A Reporter’s First-Hand Look at the OWS Protests
By Michelle Fields
“I have a two-year old in the back. All I’m trying to do is go home. I mean seriously, guys—can we use some common sense please?!”
I caught these words on camera while covering the Occupy DC protests of Fall 2011 for the Daily Caller. The speaker’s apparent offense was ownership of a luxury SUV, which he was attempting to drive past the convention center housing Americans for Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream Summit.
Occupy protesters had surrounded the convention, forming roadblocks through which only inexpensive cars were allowed to pass, reciting “We are the 99%” as Summit attendees attempted to enter and exit the conference building, and chanting “F-ck the Daily Caller” at my camerawoman and I.
The chaotic atmosphere made it unsurprising that at least one elderly attendee of the Summit took a dangerous fall on the steps outside the building, while the protesters were in turn outraged when a driver who ran over two Occupy members was not apprehended by the police.
A month later, I traveled to New York City to cover the Occupy movement’s central protest, the camp in the financial district’s Zuccotti Park, for their "shut down Occupy Wall Street" event. The atmosphere in NYC was equally chaotic, but it was apparent that the police were instigating the violence, not the protesters.
My camerawoman captured footage of a young woman face down on the sidewalk. A protester from the West Village filled me in on the back story:
[The police] slammed that girl’s face into the pavement…I mean this is our taxpayers’ dollar paying their salaries, and this is what we get. We can’t even—we can’t even stand on the sidewalk and voice our opinion anymore at the place where [Wall Street bankers] drove this country into the ground.
Protesters accused police officers of punching a protester for no reason and screamed: “What do your children think of you? How do you look at your children?” A bloodied 20-year old protester named Brandon Watts was held, crying, in police custody as his fellow protesters screamed that he be let go and given medical assistance.
Meanwhile, the denizens of Wall Street showed up for a counter-protest, carrying signs suggesting Occupiers “get a job,” or “occupy a desk.” One Wall Streeter inquired:
Since when did it become time in America that we get punished for pursuing excellence? We’re supposed to be chastised for being in the 1%? Our parents taught us to go after being in the 1%. You want to be in the top 1% of your class. You want to be in the top 1% of the wage earners. You want to excel; you want to be great. We’re getting chastised for trying to pursue the American dream and being great.
He went on to suggest that the money spent on security and sanitation for the protests could have been used to maintain bus services for New York City middle schoolers, implying that the Occupiers’ protests were doing more harm than good, even for their own cause.
As reports of police brutality, Occupier vandalism and lack of hygiene, and a still-stagnant economy not buoyed by Wall Street bailouts and other stimulus spending continued to roll in throughout the latter months of 2011, it’s not hard to be a little sympathetic with both the OWS protesters and some of their opponents. As the protests continue and the smoke (or rather, pepper spray) gradually clears, however, three things are certain:
1. Occupiers need to shape up if they want to be effective. As Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist pointed out, the Occupy Wall Street movement going to damage its own message if it continues “to annoy middle class Americans.” He’s right. If Occupiers want to gain a friendly ear for their message and put the better parts of their anti-corporatist, anti-bailout message to good use, a change of tactics is likely in order.
2. Support for police brutality isn’t conservative. While many conservatives justifiably condemn much or all of the Occupy movement, it is vital that they don’t make the further leap to supporting brutal actions by the police against protesters. It’s true that these protesters are far rowdier and less concerned with the rule of law than are Tea Partiers, but it’s also true that they are Americans and we must, like Voltaire, “defend to the death” their right to say things we disapprove of.
3. Occupiers shouldn't blame the free market, they should blame Crony Capitalism. In December 2011, unemployment rates were the lowest they’d been in almost three years. Good news, right? Well, not when you realize that the December rates only bring us back to March 2009, hardly a time of prosperity. This lack of economic improvement in the face of so much government intervention in the economy in those three years should make it more than obvious by now that the Occupiers and their strange bedfellows, fiscal conservatives, are very right about the fact that bailing out the government’s friends on the taxpayer’s dime is neither moral nor effective.
Michelle Fields is a reporter at The Daily Caller.