Police raided Occupy Oakland yesterday and dispersed another protest with teargas. During the Great Depression, other peaceful movements received similarly harsh treatment from the police—can we learn anything from those protests?
Here’s more from Occupy Oakland: “This morning at 5am over 500 police in riot gear from cities all over central California brutally attacked the Occupy Oakland encampment at 14th & Broadway. The police attacked the peaceful protest with flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets after moving in with armored vehicles. Apparently the media was not allowed in to document this repression, and the police established barricades as far apart as 11th and 17th. Over 70 people were arrested and the camp gear was destroyed and/or stolen by the riot police.”
During the Great Depression, New York City officials closed scores of “Hoovervilles” around the city, clearing collections of tents and shacks built by the homeless. Novelist Edward Newhouse described the eviction of a Central Park Hooverville (pictured, via) in his novel, You Can’t Sleep Here.
As the activists regroup, I wanted to post an excerpt from the novel—reflecting on the fiery resolve of writers and activists during the Depression.
At the climax of the novel, an unemployed newspaper reporter and his fellow Hooverville residents bolt the door on their Central Park shack in nonviolent protest against the city’s eviction. Newhouse wrote:
A phlegm voice said, ‘You coming out?’
‘No, god damn you,’ Hulm shouted.
The axe landed again and the third time the boards fell in. It was a fire axe. In the light I saw Garcia wrench the leg off one of our feeble chairs and then something flew past my ear and struck Conie’s ivory elephant. I bent to pick it up and throw it back as I had seen done but it rolled behind the bed and exploded. I yelled ‘Tear gas,’ and went for the bolts. One of them gave way immediately, but the other resisted. Hundreds of hatpins jabbed thorugh my eyeballs and an old witch with fishooks for fingernails tore at them. Five men whom I loved stamped and coughed behind me and begged me to hurry.
Maybe you have been insane for one period of your life. Do you remember the moment before you went mad or didn’t it happen all of a sudden? Or maybe you have had fever dreams of a particular kind. Or is it possible that your dentist may have gone insane and began drilling your eyeballs instead of your teeth?
Hot tears flowed down my chin and fell from my wet cheeks. Both my fumbling hands and the bolt were wet. When it gave way, the gas broke out and I followed and the last things that came to my mind were the darkness and a grateful sensation that this was unconsciousness and it didn’t even hurt.
Over at The Open Library, you can read a free eBook copy of Newhouse’s 1937 novel, This Is Your Day.