Opinion » Ted Rall

The Occupiers' Choice

Will the Occupiers choose violence or failure?

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In a revolution, one set of elites gets supplanted by another. There has never been a nonviolent revolution.

Gandhi was nonviolent. But his allies did resort to violence on numerous occasions. And India wasn't a revolution. It was an independence struggle. The rich remained rich; the poor stayed poor. Conversely, there has never been a revolution in which violence was the primary tactic. Even the bloodiest revolutions relied more on national strikes, sabotage, marches and demonstrations than shooting people. Revolutions are mostly nonviolent. But violence must always part be of the toolkit.

Sometimes against the will of many of its members, the nascent Occupy movement is being propelled forward into its second phase: increasingly direct confrontation with the security apparatus of the American police state. The consideration of violence as a tactic is the inevitable result of Occupy's own internal logic, resulting from a combination of its timing and its leaderless structure.

Never in history have the wealthy or powerful voluntarily relinquished substantial amounts of money or power. The corporate elite and the political class that enables them--the "1 percent," as Occupy calls them--will never give into the Occupiers' demands to reduce their power or wealth unless faced with violence or the credible threat thereof.

If voting or writing letters to the editor worked, we wouldn't need Occupations.

The Occupy movement can wind up one of two ways: failure, or success, partly via the occasional use of violence and/or the credible threat of violence from sporadic outbursts.

First let's define terms. Vandalism, theft and destruction of property are not violence. Inanimate objects do not suffer. Violence can only be inflicted upon living beings. Breaking a window may or may not be morally justified, but it is never violence. Further, violent self-defense is not the same as violence. Until now, the violence at the Occupations has all been initiated by the police. When policemen fire rubber bullets, bean bags, tear gas and pepper spray at unarmed, peaceful protesters, their victims have every right to defend themselves.

What makes the Occupy movement so compelling is that it moves beyond going through the motions toward real resistance against tyranny for the first time since the 1960s. Seizing territory without a permit and refusing to relinquish it, as has happened at Occupy Wall Street and hundreds of other cities, presents an inherent threat to the system.

They can't do nothing. Tolerance signals legitimacy, even tacit approval of OWS and its message. Can't have that.

But crackdowns make the movement grow even bigger. A video of a NYPD official pepper-spraying four women without provocation inflamed public opinion and drew more people to Manhattan's Zuccotti Park. A plan to evict OWS was scrapped after hundreds of people traveled there to gird for battle.

Meanwhile, as politicians feel more pressure to crack heads, Occupations will have to move indoors. Freezing temperatures have arrived in much of the country. Tensions will rise. As clashes with the authorities intensify, the ridiculous fetish of nonviolence--a faith-based tactic with no more basis in historical fact or reality than creationism--will be forgotten and, one day soon, laughed at.

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