The Occupy movement faces a dilemma: Conflict and confrontation, which have helped make it a national phenomenon, also can derail it, says USA Today. The scene in Oakland, where a few protesters fought with riot police, trashed stores, built barricades and started fires, reminded activists and historians that a movement suffers if conflicts with authority turn violent. “For the past century, violence has almost always been counterproductive in American politics. The anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements were strongest when they were faithful to their non-violent roots,” says Maurice Isserman, co-author of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s.
Occupy Wall Street, which started it Sept. 17 in New York City, was ignored by much of the news media until a police commander was videotaped pepper-spraying two female protesters, and about 700 protesters were arrested for allegedly trying to block the Brooklyn Bridge. Occupy Oakland got noticed more after protester Scott Olsen, an ex-Marine and Iraq War veteran, suffered a fractured skull when hit by a projectile as police and protesters clashed. Violence undercuts public sympathy for the protesters’ cause, says Terry Madonna, a polling expert at Franklin and Marshall College He wonders whether Occupy, a movement that has no publicly identified leaders or hierarchy, can stop violence within or outside its ranks. The vast majority of Occupy members have been nonviolent.