Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Local (All) Politics and Bug Spray

I have learned a bit more about local politics in our small town. I have been asking about who is who and why. Turns out the biggest vote getter this past election is a big supporter of the biggest organization in town, probably larger than any of the churches -- The Snowmobile Association. Imagine all the relatives and friends and neighbors of these folk, all wanting to vote to keep this activity protected in our area. (The snowmobile trails are extensive and cross highways and corners of private property.) So all I can do is keep on talking with people who care about issues more than or as much as snowmobiling.

Political news elsewhere is filled with discussions about pepper spray being used on students sitting across a walkway at UC Davis. This is an "occupy" event. Police have driven out occupiers from the park in NYC, in Oakland, and some other places. It is amazing that in a country begun in revolution against the powerful British of the time, that any semblance of protest is discouraged. Laws limiting protest have multiplied everywhere in the past 40 years. It is against the law to gather  in certain places. Bullhorns are illegal. Standing on a sidewalk or in the street violates local laws. Just about anything you do is potentially illegal if you are doing it as a protest.

Just watched a 28 min documentary on a demonstration I was in at the U of Iowa Dec. 1967. Several hundred of us blocked the Union entrance where Dow Chem was interviewing. Two busloads of State Police were brought in with white Storm Trooper riot helmets with face shields and carrying 3', 2" thick "batons." Very scary looking. After an hour of speeches the police said we could leave or be removed and arrested. I left, feeling we had made our point. 107 were arrested and several were taken to the hospital. Guess I wasn't very brave. Some might say I was smart.

I was surprised the entire U didn't explode about the state police being brought in, but it was Iowa and 1967. Public opinion was that it was a state school and that trumped any claims of academic freedom or constitutional rights.  A right wing group counter protested. The admin didn't seem to understand that there were other options (There were other entrances, or they could have taken the Dow people off campus and let people interview them elsewhere.) Quote from Dow people: "Our government wouldn't use napalm against civilians. Napalm is an insignificant part of our business."

The protest was planned in the student union basement the day before. It was a Students for a Democratic Society meeting. I was there. It was a lot like a church meeting or a county political meeting. Lots of arguments. Always reasons for why anything suggested was wrong. It turned out according to the documentary that we were infiltrated by one or more police informants. The U knew exactly what we were going to do. That's why the bus loads of state police were brought in.

I took film of a demonstration in Chicago a year later. On my film is a cop filming me. Imagine how much more complete such surveillance is today, both of occupy and tea party events. Maybe the tea party is right. If you want revolution, you need to pack heat. Or maybe first we should do a better job of training in non-violent protest techniques.

A sociological study called “The War at Home” (by Doug McAdam and Yang Su) concluded that to effect real change, protests must change public opinion that in turn must create responsiveness by Congress and the Senate. “The antiwar movement never mobilized the general public support and sympathy that the early civil rights struggle achieved. There was a perceived lack of commitment to democratic practices and the general politics of persuasion.... To be maximally effective, movements must be disruptive/threatening, while nonetheless appearing to conform to a democratic politics of persuasion.” I hope the occupy folks read that. They have done a good job on the first task of educating a majority to agree with their analysis. The students at UC Davis did right by sitting still while being sprayed. May a thousand flowers bloom from non-violence.

We the public should force the president of UC Davis, Linda Katehi, to resign. She is incompetent and responsible for what the cops did. This would send a message to other institutions about values. And UC Davis wasn't even defending its ties to the corporate/military/financial complex. In the photo here she looks frightened. Of what? Perhaps of events out of her control.

In the documentary from '67 a cop called a demonstrator an "animal." Watching the UC Davis incident, I thought that the demonstrators must be bugs, cause the pepper spray seemed like bugspray or maybe even agent orange.

Shame on the U of Iowa for placing their relationship with Dow over education and the nation's involvement in an illegal, unjust war. Would the administration today do differently?


Gary Davis said...

I hold nothing against American veterans but I admit irritation over the notion that American democracy has survived only because some were willing to die on the battlefield. Others sacrificed themselves protesting the wars that those soldiers were fighting and the protesters are as much a part of America as the soldiers. Maybe someday we'll find a way to thank those who said, "Hell, no. I won't go."

Reverend Sax said...

I always figured we were saving lives by shortening the war. My draft board said "If you claim CO status, someone else will go and maybe die because of you." I responded, "Each of us must make our own decision."

Gary Davis said...

My draft board experiences were nothing short of strange. When I was in seminary, they classified me 4-D. When I discovered that I was being deferred because I was headed for clergy status, I wrote the draft board and renounced my status asking to reclassified 1-A. They refused. When I left seminary, they reclassified me 1-A without my asking again. I then applied for conscientious objector status and they again refused my request. By then I was 25 and married so there was little chance of being drafted. All in all, it was like Alice in Wonderland.