Occupy Denver: not as badass as they pretend to be
DENVER, COLORADO- Occupy activists were making their usual cacophony on Friday night when Denver police cruisers began converging into a familiar disproportionate show of force. Experienced skirmishers though Occupiers are, we couldn’t help whispering to each other as we watched more DPD officers accumulate on foot from vehicles yet unseen. The unintended effect of course was that our chanting diminished as the tension rose and Denver onlookers were treated to a literal illustration of the chilling effect of police intimidation. To make matters more embarassing, Occupy was shouting that we would not be silenced! By the time police were trooping upon us there was no sound but DPD boot steps and our “cameras on, everybody, cameras on.”
Our Friday night boycott of the Tattered Cover Bookstore is part of an OD operation to pressure downtown businesses to withdraw their support for the city’s urban camping ban, an ordinance which in effect criminalizes the homeless. The Tattered Cover claims to have asserted neutrality on the city’s decision to forbid sleeping and sheltering in public, but OD stands with Howard Zinn when he claimed “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.” Silence is consent. Injustice prevails when good people say nothing, yada yada. So it’s the Tattered Cover’s turn to step up to what is everyone’s responsibility. OD invited the Tattered Cover to sign a letter rescinding their support for the inhumane ordinance, but the Tattered Cover’s owner held to her obstinence. She was confident that her customers would have sympathy for her business’s precarious balancing act with the community’s unchristian conservatives. If the Tattered Cover wants to put business over doing the right thing, OD concluded that a boycott could provide the commensurate incentive.
A boycott strategy has worked twice before on this campaign. Actually, boycotts and pickets seldom fail. The global have-nots owe everything to street protest. Grown prosperous, middle America has been shorn of this wisdom. Most Americans do not know what protest is about, thus Friday nights in downtown Denver are also a teaching moment for Occupy. Pardon the inconvenience people of Denver, you’re welcome.
To be fair, for the uninitiated, protests are a messy, noisy thing.
As this Friday evening progressed, occupiers suspected the police were going to make an issue of the serenading, it was self-evidently less melodious than the previous weeks. Earlier we noticed officers dispatched in pairs into multiple directions seeking interviewees from among our audience. But we did not expect a DPD delegation to descend upon us at troop strengh. We began shouting down the DPD as their commander shouted “Can everybody hear me?” What authority had officers to interrupt our constitutional right to assemble? It is amply documented that when activists attempt to interrupt the meetings of others, with Occupy’s “mic check” for example, we are escorted from the room with rough haste.
In Occupy’s defense Friday night, we didn’t submit ourselves to being lectured about “what you are free to do etc, etc.” We knew our rights. We also suspected a noise complaint before the hour of 10pm was of dubious legitimacy. We did however accept an abridgement of our free speech, for the sake of, let’s call it, detente. Because it was dark and we were outnumbered.
A few Occupiers were not happy about being made to relinquish megaphones and drums on the trumped-up premise of signed noise complaints. The officers had obviously solicited the complaints; they had not been dispatched in response to any. Some Occupy wild cannons threatened to upset our disarmament truce. Our hushed reproaches become the next inadvertent impediment to regaining a chant momentum.
In debriefing it was agreed that the more impertinent among us are precious resources Occupy should not make a habit of quashing. When demonstrator numbers are enough to effect unarrests, we’ll have occasion to reject civil liberty infringing ultimatums and encourage the pushing of limits beyond the habitual collective consensus comfort level. This security culture indiscretion about protest strategy is tendered here as an encoded call to action.
BUT SERIOUSLY, what do you make of the Denver Police Department’s exagerated show of numbers at the Friday night action? It was the usual DPD MO in the heydays of Occupy, and it’s what they are throwing now at the Anonymous “Every 5th” resurgence, but what about OD’s campaign -to repeal the Urban Camping Ban- could have provoked a law enforcement surge aimed at its decisive truncation?
WHO KNEW a picket of such limited scope could draw such ire. We aren’t threatening Capitalism or banks or energy infrastructure, or DPD’s favorite, FTP.
However hypocritical and exceptionalist the Tattered Cover is behaving, I don’t believe they requested DPD’s move. But I don’t doubt the Downtown Business Partnership is fearful that the famed independent bookstore might cave to protester demands at which point the DBP’s mandate will lose its liberal cover. They know the inevitability of boycott victories, they’re business people.