The Occupy Wall Street phenomenon spreading across the US is both a continuation of a long tradition of civil resistance movements and something totally unprecedented. Its viral diaspora is evidence that it hits at the core of what many Americans feel is wrong with our system. But where it goes from here and if it will lead to significant change in the direction of this country (and the world) is the zillion dollar question no one can answer. In New York last week, I met United Methodist pastor and civil rights leader James Lawson who, having played key roles in the Nashville sit-ins and the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights era, knows a thing or two about successful non-violent resistance movements. Of the many nuggets of wisdom he shared with my class at the Journalism and Civil Resistance conference, was this: “We need to make sure we know the difference between strategy and tactic and that every move operate under the ethos of building recognition and support from a wide population.”
This got me thinking about the movement as a whole, the atrocities in Oakland, and the police confrontations happening across the country. Here in Tampa, our own blossoming local resistance struggle surged onto the scene in early October. The press made a point of highlighting the peaceful dialogue between Occupy Tampa and the TPD early on, but for the last week and a half have focused almost exclusively on their tussles with the City of Tampa and the Police Department rather than their message. This is unfortunate because in a town like Tampa, arguing with the cops over the sidewalk and getting arrested is not the best way to win the masses over, even if a majority are sympathetic to your aims.