OD Puts the Violence in Nonviolence

I sit here at my computer on Thursday, five full days after the Denver Police Department riot and I am still shaken up. I am shocked by the viciousness displayed by the DPD, but I am even more shocked by the ignorance and exclusiveness of Occupy Denver.

Although there have been dozens of reports concerning what happened on Saturday afternoon, I have seen only one written by someone who was actually at the event in question. I think it is important for the truth surrounding this incident to be brought to light and this can only be done by eye-witness testimony. I happen to be one of those people and this is my statement.

I took the bus to Denver on Saturday to have dance party with some friends. Occupy Denver has been too serious, and as Emma Goldman famously said, “A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.” Due to ugly rumors spread by OD, many people stay away from people they consider anarchists, so the dance party was mostly marginalized. This did not stop a group of about 20 of us from having a great time while still, in my opinion, getting our point across.

Towards the end of the march, as has been happening every week since the beginning of the Occupy Denver movement, we headed up to the capitol building. Normally, people fill the steps and surrounding area and in the center, the OD leaders give speeches. This week, however, we were met with a gang of State Police in riot gear, preventing us from going on the steps. A number of people began chanting, “we want the steps”, “this is what a police state looks like”, and “Oakland”, others tried to make friends with the masked men and women blocking us from standing on the steps that our tax dollars pay for. After much bickering, most people decided that their time could be better spent, and headed back down to Civic Center park to put up some tents, because the weather has been extremely cold at night.

Once in Civic Center Park, some of us danced while others helped Occupy Denver erect tents. A tarp had been tied to one tree and as the other end was being attached we noticed a group of about fifteen DPD riot cops, moving in on us fast, with no warning and blood lust in their eyes. Without telling us to take the tent down or advising us to move out of the area, they began pushing people out of the way with their batons and tearing the tent down. The police quickly tore the attached end from the tree branch. The other end, however, had been in the process of being tied to the tree by a woman. Unfortunately for this woman, the rope had gotten wrapped around her wrist. Noticing the gang of felonious riot starters headed in her direction, she immediately tried to break free. It was too late, the police began to pull. Reacting like the animals they are, the police took her helplessness as resistance and within milliseconds threw her to the ground, wrapped the tent around her, shoved her face into the dirt, and began beating her. As most human beings would do when seeing a close friend getting beat up by people armed to the teeth, a mighty attempt was made to rescue her. A scuffle ensued and in the end pepper spray and rubber bullets were indiscriminately dispersed and batons blindly swung around a small crowd of people. After being pepper sprayed directly in both eyes, I decided it was time to leave.

The battle between the people and the police lasted for a few more hours resulting in 20 arrests and a hospitalization (a motorcycle cop purposely drove over an unconscious individual). Less than twenty four hours after this event, the leaders of OD – most of whom were not even present at the incident – immediately began attempting to distance themselves from the people who were beat up; calling them everything from provocateurs to “marginalized at best”. They began harping on the fact that they were nonviolent and ignorantly quoting Gandhi and King, while ruminating over how to “get rid” of the problem people. I have two major problems with this.

My first problem lies in the everlasting love for police. I believe that change will indeed come if the puppets of the rich – the police, the military, and most of the citizenry – realize that what they are doing is wrong, and refuse to follow orders. If a police officer were to take off her or his uniform, quit the police force, apologize and ask to join us, I would welcome them with open arms. However, there is a huge difference between this and blindly supporting all police as part of the 99%. At this point in time, from the point of view of the people being pushed out by OD (AKA the majority of activists residing in Denver) is as follows: the police, even after beating, macing, shooting, raping and torturing innocent human beings, are part of the 99% and should be shown the utmost respect and admiration. After all, they are just doing their jobs. However, the people who have been dedicating their lives to struggle flip their middle finger at a cop or try to unarrest a loved one, and suddenly they are not part of the 99% anymore. This logic truly baffles me and makes me sick to my stomach every time I hear the chant, “we are the 99%”.

Secondly, the use of Gandhi and King to rationalize wanting to throw us out of their “movement” is like using the thorns of a rose to cut someone’s throat. A very common example right now is the Salt March, led by Gandhi, in which 1,000’s of people were beaten by police without fighting back. “If they can do it,” so these pacifists say, “so can we.” What they fail to consider are the facts that a) Gandhi and other organizers planned this action for months. They went through all possible scenarios, they practiced getting beat up without responding, and they were all on the same page. We couldn’t have developed a plan even if we wanted to, as we were unexpectedly attacked. Occupy Denver continues to ignore the wealth of organizers with Direct Action experience living in direct proximity of the Occupy site. b) Gandhi chose the ground of his battle, while we did not and c) each and every person beaten in India volunteered to undergo this treatment, while the woman getting beaten with a baton was not asked for her consent. Furthermore, I believe that anyone with a true understanding of nonviolence would have done the same things that we did, had they been in the same situation. The problem is that most of the people yelling about nonviolence are yelling it from their computers in their nice suburban houses –probably somewhere in Boulder.

I leave you with these questions- Is pointing a fellow protestor out to the police as a trouble maker, knowing how the police are trained to react, not violent? How can members of OD say, with a straight face, that they are going to kick people out of their movement, when they just got involved. What about the people they are trying to kick out? Are they not the folks who have made this whole thing possible? How brainwashed are those who continue to blame the victims in cases of police violence? Are these the same people who blame scantily clad women for getting raped? Finally, what now? Because, in the end, we will not have total revolution until we can find a way to work together.

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3 thoughts on “OD Puts the Violence in Nonviolence

  1. anon says:

    Fucking A. We see this happening everywhere to different degrees, but it sounds particularly bad in Denver. But I would like to respond to your question of what now? I believe it must be emphasized, again and again, that DEFENDING people from police aggression is not violent. Unarresting people is not violent, and indeed incredibly inspiring. To this end, I am trying to encourage other anarchists to form DEFENSIVE blocs. This tactic is very different than black blocs of the past, which were primarily aggressive. The sole purpose of defensive blocs would be to defend peaceful protesters from police aggression by placing ourselves between them and the pigs. We would be equipped with shields, armor, gas masks, pads, etc so as to deflect tear gas and batons, and the only aggressive actions we would make would be to unnarrest fellow protestors. I think this would have great mass appeal, not only to anarchists, and could seriously impede police operations.

    • NE says:

      I love the idea of nonviolent defensive blocs. Anarchist or not, defense blocs, so long as they remain nonviolent, really epitomize what real nonviolent civil disobedience is all about.

  2. NE says:

    Thanks for your article. While I did go to Denver on Sat 29th of Oct, I wasn’t there when all the violence broke out. It sounds really scary and terrible. I’m sure I would be shake up by that for days at least. I just wanted to reflect that I really liked your point about the months of preparation and strategizing that went into the acts of civil disobedience that happened as a part of the salt marches and many of the actions of the African American freedom struggle. I agree with you, it’s so important to prepare. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems OD and really anyone engaging in acts of civil disobedience in Denver really need to come together and prepare, strategize and plan before any more actions. I certainly think such planning will need to happen before there can be an action that will gain more public support. Just a thought.

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