Earlier this month, the ACLU of Northern California confirmed that the FBI has been surveilling the Occupy movement. The FBI refuses to produce further evidence because, according to ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye, “to the FBI, political protests about economic policy pose an unspecified threat to national security,” which is the agency’s excuse for keeping the documents under wraps. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan apparently agrees with the FBI, having labeled the tens of thousands of people who participated in an Occupy Oakland strike last November 2 as “economic terrorists.”
We now know the FBI was specifically monitoring that strike, which shut down most of the city’s businesses and the Port of Oakland – one of the busiest in the U.S. (Full disclosure: I participated.) This isn’t the only time politicians have deemed activists to be guilty of “economic terrorism.” Yet it shows that even supposedly progressive politicians will treat a wide range of protest activity as threatening or terroristic, with little to no regard for the extent to which activists play by the rules.
Whether or not people believe the Occupy movement has the right ideas or engages in effective methods of protest, it is a natural reaction to the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor. As the New York Times reported on Thursday,
The rich got richer and the poor got poorer in New York City last year as the poverty rate reached its highest point in more than a decade, and the income gap in Manhattan, already wider than almost anywhere else in the country, rivaled disparities in sub-Saharan Africa. … The wealthiest fifth of Manhattanites made more than 40 times what the lowest fifth reported, a widening gap (it was 38 times, the year before) surpassed by only a few developing countries, including Namibia and Sierra Leone.
Protest is a product of such disparity. There are situations in which protest and terrorism overlap, but Occupy encampments and demonstrations don’t qualify.