Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The occupation of policing social movements

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Conversation at Occupy Chicago
(Photo by Michael Kappel via Flickr)
James Cavanaugh, a retired ATF executive, offers a good picture of the role of police in the #occupy movement in this op-ed piece posted to Tickle the Wire, a site focused on federal law enforcement.

Most notably, he encourages the "greatly underutilized" resources of police negotiators to form relationships and build trust with #occupy movement leaders, and to coordinate plans on a day-to-day basis. As Cavanaugh states, "It does not mean that the police will do everything that the protesters want, but it insurers that police will not act without first building trust and communication."

This to me seems right on. Part of the problem I've seen in citizen coverage of police presence in the #occupy movement is the militarized/SWAT stance. Granted, there is also a problem with how many in the movement view and antagonize police (including in said citizen coverage), so it's not like protesters are lily white. Less emphasis should placed on militarized police forces and more placed on building collaborative relationships with protesters, and a segment of protesters should stop demonizing the police. Such moves could encourage an already mostly-nonviolent movement to stay that way, and keep them on course toward substantive change.

I part ways, though, with Cavanaugh's final assessment, that the movement needs to "(transmute) itself into an occupy the voting booth movement." Here he conflates "public" with "political" (in the governmental sense) and ignores how deeply corporatized government has become, which is part of what the #occupy movement is protesting in the first place!

While I'm not opposed to voting per se, part of the genius of the #occupy movement is its inchoate awareness that the government is not the public savior, providing for all of our society's needs. Indeed, as political theologian, William T. Cavanaugh (another Cavanaugh?!) has shown, one of the problems with the contemporary nation-state is that very view of the state, sucking out all sociality from public life and arrogating it unto itself. The #occupy movement by its very praxis combats this. Some instantiations of the movement setting up ad hoc food systems, for instance.

Complexifying public space, restoring sociality to non-government-mediated public life, is one of the strongest forms of witness the #occupy movement has. This movement shouldn't be conflated with the Christian faith seen from an Anabaptist perspective, but there are areas of strong resonance which local instantiations of church should ponder and perhaps engage, tentatively and critically.

Sure, go to the voting booth, but stay in the square. For good.

(With thanks to my peacebuilding prof, Jayne Seminare Docherty, for tipping me off to the Cavanaugh piece. I also posted this under the same title to the Peacebuilder Online blog, which I co-edit, with an added question about the potential use of social media conflict monitoring platform, Ushahidi.)

No comments:

Post a Comment