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Gods Help Us, St. Louis Did it Right #OWS

Multiple news sources are reporting that the multi-city raids on Occupy Wall Street and its regional imitators were coordinated by the National Council of Mayors, via conference call right before they began. A few minutes ago, I saw an article on a San Francisco news website alleging that, based on deep-background off-the-record anonymous law enforcement sources, the FBI was on that 18-city conference call as well, and that it was the FBI that advised cities on tactics: go in hard, with as many cops as you can, wearing black riot-squad gear to make sure you have the psychological upper hand; do it in the middle of the night and keep the reporters as far away as possible.

The St. Louis Beacon non-profit news site is reporting that St. Louis's mayor didn't bother listening to the conference call himself; he let his chief of staff take the call. And after seeing how other cities handled their raids, and comparing it to how St. Louis handled its raid, I'm left wondering: did Jeff Rainford laugh out loud at the FBI and the credulous mayors who were listening in? Or did he manage to hide it?

See, here's one thing I didn't have the heart to tell my friend who's peripherally involved in Occupy St. Louis: Occupy is not the first liberal group to think that they could win for their political issue by setting up a permanent encampment on a major thoroughfare in downtown St. Louis. They're not even the first in my lifetime. They're the third. The only difficulty that anti-war tax-evasion advocate Bill Ramsey and his encampment posed for the St. Louis police was keeping the feds off of their back long enough for them to deal with it peacefully; homeless services advocate the reverend Larry Rice had multiple churches, half the city's politicians, and significant manpower at his disposal and was never more than a minor annoyance to the powers that be or to their police. And, now that I understand their strategy, St. Louis's sadly under-staffed, horrifically mismanaged, and irredeemably corrupt metropolitan police department did at least demonstrate this: they have dealing with encampments like this down to a science; Occupy St. Louis never stood a chance.

The first thing they did was the one that baffled me the most, at first: they gave the protesters nearly 36 hours notice, as opposed to the 20 to 60 minutes' notice other cities gave. It has taken me almost a week, and the mistakes of several other cities, to see why that was a good idea, because here's how they did it. Early afternoon on Thursday, they gave the protesters 24 hours' notice: as of 3pm on Friday, the no structures in the plaza rule was going to be enforced, and as of 10pm, the curfew was going to be enforced. So, unsurprisingly, Occupy St. Louis put out a huge call for as many people as possible to come to the plaza by noon, to be trained in peaceful civil disobedience; local civil liberties lawyers showed up to brief them. Needless to say, the cops did not oblige them by showing up at 3pm. Heck, I knew they weren't going to show up at 3pm; no way were they going to snarl downtown traffic during rush hour; I told my friend not to expect them any earlier than 7pm at the very earliest.

So, when no cops showed up anywhere near 3pm, the protesters had their biggest rally to date (as I suspect the cops were thinking, "getting it out of their system"), and then started to drift away. Rally organizers advised people to be back before 10pm, to block the enforcement of curfew. Sure enough, by 10pm, they had 350 people down there. And scant minutes later, people were jazzed up and ready to go, because outlying scouts reported that the police were gathering, en masse, with multiple cars, multiple buses, an ambulance, and a firetruck, only a couple of blocks away!

And sometime around an hour, hour and a half later, the cops just disappeared, dispersed, without ever having gotten within two blocks of the plaza. So the confused protesters declared victory, let most of the troops go home, and fewer than a hundred of them bedded down for the night in their tents. An hour later, somewhere around 150 cops showed up. I'm sure people in those tents tweeted and text messaged and phoned for reinforcements. But between the late hour, and the fact that people were exhausted after having been out there all day, and that it was the third call-up of the day? Nobody showed.

Ah, but the cops did more than just show up after two head-fakes and with sufficient numbers ... they did right exactly what the Obama administration told everybody else to do wrong. They didn't show up in riot gear and helmets, they showed up in shirt sleeves with their faces showing. They not only didn't show up with SWAT gear, they showed up with no unusual weapons at all, and what weapons they had all securely holstered. They politely woke everybody up. They politely helped everybody who was willing to remove their property from the park to do so. They then asked, out of the 75 to 100 people down there, how many people were volunteering for being-arrested duty? Given 33 hours to think about it, and 10 hours to sweat it over, only 27 volunteered. As the police already knew, those people's legal advisers had advised them not to even passively resist, so those 27 people lined up to be peacefully arrested, and were escorted away by a handful of cops. The rest were advised to please continue to protest, over there on the sidewalk ... and what happened next was the most absolutely brilliant piece of crowd control policing I have heard of in my entire lifetime.

All of the cops who weren't busy transporting and processing the voluntary arrestees lined up, blocking the stairs down into the plaza. They stood shoulder to shoulder. They kept calm and silent. They positioned the weapons on their belts out of sight. They crossed their hands low in front of them, in exactly the least provocative posture known to man. And they peacefully, silently, respectfully occupied the plaza, using exactly the same non-violent resistance techniques that the protesters themselves had been trained in. Downtown bicycle patrol cops had spent weeks coming to the Occupy St. Louis general assembly and working group meetings, paying respectful attention and engaging people in polite conversation, listening intently; who knew that they weren't surveilling protesters, as some of us paranoidly assumed, they were seeing what the protesters had to teach them about tactics! A few of the protesters stayed for a couple of hours, to maintain the stand-off; the police uncomplainingly and politely continued their occupation of the plaza, flawlessly turning Occupy St. Louis's tactics back against them.

By dawn, the protesters were licked. They weren't just licked Friday night, they're almost certainly licked permanently, too. When the park re-opened Saturday morning, a few protesters gathered, caught unprepared with no signs or other gear, quietly discussing what to do. One of them went right to the center of the plaza and set up a tent. A couple of officers came by, engaged him in quiet conversation, and once everybody was calm, they pointed out to him that nobody else was joining him. He took the tent down.

A couple of people on the Occupy St. Louis Facebook page are still promising defiance, but whether they know it or not, they're beaten. One thing that I've heard from everybody who's ever tried to organize St. Louisans to volunteer for anything as a group, from churches to political parties, from the VFW to anti-war groups, from the Bill Gothard Seminar to ACT-UP, is that it is almost completely impossible to get St. Louisans to show up for volunteer work. St. Louisans are available for work in the past tense. ("Oh, you did what? you should have called me, I would have helped!") St. Louisans are available for work in the future tense. ("The next time you do that, you should call me, I want to help out.") But they are never, ever available in the present. ("Sorry, I wish I could help.")* Occupy St. Louis benefited from the publicity of the national movement, and college students facing the prospect of graduating into an economy with high unemployment while carrying tens of thousands in debt were highly motivated, but I think their momentum is broken now. On the off chance it's not, the city is dangling the carrot that maybe, if you patiently wait and don't violate the ordinances between now and then, maybe some day we'll repeal an ordinance or the court will rule in your favor, and you can have your camp back ... yeah, never going to happen, they just have to stall until the last of the momentum is gone. The city will get that polite obedience, too; St. Louis has near-Minneapolis levels of politeness about those kinds of things. And long before then, St. Louis' genuinely awful winter weather will have kicked in, the time of year when nobody leaves the house voluntarily.

In every town where the local cops thought that the Obama administration's Department of Homeland Security knew what they were talking about, Occupy is roaring back bigger than ever; as Olbermann and others have pointed out, this is the historically inevitable automatic response of every American to police brutality and media censorship. Too bad for the 1% in other towns that their cops don't have St. Louis's long practice at appearing to ignore, and then effortlessly dissipating, liberal activist groups.


( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 16th, 2011 08:10 am (UTC)
* Footnote
Exceptions to the "St. Louisans don't do volunteer work" rule: the local Shriners are visibly no worse about showing up to volunteer than Shriners in other towns are, and St. Louis county's Jewish community organizations are legendary for the depth and breadth of their volunteer efforts.
Nov. 16th, 2011 08:47 am (UTC)
We're getting some of that here, and Councilwoman Regina Romero is helping to gently put the boot in by laying out a plan that will on the surface give Occupy some of what they want, in terms of moving city money to credit unions, will smooth out certain aspects by getting all of the nightly citations dismissed (the cops show up at park closing time, the protestors line up, the cops write citations, everyone has a pleasant half an hour socializing), will set guidelines for OccupyTucson, and effectively organize 'em.

While I see this as kind of a good thing, because the citation business is silly, and our Occupy lot are (despite the astroturfing commenters who follow the same script Frank Miller seems to be following) a polite, unruffled lot who, when told a particular park is needed for an event and asked if the could please move, acquiesce, and move lock stock and barrel. But Romero's proposals will take some of the starch out of their strides. I don't think OccupyTucson will fade away, but they're going to be seen as something like the homeless folks who spend the night sleeping in Armory Park (OT was in Armory for a while, but moved back to Veinte de Agosto, which is slightly more out of the way, due to Armory being a place where events happen.)

As far as Occupy Wall Street goes...I think this is going to help turn Bloomberg into Giuliani, reducing him to a one-issue joke.
Nov. 16th, 2011 02:13 pm (UTC)
Two Links On Occupy Wall Street You Should All Read
User theferrett referenced to your post from Two Links On Occupy Wall Street You Should All Read saying: [...] Brad Hicks’ discussion on how St. Louis utterly demolished the Occupy movement in their town [...]
Nov. 16th, 2011 02:14 pm (UTC)
History will look back at America and say that the creation of the Department of Homeland Security was its greatest mistake. It's corrupt, it's brutal, and, worst of all, it's ineffective.

-- Steve will note that the tactics Brad described were nearly exactly the same as the tactics used here in London, Ontario. The biggest difference seems to be that the mayor has invited folks from #OWS into City Hall for more round-table discussions... which is either a small victory for the Occupiers, or a cheap sop thrown to the peasantry to get them back to the crops. (Can't decide which yet.)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - selki - Dec. 10th, 2011 03:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Homeland Security - (Anonymous) - Nov. 18th, 2011 02:32 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Homeland Security - (Anonymous) - Dec. 7th, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 16th, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC)
Very interesting analysis... well written.
Nov. 16th, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC)
Brilliant. Shared.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 16th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
And short-lived ones, at that, because there's no one to step up whenever that core group moves, dies, burns out, or fights among themselves.
(no subject) - ptpreservatives - Nov. 16th, 2011 09:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 16th, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)
On one hand, hooray for cops doing their job and keeping the peace without being brutal thugs! On another hand, that almost sounds more dystopian than the 'regular' response, somehow.
Nov. 16th, 2011 10:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah, one of our few comforts in a world of brutally enforced oligarchy is being able to see the goons as halfassed, out-of-touch and thuggish. Police state minions who value competence and effectiveness more than machismo and complacency are a whole new kind of terrifying.
Nov. 16th, 2011 06:42 pm (UTC)
I'm just gonna leave this here.

Nov. 16th, 2011 10:22 pm (UTC)
Well played.
(no subject) - kimchalister - Nov. 20th, 2011 08:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pope_guilty - Nov. 21st, 2011 05:48 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 17th, 2011 01:41 am (UTC)
User callistra referenced to your post from Link-o-rama saying: [...] things difficult :) Rather awesome journal post about St Louis breaking up their 99% protestors [...]
Nov. 17th, 2011 06:54 am (UTC)
It's a good thing that it didn't end in violence, but the fact that such a maneuver dissipated the energy of the movement makes me wonder how much energy it really had in the first place - I would have thought that people fighting for a Cause would have repopulated the place anyway, even after such a polite dismissal.
Nov. 17th, 2011 11:30 pm (UTC)
Today, Alternet is saying that Occupy St Louis has shut down the MLK bridge. No idea how important this bridge is or how many protesters it took to do this, or any details at all, really - it was a tossaway sentence in a larger article focused on NY. But since I had seen Brad's post, it jumped out at me.

We certainly live in interesting times!
(no subject) - bradhicks - Nov. 18th, 2011 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 17th, 2011 01:33 pm (UTC)
[links] Link salad lights out for Powells
User jaylake referenced to your post from [links] Link salad lights out for Powells saying: [...] Gods Help Us, St. Louis Did it Right #OWS [...]
Nov. 17th, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
Done yesterday (20111116 We)
User mdlbear referenced to your post from Done yesterday (20111116 We) saying: [...] @ The Infamous Brad - Gods Help Us, St. Louis Did it Right #OWS [...]
Nov. 19th, 2011 12:11 am (UTC)
No title
User coyotegoth referenced to your post from No title saying: [...] (mostly Jackson's, not Tolkien's). : The Occupy movement- how St. Louis handled it relatively well [...]
Nov. 19th, 2011 02:03 am (UTC)
Thank you
for an interesting article. I posted it to my G+ and one of my friends (currently in London but from St. Louis) was like "hey! I know that guy!"

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