What's Your Point?
A WEF Protester Explains Why He Bothers
by Sam Brody

"What's your point, chief?" The cop looked as though he was off-duty, clad in a wool Jets hat and a big, green Jets jacket. But he wasn't off-duty - he was one of what seemed like an entire squad of plainclothes officers on the street that night, forced to work overtime for as long as throngs of anti-World Economic Forum protesters continued to assemble in the vicinity of the venerated Waldorf-Astoria hotel. My friend Nicholas and I had gotten into a bit of a verbal contest with this officer, who seemed particularly annoyed that the thousands gathered to exercise their First Amendment right to assemble were keeping him from his home and family.

To tell the truth, I thought he was right - he should have been able to go home by then. But I couldn't accept any blame, because at that point, I and my fellow protesters were no longer in the streets by choice. After a tense, hour-long stalemate with the police over the issue of whether the rally would be allowed to proceed past a police blockade (we wanted to get to the block directly in front of the Waldorf, as had been promised in the protest permit) the protesters had decided to leave. If we waited there much longer, the logic went, sooner or later the police would advance into the crowd, nightsticks swinging, saying things like "disperse, disperse." Rather than wait around like sheep for this inevitable outcome, we opted for a tactical retreat: the relatively small (maybe a couple hundred-strong) crowd still remaining at day's end decided to form four single-file lines and leave the site of our formerly- massive gathering with some dignity. Unfortunately, the police didn't seem to like that we were leaving without their say-so, or at least without having at least been given humiliating orders of some kind. So they closed off the exit point, establishing a check-point there and only letting a trickle of protesters leave at a time. As a result of this power-tripping tactic, the "dispersing" we had been planning to do quickly was taking an excruciatingly long time.

"So what's your point, chief?" the officer asked. I couldn't deny that it was a good question, but in the charged atmosphere I didn't seem to be able to get a word in. After noticing that the crowd didn't seem to be moving anywhere, I had asked Jets-cop, standing on the other side of the police line, if he knew what was going on.

"Yeah, I know what's going on," he said. "YOU."

Well, there wasn't much I could say to that besides ". . . oh."

The cop then asked various people in my group why we "didn't get jobs," or "work with old people or something" instead of spending our time protesting injustices perpetrated by the global economic regime and its various three-lettered institutions. When one of us responded that she could only hold a part-time job because "the economy was bad," the officer attempted to argue that the economy was bad because of the terrorist attacks of September 11 (ignoring the fact that the downturn had in fact begun months prior, of course). "Therefore," in Jets-cop's logic, the protesters, presumably those against American actions in Afghanistan, were partially responsible for the perpetuation of the poor economy. Any attempts to argue this "point" were met with questions from another officer about whether we had lost anyone in the World Trade Center. If we hadn't, it disqualified us from making any further comments on the matter.

Photo: David Polenberg 1       [2]       [next->]

March 2002

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