This video was taken at Occupy UC Davis yesterday: police deploying pepper-spray on peaceful demonstrators as though spraying for cockroaches. It is an image that will be hard to shake. This is what an unthinking response to the constitutional right of peaceful protest threatens to devolve into. Our fundamental rights, as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms calls them, are historically the last guarantee of personal freedom we achieve, and they are always in danger of being the first to go.
It’s a tribute to the resiliency of the Occupy movement that, even with co-ordinated police efforts to level encampments by force where necessary, the attitude on the right has evidently become that nothing but its complete eradication will do. MSNBC reports:
A well-known Washington lobbying firm with links to the financial industry has proposed an $850,000 plan to take on Occupy Wall Street and politicians who might express sympathy for the protests, according to a memo obtained by the MSNBC program “Up w/ Chris Hayes.”
The proposal was written on the letterhead of the lobbying firm Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford and addressed to one of CLGC’s clients, the American Bankers Association.
CLGC’s memo proposes that the ABA pay CLGC $850,000 to conduct “opposition research” on Occupy Wall Street in order to construct “negative narratives” about the protests and allied politicians. The memo also asserts that Democratic victories in 2012 would be detrimental for Wall Street and targets specific races in which it says Wall Street would benefit by electing Republicans instead.
According to the memo, if Democrats embrace OWS, “This would mean more than just short-term political discomfort for Wall Street. … It has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye.”
The memo also suggests that Democratic victories in 2012 should not be the ABA’s biggest concern. “… (T)he bigger concern,” the memo says, “should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies.”
Two of the memo’s authors, partners Sam Geduldig and Jay Cranford, previously worked for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Geduldig joined CLGC before Boehner became speaker; Cranford joined CLGC this year after serving as the speaker’s assistant for policy. A third partner, Steve Clark, is reportedly “tight” with Boehner, according to a story by Roll Call that CLGC features on its website.
This attitude is consistent with the future such people appear to be rehearsing for: the police dispatched as a paramilitary force willing to resort to violence, along with “negative narratives” to discredit protest and intimidate anyone who sympathizes. For those invested in the status quo, constitutional rights turn out not to matter as much as the handful of municipal ordinances that are conveniently assumed to supersede them. The OWS demonstrators, meanwhile, show no sign of capitulation, despite escalating violence against them, including the dangerous use of sonic cannons brought in to clear Zuccotti Park. Authorities everywhere seem inclined to make the same mistake. As we’ve seen with the Arab Spring, officially-sanctioned violence reinforces the commitment to protest by verifying the problems that led to it in the first place.
Update: The pepper-spraying police officer in the above video is Lt. John Pike. A Facebook page calling for his arrest appeared today.