Thrown out of their camps, can the Occupiers return stronger?

'In some ways OWS can be seen as a re-run of the idealistic hopes of those Obama zealots of 2008'

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:04 ON Thu 17 Nov 2011
Alexander Cockburn

FROM Manhattan, to Nashville, to St Louis, to Portland, Oregon, to Oakland, California, the police this week moved in to clear out the Occupy Wall Street protesters from the various downtown plazas or squares where they'd established their peaceable camps. The mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, had earlier acknowledged a conference call between 18 mayors across the US discussing strategy, and the mode elected was clear enough. Get them out, by any means necessary.

These marching orders were taken most seriously in the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement back in 1964, at Sproul Plaza, entry way into the University of California at Berkeley. FSM's birth was prompted by the arrest of Jack Weinberg for soliciting money for the civil rights movement. He was put into a police car, but a spontaneous sit-down trapped it. Eventually the roof was used as a FSM platform.

A week ago hundreds of students had come out to Sproul Plaza to protest proposed fee hikes of 81 per cent that would bring UC tuition from $13,000 to over $22,000. The argument of the students was simple: the banks caused the financial crisis, the financial crisis caused the budget crisis, and therefore the banks, not the students, should pay for it. The students drew inspiration from the Occupy Movement and set up their own small encampment on the lawn outside Sproul Hall.

An eyewitness, Michael Levien, described what happened at around 9.30 pm this Monday night: "A phalanx of police in riot gear turned the corner of Sproul Hall and rapidly charged, thrusting their batons with violent force into the crowd. Chanting 'non-violent protest' and 'stop beating students,' student after student took fierce baton thrusts to their chests and limbs.

"Then the police started swinging, brutally beating people's chests, arms, knees, and backs. They were swinging to hurt. With the crowd behind and the police in front there was no way for people to leave even if they wanted to. A few people tried to escape in the narrow gap between the students and police. They were savagely beaten. Throughout what can only be described as a terrifying physical attack that has left many with serious injuries, the students stayed entirely non-violent."

In an email to the campus, Chancellor Birgenou, who often likes to reminisce about his Freedom Rider days, defended the administration's response by saying that it was necessary to remove the encampment for "practical" considerations of "hygiene, safety, space and conflict issues". He remarked: "It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience."

So chapter one of the Occupy movement draws to a close, and maybe the concerted onslaught by uniformed goons actually did the movement a favour - scant comfort to those battered to the ground – by leaving the Occupiers with a positive bank balance in ·