By Zachary Maichuk
There is a conversation right now among the Occupy Wall Street activists in Oakland about whether or not to use a “diversity” of tactics to achieve our goals. People are wondering if they should abandon the principles of peace and consider acts of violence.
I encourage Occupy Oakland to remain peaceful, because that has always been the strength of this movement, as well as every battle for human rights in this country.
I have always supported your cause in Oakland. I know you fight for me. When possible I have supported the movement myself by marching in New York, passing on information and sending supplies.
I am writing this open letter to extend my support and strength in what has become a very difficult time in this struggle for the 99 Percent. The fight has been long and hard, and the members of Occupy Oakland have been on the business-end of some of the most brutal police tactics.
You have had to sacrifice more than many of the rest of us because of this brutality, and we are forever thankful to you. I encountered a small part of the shocking brutality you have faced on Nov. 17, when I was manhandled by the New York Police Department. I saw Brendan Watts (right) get his head cracked open and found myself stepping between a young woman and an officer that was swinging at her.
The increasingly desperate and violent tactics of the 1 Percent are the reason we all have to stay strong and remain committed to nonviolence. What we are doing could be the most important thing the world has ever seen.
We are facing increasingly brutal resistance because what we’re doing is working. We have already changed the dialogue of the nation. We have threatened the powers that be. We have proven ourselves to be strong and courageous.
As Occupy Oakland continues to battle for justice on behalf of the 99 Percent, I urge you not to falter in your resolve by embracing violence.
I know violence. I know it well. I was born into a violent household and was under constant threat at school. I have trained in martial arts, as well as a few weapons.
I eventually rejected violence and found it still followed me. When I joined the Peace Corps I found myself in a third world country living under an insane dictator and was the target of physical attacks. After my service was over, I returned to the United States and worked with an inner city development program with Americorps.
I shuttled people to safety during gang initiation periods. Later, I worked as a therapist with urban youth, constantly fighting to protect them against a system hurting them through neglect and sloth. There were times when that meant stepping in and taking a few hits to keep the kids from injuring each other.
As violence has followed me, I have learned many things about it. I have learned of its temptation, and felt it many times. It is wired into us: hurt me and I hurt you.
There is a reward mechanism for violence in the brain. It’s cathartic. Sometimes it gets the result you want in a very quick way. I also have learned that the solutions violence creates are only short term. Long-term solutions are lost, because as you become more violent, so do your adversaries.
Instead of change, both sides end up in a cycle of escalation.
I also know that the 1 Percent wants us to be violent. The message of Occupy Wall Street is a threat to every foundation they stand on. They are violent not because they want to hurt us, but because they want to discredit us. If that happens, people will ignore us and they will have succeeded in silencing us.
We do not embody the accusations of the 1 Percent and by remaining nonviolent the truth has become a potent ally for us.
If Occupy Oakland crosses the line from peace to violence it will give the 1 Percent the very opening they have been searching for. It will lead to our message being lost in the public uproar about our tactics. We will no longer be a group being persecuted because we dared to exercise our rights to speak out and seek peaceful change.
Instead, much of the world will view us as a violent group which is breaking the law and deserves to be silenced. If you decide to become complicit in the violence, the truth will no longer be a shield for any of us.
I also beg you not to emulate the violent methods being employed against you for the sake of your own humanity. Violence hardwires itself into your brain. The more violence you engage in, the faster and more frequent it becomes an option in your life.
Violence is never as clean as the violent imagine. There is always collateral damage. There are always innocent victims.
The violent always explain them away, but their justifications are made out of psychological necessity. Not logic. They also carry a high cost for the violent, who wind up cutting themselves off from the world and from themselves.
So, I beg you not to take up violence.
Peace is harder and takes longer, but short and simple solutions only have short and simple results. Peace will work. It has worked before time and time again.
When you know a showdown is imminent, make yourselves human to the police. Your humanity will build conflict within them and eventually dissent. In order to carry out the orders of the 1 Percent, police officers need to see you as problems to be corrected – as criminals to be arrested. They can’t see you as fellow members of the 99 Percent, just like themselves and their families and friends.
In short, they have to see you as “them,” not us.
Reminding the police of our humanity works against all that.
If you want to respond effectively to police brutality, build that conflict within them, not outside of them.
When I marched in New York, I turned to an officer next to me and told her “we know you’re not all assholes.” She let out an almost tearful sigh and thanked me. We talked. Her partner joined in and confessed to supporting the movement.
When Zuccotti had one of its many bouts of police-instigated chaos, I locked eyes with one of the baton wielding riot officers, and told her about the girl who got punched. She lowered her eyes in shame.
That is what happens when you reach out to the humanity of others, their humanity will respond. Some will be harder to reach than others, but they will be reached.
So please, don’t fall into violence. It will destroy you and it will damage this movement.
Don’t create a conflict outside with the officers. That is what the 1% wants. Create the conflict inside them, so they fight with themselves, and not you.
Peace will work. It won’t work immediately, but when it takes hold, its solution will be lasting. Violence can’t give you that.
Zachary Maichuk is a Doctor of Psychology, therapist, writer, artist, storyteller, and wandering do-gooder. He has worked with the Peace Corps in Africa, with Americorps in Paterson, N.J., and wherever else he can lend a hand.