When a government decides to egregiously violate the law of the land and brutally oppress the people it is supposedly responsible for, it usually won’t be long before someone mentions George Orwell’s 1984, the favorite book of every convalescing shrill liberal in high school. I say that with the greatest of affection; I was once that kid, though I was more a fan of Aldous Huxley. 1984 is an excellent book, one I would say everyone needs to read at some point, but namechecking it in such situations seems to have become more than a bit cliche. Or has it?
On November 15th, in the dead of night, the NYPD surrounded the Occupy Wall Street camp at Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan and proceeded to completely destroy it, running the protesters out, arresting around 200 people, and either throwing out or confiscating their belongings, including a 5,000 volume library that included some very rare books. This follows similar actions by police in Oakland, Denver, Portland, Cincinnati, and several other Occupy camps. Perhaps most notable is what happened at University of California-Davis, where Lt. John Pike pepper-sprayed protesters at point-blank range just for the hell of it.
Why has the response to Occupy from city governments been so brutal? Because they’ve been treating the protesters like terrorists. Seriously. The NYPD used their counter-terrorism unit at the Liberty Plaza clearout. Jean Quan, mayor of Oakland, let slip that eighteen mayors and the Department of Homeland Security were collaborating on responses to the movement. Add in the fact that in each of these cases the press was blocked off from filming or directly witnessing the assaults, you’ve got a heady cocktail of fascism and police state tactics.
So, is the 1984 allusion apt enough? I’m not sure it is; our current circumstance is not based upon one totalitarian state dictating our lives, though it may seem that way sometimes. No, I think if we are to invoke Orwell in all of this, perhaps we take some parts of 1984 and mix them with my personal favorite book of his, Down and Out in Paris and London. That book is Orwell’s firsthand documentation of the lives of people who are forced to live hand to mouth, on the street, working the shittiest jobs imaginable just to survive. Sound familiar to anyone? Because that’s what is happening now. We have a government run by the richest for the richest, who will happily climb over the bodies of the workers they have employed for basic wages and no benefits to do all the work in order to reach the top. Those two aspects, I think, are needed to call something Orwellian.
Moral of the story, we’re up against a massive system that has had its way for a damned long time. But Occupy isn’t giving up, and neither should we.