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Monday, October 31, 2011

Bully Pulpit on Bull Connors or The Tactics of DeHumanization

(Moore, 2011)
If the hose fits....

When does the national conversation change? What is the trim tab that adds a new word to the general lexicon, one that was only being whispered in private. Is it a photo? A video? A speech?

In 1963, images printed in Life Magazine told the story. Systemic arrests and harassments by local officials in Birmingham, Alabama were nothing new, but self awareness is a hell of a thing. And now young people were starting to march led by a young preacher named Martin Luther King. Not yet a doctor but already a Reverend, he had a vision of change and a way of getting others to believe in that change. 

Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King
on the Mall (Lindo, 2011)
So peaceful clean cut kids, with intelligent messages and a need to have their voices heard, were protesting the Jim Crow state of affairs in the area. Birmingham and its Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connors, wasn't having any of that. There were laws enforcing segregation. On a hundred degree day, the simple relief of a swimming pool in a public park could not be enjoyed by people whose skin was considered too dark to be human. You want to swim to cool off now, $1.50 will take that 103 degree day in D.C. into a manageable zone at one of many public park pools.  In that summer of 1963 in Alabama, they were experiencing 110 degrees in the shade. It's not dry heat, it's not humid heat, it's some other kind of heat that beats down on you. A person of a pale complexion would have their neck turn bright red in that heat rather quick.

Walter Gadsden being attacked by dogs.
(Hudson, 2011)
So Bull and his buddies thought some bullying was in order. And they took out the hoses. And the dogs. DOGS. On a hot 110 degree day.

In 1968, 5 years later, they came again. Bunch of really smart kids calling themselves "Yippies" took over a park, wanted to the change the world, or at the very least, that national conversation. Just like they are now down on Wall Street in the not so bargain basement district of New York. They were getting together peacefully to listen to music and have a few free drugs and some free love back then. Oh yeah, and to protest outside the Democratic National Convention about the seemingly endless Vietnam War. That war lasted 19 years in all. Truth. It officially began on November 1955 and dragged on 19 years and 180 days. The people in THAT park from THAT time who were sick of war and calling for peace got hit with much worse then just hoses and dogs. Much, much worse. Like Bunker Hill worse. (Go to your local DVD rental portal and rent Chicago 10 to have all your questions on that one answered if you want to know more.)
(Hoffman, 2011)

So we've got kids hit with hoses in 63, and kids hit with hoses and batons and dogs and tear gas in 68, and the stories of the Bonus Army who camped in front of the White House only to be burned and beaten out of their makeshift village, and now we have Occupy. Only this time, its everywhere. When they try to close one location, there are literally hundreds of other cities still answering the call. And don't think the kids are just kids. We are talking all ages, married, single, homeless, with jobs, without jobs, but mostly engaged citizens that are extremely dedicated and heard the sirens call again. No one there has a sign about guns and no one there is threatening to come back with bullets next time. There are some of the most excited yet clear individuals racially spread out across the spectrum that we've ever met being well fed by constant donations and neighborhood support. Worldwide support sent with messages attached like, "We can't be with you, but we can send you a pizza. Bon appetite!" It's a beautiful thing.

OWS in shadow of Liberty Tower
(Lindo, 2011)
Our first night at Occupy Wall Street was spent huddled in one tent after another meeting people, listening to their stories of why they were there. Yesterday, was the first great elemental test of their metal as the slightly cold temperatures dropped and turned into a record breaking Noreaster for the month of October in the history of Octobers. Yesterday 3 inches coated everyone, but it did it sideways and came with wind and mixed with painful sleet type rain which kept up for like 20 hours. Today, if you want to walk down to Broadway and Cedar you won't find a trace of any snow storm at all. Nothing. Resilient protesters all. There must have been 300 people gathered in the General Assembly, another 30 or so watching the Open Mike area, a handful watching a film being projected onto a sheet in the rather large library area, and another hundred keeping warm in their tents, waiting in line for the free grub, or deep in discussion off in one corner or another. This is an active community of people who feel it is not only their right, but their duty to protest the gross man made distortions to our economic and ecological sustainability on this planet. A real pressure cooker for the bubbling up of solutions is being built and it's being patchworked together by Solutionaries from all over the U.S. with all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of complaints and concerns. It's a revolution of thought and process. Because self awareness is a hellofa thing.

Occupy Wall Street (Lindo, 2011)
This time, the people have had some casualties already as well. The young marine, a veteran with a full time job in Oakland that had been sleeping with the protesters there at night to keep the peace, has had his skull fractured, by a canister launched from an officer while they were teargassing a milling crowd of thoughtful caring patriotic civilians. Will that be our trim tab? Will the video of his fall, or the explosion into the crowd that was trying to help him, also caught on video, make the statement that needs to be made about the right to freedom of assembly? Will the photos of those hit with rubber bullets and covered with welts open the eyes of the sleeping? There is an argument to be made the mission has already been accomplished.

This last week, Friday, Saturday there were reports on NPR and CNN et al saying that "the national debate has been fundamentally changed when talking about economic inequality." A "watershed" moment is right in front of us. That was coming from main stream news talking heads. This revolution, apparently, will be televised. Don't you just love history in the making? All power to the people and the policy they invent.


Lisa, The Policy Geek

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