Heather Gautney: Occupy Wall Street and the History of Force

Roundup: Media's Take

Heather Gautney, PhD, is an assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University and author of Protest and Organization in the Alternative Globalization Era (Palgrave Macmillan).

Over the past few weeks, increasingly irritated and trigger-happy local officials have received glimpses of “people power” as they’ve amped up efforts to clear Occupy camps around the country, including New York’s Zuccotti Park on Monday night. But if history tells us anything, it’s that unwieldy, nonviolent and relatively modest movements can actually take down giants—and that implements of force are no match for the collective will of the people.

Such acts of police aggression are fast becoming the shame of our nation. Intended to deter, they actually amplify the Occupy movement’s narrative of fighting domination and corruption....

Public outcry will help put these mayors in their place. But without a peep from the Feds, state violence in other municipalities is rapidly devolving into a sadistic free-for-all.  From Atlanta to Denver to Portland, police are bullying nonviolent protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, jailing people like criminals. Police only apologize after the fact, when incriminating YouTube videos stream on the evening news.

What they are failing to understand is that brutality and force don’t quell the leadership of a movement, they draw it forth in even fuller form.

After all, a dose of adversity has always been good medicine for movements aiming to cure the ills of social inequality. At the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, for example, some 600 peaceful demonstrators in Alabama began a march from Selma to Montgomery, fighting for the right to vote. Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by a formidable police line, led by the infamous Sheriff Jim Clark. Clark and his posse pushed the protesters back over the bridge with tear gas and beat some of them to near death....

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