Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Wall Street IX: One Cannot Resist the Invasion of Ideas

The violence that erupted in the Occupy Wall Street protest in Oakland Park is unfortunate but also eerily predictable. It was only a matter of time before more “zealous” protesters joined the fray and police would be ordered to enforce the “unlawful assembly” ordinances that most municipalities have on their books. It was only a matter of time before the intellectual ideology of the protesters had to confront the cold hard metal of a police officer’s rifle, baton, tear gas or handcuff. It was only a matter of time before there was blood in the streets.

Many credit Professor Elizabeth Warren for providing the intellectual foundation for the development of the Occupy Wall Street movement. After all Professor Warren has been protesting Wall Street for a very long time. She commented recently that Occupy Wall Street is an “organic movement, it expresses enormous frustration and gives a great faith all across the country for people to talk about what’s broken.” I agree. As the middle class continues to erode during this double dip recession, millions are asking why. As people continue to suffer from the loss of their jobs, their homes, their health care, their children’s education fund, and their own retirement funds, a sense of hopelessness has morphed into anger, and anger into protest. However, protest does not necessarily equal violence. The two are mutually exclusive. There is no rational reason why the protest in Oakland Park resulted in violence by the police, other than as an intimidation tool. Physical pain has always had a very sobering, demoralizing, and dehumanizing effect.

Elizabeth Warren recently stated that “Wall Street’s tricks brought our economy to the edge of collapse and there hasn’t been any real accountability.” Professor Warren understands why people are so angry and why they are taking their fight to the street. What Wall Street needs to understand as Hugo Marie Voltaire once stated over 160 years ago “on resiste a l’invasion des armees; on ne resiste pas a l’invasion des idees.” In other words, “one can resist the invasion of armies; one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.”

Lydie Nadia Cabrera Pierre-Louis


  1. donaldblairbartlett@yahoo.comOctober 29, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    An excellent editorial in the SF Chronicle pointed out that, in the event of a natural disaster (a large earthquake or fire, for example), it would be only natural for displaced citizens to gather in tent cities, and for authorities to suspend normal laws forbidding such gatherings. It would also be natural for such tent cities to locate near civic centers and government buildings.

    The writer sensibly concluded that the current state of unemployment and foreclosures in our country represents a disaster of such large proportions that it provides reasonable justification for suspending normal rules forbidding large gatherings in civic centers such as Frank Ogawa Plaza.

    I support the Oakland Mayor's decision to hold the police in check. She could do even better by providing extra sanitation and garbage collection facilities, and by appointing facilitators who would work with temporary tenants to promote health and safety.

    It was a shame and a tragedy that the police got so far out of hand. Police and other civil servants, who are part of the 99 percent, need to understand that this movement is very much for their benefit too.

    Next steps: We need to define a platform of goals and demands that 80 percent or more of the Occupy Movement participants can agree upon. I am willing to help with this effort.

  2. Steve Newbold writtes:

    This is in response to the next post as well with the mayor's statements, but I thought it was appropriate to write to Professor Pierre-Louis.

    With regards to the Mayor wanting to change American and work with the protestors, what can she really do?

    We were assigned to watch the movie about Enron "The Smartest Man in the Room" (although I've voluntarily watched it 2-3 times since then. I just watched it again a week ago on CNBC).

    Remember how helpless the California governor was during the Energy Crisis? Enron leaders Kenny Boy and Jeff Skilling were in charge of California for all intents and purposes. In fact, they spit in California's face by publicly mocking the state while profiting on its misery.

    I point to that example because it brings to light what the protestors must unite to demand. That is at the very least elected officials who have more power than corporations.

  3. Mahatma Ghandi once stated, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

    First they ignore you:
    Mainstream media initially refused to cover Occupy Wallstreet, and as the movement has spread to other cities, coverage has been sparse compared to attention devoted to the Tea Party movement. This comes as no surprise because the Occupy Movement, unlike the Tea Party, is seeking to hold corporations and banks responsible for their conduct that led to the current economic recession.

    Then they laugh at you:
    Mainstream media has gone on to frame the Occupy Movement in a negative light. In an attempt to write-off the movement as capricious and toothless, "Occupiers" are generalized as affluent white college dropouts who listen to Phish and avoid bathtubs. Though the movement has drawn a few that might match such a generalization, as Occupy has spread geographically, it has also diversified demographically. The "99%" is starting to appear more representative of the 99% of society. Unions, such as the Transit Workers Union of NYC, civil rights organizers, homelessness activists, clergy, families, and so on have joined the movement. Labor unions, which built the American middle-class, are the strongest voice in American politics actually defending it. Movements like Occupy spring up when people feel they do not have a voice in government. Many put "hope" in the current administration, but the past four years have demonstrated that the Democrat Party is more interested in bailing out banks than creating jobs and bringing America out of this financial crisis.

    Then they fight you:
    This article accurately states that violence is not a necessary element of protests. Violence, from Oakland to Atlanta, has resulted from politicians ordering police to disrupt otherwise peaceful "occupations". At this stage, the message of the Occupy movement is one of nonviolence. People are demanding that the burden of solving the financial crisis should be placed on the corporations and banks that caused it, and not on the backs of the American middle-class and working-poor.

    Then you win:
    Like the article states, the "invasion of ideas", and the message of the Occupy movement, cannot be suppressed by brute force. Police violence has only strengthened the movement and attracted greater numbers from across the political, social, and economic spectrum. The Occupy movement will continue to grow until Democrat and Republican politicians concede to the movement's demands by holding responsible the corporations and banks that caused this crisis.

  4. Very interesting post Professor Cabrera. I agree the violence in Oakland was very predictable. In a city with such a turbulent past, it was only a matter of time before violence would occur. Like in any movement, violence will eventually erupt when you add fringe elements, youth, and police aggression.
    However, I do not agree that this movement is entirely organic. It appears to me to be an amorphous movement that consists of anti-capitalist fringe elements, justifiably angry Americans, entitled youth unwilling to work for minimum wage, and members of the so-called “one percent” with the occasional actor or actress like a Susan Sarandon or Michael Moore type making an occasional guest appearance at a rally. Although many Americans in recent polls agree with the anger exemplified by the protestors over the bank and corporate bailouts, beyond that justified anger, the protestors fail to articulate any other points or any real, feasible objectives that can be digested by average Americans. (“Declaration of the Occupation of New York City”
    Recently, David Weidner, a sympathetic columnist covering the OWS movement for MarketWatch .com, warned in his column, “Occupy Wall Street: Get Real or Go Home,” that the protestors need to go beyond “gobbledygook about income inequality” and propose real solutions to get behind while they still have media coverage. For instance, he suggests a five-point plan that includes raising the capital gains tax to 25% and bringing back Glass-Steagall. (
    Without any real objectives, the movement will quickly fade from the spotlight and the collective memories of the American people because winter is quickly approaching and people sympathetic towards the OWS movement are loosing their patience. Again, thanks for the post Professor Cabrera.

  5. This violence directed at peaceful protesters is appalling. The protesters are calling for corporate responsibility. It is the corporations and "wall street" (with the help of deregulation) that created the worst economic crisis this country has seen since the the Great Depression. And it ain't over yet. Yet, the small group of people, the 1%, wall street, corporate big shots, whatever you want to call them, have taken this country hostage. Still, politicians and government entities are physically assaulting and harming the protesters who wish to bring attention to the lack of accountability. The media is portraying the protesters in a negative light in order to discredit the movement. All of this seems like an extension of the problems that got us here in the first place. That in this country a small group of people can manipulate the markets for short term gains and let others worry about the consequences. What could the consequences be of a small group manipulating the view of this movement and creating huge partisan divisions in order to achieve political gains (which ultimately is about making more money for themselves)? Hopefully, if people like the OWS protesters stick together and others join the good fight in their own ways, the invasion of ideas will help to save us all.

  6. I also agree that it was only a matter of time before the protests turned violent and will probably be one of many such occurrences. It only takes a spark in such situations to escalate from peaceful to violent. However, without a concrete platform and tangible leverage, the movement is destined to fade into irrelevancy.

    It would be great If any legitimate change could result from the protests, but I am doubtful it is possible. I think the issue with unmanageable student debt after graduation is definitely an issue that needs addressing. Short of bringing greater attention to the issue, I am unsure how camping out in parks across the country will ever achieve any real change. It seems that those with the power to enact real change only do so when they are forced to in one way or another. If the movement wishes to achieve measurable gains then it needs a plan in place to put pressure on those in power. Otherwise, this movement will be a distant memory before long, without having affected the reality that it angrily challenges.

  7. Kenneth W (Memphis Law)November 4, 2011 at 11:26 PM

    Right along with everyone else, violence was lurking at the outset of the protests. However, I am confused as to why violence during a peaceful movement aimed at corporate responsibility occurred in the first place. I guess that is just the American way. A group of individuals gathering for a legitimate purpose in order to affect change to a corporate system that has resulted in an economic disaster. Why violence?

    I really hope that this violence does not spread to other cities where others are participating in the OWS movement. If violence does spread I am sure that the OWS movement, which was organized for a peaceful demonstration toward frustration with wall street and corporate giants, will begin to get a bad name. Similar to Civil Rights movement, I would only hope that whatever name protesters get, their efforts lead to positive change that will benefit many Americans.

  8. FalenC (Memphis Law)November 15, 2011 at 9:59 PM

    I agree that it is quite pathetic that these protests (and many others)often result in violence, regardless of whether the violence is initiated by the protestors or by law enforcement. However, I cannot say that I am surprised by it at all. With emotions running as high as they are about the situation, it was and is still bound to happen.

    Furthermore, I agree with another commenter in the opinion that I'm not sure that protesting will serve any purpose other than bringing more attention to the situation (which of course isn't a bad thing). However, I don't feel that this is really going to solve the problem.

  9. I think I would have more sympathy for the OWS protesters if they had more of a concerted and articulated message and had attempted to work inside the system. OWS has made little attempt to affect the political structure of this country. It is not as if OWS protesters exhausted other avenues to object (voting, campaigning, nominating candidates, boycotting corporations, true grass roots movements). OWS just went straight to the streets - straight into protesting. This tactic has done little more than irritate most Americans. When I talk to most people who are not constantly plugged into a computer and current events (average, passive individuals), they have lumped the OWS movement into hippy people pushing progressive agendas. The legitimate concerns of the movement are undercut by the protesters lack of goals, voice, and organization.

    The comparative success of the TEA party should serve as an example. The TEA party took their niche issues into the political arena and now have a strong voice in the legislature and governmental system.

    My point is that the face of this movement, whether it is OWS's protesters fault or not, is violent clashes like the one in Oakland. Instead of pushing the envelope and looking for the most aggressive option for change, I believe the OWS movement would be more effective trying, at least a little bit, to work within the system first.

  10. Protests such as these are often bound to end in violence. The OWS participants should realize that they are treading on ice - a step beyond peace will result in them getting booted by the municipalities. This also goes along with a point Mr. Bradley stated. They need to have "more of a concerted and articulated message." I don't think they needed to "work inside the system" (the OWS participants have chosen to express their message though another means). If they had a more focused message with a solid platform detailing their grievances and potential solutions, they could be better organized, and that organization would lead to a completely peaceful presentation of their message. Without a clear platform, emotions can and will run high.

  11. I agree with the OPs original statement that the presence of violence at an OWS protest is eerily predictable, but I would take it a step further and say that it is practically a given. Anytime there is a fanatical following with such solidarity as is present in the OWS movement, there will be violence as the opposition will never voluntarily relinquish its power just because the other side demands it. As I've stated previously in other comments, this a nation birthed in the blood of revolution. It's the only thing Americans understand. When the system is broke, we take to the streets and demand it's repair. First we talk, and if that's not effective, then we fight. If governmental officials truly seek a peaceful resolution to the OWS movement, they need to get involved and fast. As far as comments go regarding making use of the avenues within the system first, that is the whole point of the OWS movement. People have realized that there is too much of a union between corporation and government and people are slowly learning that fact and they are very, very pissed off about it.

  12. NatalieB_MemphisLawNovember 20, 2011 at 9:41 PM

    Any violence that occurs against those peacefully protesting will only make others see that a change of those in charge needs to occur. As it has been said, violence was inevitable in a situation like OWS, but if it comes from those whose job it is to keep citizens safe, clearly, something is wrong. That being said, I have read quite a few articles explaining that in many areas, the protesters are putting a severe strain on the city's resources. If the articles are accurate, this strain will likely affect the 99% rather than the 1%. I would like to see the protesters find a way to send their message without harming those they are fighting for, and I would like to see those in charge treat the protesters with respect. I think discussions between those in charge and the protesters could lead to favorable results, and I believe violence will only put everyone further from a solution.

  13. Being that violence would be a likely end result for some of the Occupy movements across the country, why didn't anyone try to dissuade that violence. As I have said in related posts, the message that the OWS protesters are trying to convey is very important, but they way they are conveying it has proven to be ineffective. I think most of America believes in what the OWS protesters have to say, however America has grown tired of the negative repercussions that have resulted.

    While I agree that violence by law enforcement officials in this instance was definitely not the answer, I can't help but wonder if those officers were brought to their breaking point. As others have said, there has to be a better way to bring about a result that both sides can agree upon. I believe had the OWS protesters properly focused their anger and energy in more positive and organized manner, they would be a lot further along in having their voices effectively heard.

  14. I think the message of the protesters is pretty clear... but perhaps is stated in a more articulate fashion by a classic band we all know and love...
    I am really, really tired of my generation being labeled as "entitled," "spoiled," and "lazy." The fact is, when people are being laid off from jobs that they have held for 20+ years, who wants to hire a "green" 20-something with no experience? And the education that my generation was so pushed to pursue is now commonplace- a bachelor's is the new high school diploma. I personally have interviewed for restaurant jobs that asked me whether I had my Bachelor's degree.
    As for having a clear message and trying to effect change "from the inside," there were record turnouts at the polls by young people at the last election. I helped with the campaign by working in a call center, as did most of my friends. As a whole it's shown that young people are comparably more politically active. The problem is- no one was listening to us. But now, with all the attention garnered by the protests- just about everyone is.
    I see the movement as less of the speech that calls people to action, and more of the salutation. What good one doesn't begin with something like... "Ladies and Gentlemen! May I have your attention please!"

  15. "It was only a matter of time before the intellectual ideology of the protesters had to confront the cold hard metal of a police officer’s rifle, baton, tear gas or handcuff. It was only a matter of time before there was blood in the streets."

    Funny how no one ever died at a TEA party rally. But I digress...

    I agree with most that OWS needs a clearer message. Something more than just "we don't like inequality."

    As for the violence, it was definitely foreseeable. Mass protests like these inevitably lead to police confrontations as the protestors are violating perfectly reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on their speech.

    Lastly I would advise OWS that it's time to move on from street protests and to working through the political system. Vote, work in campaigns, maybe in a few years some of you even run. If voters agree with you, you'll win and maybe you can change the world.

  16. NatalieB_MemphisLawNovember 23, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    I agree that the occupiers should move from their street protests to working through the political system. In many cities, public officials have recognized the movement and expressed their willingness to speak with the group. If the protests continue without any active involvement in the political system, interest will turn into annoyance and public support of the movement will desist. If the occupiers do not take opportunities to actively work with public officials when they are offered, they will lose credibility.

  17. I read an article that estimated cost at around $14 million dollars to police the Occupy movement. Of course, there was nearly one million dollars spent to police Michael Jackson's funeral...

  18. I agree with the sentiment of the last few posts that the protesters in the occupy movement have gained the ear of public officials and should make an attempt to effect change by way of the political system. I recall that the daytime Occupy group in Memphis was not as large as some may have liked, and it seems that support for the movement is "fading" according to many news sources. If the group does not take the opportunity to enter the political system now, they may lose their chance.

  19. I agree with many of the comments above that point out the obvious violence that was destined to occur from these protests. Unfortunately, I believe this may have occurred for nothing. I agree with the point the "occupiers" are trying to make, hold wall street accountable for their own greed and mistakes; however, I feel there were better ways to go about it. I understand there comes a point where one must be bold in order to truly get those in power to notice, but I don't believe that setting up these "tent cities" is the way to go about it. Many people compare the OWS movement to the TEA party in that they are trying to get a message across. Many people complain about the lack of media coverage OWS has gotten, arguing that the media is trying to downplay the movement. Perhaps what people are most unhappy about are the methods chosen. I do not believe that the media ignored the OWS movement and fanned the flames of the TEA party movement in order to push one agenda and hide another. Perhaps the 99% that aren't "occupying" are simply not interested in supporting this camp out style of protesting. It may be naive to believe that putting pressure on your politicians is still the best way to get things to change, but that is at least how I feel about it. I understand certain lengths must be taken to get politicians attention, but marches seems more productive than camp outs. I believe the methods chosen have, instead of making those in power stand up and take notice, it has given them cause to laugh. The OWS movement has been generalized as people who aren't trying to get jobs, people who aren't actively trying to make their situation better. Instead they camp out in protest. This isn't a way of making those in power take you seriously. This gives them reason to laugh and say those who are "occupying" are simply too "lazy" to try to find work. Any work. While peaceful, non-violent protests are definitely the best way to go in order to maintain safety for all involved, camping out and sitting in in protest of those controlling the country's money and taking it all for themselves only gives them reason to say those involved in the OWS protests are just being "dramatic" or aren't actually interested in finding work. A plan needs to be decided upon, marches organized, politicians called or campaigned against. These are methods that show active disproval of the methods wall street has taken, methods that do not allow for those in power to write-off the protests as silly. While the occupy movement has gained attention, more action might be taken with a plan that goes farther than simply camping out in front of capital buildings.

  20. I sympathize with the OWS movement; however, I am not sure how successful this movement will ultimately be in changing much. Because of the decentralized approach of the OWS movement, they have not been able to articulate in detail what exact changes they are seeking.

  21. Kirkland (Memphis Law)November 28, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    I agree with Kate that all news sources have revealed that support "Occupy Memphis" is seemingly waning. When looking at Occupy Memphis' website, , the movement's demands are endless and it is hard to see how they hope to accomplish such a laundry list of goals. I agree with the idealism behind their goals, yet I find it difficult to see how Occupy Memphis will go about achieving them.

  22. Kirkland makes a good point about agreeing with the idealism behind the OWS movement, but struggling to see the best path for OWS in achieving their goals. In the meantime, I think the opposers of the movement are becoming increasingly vocal in criticizing the movement as simply unrest among the "younger" generation due to an inability to appreciate how "good" they actually have it. The below video was shown to me by a very anti-OWS friend who emphasized that this viewpoint (of OWS being attributable to a sense of entitlement among a youthful generation who has not had to work very hard for their livelihood) is gaining prominence. While I think this video does a good job of demonstrating this extreme opposition viewpoint, I think it goes too far in suggesting that OWS is solely the result of people with nothing better to do who want a bigger cut from the 1%.

  23. Lindsey G (Memphis Law)November 28, 2011 at 7:14 PM

    I agree that when a movement gets this big and this passionate, it seems almost inevitable that violence will erupt. I sympathize with the majority of OWS protesters: those that are tired of having a tiny minority of people in society making decisions (often for their personal benefits) that affect millions who often have no voice. However, I think that within any movement there are those protesters, Professor Cabrera referred to them as “zealous,” whose actions are more extreme and gain (often negative) national attention, see the Bill Whittle video that Kate posted as an example (I’d love to see him survive off berries in the woods for 3 days...). I think it is upsetting that a tiny minority often give the majority a bad name.
    Further, I think that the amount of social media at people’s fingertips both helps and hinders the OWS movement. People can receive constant updates about the movement (Twitter…) but, the more radical protesters within the movement (who may not even represent the majority) are also free to post and tweet at-will. Of course the more extreme posts and individuals are examples the media is more likely to focus on and the ones that those in opposition are more likely to attribute to the movement as a whole.

  24. Kirkland (Memphis Law)November 28, 2011 at 10:37 PM

    I think Lindsey paints a very vivid picture. We, as Americans and citizens of this world have always been taught that history repeats itself, and at time of such a vivid outpouring of public misery, it is easy to see how the OWS movement could spawn something akin to pre-1789 France.

    I think Dickens illustrated this crisis perfectly (though bleakly) in A Tale of Two Cities when he wrote, "Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind."

    Dickens' warning was to the aristocracy, employing the metaphor of sowing and reaping to show that if they continue to sow the seeds of revolution by mistreating and oppressing the lower classes, they will assuredly harvest that revolution in time. I personally do not believe that something as drastic as the French Revolution will happen in our own country but I do believe that the .01% should be very wary of history and it's tenancy to repeat itself.

  25. Izabela M- Memphis LawNovember 28, 2011 at 10:42 PM

    I also agree with most of the comments made here already that the eruption of violence was very much predictable because most people have strong feelings about this topic an perhaps get carried away with them. I also believe that if something wants to be achieved it must be done through the political system and not just by merely camping out in front of these organizations. Wall Street is obviously not listening to the people outside but it cannot ignore the law and that is the way to change things, at least in my opinion.

  26. At the risk of redundancy, I agree with the sentiments of many earlier comments. While violence was both predictable and sad, the OWS protesters across the country should take it as a learning point. As Elizabeth said, many Americans may generally agree with the reasoning behind the movement but are getting tired of the negativity and, for lack of a better term, the "bad press". The protesters must make a more concerted effort and reevaluate the most effective way to proceed.

  27. Salwa (Memphis Law)November 29, 2011 at 5:10 AM

    I also agree with Elizabeth F. The movement is still growing, and, although mistakes are bound to happen, the violence must end or else the movement will end. I’ve read that some protestors believe the violence will bring attention to the cause, but I disagree. I feel that the violence will actually allow for many individuals to criticize the movement.

  28. I have noticed a good number of posts on here theorizing the lack of a central message from the occupiers is preventing the "movement" from becoming as successful in achieving the goal of bringing about reform in corporate governance. However, I believe that this opinion highlights a misunderstanding of what OWS really is. I view the numbers of people drawn to these camps as a reaction amongst diverse groups of peoples carrying differing political and social ideologies to practices of corporations that have adversely effected them all. Corporations depend on petty differences to divide people and prevent coalition building that will result in a unified voice demanding change. Occupy is very much in the stage of building a coalition amongst people that can all agree on one thing; they have been screwed by corporations. It is out of this coalition that the true message of the "movement" will come.