Thursday, November 10, 2011

#Occupy the Police

"In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transport and communication workers, garbagemen and firemen. These people - the employed, the somewhat privileged - are drawn into alliance with the elite.

They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system fails. That will happen, I think, only when all of us who are slightly privileged and slightly uneasy begin to see that we are like the guards in the prison uprising at Attica - expendable; that the Establishment, whatever rewards it gives us, will also, if necessary to maintain its control, kill us....

there is evidence of growing dissatisfaction among the guards. We have known for some time that the poor and ignored were nonvoters, alienated from a political system they felt didn't care about them, and about which they could do little. Now alienation has spread upward into families above the poverty line."

"In the twenties there was a similar estrangement in the middle classes, which could have gone in various directions - the Ku Klux Klan had millions of members at that time - but in the thirties the work of an organized left wing mobilized much of this feeling into trade unions, farmers unions, socialist movement."

"We may, in the coming years, be in a race for the mobilization of middle-class discontent."
-Howard Zinn People's History of the United States

The #Occupy movement has done an incredible job of raising class consciousness in America. From Wall Street to the occupations in smaller cities around the country, it's demand for more equal wealth distribution and for the lower 99% to have a greater say in how the economy is run, has agitated millions of Americans about the unfairness of American Capitalism.

However the movement goes back and forth on a critical issue. How to relate to the police. Many discussions have turned into shouting arguments, with some protesters arguing that they want to have good relations with the police, pointing out that they are public blue collar workers, "we're fighting for your jobs" is a common thing to hear them say to the police. Other activists will argue that the police only exist to serve the rich, and point to a long history of police brutality against labor organizers, people of color, and protesters.

Which is it?

Well it's both. Like just about every job in this society, the workers face contradictory interests and will have to go through a dialectical process if they are going to join with the forces of liberation.

I was in Ohio for several months, working to repeal Senate Bill 5, an anti-union law that would have limited the things that public employees could bargain over. Unlike the 'Budget Repair' bill that Scott Walker pushed in Wisconsin, SB5 in Ohio would have taken away bargaining rights from police and firefighters as well. We successfully repealed the law, with 61% of Ohio voters supporting union rights.

What was surreal was that the victory party I attended was at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge.
I'm used to police in riot gear surrounding a protest march I'm in. It was different to have the police fighting for union rights and joining me at the same victory party. Many of the police there had never been involved in politics before, but were now becoming involved in labor activism. A few were Republican, but now swore to never vote Republican again.

I was speaking with one of my Anarchist friends about the discussions within #Occupy about the police. He described his annoyance with those who fawn over how the police are part of the 99%, "We're fighting for your jobs, we're fighting for your jobs, well, I'm fighting for a world where police are not needed." He then described how in Sweden, the police give rides to people who are too stoned to drive.

When the Iraq war began, many of us protesting against the war were called unpatriotic, and told that we didn't 'support the troops.' We were glad when Iraq Veterans Against the War began. Veterans spoke out against a war that did not serve the interests of working people in America or in Iraq.

IVAW helped service members file for Conscientious Objector status, and supported those who refused to oppress Iraqi's.

Why is there not a similar group for police and #Occupy? How do we get the police to stop serving the rich, and to support the 99% of which they are materially a part of?

We have to be smart about it. What have we tried thus far? Shouting slogans at anonymous police from the picket line? It hasn't been very effective. When was the last time you followed the advice of someone you didn't know shouting at you?

Let me propose two ideas.

1.) We organize the rank and file. Let's talk to our friends and family who are in the police, and organize a day of police solidarity with #occupy.

2.) Also, we can approach police organizations, the Fraternal Order of Police, etc and speak to them in their terms in order to gain their support. Lets talk to them about their pension, about training, about staffing levels, about their own safety. Let us seek common ground in support of working class issues and against austerity.

The biggest obstacle we may face is their consciousness. They have probably never read Marx, and probably never will. It will be our task to raise their consciousness, through material struggle over their real life concerns as working people, so that they can join us and fight alongside the 99%, instead of against it.

The other obstacle we will face will be our own consciousness in relation to the police. Yes, many police join for the barbarity and ability to have a license to oppress others. It is important to support efforts to hold those individuals, institutions and cultures accountable to the people. Many in #Occupy will say that the police know what they have chosen to do is to support the 1% and brutality. Well, not always. Many police officers join to be able to serve their community's, and to have a steady paycheck for their families.

This is more than just a moral question, this is a strategic question for the movement - will it attempt to unite all who can be united, will it attempt to peel away the layers of support that prop up the system? Or will it take a puritan approach that anyone who has in any way supported the system as it stands is incapable of change or becoming an ally of the 99%?

Yes, many in the police have put the private interests of the rich and powerful ahead of serving and protecting the public. Like our public governments, we have watched as private power has hollowed out what we should hold in common.

We need to enlarge the discussion about private power over our public institutions by asking whether we as a society want public safety or private security.

Do we want a police force that will take drunk drivers off the road, help rape victims, break the silence around police brutality, and protect the rights of the 99%? Or do we want a police force that will act as strikebreakers, cover-up police brutality, and serve the interests of the 1%?

Will we automatically write off all those who are not 'as-left-wing-as-us' as incapable of joining the forces of social justice?

The answer, will be in what the movement does.

Intense Debate Comments