Yesterday afternoon, a man was shot and killed near the encampment of Occupy Oakland after a fight between two groups escalated. On the same day, a 35-year-old veteran took his own life at the Occupy Burlington camp in Vermont. As the Occupy movement continues to grow, it is important to ask, is their message worth dying for? As tensions continue grow between protesters and the police, one distinction should be made clear: While the message of Occupy Wall Street is an important one, it does not trump the value of a human life.
Government officials, acknowledging the violence that has already come about surrounding the movement, have sought to take measures to alleviate the looming crisis. Oakland City Council President Larry Reid cited the fatality as proof that the encampment needed to be dismantled. "We can no longer continue to sit back," he said. "This has raised the red flag even more."
New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg similarly has weighed the First Amendment with the need to protect the citizenry of New York, citing the unsafe living conditions, violence, and sexual assaults as behavior that the city “will not tolerate.”
Occupiers nationwide are all too aware of the imminent threat that police pose to the movement. In Occupy Oakland, for example, protesters fear police will embark on another raid to forcibly remove them, much like the clash on Oct. 25 which resulted in over 100 arrests, and left 24-year-old Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran, with a serious brain injury. Similarly, at Occupy Wall Street down in Zuccotti Park, protesters sense the looming possibility of a raid that may leave many injured or worse.
Steven Glass, an occupier down on Wall Street, noted that a prominent police official was walking around the encampment late Tuesday night.
“I think that when the police come in here for the first time and start cracking down, it will definitely separate those committed to the movement from those who are here for the wrong reasons,” Glass said, citing the rumors that are swirling around the camp about a possible police raid that may take place in the coming days.
These claims of police possibly dismantling are not substantiated, but Glass said, “We’ve been hearing a lot of things recently that [the raid] will happen very soon.”
Recent unrest surrounding the various encampments nationwide has helped rally supporters of the movement, which was first formed out of the general discontent of economic inequality and the plutocracy of the 1%, which control our current political and financial systems. The Huffington Post noted that OWS was born out of the belief that “Citizens – and democracy itself – were expendable. The 1% and those that serve them were above the law.”
The violent reactions by some police have inflamed protesters around the country. The idea that our so-called freedom is accessible so long as we do not disturb the status quo; that “We are free only so long as the comfortable remain comfortable,” and that “upsetting of apple carts will be punished.”
The idea that that our government, our financial institutions, and our democracy have failed us, and that the 99% of the citizenry cease to matter, is one that could enrage even the most apathetic on-looker. This movement has grown at such a rapid speed because the grievances of the OWS movement are valid, legitimate, and relatable to the 99% which they defend. It gives a voice to the 99%, who subsidize the lifestyles of concreted greed on Wall Street, while nearly 46 million are on food stamps, and almost 50 million (16%) are mired in poverty.
OWS’s message is clear, and their defiance is well deserved. In the face of privatized capitalism and corporate gain, what is needed is the distinction that life is worth more than money, and that human rights supersede the inherently flawed systems that have held us down for way too long, and that their message should be defended… at whatever cost.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons