is no fear,” called one marcher,
each phrase echoed by the others in the “people’s microphone.” They
talked, and smoked cigarettes, sang songs, and chanted. Many smiled as
they were led away.
Meanwhile, more police arrived on the pedestrian walkway, and they
used more nets to cordon off the area directly in front of where the
arrests were happening. And so it went on and on over the course of
hours, as police vans and city buses arrived to take away those
arrested. It started raining—lightly, at first, and then hard.
The several hundred marchers who had been on the pedestrian walkway
and had been turned back down to the Manhattan side rallied at the base
of the bridge. They marched around some in the rain, including to 1
Police Plaza to demand the release of their comrades. Then they debated
where to go next, and finally agreed to return to Liberty Plaza. On the
way, they were joined by several hundred more, who had made it to
Brooklyn on the pedestrian walkway and returned on the Manhattan Bridge.
As a mass, together, they all returned with a sense of victory to the
It was dark by then. Dinner was ready, and they celebrated and
started planning the next move.
This was the second major Saturday march halted by a mass arrest,
largely on account of obstructing traffic. One might wonder, however,
whether causing such an obstruction is really the proper mode of civil
disobedience given the purposes of the protest. It’s helpful to recall a
maxim of Gene Sharp’s: “Either you do something you’re not supposed to
do, or you don’t something you are supposed to do.” To put it another
way: do something good that’s against the law, or refuse to do something
bad that the law demands of you.
Creating such an obstruction certainly does fulfill the purpose of
occupation—it is a way of reclaiming public space, of being heard, and
of stopping business as usual. But it also obstructs a lot of people who
are not the protest’s targets. Therefore, this may not be the most
appropriate law to be arrested for breaking—or at least not the one that
sends the clearest message.
What might be better? Perhaps something along the lines of Tim
DeChristopher’s well-known obstruction of an illegal oil and gas lease
auction, for instance. In this and other classic cases of civil
disobedience, from Gandhi’s salt march, to the sit-ins at segregated
lunch counters, to the Freedom Rides, to Rosa Parks’ choice of seat on a
Montgomery bus, resisters took care to break the precise laws or rules
or customs that they opposed. Their message, even without having to say
anything, was absolutely evident. Especially since many people complain
that there isn’t enough clarity of message from Occupy Wall Street, more
clarity of action might go a long way to winning even more people to
the rapidly-growing cause.
Today, hundreds of people were arrested, many surely for the first
time. More seem likely to follow. The world was watching (including tens
of thousands on the movement’s livestream TV channel), and what it saw
were entirely peaceful protesters, in the streets to oppose an unjust
economy and a corrupt political order, being arrested en masse while
bringing their messages across one of New York’s greatest landmarks.
This article was originally published on WagingNonViolence.Org
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