Dehumanizing OWS protesters

Published November 22, 2011 by justicewg

(I’m normally focused on events inside Grandview, but this new blog will have a few posts that watch events outside the city.)

When you hear people talking about the Occupy protesters in NY and in many other cities, there is a common pejorative that is used. Those who oppose the protesters call them “dirty stinking hippies”, “filthy animals, fouling the streets”. Why is there such a focus on cleanliness? Are conservatives germaphobes, obsessive-compulsives who fixate on sanitation and bathroom habits?

The facts of the OWS protests refute the accusations of “fouling the streets”. There were some complaints early in the NY protests, but a simple google for “occupy wall street porta potties” shows the rest area that was set up a couple blocks away from the park (the protesters asked permission to set them up in the park from the first day and were denied). Before that, protesters used public rest rooms in the area, or went home to clean up.

Read the stories from non-conservative news sources who talked to the protesters. They didn’t notice any unusual smells. And the “hippies” part of the insults is like some time warp. If you asked the average protester “are you a hippy?” they would look at you funny and say “umm, hippies are people who were in my parent’s generation. Or my grandparent’s”.

Why then is the phrase “dirty hippy” so popular with the right? This story might explain it.

I was a high school sophomore in a small Ohio town when the Kent State shootings occurred. The next day our civics class started with some chatting about the horrors of that event. When the teacher heard what we were discussing, he loudly gave us his opinion. “The only problem with the Kent State shootings was that they should have killed more of those dirty hippies”.

This was a conservative, but not far right, teacher, standing in front of a class of students, telling us that more of the students just a hundred miles from us should have been shot.

We sat in stunned silence. The class continued. Nobody said much about it, because that teacher’s opinion was held by a lot of other people in our community.

How does a teacher come to the opinion that students should be shot for protesting? He got the idea from a relentless campaign to dehumanize the anti-war protesters. They were dirty, they threw crap at the cops, they howled and scratched and carried diseases. They “looked like Tarzan, and smelled like Cheetah “. They were sub-human, and could only be taught lessons with nightsticks and bullets.

If I had a magic time machine, I would return to that classroom and ask my younger self to hold up a hand and ask a question of that teacher. “Mr. Abbey, if we decide to protest the war, should we be shot? Would you help the police shoot us?”

He would of course have said that it was a different situation, he didn’t want his students killed. Somehow those other students, just a few miles away, were so very different from us.

I have a bad feeling about the way the OWS protesters have been treated by the highly militarized police forces in this country. The automatic weapon carrying, full battle armored riots police seem primed to take us right back to the violent old days, an escalation that took years in the 60’s is happening in a few short months. The conflict between the anti-war left and the “kill the protesters” right was a destructive time in our country. We are already highly polarized, adding running battles on the streets caused by police crackdowns on peaceful protests is not good for anyone.

The next time you hear someone rant about “dirty hippies”, you might remind them that we have been down this road before. The protesters are just average people, maybe a little more fed up with the condition of the country, not so different from the tea party protesters. If protesters need to be “taught a lesson” maybe the best lesson we can give is that a shot in the face with pepper spray is not the way we deal with peaceful protests. We are a better country than that.

(edit) I found a mention of the divisions in the 60’s that I didn’t remember, but is appropriate for this post. From a Rick Perlstein story in the Post:

It’s easy to find hundreds of pictures of the national student strike that followed Nixon’s announcement of the invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970. Plenty of pictures of the riots at Kent State that ended with four students shot dead by National Guardsmen. None I could find, however, of the counter-demonstrations by Kent, Ohio, townies — and even Kent State parents. Flashing four fingers and chanting “The score is four/And next time more,” they argued that the kids had it coming.

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