Many in Occupy Wall St., including the movement's earliest
members, are imploring activists to embrace nonviolence as a core
principle. But in Oakland there's talk of a 'diversity of tactics.'
As Occupy groups in Washington and Oakland generate contrasting
images of Dream tents on the one coast and flag burning on the
other, it's becoming clear that the four month-old protest movement
is facing its Hamlet moment: to be or not to be nonviolent.
This is the question groups throughout the now global movement
have been tackling urgently - and, increasingly - formally.
But despite pleas from many, including the movement's earliest
members, there is no unity on this thorny, even decisive, issue.
"Occupy's strength has been that as a movement dedicated to
nonviolent direct action it claimed to follow in the footsteps of
Martin Luther King, Jr.," says Catherine Wilson, a political science
professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia, via email.
Broadcast footage of violent clashes between demonstrators and
law enforcement officers undermines this goal, she says, adding that
while the actions of Occupy Oakland only represent one group, they
do signal the difficulty of keeping a variety of Occupy's factions
on the same nonviolent page.
"If violent encounters spread," notes Professor Wilson, "this
will call into question the whole model of peaceful reform that
Occupy seeks to implement." Increased violence by Occupy supporters,
she adds, "would only serve to delegitimize the movement as a
Members of Occupy Washington DC - the earliest such group, formed
a month prior to the Adbusters campaign in July that launched the
larger Occupy movement - adopted formal principles of nonviolent
action from its inception.
Taking its cue from the Albert Einstein Institution, a Boston
organization devoted to disseminating formal principles of
nonviolent social change, the DC Occupyers created a formal pledge
of 11 principles.
"People had to sign the pledge in order to join the encampment,"
says Kevin Zeese, a lawyer and one of the group's earliest members.
These tenets are not icing on the cake of activism he says, "they
Without strict adherence to the formal practice of nonviolent
response, even to the most aggressive kinds of provocation up to and
including rifle fire, Mr. Zeese says, "this movement would have
He points to key moments in the Occupy movement's short history,
such as pepper spray incidents in lower Manhattan and UC Davis. …