OWS Is Not a ‘Balloon-Carrying Sidewalk March’

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Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Since almost the very beginning of Occupy Wall Street, police versus protestors has been one of the clearest themes of the occupation, almost as sharply drawn as the 1 percent versus the 99 percent. The protests, after all, got their first big publicity bump when Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna was caught on tape pepper-spraying a 24-year-old woman, Kaylee Dedrick, who today will meet with Manhattan prosecutors to discuss the charges she's pressing.

What this weekend's march through Times Square, where 92 OWS demonstrators were arrested, made even more clear is that protestors are specifically "courting confrontation," as WNYC puts it. Part of that is, obviously, that arrests grab headlines. But it also places the demonstration firmly in a specific tradition of civil disobedience. "They're going to jump a barricade here or there," Brendan Burke, who heads up security for the demonstrators at Zuccotti Park, told WNYC "and they're going to keep this a protest rather than a balloon-carrying sidewalk march." Parades are for celebrations, not social change, essentially.

But exactly how aggressive OWS should get in preserving is a topic of internal debate:


According to Ashley Cunningham, another direct action organizer, "there are people that would kick over a barricade and say that's non-violent, there are folks that would call that violent." She said the discussion among protesters had also included the breaking of windows, which took place during the weekend protests in Rome.

For Cunningham, confrontation with the police is necessary in order to ultimately change such laws.

"Challenging something like barricades in a situation like a public march with 10,000 march, it's not just symbolic," she said. "It's taking back space in an urban environment, which is a political act, and people realizing that we have a constitutional right to assemble and the barricades are impeding that process and infringing upon people's civil liberties."

It's not just a matter of remaining true to principles of civil disobedience, though. There's a certain point where demonstrators would lose the crucial sympathy card that's made their police-baiting so successful. Toppling barricades almost certainly doesn't cross it; broken windows almost certainly would.

Earlier: NYPD Arrests 92 in Saturday’s Occupy Wall Street Demonstrations
What Will Become of Occupy Wall Street: A Protest Historian’s Guide
Wall Street Protesters Increasingly Court Confrontation, Arrests [WNYC]