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Arrests Are Making Occupy Movement Stronger

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Arrests Are Making Occupy Movement Stronger
Arrests Are Making Occupy Movement Stronger

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Protesters march during an Occupy Toronto demonstration in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011. Thousands of protesters gathered peacefully in Canadian cities, including Toronto and Montreal, joining the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that began in New York and have spread worldwide. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Here’s the difference between how Richard J. Daley, the elder, and Rahm Emanuel handled protestors in Grant Park: Daley agreed with the anti-war protestors, but had them beaten up; Emanuel disagrees with the Occupy Chicago protestors, but isn’t treating them violently.

Daley has gone down in history as an Establishment thug, enforcing law and order with nightsticks. But the mayor confronted President Johnson about the war in 1966, years before most mainstream politicians and journalists concluded it was unwinnable.

During a White House visit, Johnson said to Daley, “Listen, Dick, I’ve got a lot of trouble over there in Vietnam. What do you think about it?”

“Well, Mr. President,” Daley responded. “When you’ve got a losing hand in poker, you just throw in your cards.”

“What about prestige?” the president said.

“You put your prestige in your pocket and walk away,” Daley concluded.

Daley may have been anti-war, but he was also anti-anti-war: a believer in authoritarianism -- especially when it was his authority -- he hated rebellious hippies, and he was determined not to let them disrupt the Democratic Convention taking place in Mayor Daley’s Chicago. The riots in Grant Park were a clash of cultures and generations, not of ideologies. The mayor from blue-collar Bridgeport sicced his cops on the kids from the suburbs.

The Occupy Chicago protests are the opposite: a clash of ideologies, rather than cultures. Mayor 1% is a member and servant of the economic class that Occupy condemns.

“Not that their solutions are solutions that I agree with,” Emanuel said during an Ideas Week panel of big-city mayor. “But there’s a major economic restructure going on ... where the middle class are feeling an angst they’ve never felt. We as all public policy makers have to think about how we give a level of growth where people can achieve a level of success for themselves.”

In its misunderstanding of Occupy’s philosophy, that sounds like a line from a Republican presidential debate: the protestors aren’t interested in economic growth or entrepreneurism, they’re interested in a fairer distribution of the resources we already have.

At the same time, the young people in the Occupy protests come from the same suburban, college-educated social class as Emanuel. He has no antagonism toward them on that score. But no matter how gently he treats the protestors, they’re becoming a political problem for Emanuel. On Sunday morning, the police arrested two nurses who were in Grant Park to provide first aid to protestors. As a result, nurses will be picketing the mayor’s office today. There’s an online petition asking the mayor to allow the Occupy movement to Occupy Grant Park. On Sunday, at churches around the city, parishioners were asked to call 311 and tell the mayor to stop arresting Occupy protestors.

Even though he hasn’t employed violence, Emanuel is finding, as Daley did, that confronting protestors draws attention to their movement, and makes it stronger. Daley made the anti-war movement look sympathetic. If Emanuel had allowed the protestors to camp out in Grant Park, no one would have noticed them but a few late-night motorists.

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