The Washington Post

How far will Occupy Wall Street protests go?

I believe the violent eruption of the Occupy Oakland demonstration was under-reported by the media. While it’s not unprecedented, it is not insignificant. American law enforcement had to use violence to break up a riotous American political demonstration. This doesn’t happen very often. (The 1999 IMF meeting in Seattle doesn’t count. Around 1999 there was a roaming band of protesters that followed big, international conferences. It had nothing to do with the American domestic political situation. And spare me any comments about the unique characteristics of Oakland. I’ve been to an Oakland Raiders game.)

As some commentators are trying to contrive a similarity between the Tea Party and the Occupyers, the Oakland incident puts the difference in vivid relief. Tea Party events have had the occasional shouting match and have been disrupted by provocateurs, but they’ve seen nothing that has required tear gas. 

Civil unrest in America is very rare, but are we near a tipping point? I mentioned in The Post in January 2011 that violent demonstrations, as seen in Europe, could be coming to America. Obviously, we’re not there yet, but I think the event in Oakland did cross a threshold, with American-on-American use of force at a political gathering.

How far past the threshold will America go? That could depend on 2012. Are the grievances that form the Occupy movement going to be settled in the election, will the protests get out of control, or will the demonstrations fizzle?

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.

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