America’s politicians, it seems, have had their fill of democracy. Across the country, police, acting under orders from local officials, are breaking up protest encampments set up by supporters of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement – sometimes with shocking and utterly gratuitous violence.
In the worst incident so far, hundreds of police, dressed in riot gear, surrounded Occupy Oakland’s encampment and fired rubber bullets (which can be fatal), flash grenades and tear-gas canisters – with some officers taking aim directly at demonstrators. The Occupy Oakland Twitter feed read like a report from Cairo’s Tahrir Square: “they are surrounding us”; “hundreds and hundreds of police”; “there are armoured vehicles and Hummers”. There were 170 arrests.
My own recent arrest, while obeying the terms of a permit and standing peacefully on a street in lower Manhattan, brought the reality of this crackdown close to home. America is waking up to what was built while it slept: Private companies have hired away its police (JPMorgan Chase gave $4.6m to the New York City Police Foundation); the federal Department of Homeland Security has given small municipal police forces military-grade weapons systems; citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and assembly have been stealthily undermined by opaque permit requirements.
Suddenly, the United States looks like the rest of the furious, protesting, not-completely-free world. Indeed, most commentators have not fully grasped that a world war is occurring. But it is unlike any previous war in human history: for the first time, people around the world are not identifying and organising themselves along national or religious lines, but rather in terms of a global consciousness and demands for a peaceful life, a sustainable future, economic justice and basic democracy. Their enemy is a global “corporatocracy” that has purchased governments and legislatures, created its own armed enforcers, engaged in systemic economic fraud, and plundered treasuries and ecosystems.
Around the world, peaceful protesters are being demonised for being disruptive. But democracy is disruptive. Martin Luther King, Jr argued that peaceful disruption of “business as usual” is healthy, because it exposes buried injustice, which can then be addressed. Protesters ideally should dedicate themselves to disciplined, nonviolent disruption in this spirit – especially disruption of traffic. This serves to keep provocateurs at bay, while highlighting the unjust militarisation of the police response.