Letter to the police

Part of what moves me so much about the Occupy Wall Street protests and their offshoots is the earnestness. Part of it is the times we live in seeming to demand direct action, part of it is the commitment to non-violence and to thoughtful communication.

But probably the biggest part of it for me is semantic.

The protest movement has failed in the last 20 years, in part, because it has harnessed a rhetoric made up solely of demands and statements that are factually incorrect, or at least are arguable. NOT IN OUR NAME always rubbed me the wrong way because it wasn’t true. Our government did go to war in our name. The soldiers doing the killing and dying were our family members and friends; they were absolutely fighting in our name. The 2000 election was stolen by the right and relinquished by the center in our name. What has been so painful is that our name has been used to perpetrate unspeakable wrongs.

The tenor of that language cut me off because it made the ineffectual nature of the protests that much more palpable. The more people said it was not in their name, the more was done in our names. And so at a certain point, why bother. And that manner of speaking, that kind of poster, leaves no room for wonder or debate, sorrow or hope. It’s just a command – you’re either in or you’re out – and that is not the world I want to make.

When I look at the signs, the blogs and the interviews with Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots, I’m seeing and reading and hearing something else. “We are the 99%.” All of a sudden I can decide whether or not I’m part of that percentage! Thanks for the invite! “I can’t afford a lobbyist.” Neither can I! I keep hearing stories of the way strangers are welcomed at protest sites, that non-violence is championed, and that people in the movement are clear about what they don’t know, as much as what they believe.

It’s hard to admit that maybe it’s just an aesthetic shift that has brought me into this. Maybe I really am that shallow. (Though I know I’ve been slowly becoming more radicalized anyway). But as someone who is obsessed with the way we talk to each other, as much as what we say, I think what’s happening here, how it’s happening, speaks to something deeper in the grain of this activism. 

Occupy Chicago on non-violence.

Chris Hedges.