UPDATE: KPCC is reporting that Occupy LA — which hasn't yet been shut down and is actually right across the street from police headquarters — may become a kind of "oasis" for Occupy movements that have been forced out of public sites. It would be quite a trek for Occupy Wall Streeters. But you never know. It's getting cold in New York...
In the very early hours of Tuesday morning, New York City police descended on Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, the site of the original Occupy Wall Street movement, and cleared the site of protestors. Almost 200 people who refused to go quietly were arrested.
Tensions are mounting at other Occupy sites around the country. In Oakland, protestors have been particularly aggressive. In Los Angeles, they're been mostly peaceful. But it's becoming increasingly clear that, despite a high level of political support in many cities, local governments are losing patience with 24/7 demonstrations at public sites.
So the roustings have begun in force. The concern, obviously, is that Occupy protestors won't always cooperate with the police. You'd hate to see this turn into the 21st century's version of the Bonus Army riots of the Great Depression. A replay of something truly horrible, like Kent State, seems unlikely.
A big question, however, is "Are the authorities doing Occupy a favor?" City officials are wrapping themselves in the cloak of public health and the common good, insisting that they can't allow protestors to effectively take over and inhabit parks and municipal sites for long periods of time.
But to outsiders, this just looks like the goon squads being brought in to send the dirty hippies home. You might oppose that or favor it. But that's what's really going down.
The Occupy movement is only about two months old, but in the brief period it's taken its place among American protest movement of the past. The twist is that the movement is overtly leaderless, which is either a critical advantage or a key stumbling block, depending on how you look at it.
It's also a more virtual movement that past protests. #OWS now has as much strength as a Twitter tag as the physical occupation itself. You can see the progression: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Facebook, Occupy Twitter, Occupy the Media, Occupy Everywhere Else.
Eventually, the movement becomes as much a state of mind as it does a place where you have to go. In this sense, it resembles the Vietnam War protests, which started in the mid-1960s and continued for the better part of a decade, flaring up at various times and creating a broad, most unified front that ultimately ended the U.S. involvement in the war in the early 1970s.
Ideally, this is what will happen with the Occupy Movement. The Vietnam era had "End the war." Occupy, with its 99% versus the American 1% financial elite will have "End the inequality." In fact, since inequality in America will probably never be ended, you can see the Occupy movement become almost like a third political party.
In fact, this prospect has been thrown out there. What would happen if that other big American protest movement, the Tea Party, got together with Occupy? You'd have a new Progressive party (maybe), a modern version of the movement that Teddy Roosevelt led in the early 20th century and that, in many ways, formed the basis of the New Deal that Franklin Roosevelt, a progressive Democrat, engineered after the Great Depression.
It won't be that easy. The Tea Party, with its libertarian ethos, wants to use government to constrict government. Occupy wants government to level the playing field and ensure that all Americans get a fair deal in life. But both are equally disgusted by the center-right financial oligarchy that's emerged in the past 30 years and controls American political and economic existence.
And that's not some kind of crazy conspiracy position. What's keeping the U.S. economy from recovering? Banks that have billions in bad homes loans on their books that they don't want to write down. And banks that are sitting on piles of money that they're reluctant to lend out, to get new business activity going. How many banks?
Six: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. And really, just four, because Goldman and Morgan were investment banks that coverted to bank holding companies during the financial crisis so that they could be bailed out by the Treasury and the Federal Reseve.
Quite a few people are unhappy with this arangement. So even as Occupy is getting kicked out its parks, it may be preparing to learn from the Tea Party and plan to move into state houses, Congress, and maybe even, some day, the White House.
I wouldn't call this the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning.