My piece on police and OWS, published on WagingNonviolence.org:
On Monday night, a student protest at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY), began as a peaceful march and demonstration against tuition hikes. But it quickly escalated into a situation where police were pushing students and faculty out of a public forum of CUNY’s Board of Trustees. The incident was terrifying for many of us present, though it fortunately did not result in any serious injuries. The greater damage, perhaps, was emblematic of a pervasive problem in the Occupy movement: the police became a proxy for the “one percent,” and instead of protesters finding ways to directly challenge the powerful elite, they ended up taking their anger out on police officers.
At Baruch, the Trustees were expected to vote on a five percent tuition hike—which they approved almost unanimously. The protesters, who included CUNY students, faculty, and supporters from other universities, learned once they arrived at Baruch that they would not be allowed into the public forum. (Only people who had registered in advance would be permitted, and even then, only 150 spots were allotted. It seemed to me that someone should have looked into this in advance.)
As the protesters pushed their way into the lobby of Baruch, security guards tried to usher them into an overflow room where they could watch it televised, but that wouldn’t suffice. People huddled in the lobby, trying to decide what to do: hold a general assembly to voice grievances about rising tuition, or go into the overflow room. But some people couldn’t give up on the idea of entering the Trustees meeting. They waved their IDs desperately at the security guards, saying, “I’m a student here! Why can’t I go in if the meeting is public?” Soon, a line of police officers formed in front of the protesters. The cops held their batons horizontally in front of their chests.
“Why do you have your billy clubs out?” shouted the students in unison, using the people’s microphone. “This is a school, not a jail. This is a peaceful protest.” Read more