Do you know of a drug operation in your neighborhood and want it cleaned out? Contact City Hall and tell them there are protestors connected with the Occupy movement and “Voila,” they will be removed. And if you happen to be a reporter, photographer or video maker covering just about any Occupy event, don’t be surprised if you are harassed, bullied or threatened with having your press pass revoked.
Mayor Bloomberg, who bragged recently that he has his own private army, has been using that army in a vendetta against those who exercise their rights of peaceful protest and assembly and those who cover it. But do we expect anything less from someone who flaunts his wealth and power at every turn? Is now a good time to repeat the David Letterman line – “Since the death of Kim Il Jong the only tiny tyrant left is Mayor Bloomberg.”
What surprises me is how the right, which claims to abhor government intervention and control over people’s lives (unless it comes to whom you can marry, what you can smoke, and all the other social issues they want government to enforce), is so supportive of increasing restrictions on civil liberties, which includes Obama’s signing a law that suspends basic civil liberties guaranteed by that old Constitution people on the right claim to love so much – which just might explain the appeal of Ron Paul in whose campaign elements of the left and right come together. But I digress.
While I have been generally supportive of the Occupy movements, I’ve been particularly interested in the branch I have been working with – Occupy the DOE (Department of Education) a group formed to focus on NYC education issues. ODOE is beginning to get attention given that the minions of Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott have occupied the NYC public schools for almost a decade and have shut out the voices of parents and teachers while the schools have been opened up to privatizers looking to make a buck. Or in the case of people like billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad, looking to gain control of education policy – largely successful given the support the Obama administration has given to the ed deform agenda.
Now I’m a very minor player but have been attending various meetings in lower Manhattan with Occupy DOE. There has been a persistent level of attempted interference on the part of the Bloomberg administration, often in conjunction with people controlling spaces that are supposed to be public to curtail people from meeting. Many groups have been meeting on Sundays at the atrium at 60 Wall Street but often find themselves on the street after last minute announcements of “closed for cleaning” and often end up in coffee shops even though as many as 40 people have attended these meetings.
Let me point out that I’ve also been generally supportive of the rank and file police and almost every single contact I’ve has with police officers has been positive – until the past three months since the Occupy movement began. Teachers and police officers have a lot in common. In addition to being unionized public service employees working for the city, teachers spend a whole bunch of time doing policing in their schools, whether it be classroom management, patrolling the halls, or doing lunchroom and cafeteria duty. In the few encounters I’ve had with police where it was clear I was a teacher, I found some sense of recognition of this commonality. Thus, I’ve never viewed police as an enemy but as fellow public workers and members of the same class - ergo - the 99%.
But recent encounters with some police over the Occupy movement have not been positive. It seems that some officers take anything to do with Occupy as a personal affront and get some glee out of hassling people. I had my own minor wrestling match with some of the overwhelming security at the December 14 Panel for Educational Policy meeting where the press was more hassled than I’ve seen in almost a decade of covering PEP meetings. On one side of the auditorium, the video press was penned in behind metal grates while on the other side I was standing inside a white square for the press (the first time I had seen that) but leaving when there was something to cover in the auditorium and was continually warned, even threatened with being ordered to leave. When I asked what has changed, a security guy in charge said, “Occupy” and as I was standing there two security guys came over and penned us in on three sides. There was a look of intense satisfaction on their faces. The enemy (the press) was vanquished. The ODOE people walked out en masse and I heard one female cop say, “Now they’ll engage in civil disobedience outside,“ when nothing of the sort was occurring. It was sad to see a rank and file cop view the people as “they” – she must be a would-be 1 percenter.
NYC teacher: “When a public body meeting to talk about our schools has to do so under armed guard what does that say about your policies? No matter how many police you bring here that’s a sign of your unpopularity.” (You can view Brian’s speech at www.youtube.-com/watch?v=yPiNqcKSDm4).
The next big battle at the PEP will be on February 9 where Bloomberg’s puppets on the panel will vote to close 25 schools no matter how vocal and passionate the opposition. Occupy DOE will meet at the atrium at 60 Wall Street Sunday, January 8, at 2 p.m. to plan some PEP actions – come on down (alt. space if it’s closed for “cleaning” is – shhh, don’t tell the NYPD – is Stir Café, 32 Broadway).
Expect a large police presence on February 9, at Brooklyn Tech High School. While I understand that rank and file police have to follow orders, I hope there is some understanding that students, teachers and parents, whose voices have been shut out for a decade have reached a level of frustration where actions more than having your two minute say that is ignored, are necessary to force changes in policy (and they may include civil disobedience). Message to police: Yes, do your job. Follow orders. But history has proven that following orders is no excuse when the orders lead to curtailing basic rights. Remember the context – in this case a meeting that will shutter neighborhood schools and turn students and teachers into nomads. And never believe you are part of the 1% because one day as part of the general attack on public workers, they will come for you and your pensions.
I put together a video demonstrating the police presence including them penning me in at the December 14 PEP: www.youtube.com/ watch?v=xa- OQGuMXhI