Police State Blues

The New York Police Department reacted quickly against Occupy Wall Street activists who returned to Liberty Square (or Zuccotti Park) six months after the original occupation began. But the confrontation marked one more milepost in a longer and surely more painful journey, writes poet Phil Rockstroh.

Phil Rockstroh

At mid-evening, on Saturday, March 17, upon the six-month anniversary of the occupation of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the NYPD initiated another brutal operation to expel OWS activists from the premises, and to discourage, in general, those who might venture attempts to exercise their right to free assembly and free expression across the whole of the city of New York as winter proceeds into spring.

After all, the NYPD suffered no ill consequences from its search-and-destroy mission launched in the late fall of 2011 to scour the park, renamed Liberty Square, of liberty.

Scene from Saturday’s rally to reoccupy “Liberty Square.” (Photo credit: occupywallst.org)

In a police state, unjust actions by authoritarian bullies, operating at the behest of privileged bullies in power, act by caprice and will escalate their level of brutality by the degree that the public at large reacts with support and indifference to the state’s assaults on civil liberties and common decency.

Bear in mind, police agencies, devoid of meaningful oversight, comprise a legal form of gang activity; therefore, when one is witness to their acts of brutality, and, as outraged protesters are apt to do, shower their ranks with taunts of “shame, shame, shame” — rather than experiencing feelings of remorse, brutish individual officers regard the scolding as a badge of honor.

Why? Because they view OWS as a rival gang — not a force of democratic passion and outrage. The defining creed of a violent gang, such as the NYPD, is to ensure their own survival by the modus operandi of violently crushing perceived rivals.

If rank-and-file police officers ever surrender their arms and change sides, this event will have come to pass because the institutions of power that direct their actions (and that issue their paychecks) will begin to collapse.

Anything you can do to challenge and to help facilitate the end of the reign of exploitation and terror that is the neoliberal international superstate will, in turn, prove helpful in achieving the goal of ceasing the brutality inherent to the U.S. police state.

But, and I hope I’m wrong in positing this dismal augury, there will be much blood lacquering the pavements of the city of New York, and scores of other municipalities, worldwide, before that day arrives.

At our best, as a species, we human beings use our minds and imaginations to bring less suffering to the world; at our worst, we use said attributes to rationalize causing so much of it.

Although not widely acknowledged by mainstream opinion shapers, the struggle to retake the public commons by activists facing hostile local municipalities and their police enforcers and the imperative to reduce mankind’s destruction of the ecological balance of the earth are related issues, of which the implications extend far beyond the political realm.

The unfolding of these matters determines how you spend your days from when you rise in the morning, to what you eat, to which locations you proceed during the day, to when and how you sleep at night right down to the state of your health and the condition of your soul.

To those who proffer the excuse, “in my heart, I know you’re right, but I have to be a realist about this”: you’re letting a crackpot realist mindset falsely frame the matter.  Given that the heart is more than a pump — it is the alpha and omega point of the soul of the world i.e., animus mundi, perhaps, you are confused regarding the nature of reality.

Moreover, you sound like George F. Babbitt giving a book report on Hannah Arrent’s conception of the banality of evil from Eichmann in Jerusalem, and you have missed the point. Apropos: Evil is maintained by mundane means, by people who see themselves as normal and who live ordinary lives.

And it seems to be what you’re actually trying to express is closer to the following: I feel overwhelmed and powerless about the situation. Addressing it makes me feel uncomfortable, so I’ll just accept the matter, maybe grouse about it a bit, but I’ll continue to accept the small comforts the system proffers and I’ll hope that will serve as balm to my empty, troubled soul.

The Cartesian fallacy that one’s joy and suffering are almost exclusively a private matter — the idea that the process all takes place in one’s own mind and body and has no connection to any larger order — has diminished perception and has stressed the environment to the tipping point. This is the dismal litany of Industrial/Commercial Age false consciousness: the paramount function of the intellect is to reduce the vast and proliferate criteria of life down to the “bottom line.”

But anyone who posits the concept that life can and should be reduced to only self-serving, mechanistically controllable verities has much to learn from 20th century death camps, and, moreover, should take note of our present-day analogs of Auschwitz: the so-called industrial “farming industry”; the practices of deep sea “fishing” by trawlers (i.e, strip-mining the world’s oceans); deep water oil-drilling practices; and fracking. The list goes on and on, and finds an analog in the mechanistic suppression of dissent by militarized police forces.

Yet the agenda of the corporate/police/commercial/militarist state is to preserve and expand these practices, the very practices that keep its populace alienated, locked into benumbing, destructive habits that leave individuals hollow, anomie-prone, and addicted to distraction.

Withal, the acceptance of a way of life that is dependent on a habitual disengagement from the very acts that maintain one’s culture necessitates the construction of an imprisoning wall of psychological separation between oneself and reality. To awaken to reality is to suffer allowing oneself to experience feelings of despair, powerlessness and rage. Speaking the truth sets you free, because emotion engenders motion.

If witnessing peaceful protesters being beaten by police, manacled with zip cuffs (a device that by its structural makeup ensures a loss of circulation) and transported to jail on trumped-up charges, fails to get your blood up, then your absent soul can be located exchanging banalities at a mental dinner party with Adolf Eichmann.

To express indifference or to be an apologist for the quotidian evils of our time is reprehensible. Like the “good Germans” of the 1930s, you might believe your codified hatreds and commodified longings, manifested by the industrial and military power of the state, will deliver and preserve freedom but these beliefs, maintained by systems of mechanized force, will, in time, come to debase everything you hold dear.

How can an individual gain a modicum of empathy for the plight of the planet and for those brutalized by the operatives of state oppression when he refuses to gaze upon his own degraded condition?

At this point, the awakening of your heart comes down to a cultural imperative. Even if you don’t quite know where you’re going at first, by moving in the direction of what your heart yearns for, you begin to reveal to yourself who you are. Thus, you wander off the banal path of empty obligation and self-serving rationalization — then, even in moments of doubt and confusion, you can make a home in being lost.

“Show your wounds,” exhorted artist Joseph Bueys. The wound becomes the womb, poets tell us.  Pain and sorrow can induce one to seek out and to join the chorus of a larger order to give full-throated sorrow to songs emanating from the suffering earth.

You can join this chorus or elect to be self-cast as a supernumerary in a lethal farce that assigns you the dubious role of being both oppressor and oppressed. The earth’s song, at this juncture, is one of soul-rending lamentation and sacred vehemence. This song needs you to lend your voice.

And I submit this lyric as the song’s refrain, a riff of the blues inspired by the less than inspired acts of our men and woman uniformed in blue: “Our rights do not end where the caprice of authoritarian bullies begins.”

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com. Visit Phil’s website: http://philrockstroh.com/ or at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100000711907499

6 comments for “Police State Blues

  1. Barbara Burns
    March 19, 2012 at 17:20

    @B.Gleed – Your message is a case-in-point which confirms Phil’s entire thesis. And, oh yeah, I persevered to finish this piece. Your implied suggestion that Phil dumb this down is further confirmation.

  2. B.Gleed
    March 19, 2012 at 15:53

    Brilliantly written, but not voiced to reach the average American reader. What do you think the average reader, with his limited high school vocabulary, is going to find in your purple prose other than somehow from a place apart from them that is foreign, elite and a bit sissified? How many average voters will even persevere to finish the piece?

    Know your audience.

    • Barbara Burns
      March 19, 2012 at 17:30

      B.Gleed – “sissified’?
      Fuck off, now is that average enough for you?

      • Cheryl
        March 20, 2012 at 06:05

        Lol. But the one you critique has a solid point,as discouraging as that may be.

    • Felix Vainglory
      March 19, 2012 at 19:34

      There is an overabundance of literate people with an adequate vocabulary and attention span that exhibit the exact behaviors described and decried in Phil’s piece. Some of them call themselves “liberals” or “educated” or “intelligentsia” or simply “well-read”.

      You seem to assume only slack-jawed yokels and cretinous suburbanites born of your generalizing imagination are guilty of this self degrading banality of evil. You then declare those straw men informal fallacies to be the only target audience and too ill-equipped to process the substance of Phil’s article thus rendering the whole effort moot.

      Whence came this impression of yours is unclear since anyone with basic reading comprehension understands Phil’s arrow is not simply pointed at “America” but at those individuals who still have ears to hear and eyes to see and a heart to feel, whatever demographic and education level.

      As Barbara Burns noted, the form and substance (or lack of, rather) of your criticism is an example of the very conscience suffocating and conformist banality described in the essay. Indeed, you come off as a George F. Babbitt lecturing on “Writing For Dummies 101.”

      Know your head from your ass.

    • Frances in California
      March 21, 2012 at 16:32

      Consortium News – and the poetry of Rockstroh – isn’t FOR the average American reader; it’s for the American reader who, regardless of Class, wishes to go deeper, learn more, expand consciousness . . . oops; did you fall asleep already?

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