A global test of non-violent protest

Written By: - Date published: 7:07 am, October 20th, 2011 - 24 comments
Categories: activism, capitalism, class war, International - Tags: ,

The most visible manifestation of the 1% are bankers – and the Occupation movement has them worried. I wouldn’t have believed this report, for example, but it includes video evidence to back up its claims:

The banks fight back: Customers locked in and arrested after attempting to close their accounts in Occupy Wall Street protests

Banks across America appear to be fighting the growing protest against income disparity and rising fees as the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads worldwide.

A series of videos filmed across the U.S. in New York City; Santa Cruz, California and St Louis, Missouri, show customers staging protests and mass account closures.

However, footage has emerged showing what appears to be dozens of Citibank and Bank of America customers denied requests to close their accounts, some even being arrested after alleged clashes with branch managers. …

In some cases this has been badly handled.  Refusing customers access to close their accounts just turns a minor protest into a big story.  Losing a few accounts isn’t fatal, losing the public relations battle will be.  In other signs of panic:

How Wall Street is responding, or not, to protests

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Since the Occupy Wall Street movement kicked off last month, big banks and their employees seem to have made a point of ignoring it, with some privately writing it off as no more than a badly organized nuisance.

But as the protest has expanded from a few hundred people in a little park in Lower Manhattan to thousands across at least two dozen cities, gaining support from labor unions, celebrities and politicians, it has become harder to ignore. …

“I think this thing will continue to grow,” said Robert Siegfried, a partner who works with financial clients at the communications firm Kekst & Co. “Wall Street is just a term here that represents the huge disparity in income levels and distribution of wealth in this country. For anyone to dismiss it, that’s a terrible underestimation of the sentiment behind this phenomena.” …

Richard Plansky, a senior managing director at the security firm Kroll, said the protests have led to heightened awareness among financial executives whom Kroll protects. “It’s fair to say they’re concerned,” he said, noting that there has been a greater focus on security for Wall Street executives in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 financial crisis. …

With the exception of Rome (and a few incidents by infiltrators trying to discredit the movement) Occupation protests have been peaceful. The movement knows full well that violence would discredit them in the eyes of the majority. The commitment to non-violence is wise, principled, and optimistic.

But will it be effective? Will the 1% just ignore the Occupation movement and carry on as usual? This is quickly shaping up as the biggest ever, world wide test of the efficacy of non-violent protest (civil disobedience, passive resistance, call it what you will).

Those in power would do very well to heed this test, and respond to the Occupation’s concerns in concrete, significant and visible ways. If they don’t, then I fear that the next mass protest movement, when it comes, will have no reason to reach for any tool except violence.

The inequalities in our societies have become too vast to endure. Wealth must be created more sustainably and shared more evenly. Let’s hope that the 1% will have the wisdom to act now, and choose the peaceful solution. While there’s still time.

24 comments on “A global test of non-violent protest”

  1. Kevin Welsh 1

    While I remember, how did your 5:15 on Tuesday go, PeteG?

    • See here Kevin: Occupy Dunedin

      And here: Who is occupying Dunedin?Mana and Greens?

      How much is genuine “Occupy” protest? And how much is undercover political campaigning?

      • mickysavage 1.1.1

        Copied and pasted from open mike in response to an equally inane comment by Petey.

        Hold the front page … the Occupy protest is … gasp … POLITICAL!!!
        FFS Pete of course it is political.  It is addressing glaring weaknesses in the world’s economy and political system.
        The fact that the group may not have let you spout UF policy is a sign of their intelligence and competence.  

        • Colonial Viper 1.1.1.1

          great minds mate lol

        • Pete George 1.1.1.2

          I had no intention of promoting UF policy. I wanted to promote a better grassroots connection with politics which is exactly what people in the Octagon said they were interested in. And it’s the opposite of how Labour operate.

          • McFlock 1.1.1.2.1

            “I had no intention of promoting UF policy. ”

            Lucky, that.

          • Colonial Viper 1.1.1.2.2

            I wanted to promote a better grassroots connection with politics which is exactly what people in the Octagon said they were interested in. And it’s the opposite of how Labour operate.

            Screw you mate, Labour party members and candidates have spoken at EVERY Occupy protest in NZ, United Future has NOT.

            What liar you are perfect for parliament.

      • Colonial Viper 1.1.2

        The Occupy protests are overt political action PG. And that makes it more relevant, not less.

        The iron grip that the top 1% have on our global political-economic system is the most dire of political issues facing the world.

      • Ari 1.1.3

        The occupy- movement is political and grassroots democratic. Anyone who opposes corporate greed is welcome to join in, even if they voted National. That you get some messages that particular interest groups support, or that many people involved support genuine left-wing parties, should be of no surprise to anyone- it’s a movement against corporate greed.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    Huge two day general strike in Greece

    This has NOT been non violent.

    http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/10/201110190538784585.html

  3. freedom 3

    a very fair and coherent piece in today’s Stuff Dom.
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/5811574/Occupy-Wall-St-has-message-for-Kiwis

    there is also another article on the Stuff pages that has a more predictable ‘look at the loonies’ article,
    but as the bankers say, we will take what we can get.

    • Carol 3.1

      And another focused on one of the occupyAuckland campers:

      http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/auckland-city-harbour-news/5811841/Occupier-wants-a-new-system-in-place

      The 19-year-old Mt Eden software tester, who won’t reveal his surname, joined the Occupy Auckland movement on the weekend saying decision-making is not being made for the people intended.

      He has no plans to leave until the movement has been heard.

      “I’m here because of the way the world is run – by the people with all the money – and they are making the decisions for the minority groups who have no say. This is fundamentally wrong,” he says.
      […]
      “I thought that what is going on there is just as bad here,” he says.

      “I’ve watched the 300 or so bills passed by the government in its term – that’s a bill every two days – and it just doesn’t add up.”

      Rogan says he needs to have a voice on issues that affect him and others.

      “I’m not happy with my fears not being heard, people being discriminated against and the way people are being treated by those in power.”

      But Rogan says there is a way in which people can live peacefully in a democracy.

      “We’ve got a system that we can put in place that will work for everyone,” he says.

      This is a system that has no single leader or governing body of its general assembly and everyone’s voice is equal.

      I’m not quite sure of Rogan’s use of the word minority here. Maybe powerless groups would be a better term?

      PS: this all reminds me of when I was inspired by learning about anarcho-syndacalism in my 20s (in the 70s). I saw this kind of process in the women’s liberation movement (linked to other left groups and campaigns) in the late 70s and early 80s. My hopes for this kind of a process were defeated as Thatcherism and neoliberalism began to bite. I came to think that such leaderless decentralised networks are relatively powerless in the face of the power of interlinked state and financial power.

      • mike 3.1.1

        “My hopes for this kind of a process were defeated as Thatcherism and neoliberalism began to bite. I came to think that such leaderless decentralised networks are relatively powerless in the face of the power of interlinked state and financial power.”

        Hi Carol, I’m interested to hear more about this. How were such networks made powerless, what were the obstacles? Were active strategies used against them or were they merely ineffective?

        “Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.”
        Benito Mussolini

  4. Sanctuary 4

    Does anyone think the absolute demand for non-violence in these protests extends to the repression power of the state? If you think “no, there is every chance the police will eventually violently repress the occupy wall street movement” The apparatus of repression is at the disposal of the 1%. they won’t hesitate to use it if challenged in a meaningful way.

    How can any movement be non-violent if only one side is determined to stick to those rules?

    • Carol 4.1

      This reminds me of last night’s ep of Harry’s Law on TV One

      http://tvnz.co.nz/harrys-law/index-group-4354287

      A programme that mixes some subversives elements, with the old Hollywood trope of principled individuals taking on the inequalities in society (ultimately, I suppose, reinforcing mainstream US ideals of democracy, indivualism and free speech).

      Harriet and her team have gven up lucrative law careeers to work in a very poor urban area. A local woman asks to be represented. At 87 years old, with no previous criminal record, she has used a gun to hold up and rob a local liquor store.

      The woman says she did it because she had no other way to get money. She had survived for a while on benefits til that ran out. Then she begged money from locals, til that ran out. Then, seeing the stimulus packages given to Wall St banks, she wrote to her congressman and asked for HER stimulus. He sent her back a form, asking for a donation for his campaign. So the woman selected the liquor store to rob because she saw the owner as a pusher of alcohol to underage drinkers.

      The prosecution lawyer said, finding her not guilty would give license to all 450,000 US people living in poverty to resort to armed robbery….. quite a thought! The jury found the woman not guilty, although, I thought this was a rather fanciful ending.

      PS: This episode must have been produced before the rise of the occupy movement.

    • Ari 4.2

      Non-violence has been so effective in the past precisely BECAUSE the other side is often willing to engage in violence to suppress dissent. Occupy Wall Street would never have become as big as it is if it weren’t for mace-happy police officers.

  5. freedom 5

    a great example of the selective use of force at play in today’s stage managed political arena
    http://a7.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc7/s320x320/305849_282007288487592_204904669531188_935240_1554332202_n.jpg

  6. Afewknowthetruth 6

    The corporate press in Taranaki are working hard to downplay, misrepresent and marginalise the awareness group.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/news/5818098/Protester-wants-to-change-system

    The issues being raised are not going to disappear, of course. Indeed, every day that passes all the predicaments the group are highlighting get worse.

    Fortunately, most people regarded the editorial by Gordon Brown, which attacked the group, as truly awful.

  7. mike 7

    Very interesting article written (apparently) by an investment manager who works with very wealthy US clients. He/She dissects the top 1% and points out that it is the top 0.1% or even top 0.01% who have the real money and real power. This is the problem. This combined with our apparent fondness for electing psychopathic ‘leaders’. (We might want to look at that one of these days.)

    The below should be printed and distributed at Occupy protests…

    “The picture is clear; entry into the top 0.5% and, particularly, the top 0.1% is usually the result of some association with the financial industry and its creations. I find it questionable as to whether the majority in this group actually adds value or simply diverts value from the US economy and business into its pockets and the pockets of the uber-wealthy who hire them. They are, of course, doing nothing illegal.

    I think it’s important to emphasize one of the dangers of wealth concentration: irresponsibility about the wider economic consequences of their actions by those at the top. Wall Street created the investment products that produced gross economic imbalances and the 2008 credit crisis. It wasn’t the hard-working 99.5%. Average people could only destroy themselves financially, not the economic system. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the collapse was primarily due to the failure of complex mortgage derivatives, CDS credit swaps, cheap Fed money, lax regulation, compromised ratings agencies, government involvement in the mortgage market, the end of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, and insufficient bank capital. Only Wall Street could put the economy at risk and it had an excellent reason to do so: profit. It made huge profits in the build-up to the credit crisis and huge profits when it sold itself as “too big to fail” and received massive government and Federal Reserve bailouts. Most of the serious economic damage the U.S. is struggling with today was done by the top 0.1% and they benefited greatly from it.

    … I asked if her colleagues talked about or understood how much damage was created in the broader economy from their activities. Her answer was that no one talks about it in public but almost all understood and were unbelievably cynical, hoping to exit the system when they became rich enough…

    Not surprisingly, Wall Street and the top of corporate America are doing extremely well as of June 2011. For example, in Q1 of 2011, America’s top corporations reported 31% profit growth and a 31% reduction in taxes, the latter due to profit outsourcing to low tax rate countries. Somewhere around 40% of the profits in the S&P 500 come from overseas and stay overseas, with about half of these 500 top corporations having their headquarters in tax havens. If the corporations don’t repatriate their profits, they pay no U.S. taxes. The year 2010 was a record year for compensation on Wall Street, while corporate CEO compensation rose by over 30%, most Americans struggled. In 2010 a dozen major companies, including GE, Verizon, Boeing, Wells Fargo, and Fed Ex paid US tax rates between -0.7% and -9.2%. Production, employment, profits, and taxes have all been outsourced. Major U.S. corporations are currently lobbying to have another “tax-repatriation” window like that in 2004 where they can bring back corporate profits at a 5.25% tax rate versus the usual 35% US corporate tax rate. Ordinary working citizens with the lowest incomes are taxed at 10%.

    I could go on and on, but the bottom line is this: A highly complex set of laws and exemptions from laws and taxes has been put in place by those in the uppermost reaches of the U.S. financial system. It allows them to protect and increase their wealth and significantly affect the U.S. political and legislative processes. They have real power and real wealth. Ordinary citizens in the bottom 99.9% are largely not aware of these systems, do not understand how they work, are unlikely to participate in them, and have little likelihood of entering the top 0.5%, much less the top 0.1%. Moreover, those at the very top have no incentive whatsoever for revealing or changing the rules. I am not optimistic.”

    http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/investment_manager.html

    “…government involvement in the mortgage market…”

    trea·son   /ˈtrizən/ [tree-zuhn]

    1.the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
    2.a violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state.
    3.the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery
    3.the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.
    3.the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

  8. Gosman 8

    “Those in power would do very well to heed this test, and respond to the Occupation’s concerns in concrete, significant and visible ways. If they don’t, then I fear that the next mass protest movement, when it comes, will have no reason to reach for any tool except violence.”

    Hmmmmm… so if government’s don’t cave in to the protesters demands now they will be responsible for protesters becoming violent. Isn’t that like some sort of veiled threat?

    Also maybe these proptesters could actually take advantage of the democratic processes in the countries they live in and vote for parties that support their aims and goals. A radical notion I know for some left leaning people.

  9. r0b 9

     Isn’t that like some sort of veiled threat?

    It’s not a threat, it’s a warning.  Same as warning about the devastation that will be caused by climate change.

  10. Dr Terry Creagh 10

    Take a look at Australia, with a Labour Government if you please! The only violence is coming from the Left’s violent and anti-democratic (right to protest) police force. Such shame upon them!

    In the end, violent protest might (though undesirable) become a necessity. (What brought success to the French revolutio, or to Libyan rebels in whom we are rejoicing?

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