Hazmat Suits to Break Up Occupations? How Mayors Feign Concern for Health to Trash a Growing Movement
Continued from previous page
Michael Ratner noted that the idea of protesters being unclean has a long history in this country, that various generations of immigrants were described as dirty, as outsiders, as not really American. “What it does is it paints the protesters as a dangerous infection in america that has to be cut out, it's like saying they're a cancer or radioactive, that's saying they're not part of our country, not part of our tradition of protest.”
Some of the items “cleaned” out of Liberty Plaza in New York were over 5000 books, thrown into the back of a garbage truck by the sanitation workers, and winding up at the Department of Sanitation in a heap, according to reporter Melissa Gira Grant, mangled and smelling of gasoline and shrimp.
Occupy Wall Street librarian Betsy Fagin wrote of her experience trying to reclaim items from the city:
“What happened at Liberty Park wasn’t just clearing a park of a bunch of campers or people leaving piles of books around, it was an attempt to sever the ties of love, community and support that had taken root and begun to grow.”
Cleanliness, obviously, wasn't a concern for the city if it could simultaneously toss thousands of books into a trash truck and then allow protesters to pick through them at their leisure to reclaim their personal items.
Instead, it seems that the real contagion is community, as Fagin said, but more than that, the very idea of fighting back. Whether it's a mayor shutting down an occupation in his or her city or a businessman complaining that his workers want to collectively bargain, the idea that people might work together appears to be, itself, a hazard.
Collective action, after all, is the thing that is spreading from the Occupy camps around the cities and towns where they've begun, with giant marches spinning off into campaigns to move your money out of the big banks, to reoccupy foreclosed homes and protest student debt. Collective action itself is contagious.
Now that the camps have been cleared in LA and New York and many other of the biggest cities, it remains to be seen what pretext will be used to crack down on protesters as they move to different tactics. But as Ratner noted, the language of dirt, of disease and contagion, has a long history in this country and will not go away easily.
Ratner said, “It's a bad pretext, because it goes back to the larger theme, which is to make protest dirty.”
Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.