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Occupy Everything: Congress Shall Make No Law...


Oakland is lucky that its citizens are more peaceful than its police force. I watched in horror Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning as the peaceful protest movement, Occupy Oakland, was overrun and brutally assaulted by wave after wave of police thugs.

By the time the assault was over, dozens had been arrested and many more were injured by military-grade tear gas, noise bombs, and rubber bullets. That's right. American cops were shooting American citizens in the streets. Citizens who were doing nothing more than exercising their Constitutional rights were shot, wounded, gassed and arrested.

It was like watching protests in Libya or Syria or Iraq or anywhere else that Americans have gone and mouthed platitudes about dissent and democracy, except it was right here in America...and the cops were shooting and gassing protesters. When this behavior happens overseas, the American government is very much against it.

Here is President Obama, in May of this year.

"Square by square, town by town, country by country, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. (...)The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly," said the President in his speech "Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa."

Here is what Obama had to say last night, in support of the protesters. "______." Yep. He had nothing to offer, nothing to say about American cops brutalizing protesters exercising the very rights Obama claims to support universally. So much for Obama's big support of the Occupy movement.

As I reported last week, Obama and the Democrats are NOT friends of the movement. Last night's failure to support the protesters in Oakland was a huge sign for the movement that Obama is not your friend.

It's not like Obama didn't know what was going on. The President was in California, raising money for his re-election campaign. He was right there! He was right there, and instead of helping out the movement he claims to support, Obama raised money from the one percent. He should be ashamed, though I highly doubt he will be moved at all.

It's not like this is some hugely questionable, shaky movement for some obscure changes in American society. This is a protest movement that seeks to make government responsible to its people, and not to the extremely wealthy who can afford to buy elections. It is about reaffirming our commitment to democracy and the Republic.

Last night's police brutality goes even deeper, to the simple principle laid out in the very First Amendment to the Constitution that guarantees my right to write this and your right to read it: that government works for us, and not the other way around. In better language:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

There it is, in plain language, right in the First Amendment to the guiding, binding legal document that defines the social contract between government and the governed. And yet, in city after city, across the country, government shuts down protests, arrests protesters, harasses protesters, gasses protesters, injures protesters, and, as we saw at Kent State in the 1970s, kills protesters.

This is supposed to be the hallmark of our society — a feature of democracy that we trot out every time we want to teach another nation how to be democratic. But, for all that talk, we do not allow those freedoms at home. For all the speeches about democracy, we allow the wealthy here to steal elections, buy elections, and rig elections. Then, when the citizenry rises up to call them out on it, they send in the cops to rough them up, arrest them, and shoot them with tear gas and rubber bullets.

I ask again: Is this America? Is this the America you believe in?

If not, why do we tolerate the blatant disregard for the First Amendment's guarantee to assemble? Why do we allow local governments to subvert the meaning of protests by creating "Free Speech Zones" and special places and times where people can protest.

They do not have the right to limit free speech! They do not have the right to tell you where and when you can protest! Our rights as citizens, as the owners of the government and the people who consent to be governed under law, our rights are non-negotiable.

Not that the government can be trusted, any way. The police in Oakland last night claimed that they only used tear gas in retaliation for people throwing bottles at them. This is simply untrue. Police attempted to kick protesters out of the park at 10 pm. When they would not comply, because they have a right as Americans to assemble and protest, the police brought out the riot gear and the tear gas.

The police in Oakland also claimed that they did not use rubber bullets against citizens. This is blatantly false. You can see in this picture one protester shot in the head with a rubber bullet. To paraphrase a thread from twitter last night, it must have been easier to beat protesters and lie about it before the Internet.

The mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, should resign for these actions. Sending in hundreds of cops to pick a fight with protesters is not the hallmark of intelligent, mature leadership. She may not even get the chance, as a movement to recall her and replace her with someone who won't send in hundreds of heavily armed cops to break up a simple, peaceful protest is already underway.

What's ironic is the actions taken by the police in Oakland are serving the exact opposite of their intent. The protesters are not only more radicalized now, they are more committed than ever to see this movement through. The millions across America who stayed glued to the footage and updates have been galvanized and motivated by the horror of seeing a police state in action in an American city. Hell, even I woke up today a little more angry and a little more empowered to do battle where I best can: a few hundred words at a time.

For their part, the protesters have returned to scene in Oakland. The police state seems to have no qualms with another round of violence and unconstitutional arrests. They do not understand the power of the people, united, shall never be defeated. They do not see what is coming next. We are the 99 percent and we will win.

After all, Obama will almost certainly change his tune this summer, when the protests, which will only grow over time, take over the Democratic National Convention. Brad Friedman at suggested it last night, in a tweet sure to give Obama nightmares.

"Don't these Dem officials ordering arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets rmbr 1968? Seriously? Waiting for #OccupyDNC2012 to rmbr?! #stupid #ows"

And so the great pontificator will reap what he has sown — a discontented society seeking a government, any government, that will hear their voice and answer their calls. Democrats and Republicans are so busy raising money from the one percent that they don't realize they are both in danger of losing the country, permanently.

This movement is volatile and refreshing and could go in any number of directions. As we have seen in Libya and as we will see soon in Syria, these things usually end poorly for the elites. Will there be violence? Will there be upheaval and revolution?

Or will the batons and gas canisters of the police state silence democracy, once and for all?

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To comment on this (or any of my columns), visit my user page at Benzinga. You can also reach me by email or on twitter @johndthorpe.

Posted-In: Barack Obama Constitution First AmendmentNews Movers & Shakers Politics Global General Best of Benzinga


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