This past week in The Atlantic, Michael Levitin pointed out how much of the rhetoric surrounding the 2016 Presidential campaign represents a triumph of the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 and 2012:
On her first campaign stop in Iowa in April, Hillary Clinton struck a decisively populist tone, declaring that “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.” Later, she sharpened her rhetoric on income inequality by comparing the salaries of America’s richest hedge fund managers with kindergarten teachers.Clinton isn’t alone. Democratic presidential challenger Bernie Sanders has spent the spring railing against the excesses of Wall Street greed while calling for a financial transactions tax and a breakup of the big banks. Even leading Republican contenders have jumped on the inequality bandwagon: Jeb Bush, through his Right to Rise PAC, asserted that “the income gap is real,” while Ted Cruz admitted that “the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our income nationally than any year since 1928,” and Marco Rubio proposed reversing inequality by turning the earned-income tax credit into a subsidy for low-wage earners. …with the 2016 elections looming and a spirit of economic populism spreading throughout the nation, that view of Occupy’s impact is changing. Inequality and the wealth gap are now core tenets of the Democratic platform, providing a frame for other measurable gains spurred by Occupy. The camps may be gone and Occupy may no longer be visible on the streets, but the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is still there, and growing. What appeared to be a passing phenomenon of protest now looks like the future of U.S. political debate, heralded by tangible policy wins and the new era of activist movements Occupy inaugurated.
Yet, while the policies and issues which led to the Occupy Wall Street movement have gained hold in the political debate in the United States, many have forgotten or chosen to ignore what the cost was to the activists who brought these issues to national consciousness.
Many of us recall the use of force by police to stop the Occupy movement while it was happening, perhaps most infamously the use of mace by NYPD officer Anthony Bologna against young women peacefully protesting on September 24, 2011. Also notable, though less memorable perhaps, were the arrests of hundreds of protesters who were later released without charges or with only minor charges that did not justify their arrest and detention by police. What took a lot longer to reach the public eye, and did so after the cameras were largely off the Occupy movement, was the lengths, many of which were illegal, that the Federal and local governments went to spy on the Occupy movement, to use anti-terrorism powers against them, and to share information about their activities with those whom Occupy was protesting. In 2012, Rolling Stone reported on the Department of Homeland Security’s surveillance of the Occupy movement, which began no less than a month after the protests began in 2011. The DHS report stated that the NYPD was sharing information on the protesters and their plans with landlords and business owners, including according to the DHS memo “large banks”. Rolling Stone also reported that information about the locations and times of protests and gatherings nationwide was “borrowed, improbably enough, from the lefty blog Daily Kos.” The final paragraph of the 2011 DHS report spoke to the chilling nature of the government’s intentions:
The growing support for the OWS movement has expanded the protests’ impact and increased the potential for violence. While the peaceful nature of the protests has served so far to mitigate their impact, larger numbers and support from groups such as Anonymous substantially increase the risk for potential incidents and enhance the potential security risk to critical infrastructure (CI). The continued expansion of these protests also places an increasingly heavy burden on law enforcement and movement organizers to control protesters. As the primary target of the demonstrations, financial services stands the sector most impacted by the OWS protests. Due to the location of the protests in major metropolitan areas, heightened and continuous situational awareness for security personnel across all CI sectors is encouraged.
In 2014, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund revealed that the actions of the Federal and state governments against Occupy were even more significant than previously known. After obtaining over 4,000 pages of government reports on Occupy, PCJF Executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard stated: “The U.S. Fusion Centers are using their vast counter-terrorism resources to target the domestic social justice movement as a criminal or terrorist enterprise. This is an abuse of power and corruption of democracy.”These documents showed unprecedented collaboration between business interests and government agencies. The Joint Terrorism Task Force Director for D.C. Metro Police distributed a 30 page document created by the trade association the International Association of Shopping Centers. Some highlights from that document:
The ICSC report detailing Occupy Black Friday “threats” includes images of “Sample Anti-Black Friday Icons and Posters” with slogans urging people to “buy local” or “do your shopping at a small independent merchant.” The report identifies among “Specific Known Threats” “buy nothing day tactics which might be used by Occupy and other protesters” including credit card cut ups, free non-commercial street parties, and alternative mass green transport activities.Additional “Specific Known Threats” in the report are identified by individual Occupy locations from Occupy Bee Cave, Texas (“Assessment … Aim: to educate how military spending has affected the economy – consistent with anti-war agenda of the group”) to Occupy Seattle (“Assessment … leafleting likely in order to draw attention”).
Police departments did not merely distribute corporate security reports as legitimate anti-terror warnings; they also demonstrably shared information the other way. One sample document issued from the Baltimore police shows a distribution list ranging from the Maryland Fusion Center, the FBI, the DHS, the Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network, the Secret Service, the NYPD and other city and state law enforcement, the manager of corporate security for an energy company, university personnel, and the Federal Reserve.The costs, meanwhile, to many of the protesters have turned out to be quite high. Some havelost their jobs over their involvement with Occupy. Some have been convicted of crimes, even though the evidence suggests that they were physically abused by police officers and not the other way around. Others saw criminal charges against them deliberately increased in an attempt to dissuade protest.
In 1971, the FBI COINTELPRO programs against the Civil Rights Movement and the movements against the war in Vietnam were exposed. Yet 40 years later, the FBI is still involved in theroutine surveillance of people who are nothing more than political dissidents. Movements for change are still being treated as criminals and terrorists, and participants in political protests are still being investigated without probable cause and having their information turned over to private enterprise. And this is not limited to movements like Occupy who target big business. The protests in Baltimore revealed that the FBI has a spy network of planes, at least one of which was detailed to surveil the protesters against the police murder of Freddie Gray. These planes have video cameras and the technology to spoof cell phone towers, giving them the ability to identify the subscribers of thousands of cell phones of participants in protests. Citizen protesters have achieved great victories in bringing many of the issues of the Occupy movement to the fore of the 2016 election. Citizen protesters have done a similarly exceptional job in bringing the issues of police militarization and abuse to the public. But the cost of such Constitutionally protected activity has been far too high, damaging the lives of thousands of protesters and costing the public untold millions in wasted resources. We cannot and must not forget what it cost us to get here, and what it will cost the leaders of the next social justice movement if we do not take action against these abuses now.
Originally posted to JAY ELIAS on Sat Jun 13, 2015