Taking the Bridge: Why The Peaceful Arrests of 700 Protesters is PR Gold

Oct 02 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

The taking of the Bridge and the appearance of police entrapment is a made-for TV moment that could well take the Occupy Walls Street protest viral. The footage from the taking of the bridge is pure cinematic gold. It tells the story of American citizens fed up with the inequities in the system, being trapped by police and then arrested en masse for something it’s clear many of them did not know was a violation. Their peaceful arrests only bring more sympathy to their cause.

Of course, this is the one thing the elites on Wall Street don’t want and can’t afford.

Yesterday, an estimated 700 of the approximately 1,500 protesters were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. Controversy arouse as it appeared that the police led them to the bridge, allowed them to march on the bridge, and then kettled them in with netting and began arresting them. The police were prepared for mass arrests, having ordered what are said to be prison buses to stand by in order to transport the protesters.

In the debate over whether or not the police set the protesters up to take the bridge instead of remaining on the wooden walkway above the vehicle roadway, an important point has been missed. Somehow, the police (vastly outnumbered on the bridge from the video I’ve seen) managed to arrest 700 protesters without a riot ensuing.

Not only was there not a riot, but also these arrests were largely not resisted. Protesters sat down to await arrest, were led away easily, some even smiling.

Here’s a video of the march and resulting arrests, uploaded by arthurkr222 , who wrote: “Protesters started marching up the pedestrian walk way over the bridge while others tried to take the traffic lane. For a few minutes officers held the line and then they turned around and led the way up the traffic lane on the Brooklyn Bridge. From what I saw no police told any of the protesters to leave until they created a barricade in front of the march about halfway through the bridge. They then pulled vans and buses up to the back of the group and started arresting everyone.

In total over 700 people were arrested.”

The problem for the NYPD is that regardless of their intentions, the videos amassed appear to suggest that they led the protesters on to the bridge only to trap them. And to make matters worse, the protesters were, even then, peaceful.

All of this played out almost to perfection in terms of press for the protesters: the world is watching as protesters are marching to reclaim the rights of the people. While the reasons for their protest may be murky to some, one thing the world is aware of is that Wall Street was bailed out with American citizen’s tax money and now Wall Street is too often not paying taxes and hoarding money that they aren’t giving to CEOs as huge bonuses, instead of repaying the money like the auto companies did, let alone “creating jobs.” That this is unfair and wrong is an easy sell to the rest of the world.

The imagery from the Taking of the Bridge came perilously close to that of the wildly popular musical, Les Misérables, a story inhabited by relatable characters fed up with injustice and inequality. Les Mis was based on Victor Hugo’s book of the same name. Not only are the visuals similar, but the stories of the lead characters will sound familiar; in Les Mis, we have a man arrested for stealing bread to feed his family, a woman forced into prostitution for medicine for her daughter, and idealistic students coming together to overthrow privileged authorities. The book is full of references to and justifications for the earlier French Revolution, and the revolutionaries depicted in Les Mis are the heroes. It is an ode to bottom up revolutions.

The French Revolution was born of resentment on behalf of peasants, laborers and the bourgeoisie against the absolute privileges of the monarchs and religious authorities in dire economic times when the regressive tax system placed the burden for the nation’s war debt largely on the working class. The people were fed up. The parallels abound.

Les Miz is once again been turned into a film, and this time it’s starring Hugh Jackman. These facts do not bode well for the snickering Wall Street elites, currently laughing at the protesters from their balconies whilst sipping champagne (it’s enough to enrage anyone that they are so enshrined in privilege that they appear to have learned nothing from history: I refer to Marie-Antoinette’s ending), because a film in which the workers and peasants are the good guys will hardly bode well for a Wall Street (aided by the usual suspects at Fox) desperately trying to paint the protesters as “dirty hippies”.

In modern America, everything, news included, is about perception and pop culture holds an unwarranted amount of power over that perception. The last thing Wall Street can afford right now is a film about the people’s revolution drawing a correlation in the public’s mind with the folks protesting Wall Street. Lucky for Wall Street, the film isn’t set to start shooting until March.

However, over 57 million people have seen the musical and the comparison is hard to miss.

Against the backdrop of a famous New York landmark, protestors (students, workers and the generally fed up) marched with huge signs proclaiming “We the People” and American flags held triumphantly high, waving in the breeze. After their widely viewed arrests, they took on the mantle of the underdog; a united citizenry pushed to their breaking point by an unfair system in which the elites get richer and the middle class gets poorer.

In terms of public perception, it doesn’t matter if the police really intended to entrap the protesters or not. It looks like they did. And it also looks like the protesters were peacefully assembling and allowing themselves to be arrested under vague and uncertain terms. This imagery only reinforces the underdog status of the protesters.

The Taking of the Bridge arrests are shaping up to be a public relations nightmare for the NYPD, and public relations coup for Occupy Wall Street. All that’s missing so far is mass American media coverage, but it will come if this keeps up. And when it does, these arrests will be public relations gold. The elites can sip their champagne and laugh today, but a movement of the people has started and it has the potential to derail them from their privileged perch, especially if middle America finds the protesters sympathetic.

Note: This article has been edited to clarify and correct the timeline of Les Miserables in relationship to the French Revolution.

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