Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Beware of both Bonus Armies' endgames.

The Awl got around to the 1932 Bonus Army in a feature yesterday. The article went online before the Oakland PD did its worst but last night's news can't have surprised author Bruce Cox. Among other things, he mentions that demonstration's brutal endgame, when General Douglas MacArthur (yeah, same one) sent soldiers with bayonets into Anacostia Flats to wreck a protest encampment of impoverished war vets. Nasty mess. Two dead.

I was fretting about this history back in February, in the context of Tahrir Square. Now as then I'm worried that indefinite outdoor encampment protests, over time, tend to sag under their own weight and become unpopular. Thence camps become vulnerable to official claims that they need to be swept away for their own good or public health reasons or some such nonsense. Or, alternatively, everyone gets so tired of sitting in those tents that they'll take almost any concession as an excuse to pack up -- and the whole shebang gets sold out for some mess of pottage or other.

So this Occupy movement needs to keep moving. Just sitting down and digging in and suffering conspicuously doesn't work beyond a certain point. I'm not saying they should leave public spaces yet, nor that public demonstrations should ever stop entirely. I'm just saying that any one tactic has a finite useful life.

As I noted before, there's a little hope to find in the story of the second Bonus Army, in 1933, which the Roosevelts (not Hoover by then) met with a friendlier official response. But, then, as current Wikipedia wisdom notes, really the 1933 protest didn't achieve a lot -- it simply "was defused with promises instead of military action."

The San Francisco organizers' practice of moving the camp site from time to time seems like one good way to avoid stagnation, but sooner or later these new communities of people looking after each other in downtown public spaces can't stay exclusively or continuously in those public spaces. The neighborliness and the indignation and the democratic energy will have to move indoors at some point to keep from going sour. Not yet, maybe, but at some point.

Probably everyone serious has thought of all this already, but just my $0.02.

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