The Occupy Oakland branch of the nationwide tent city protests seems to have produced the worst-case scenario for both the occupier movement and its critics. A man was shot and killed there a few days ago, and police are clearing the protesters out this morning (though many occupiers are threatening to come back after the police are gone).
But aside from the violence, which has been common throughout the protests in several major cities, the Occupy Oakland events put the lie to the assertion that only a minor segment of the group is responsible for the violence and that the rest of the protesters do not condone that behavior. Yesterday, Rabbi Michael Lerner, the left-wing political activist who runs Tikkun magazine, emailed his supporters with a note of correspondence between Lerner and one of his followers, who was–although supportive of the occupy movement in general–horrified by what he saw at Occupy Oakland:
The highlight of the day was a speech and a reading from the Egyptian movement that was followed by a “Solidarity March.” The reading was disturbing to hear because its focus was on the justification for violent resistance. Although the need for violent aggression may be debatable in Egypt, it is not here in America. The activists of our past changed this county by being willing to die, not by being willing to kill. What shocked me more was that no one (including myself) booed or hissed. We sat there and many applauded. Worse followed.
A leader of a Palestinian youth group read his own speech. “Down with Israel,” he said near the end of a speech that focused on past wrongs. There was resounding applause. Then one of the leader’s crew standing next to me said “f—— Jews,” and in the face of this I could stand it no longer.
This student said he was also worried by the fact that “many of the occupiers seemed ready for a violent fight–some welcomed it.” So the crowd, then, on the whole was supportive of violence, and the anti-Semitism received wide and heartfelt approval. None of this is surprising to those who have been watching the occupiers or engaging them, but it has been repeatedly denied by its apologists.
What was more surprising was Lerner’s response to the letter writer: he confirmed it. He didn’t mean to; he first began his letter by stating that there were only a few violent “anarchists” and the rest of the movement is peaceful. (He also blamed the Oakland police, the U.S. military, and of course private corporations.) Then he admitted the following:
I was deeply disturbed, and have withdrawn from active involvement with, a group of clergy who were meeting to discuss how they could assist in Occupy Oakland. At the third meeting I attended I proposed that we urge Occupy Oakland to officially endorse non-violence, train monitors to non-violently restrain violence-oriented demonstrators, and appeal to the majority of demonstrators to support these monitors to restrain the violence-oriented ones. To my shock, the clergy voted that down. They were only willing to endorse a resolution saying that they themselves supported non-violence, but they objected to the notion that they should call upon OO to share this same orientation.
Not surprisingly, then, a few days later when one of the participants at OO suggested a resolution for non-violence, without the active support of this clergy group the people who agreed with him felt silenced after some part of the crowd actively booed when he mentioned Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi’s commitments and teachings for non-violence.
That is, the “adult supervision” refused to advise the occupiers that they eschew violence, and when one of the protesters suggested nonviolence, he was roundly booed and mocked. The idea that the occupiers should be nonviolent was insulting to the movement’s core. Nonviolence and Jews are resented with shocking force by the occupiers, and their predilection for destruction was too much even for some of their advocates and allies, like Michael Lerner. That the movement’s supporters have been forced to admit this is just further testament to the undeniably dangerous character of the occupiers.