Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Occupy Wall St. nonviolence: Is Oakland the exception or the future? (+video)

Many in Occupy Wall St., including the movement's earliest members, are imploring activists to embrace nonviolence as a core principle. But in Oakland there's talk of a 'diversity of tactics.'

By Staff writer / January 31, 2012

Occupy Wall St. nonviolence: Graffiti near City Hall on Sunday, following an Occupy Oakland protest Saturday. After a confrontation with police, demonstrators gained entrance to City Hall where they burned an American flag, broke glass and toppled a model of City Hall. The Occupy movement has long promoted nonviolence, but the Occupy Oakland group are calling for a 'diversity of tactics.'

Noah Berger/AP

Enlarge

Los Angeles

As Occupy groups in Washington and Oakland generate contrasting images of Dream tents on the one coast and flag burning on the other, it’s becoming clear that the four month-old protest movement is facing its Hamlet moment: to be or not to be nonviolent.

Skip to next paragraph

This is the question groups throughout the now global movement have been tackling urgently – and, increasingly – formally.

But despite pleas from many, including the movement’s earliest members, there is no unity on this thorny, even decisive, issue.

“Occupy’s strength has been that as a movement dedicated to nonviolent direct action it claimed to follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” says Catherine Wilson, a political science professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia, via email.

Broadcast footage of violent clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement officers undermines this goal, she says, adding that while the actions of Occupy Oakland only represent one group, they do signal the difficulty of keeping a variety of Occupy’s factions on the same nonviolent page.

“If violent encounters spread,” notes Professor Wilson, “this will call into question the whole model of peaceful reform that Occupy seeks to implement.” Increased violence by Occupy supporters,  she adds, “would only serve to delegitimize the movement as a whole.”

Members of Occupy Washington DC – the earliest such group, formed a month prior to the Adbusters campaign in July that launched the larger Occupy movement – adopted formal principles of nonviolent action from its inception.

Taking its cue from the Albert Einstein Institution, a Boston organization devoted to disseminating formal principles of nonviolent social change, the DC Occupyers created a formal pledge of 11 principles.

“People had to sign the pledge in order to join the encampment,” says Kevin Zeese, a lawyer and one of the group’s earliest members. These tenets are not icing on the cake of activism he says, “they are critical.”

Permissions

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!