Four years ago, my novel, Redemption, marketed as a near future political thriller, was published by St. Martin’s Press in the United States. There’s a scene at the very end of the book, where protesters, in numbers "intensified past what even a castrated media could ignore" converged on Washington:
Placards demanding voting reform, civil rights, impeachment, and repealing the Patriot Act vied for space with signs protesting global warming, Internet restrictions, and record unemployment. Demonstrations resembled a war zone more every day with barbed wire and concrete blockades and thousands of scowling armed police. Several protesters had been killed in riots, which had only fueled the anger of the growing crowds, violent clashes escalating. The roar of a hundred thousand voices as they chanted, "Of the people, by the people, for the people, who the hell are you!" with a forest of accusing fingers thrust at both a barricaded White House and Capital Hill was breathtaking.
Writers like myself try to imagine the future by extrapolating from the present. Sometimes we get it woefully wrong. And sometimes we get it frighteningly right. What I imagined half a decade ago was a rebellion of the American people against a corrupt system, with protesters united, rather than behind any single cause, by a sense of general injustice and a multitude of grievances. Today, it’s a reality.
All across the United States, and indeed even the world, the Occupy movement has grown to proportions not even a castrated media can ignore, the desperate efforts by so-called news outlets like Fox to ridicule it into irrelevancy so far backfiring. In Oakland, California, the protests turned violent – not due to protesters, but by police crackdowns that resulted in critically injuring an Iraq war veteran, Scott Olsen. In New York City, firefighters confiscated generators and gas canisters keeping occupiers in Zuccotti park from freezing. In Denver, police shot people in the face at point blank range with pepper bullets, sending several to hospital, before arresting dozens of protesters. In Austin, Texas, 38 protesters were arrested for refusing to take down a food table. And – most telling of all – former Mayor Pat McCrory in Charlotte, North Carolina, offered the most naked of justifications for the suppression of the Occupy protests.
"You can’t allow people to take over," he declared. The Constitution’s First Amendment be damned:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
You hear that, Herman Cain? It’s against the law to ban mosques in America. You hear that, Christine O'Donnell? It’s against the law to teach creationism in public schools. You hear that, Bill Haslam? It’s against the law to impose curfews in an attempt to stifle the right of the people to peaceably assemble. You hear that, Bank of America? Goldman Sachs? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? We’re done meekly allowing you to rape, plunder and pillage the 99% for the benefit of the 1%. Can you hear us, all you bought-and-paid-for Republicans and Democrats alike, telling you we’ve had enough from you both, consider this our petition for a redress of grievances.
Some people are listening, though – like Nashville magistrate Tom Nelson who ruled there was no legal reason to keep arrested demonstrators locked up, and released them after each arrest, refusing every night to sign off on arrest warrants. Criminal defence attorney Patrick Frogge is representing some of those arrested. ‘You can't pass a curfew mid-protest because you disagree with this group of protesters.’ And the 99% has found some unlikely additions to its ranks from the 1% - not just Warren Buffet but young people with a moral compass sadly lacking in far too many of our corporations and elected officials. One-percenters like Leah Hunt-Hendrix, the granddaughter of oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, and Farhad Ebrahimi, and Burke Stansbury and Elspeth Gilmore, and a lot more than you might expect understand something that this government doesn’t appear to – we, the people, are finally, finally standing up and demanding our elected officials represent the interests and protect the rights of their fellow American citizens.
Indeed, the crackdown on protesters has had the opposite effect than intended; instead of authorities cowing the people into submission – something that has gripped the United States for far too long now – people from every walk of life are mad as hell. The Occupy movement is far from being suppressed. Fellow Nashville resident Lisa Keylon, a city planner, was there as well, for the first time, as well as Vicki Metzgar – a 61-year-old director of a Nashville public school science and math initiative, about as far as you can get from being a doped-up, long-haired, smelly hippy Communist loony anarchist with an iPhone in one hand and a latte in the other (what are you smoking, Bill-O?) – joined the protests, saying, ‘My heart has been here all along, but the arrests gave me the momentum to come. This plaza belongs to us, not the politicians.’
Us. As in We the People. Who the hell are you?