RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Corps' Job is to Beat Down the 99 Percent

On the TV news Thanksgiving week, there were pictures of kids with bloody heads, wiping pepper spray from their eyes. This was, the 1% thought, a fitting grand finale for the Occupiers. They said the kids were just too unsanitary. And, weirdly, the violence was greatest on the West Coast, from Oakland, Davis and Berkeley, Calif.

Now don’t get all Michael Savage about it, the mayhem can happen anywhere. There’s a major disconnect between the 1% at the top and the 99% at the bottom, and the top dogs don’t want to talk. Instead, they want it to go away. Quietly. And if it doesn’t, they’ll hurt someone. Here’s another way to think about it: The encampments are part of the new normal. The 1% got their yachts, complete with porta-potties and handwashing stations. So give the homeless porta-potties and handwashing stations, and let them stay. The only difference I can see between the encampments and what we should call normal homelessness is that the encampments are visible, and in prosperous parts of the city. Instead of being hidden away in the wild woods, the beaches, vacant lots, or alleys, OWS homeless folks, young and old, educated and not, are out in plain view in plain daylight.

If we can’t stand it, and we can’t avoid it, maybe we’ll start fixing it. Bashing heads is not the solution. For all of us, there are too many ironies to list: The cops are part of the 99%. The unemployed, homeless, union members and students holding down the sites of OWS are using tools — cell phones, tweets, Facebook pages — provided by the system that exports jobs.

The violence doesn’t fix anything. It just gets people upset, engages them. Robert Hass, a former US poet laureate, wrote for the New York Times about Berkeley. Hearing that there had been violence in broad daylight, he wrote, “I wanted to see what was going to happen and how the police behaved, and how the students behaved. If there was trouble, we wanted to be there to do what we could to protect the students.” What he saw was a phalanx of police, an imitation bad movie. One of them reached out, shoved Hass’s wife and knocked her down. As she scrambled to her feet, the cops moved toward them, using their clubs to “hammer at the bodies of the line of students … They swung hard into their chests and bellies … If the students turned away, they pounded their ribs. If they turned further away to escape, they hit them on their spines.”

Hass reported that there was no warning for the violence and that it stopped as suddenly as it started, as soon as the cops got to the tents and removed them.

Hass’s ribs were beaten, and he was sore. Geoffrey O’Brien, another poet, had a broken rib. Celeste Langan, a Wordsworth scholar, was dragged by her hair. So that’s the strategy: Get the English Department.

Now this column could go off on the power of words versus the power of clubs, but it won’t. Instead, let’s talk business and economics. It is the Christmas season, after all, the season of money.

Fighting is expensive and wasteful. For some of the 1%, violence is a profit center, pumping up their 401Ks. Who makes the police helmets? Who makes the clubs? Who makes tear gas and guns? Still, the 1% should know that fighting never ends. It gets the media out so that those of us at home, cushy on the sofa, look and say, “Oh, my God. Another Kent State? I need to be there.” And stuff gets worse. More blood. More media. More pissed-off people. More waste. Turning a hundred cops out for 6 or 8 hours of standoff and mayhem probably cost the taxpayers a bundle. Probably more than the $16,000 that average Berkeley students rack up in debt. Put the money into porta-potties or scholarships. And, for the police in that line, shame. They know that they’re the 99%. Their kids, the ones that made them so proud by going to college? Those are the kids in OWS. The police know this; police are smart men and women. Trouble is, they’re trained to follow orders, and, those that give the orders are shameless.

The 1% should review history — all the attack dogs, water cannons, rubber bullets — destroy the credibility of the powerful. Mahatma Gandhi had it right: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. And then you win.”

Bottom line: there’s no sense in fighting with Occupy Wall Street. OWS are our kids and neighbors. Instead of shooting pepper spray, the 1% could pay fair wages. How did they get so rich, anyway? It’s not by paying fair wages or for resources stolen from common people.

What if the 1% got creative and tried to solve the problems? Paid fairly? Invested in education for unemployed folks? What if they awarded scholarships to institutes that teach skills to the unemployed?

Then the kids would have money to spend on the stuff that’s supposed to make the economy hum. Then you’d have solutions to the consumer-less economy.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2011

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