Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Would it be hypocritical for someone who makes their living off the First Amendment (like, say, a book seller, for instance) to report other people who are exercising their First Amendment rights (like, say, activists, for instance) to the police for their political activities?

If you haven't had a chance yet to read the Center for Media and Democracy's recent massive dump of emails and documents detailing the police surveillance and crackdown on Occupy Phoenix, you're really missing out.  The files reveal a year of police targeting of activists, infiltration of political groups, a witch-hunt for anarchists and outright collaboration with the right wing, pro-corporate American Legislative Council (ALEC), which came to Arizona in November 2011 for its annual meeting.

For activists and anarchists active during that year of protest that shook the country and yet seems already to have faded from public memory, these documents come as both vindication and confirmation of what everyone knew was going on at the time.  Unfortunately, the media wasn't interested in telling the story at the time.  Their cozy relationship with the authorities, inability to empathize with protesters expressing their anger at the ongoing crisis, and maybe a little bit of denial that the security state that had expanded so massively since 9/11 might be used to police dissent in a democracy, all conspired to keep this story off the airwaves and out of the newspapers.

Since the release of the documents Monday, people have pored through them.  One of the first revelations to start making waves involves Cindy Dach, co-owner and GM at the favorite local book store Changing Hands, and proprietor at MADE Art Boutique in downtown Phoenix.  The downtown arts neighborhoods has been an ongoing point of conflict for some time between the more rebellious, free (and less profit-oriented) elements and those who sought to build a commercial arts hub as part of the larger development project in the area.  As a result of this conflict, ongoing communication was established between the more business-minded folks and the cops.  The objective was to bring the often ruckus First Friday art night to heel, to domesticate it with the aim of making it more amenable to families and business.

According to documents, on October 7, 2011 Dach got wind of a gathering of Occupy Phoenix activists at the now-defunct Conspire coffehouse (a regular hang out for anarchists, activists and anticapitalist-oriented artists).  The purpose of the gathering was to flyer and raise awareness of the coming October 15th occupation.  Dach typed up an email and sent the warning to Sgt. Chas Clements, reporting the meeting.  As we know from other documents, the PPD was already focused on Occupy Phoenix and making plans to stop it.  

As PR Watch reports:

“Not sure how this differs from their regular - come to Conspire on First Friday activity, but I thought I should share,” wrote Dach to Clements (Appendix, p.148-149).  The email contained links to two Facebook event notices detailing the event...

According to records obtained by DBA/CMD, Clements forwarded this advisory on to PPD South Mountain Precinct Resource Lt. Sean Connolly. In his response to the Clements email, Connolly wrote, “Yes this is connected to the Occupy Phx / Day of Rage protest next week on the 14th and 15th. For intel purposes, I would like to obtain a few copies of any flyers handed out tonight at FF [First Friday] reference the protests next week [sic].”

This struck many in the arts community as well as long-time Changing Hands customers as a rather glaring bit of hypocrisy, considering the nature of her business. dependent as it is on the First Amendment, but also given that the store is generally well-stocked with lefty books.  Readers tend to be quite fervent defenders of freedom of speech and assembly.  What else is a book club, after all?  Or a book store for that matter?   Especially one that so frequently hosts speaking engagements for popular authors.

Disgruntled customers and artists took to Changing Hands' Facebook page to express their outrage, demanding answers.  Changing Hands posted a reply from Dach.  In it, she describes the family-friendly nature of the event and her spin on their decision to work with the police generally, adding that "it saddens me that a small but vocal minority has somehow conflated event management and crowd safety with the squelching of free speech."  That language eerily parallels the Orwellian administrative and de-politicized doublespeak of the cops as they cracked down on Occupy all over the country, citing camping ordinances, trash collection and other banal civil regulations as justification.

However, whatever their opinion on the taming of First Friday, many people are stunned that Dach couldn't see the distinction between political activity and other behavior she might consider anti-social, disruptive or bad for business.  Whether First Friday and art deserves to be sanitized for family consumption, like so many parts of this child-centered culture, is one question.  But opinion seems to solidifying at this time around a genuine sense of outrage and consternation that a trusted bookseller so easily turned on core book-lovers' values and took up the role of police adjunct in a fight in which free speech played so central a part.  After all, her report didn't just go into the ether.  Records strongly suggest that police used that intelligence to take repressive action, sending undercover officers to infiltrate the movement and gather intelligence.  One of those officers was overheard advocating violence on more than one occasion before being outed by activists.

Dach may see this as a neutral act, but many people do not.  And, as further records revealed, the Phoenix PD was in active collaboration not only with the banks but also with far right wing, pro-corporate groups like ALEC.  That adds an extra bite for customers who pride themselves on shopping locally and independently.  The old labor slogan comes to mind: "Which side are you on?"  Maybe quickly followed by some advice from the late Howard Zinn, who would remind us that "you can't be neutral on a moving train."

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