If you were in charge of marketing the “occupy” protests and wanted an image to elicit the maximum sympathy for the protesters and most animosity towards the police, this image would win, it’s a marketer’s dream. The officer nonchalantly springs the painful chemical into the eyes of waiting youth, crouched and docile. The STATE will not be challenged by mere youth!
Yet even as pepper spray images proliferate via Facebook and other social networking sites, the use of pepper spray seems to be turning into a national craze. First, you get the inevitable humor:
Of course, good ideas spread fast. If it’s good enough for the state, then it should be useful for the private sector. One shopper took that message to heart as she expressed the Christmas spirit by pepper spraying twenty other shoppers, many of whom had to be hospitalized, so she could get her Xbox game system.
Of course, why should anyone be bothered. After all, pepper spray is, at least according to FOX news, a food product.
Why, if you listen to this bimb…I mean, anchor, it’s sort of like throwing rice at a wedding, it’s just a food product! Despite FOX news’ efforts to try to make it seem like pepper spray is essentially harmless (perhaps one reason shoppers might think it OK to bring to a competitive shopping match like Black Friday), it’s not that simple. There have been deaths associated with pepper spray, it can cause temporary blindness, and is an inflammatory agent irritating the eyes and making it difficult for people to offer resistance.
Even the Pentagon had reservations about approving it for widespread use, and besides death it has been associated with a number of potentially severe reactions. It might have been messier to arrest the protesters, but that would have been a smarter choice (though the smartest choice would have been to let them be).
The occupy movements are not going to continue forever. They’ve made a huge impact on the political conversation in the country and have publicized the rather dramatic shift of relative wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest over the last 30 years. The have been successful at job one — shift the agenda, shape the conversation, and get attention. Job two, turning that into political results, requires them to organize and act politically on multiple levels.
Most protesters are workers and students who take time from their otherwise busy schedules to participate. Most pay taxes. Their dedication is inspiring; they’re willing to undertake considerable effort to try to bring about change they think is good for the country, and that demonstrates true patriotism . I get a sense that a political change is starting. Images like that of the police spraying docile protesters helps them far more than having to move off a square hurts; such a movement is less about occupying territory than about ideas.
I still hope they call a “global day of protest” and move the “Occupy” movement to stage two, I think they’ve achieved all they set out to achieve in stage one — and probably beyond their wildest expectations. The “pepper spray moment” may be remembered as one of those iconic images that helps define the issue — and gives us some humor at the same time.