Like many of you on the Internet, yesterday I watched live feeds as police raided the Oakland Occupy site and assaulted peaceful protesters with clubs and tear gas. I sat, dumbfounded, watching the kind of violent action I expect from totalitarian regimes in third world nations taking place in my country, in my America. I watched, helpless to stop this outrage, able to do nothing more than make a phone call and send messages of support and love.
I felt tremendous anger at the police, using tactics reserved for criminals against citizens exercising their constitutional rights to assemble, speak, and seek redress of their grievances. I marvelled that the protesters (as has been the case at all of the Occupy sites I know of) responded nonviolently and did not try to answer these unprovoked attacks with violence.
I felt conflicted. I have long supported our law enforcement workers, who routinely put their lives on the line to protect us and our communities. The nation has extended tremendous support to these officers since 9/11 in recognition of their labor and commitment. But, these police actions only evoked in me a sense of shame; shame that these men and women were acting as agents of my nation.
Then I felt pity. I imagined how some of the police must have felt. Surely some of these men and women – who are all part of the 99% in the Occupy movement – hated following these orders and would have refused if not for the threat of losing jobs and benefits. It is always easy to Monday morning quarterback decisions made by people in such situations.
But, my sympathy only goes so far. If you are a law enforcement officer, I ask you to consider how far you are willing to go following orders that violate our rights as American citizens. I ask you to consider whether you would be willing to tear gas women and children for any reason, let alone for being part of lawful, peaceful demonstrations. I ask you to start to question whether the people giving the orders for you to act as the police in Oakland did, are indeed living up to your mission to serve and to protect.
And to the rest of us who are not police officers. Are you enraged by the increasing hostility toward the Occupy protesters? If you are enraged, then get engaged! Now is exactly the time that this movement needs the support of the 99%. Whether you sleep in a tent in a public park, bring food and drink to other protesters, or simply shake a protester’s hand in support, now is the time to let your voice be heard.
The Internet has taught us the fine art of lurking. Lurking serves a purpose when it comes to reading blogs or participating in listservs. But, the time for lurking while watching the live feed from Oakland yesterday is over. If you agree with the principles of the Occupy movement, then get off of the sidelines and jump into the game!