Minify is not, and likely will never be, a political blog. It is a personal project, an outlet for writing, a place to share ideas. It’s meant to be a welcoming, friendly space for comments and interaction, to the extent that digital media can foster interaction. I have long believed that the personal is political, that the choices we make with our dollars, our time, our attention have political implications that we should be aware of. Buying gasoline for my car, or diamond earrings, or even watching television commercials, is a form of voting. We’re investing our resources in more than our own outcomes (the shiny earrings, in the above example); that money goes into someone’s pocket. It’s important to wonder where that money goes, to investigate, to make choices based on an ever-increasing awareness of the implications of our actions. The car I drive impacts the planet. In that sense, I suppose that this blog has always been about politics. But rarely do I acknowledge that the reverse is true: the political is also personal. I never take a partisan stance, or say anything overtly political, because that’s not really what this blog is about.
Except for today.
Today I read this article about the use of a SWAT team to remove Occupy Wall Street protestors from an abandoned building in my own town. Some highlights from the article:Kieran Preissler, a Chapel Hill resident and high school senior, said he wasn’t occupying but was talking to protesters when police came. He said after police entered, he was handcuffed and had guns pointed at him before he was released. “Assault rifles are scary to begin with, but two feet in front of my face, like woah,” Preissler said.
When is it appropriate or necessary to aim an assault rifle at a nonviolent teenager? For my part, I would say never. Preissler’s “like woah” struck me as sort of fitting, as it paints such a clear picture not only of his youth, but also of his surprise. Like him, I wouldn’t have expected this incident to happen. It fits with a much more aggressive police state than the America, or Chapel Hill, that I imagined myself to live in.
The police and town defended the raid with the claim that “known anarchists” were in the building. This defense troubles me. Anarchist is a term that the government has thrown at every group it wished to denigrate as politically undesirable for the last 200 years. Want the socialists, or the union members, or the college students to seem dangerous and threatening? Just throw around the A-word. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that there were known anarchists in the building. Anarchist is not a synonym for terrorist. Nor does it mean violent. Anarchism is a political philosophy which holds that the state is problematic, harmful, and too hierarchical. It advocates for voluntary social organization and egalitarianism (and yes, the dissolution of the state). That is not to say that there are not violent anarchist uprisings. It is to say very clearly that anarchists are not by definition violent, destructive, or dangerous. Some of them are lovely people. I have a dear friend who is both a pacifist and, in terms of political philosophy, someone who identifies with the term “anarchist.” I don’t. I do believe in formal social organization, and I think the term “anarchist” has too much baggage. But calling someone an anarchist is in no way a justification for bringing in a SWAT team, pure and simple.
And then, across the country from North Carolina, there was this:
In the video, in addition to using batons to administer choke holds on college students, the riot police pull a Berkeley professor to the ground by her hair and then handcuff her. Let me repeat that: A professor. To the ground. By her hair. Had she been aggressive, or threatening? No. The protestors were, in the words of the Berkeley administration, locking arms and resisting arrest, and this was classified as a violent act, which I’m not sure I agree with. It’s a classic act of civil disobedience.
None of this is simple. I do think that Occupy could consider that Gandhi held submitting to arrest to be an important tenet of nonviolent resistance, and encouraged his followers to defend officials from insult, rather than insulting them. It is very important for the movement to practice resistance in a way that does not make the police feel threatened, but it is equally important for the police and other enforcement agencies to interact with nonviolent protestors in a non-threatening way. It is reasonable of the police and other authorities to ask protestors not to break the law, not to violate property rights or provisions for public safety (limiting the number of people in a building, for example). By the same token, the protestors must be given a place to assemble, to discuss their ideas and to make their voices heard, safely and without arrest or beatings.
Our own president gave an eloquent speech almost a year ago about free speech and peaceful assembly in Egypt. It’s generated a great deal of buzz over the past week, especially the following excerpt:
“I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protestors. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.” – Barack Obama, 28 January 2011
I agree with those who have already posted the quote or the video – this speech is apt, and compelling, in light of recent events. In addition to advocating for human rights abroad, I do expect our government and its representatives to respect these same basic rights at home. I also think the call for peaceful protest was an important one, and one that bears repeating, especially in a climate as charged as the Occupy movement (coupled with the discussions and actions surrounding it) is rapidly becoming. The videos and articles that I have linked to in this post have given me much to think about. I don’t have any easy answers to the major issues that my country is facing, but I do have a sense of gratitude for this forum through which to voice my own concerns, and exercise my right to free speech. Today in particular, so close to Thanksgiving, I am thankful to have a voice and a chance to use it.