Before protestors were placed under arrest and escorted by police through the University of New Mexico, they shouted to their future apprehenders “Cops are the 99 percent!” More than a glib rhetorical device aimed at making their voices heard, the (Un)occupy activists were unwittingly or not using a tactical device employed by previous successful protest movements.
Overtures to the police was an important theme in a popular Foreign Policy article titled “Revolution U,” which highlighted the relationship between Egyptian leaders and the social movement that brought forth the Arab spring and a group called Otpor that helped bring down President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia a decade and a half earlier.
From the FP piece:
The other pillar was the police. From the beginning, Otpor had treated the police as allies-in-waiting. Otpor members delivered cookies and flowers to police stations (sometimes with a TV camera in tow). Instead of howling at police during confrontations, Otpor members would cheer them.
The American Independent caught up with Occupy leaders in Dallas and Washington, D.C. to find out if reaching out to the police was a ploy or part of a larger narrative.
Kooper Caraway, head of the Protest Committee in Dallas, was blunt: ”We’re just letting them know we’re not out here protesting, we’re fighting for their children and grand children,” he said. “We’re not nearly naïve enough to think that by telling a police man [they are part of the 99 percent] they’ll let us out of the handcuffs.”
At the larger Occupy movement in Washington D.C., protestors are also working on how they seem to police officers.
“There are various pillars that hold up the power structure, and the police are one of those,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers, a spokesperson for Occupy D.C. who advocates for single-payer healthcare. “A non-violent way of shifting power is to try to weaken those pillars, to help [officers] understand what we’re advocating for them.”
She added: “Police may break from protecting the one percent, and join the 99 percent.”
Flowers said organizing for the D.C. occupy movement began in April, and referenced video of Greek protestors interacting kindly with Athens police during the country’s austerity crisis as inspiration.
Many commentators have noted the Occupy movement has been fairly peaceful, though the events in Oakland may have to an extent undermined that claim. Justin Elliot, a writer for Salon, wrote a critique of the few participants who heaved bottles at Oakland police officers.
It bears repeating: the balance of the reported violence in the Occupy movement has been by the police. Salon’s coverage of occupations in Boston, Washington, and the Rust Belt has found no instance of protesters initiating violence. But it will only take a handful of violent agitators to give right-wing commentators like Limbaugh — as well as the mainstream media — the fodder they need to dismiss protesters as “rioters.”
For these protestors, winning over the police may serve a tactical point, but their message of socio-economic unity resonates with the budget cuts and lost jobs 911 responders have endured.
“We are not out here protesting against the police as an institution, said Caraway. “We protest cuts to public service employees often,” and named police officers specifically as those who are “keeping the community safe, happy, and healthy.
“Those are the last people whose salaries you should cut,” Caraway said.