Occupy Wall Street’s Tipping Point

Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily

Malcolm Gladwell defines a tipping point as a “moment of critical mass” in which an idea or movement spreads virus-like through the repetition of small, meaningful moments.

In his book, The Tipping Point, he describes it as a threshold moment; a liminal moment. The moment when an idea – pushed to the precipice by untold numbers of tiny, concussive shoves – finally loses its footing and plummets uncontrollably into the hearts and minds of millions.

United States Marine Corps. Sgt. Shamar Thomas confronts the NYPD after scenes of police brutality in Times Square.

Over a five week period, we have witnessed in our country the coalescence of thousands of small, meaningful moments that comprise an ever-expanding movement: The Brooklyn Bridge; Zuccotti Park’s canceled eviction; Times Square.

However, while there have been ongoing occupation events in hundreds of municipalities across the country – and while recent polls show increasing favorability trends – the movement has remained on the outside of mainstream America looking in. (Roughly a third of Americans currently view the movement favorably.) This is due, in part, to the way in which Occupy Wall Street has been portrayed by the corporate media as a disorganized, muddled mass. More importantly, though, has been its marginalization by certain politicians and media outlets as an anti-American, dangerous force.

The surest way to dull a popular movement is to brand it as dangerous to America. And with scenes of arrests and confrontations between police and protesters filling living room television screens (no matter that the police are often to blame), such branding has been made all too easy.

However, the moment such branding can be fractured and utterly torn asunder is the moment Occupy Wall Street will reach its tipping point. And I believe it’s now standing on the precipice, ready to make the mainstream plunge as both military veterans and even active duty police officers begin to stand in opposition against those forces intent on ending the Occupy movement.

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This weekend in Albany, New York, something remarkable happened: the police refused to arrest protesters at the behest of both Albany’s mayor and Governor Cuomo. As the Albany Times Union reports:

In a tense battle of wills, state troopers and Albany police held off making arrests of dozens of protesters near the Capitol over the weekend even as Albany’s mayor, under pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, had urged his police chief to enforce a city curfew.

The situation intensified late Friday evening when Jennings, who has cultivated a strong relationship with Cuomo, directed his department to arrest protesters who refused to leave the city-owned portion of a large park that’s across Washington Avenue from the Capitol and City Hall.

“We were ready to make arrests if needed, but these people complied with our orders,” a State Police official said. However, he added that State Police supported the defiant posture of Albany police leaders to hold off making arrests for the low-level offense of trespassing, in part because of concern it could incite a riot or draw thousands of protesters in a backlash that could endanger police and the public.

“We don’t have those resources, and these people were not causing trouble,” the official said. “The bottom line is the police know policing, not the governor and not the mayor.”

That last quote resonates. As mayors in cities across the country attempt to evict protesters doing nothing more than exercising their first amendment right to peacefully assemble and air their grievances, the actions of the authorities in Albany reveal that law enforcement officers across the country will no longer uniformly crack down in inappropriate ways.

Why? They don’t view these protests as anarchist or anti-American. They don’t view them as dangerous.

Listen to the words of Albany County District Attorney, David Soares:

“Our official policy with peaceful protesters is that unless there is property damage or injuries to law enforcement, we don’t prosecute people protesting,” Soares said. “If law enforcement engaged in a pre-emptive strike and started arresting people I believe it would lead to calamitous results, and the people protesting so far are peaceful.”

We don’t prosecute people protesting who so far are peaceful.

Yes, Albany is just one city. But it is the capital of a state that houses the symbolic center of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Additionally, anecdotal notes have been increasing regarding the opposition rank and file officers have to the way in which their superiors are cracking down on peaceful protesters for whom they have been charged to serve and protect.

We don’t prosecute people protesting who so far are peaceful.

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One of the fastest-growing entities now supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement is OccupyMARINES, a loose coalition of non-active duty Marines who support the protesters and the movement. In its short existence, it has established an intense and dedicated following, and has been partially responsible for the increased presence of non-active duty military personnel at protests. This obviously is creating optics that do nothing but counter the notion of Occupy Wall Street as anti-American.

Nothing has done more recently to counter this notion than the devastatingly-powerful viral video of Marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas confronting NYPD in Times Square after scenes of police brutality. It is a video that must be watched to understand its impact.

And it is a video that has sparked Occupy Marines. It’s a video doing its part to edge Occupy Wall Street toward a tipping point as more and more of our military veterans – some of whom have been hardest hit by the lack of economic justice protesters are railing against – join the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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There are large swaths of Americans who view the Occupy Wall Street movement as a negative, dangerous force, despite overwhelmingly supporting many of its core messages.

As more men and women in uniform visually demonstrate before mainstream audiences what has always been true – that Occupy Wall Street is fighting for economic justice for 99 percent of Americans – more citizens will come to not only view the movement favorably, but will support it as well.

As more scenes, such as those in Albany and Times Square, emerge and embed themselves into the body politic’s psyche, Occupy Wall Street will inch closer toward its tipping point.

Who knows? Perhaps the threshold has already been reached.

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG

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About David Harris-Gershon

David Harris-Gershon – a blogger for Tikkun magazine and a freelance writer on Israel, the Middle East and America’s role in the region – has recently published work in The Jerusalem Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, AlterNet, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Colorado Review and elsewhere. His memoir – What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? – is forthcoming from Oneworld Publications (2013). He received his MFA from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and has worked extensively as an educator, teaching creative writing and Israeli History / Jewish Studies in university and high school classrooms. Follow David on Twitter @David_EHG

Posted on October 24, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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