Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This is What Authoritarianism Looks Like

The repression is coordinated, systematic. The rulers are small and centralized, often comprising an elite body of the privileged. There is massive and widespread corruption and free speech is actively discouraged, often with inappropriate and disproportionate displays of force. Subjection and submission to authority is its key premise designed to silence all vocal opposition to the status quo.  

Whether or not this repression emanates from the Homeland Security Department or more locally at the city, county and state level, this is authoritarianism we are witnessing in both the highly orchestrated destruction of Occupy encampments throughout the country and the brutal force martialed against unarmed, non-violent demonstrators.Oakland mayor, Jean Quan admitted to being part of a conference call with the mayors of 18 cities. This systematic effort to quash a nacent political movement doesn't have to be federally mandated to qualify as the machinery of organized suppression. Authoritarianism isn't quite fullblown facism but it is a major way station along that slippery slope.

Police brutality is steadily increasing in response to the growing Occupy Movement. The pepper spraying of UC Davis students followed closely on the heels of the baton beatings on the UC Berkeley campus. Countrywide the police response is intensifying in its brutality. The viral video of police pepper spraying young students sitting in a peaceful row on the quad at UC Davis is just another appalling example of this trend. Watching the students with linked arms huddled in the onslaught of this totally unprovoked chemical attack is a radicalizing experience in and of itself. Learning later that those who refused to separated their  were sprayed in their faces and down their throats, causing people to cough up blood and be hospitalized, is simply a horrifying scenario in which Guantanamo Bay comes home to roost.

The footage of this travesty is strangely moving as well. It harkens back to sit ins in the American South during the Freedom Rides when simply by sitting at a lunch counter, protesters were subjected to coffee and food being poured over their heads. They sat still. They endured. And ultimately they triumphed.

In the recent uprisings in Cairo, CS gas, a potent form of teargas that induces vomiting and possible coma with prolonged exposure,  and rubber bullets are the main weapons of choice by the police and military. A number of protesters have lost eyes to rubber bullets, including one man who lost an eye in a battle but returned only to lose the other one in a subsequent street incident.

In the USA, we haven't arrived at that level of repression in this round of protests. I was a student at Ohio State University in 1970 the year the National Guard fired live ammunition at anti-Vietnam war demonstrators killing four. That same year two students were murdered by police in a women's dormitory at Jackson State College in Mississippi. So, not only can it happen here. It has.

After the pepper-spray incident when UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi walked out to her car, the path was lined with hundreds of silent onlookers bearing witness to one of the many knowing and naive accomplices who are institutionalizing oppression by claiming ignorance or just following orders. Either way, it is our constitutional right to democratic expression of dissent that gets sprayed, beaten and trampled upon.