In which contributing editor Mark Bourrie looks at how a classic YouTube moment has shaped the way we will remember the ‘Occupy’ movement.
The “Occupy _____” movement has run its course, at least in Canada.
It was never very effective here. Protesters in Toronto were too polite or too weak to try to occupy Bay Street. Instead, they settled in a park co-owned by the Anglican Church and the City of Toronto. The church supported their protest, as did a large bloc of city councillors. Here in Ottawa, demonstrators politely took over a park, rather than risk the wrath of the riot squads by camping on Parliament Hill. They kept to the margins of Confederation Park, kept it clean, and even looked after the homeless people who normally live there.
In the end, though, Toronto’s city administration got a court ruling telling the occupiers to sleep elsewhere. The St. James Park protesters have put up token resistance, but most of them started packing Tuesday, as did the vast majority of the Occupy Ottawa crowd in Confederation Park.
That gave the protesters an easy out. Winter is coming, and it takes special skills to survive in a tent, even in Toronto and Vancouver, where temperatures never get much below freezing. Here in Ottawa, anyone trying to stay alive in a nylon tent through our -30 cold snaps better know what they’re doing, or they risk death from exposure or fire.
Only in Halifax — so far — have the police got rough with protesters.
It’s a different story in the U.S. There’s been a strong push from the loony right to use force against the Occupy crowd. Beginning in the early fall, we’ve seen some ugly police tactics in New York City, with protesters being beaten with nightsticks and maced, kids being arrested, and nasty counter-demonstrations from the Tea Party crowd. But the worst police violence happened last week at the University of California (Davis). Although the clash wasn’t as intense as the worst fighting on Wall Street, there was something coldly fascistic about it.
A handful of students and/or other young people had blocked a public walkway. Police were called, and a Lt. John Pike carved himself a place in pop culture by nonchalantly soaking down protesters with pepper spray. Pike might as well have been spray-painting his car for the amount of emotion he shows as he inflicts pain on these young people. He’s obviously been able to dehumanize the protesters. He shows no empathy, and he and the rest of the cops do nothing to help them.
I’ve been pepper sprayed twice. Once, it was at a police training exercise, and I asked to take part in the drill. The other time was while covering a demonstration near Parliament Hill — some anti-globalization thing. Being pepper sprayed hurts like hell. It hurts enough to stop you dead in your tracks. Originally, it was supposed to partly replace lethal force. Pull a knife or a baseball bat on a cop, and you’d get sprayed instead of shot. And I’m fine with that. Anyone who tries to injure a police officer deserves to be pepper sprayed or tasered. Or shot, if it’s a real choice between the life of a would-be killer and the life of a cop. But kids — even dumb-assed student radicals who’ve drank too much of the post-modern, anti-capitalist Kool-Aid? No. Pepper spray is too much.
Litigation, complaints to police commissions and demands for inquiries won’t solve the problems of people like Lt. Pike, who obviously place no human value on people who show dissent.
Fortunately, the forces of mockery have come forward. These photo-shopped masterpieces will do more to prevent Lt. Pike from assaulting protesters in the future than any discipline hearing can ever do.
Pike’s cold cruelty is so wonderfully mockworthy, and the multiple websites filled with Pike-inspired works of art will mock him on the Internet forever, just as the mockery of Toronto’s ‘Officer Bubbles’ during the G20 protests probably makes Toronto cops think twice about threatening to arrest pretty young girls engaged in non-violent protest. (Const. Adam Josephs was so embarrassed by his YouTube Moment that he fired off several lawsuit threats, but all the litigation in the world can’t undo his self-made reputation.)
So, in the end, the protesters won. Not big victories, but enough small ones. They got people talking. They encouraged young people to become politically active. And they exposed the anti-people bias of some cops and made an example of them for the rest.