The Occupy movement is an exercise in the workings of power whether it is social, financial, policing or political. The occupations that began in September spread with an infectious passion in part because the police violence and mass arrests, the tried-and-true methods of state power employed to suppress radical movements, backfired and the movement grew more. By October hundreds of encampments had popped up nationwide with the tacit cooperation and sometimes explicit approval of local officials. For a few heady weeks Occupy Wall Street had the glow of popular legitimacy – social power – trumping whatever fusty laws prohibited camping or a continuous presence in a public space.
The inevitable counteroffensive was launched in November. Using the mass media, politicians hyped the movements as imminent threats to public health and safety, justifying aggressive evictions of prominent occupations in Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and New York City. Within weeks other major encampments in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and New Orleans were scattered with hundreds of arrests. A third wave of closures has been underway since late January with occupations shut down from Hawaii to Miami and Austin, Texas, to Buffalo, N.Y.
Nonetheless, some encampments survive. In Houston a small contingent is legally maintaining a presence in downtown Tranquility Park, though a ban on tents and tarps has kept all but the hardy or desperate away. In Tampa Bay, after months of police harassment, occupiers found a safe haven in a privately owned public space donated by a wealthy supporter.
Now, a new strategy is being deployed to yank the rug from under occupations in four cities: legal power. Politicians have recently passed laws in Honolulu and Charlotte, N.C., that with a stroke of the pen made the occupations illegal, enabling police to sweep them away. Two more occupations, in Boise, Idaho, and Nashville, may be nearing the end as their respective state legislatures are on the verge of outlawing the democratic villages that for months have been thriving next to edifices of power. Critics charge that the anti-Occupy laws reveal how the law is not an objective code that treats everyone equally, but an arbitrary weapon wielded by the powerful.
Ever since the Garden of Eden headlined the Torah, savvy marketers have realized that we all deeply desire a slice of paradise. Utopia is woven into America’s national fabric starting with the Puritan ideal of a “city upon a hill” and progressing through the centuries to Shakers, Mormons, Manifest Destiny, socialists and suburbia. These days, paradise is all around us from potato chips seasoned with “harmonic convergence” to bath soaps that “take me away” to Steve Jobs’ “quest for perfection.”
Utopia has always been half the equation, however, the balance being the extermination of indigenous people, who already inhabited the land, and denial of entry for all manner of people from blacks and women to immigrants and the poor.
This dichotomy is evident in Hawaii where competing visions of paradise blend with dystopian realities. Now, Hawaii would soften even a cynic’s heart. I’ve been visiting Kauai, the “Garden Island,” for 20 years and remain intoxicated by the undulating emerald mountains of the Na Pali Coast, the warm, aquamarine waters of Hanalei Bay and the “Aloha spirit” of its people.
The natural splendor of Hawaii draws about seven million tourists a year as well as thousands of transplants, many wealthy, who relocate to the Pacific island chain for the relentlessly balmy weather. At the same time, the tropical Shangri-La barely conceals teeming tent cities, droves of poverty-wage workers and the legacy of the conquest of native Hawaiians.