In this time of corporate excess and escalating income inequality, perhaps the political elite and their well-heeled supporters have forgotten that this is a nation that was born of revolution.
On Saturday, the New York Police Department arrested more than 700 protesters marching over the Brooklyn Bridge as part of Occupy Wall Street, the loose-knit protest movement railing against income inequality in this country and for good jobs. The number of arrests is startling. But the greater outrage is how these arrests appear to have taken place.
Witnesses in multiple media accounts reported that demonstrators appear to have been led, if not lured, onto the bridge’s roadway by police brass, who stopped a third of the way across to Brooklyn, while officers dropped orange nets around the demonstrators and then arrested them en masse.
Police told reporters they first announced that those who went onto the roadway would be arrested. This, too, was corroborated. But what remains unclear is why police then led a large group onto the bridge, why no effort was made to block entrance onto the roadway and whether those in the back of the parade had any idea they were violating the law.
“The cops watched and did nothing, indeed, seemed to guide us onto the roadway,” Jesse A. Myerson, a media coordinator for Occupy Wall Street told The New York Times.
One witness, Etan Ben-Ami, 56, a psychotherapist from Brooklyn who was up on the walkway, gave an account to The Times that seemed to corroborate Myerson. “It seemed completely permitted,” Ben-Ami said. “There wasn’t a single policeman saying ‘don’t do this.'”
[In a blog I found after filing this, Netasha Lennard, a New York Times correspondent who was near the front of the march and among those arrested, suggests those in front of the crowd knew they were defying police, but that as the numbers of those piling onto the roadway grew, it appeared police would allow the march.]
Until, that is, the mass arrests. If it is the goal of the New York Police Department to add fuel to the movement, than these actions seem to have accomplished it. Late radio reports on NPR said that the number of those camping in Zuccotti Park in New York is growing.
Meanwhile the Occupy Wall Street protests are beginning to gain international attention, as in this report in London’s Guardian. And they are slowly spreading to other cities in the United States, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times and Monday’s The Boston Globe.
It’s still too early to tell whether the curious crowd of campers in New York or next to Boston’s South Station, among other places, will remain for the long haul or dissipate if and when reporters get bored with their so-far somewhat fuzzy protest.
But it seems clear, with official unemployment over 9 percent and real un- and under-employment hitting roughly one in six Americans, that frustration with joblessness, with inequity and with lack of accountability of banks, brokerage firms and multinational institutions is ample tinder for the right match.
Americans are angry, and they should be.
Now that the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen United has made it that much easier for American corporations to pour money into political campaigns, those in Congress seem less responsive than ever to the needs of “average” Americans — i.e., anyone other than those wealthy Americans who make large contributions to keep their already low taxes down.
But despite the confusion of the high court, “real people” are not corporations. They are individuals and, in this country, individuals with a strong sense of fairness. They are not easily cowed, not even by uniforms or the threat of arrest. If anything such actions, especially if they seem to be carried out by trickery, are likely to spawn more action.