Tuesday, November 15, 2011

And So It Begins

This was not unexpected, but it did not have to be inevitable

New York City police in riot gear swept into a Lower Manhattan park early today to remove hundreds of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators who had been camping there for more than eight weeks to protest income inequality.

The action followed similar moves that shut camps in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon. New York police and the park’s owners told protesters at 1 a.m. local time to remove items including tents and sleeping bags, after which city workers cleared remaining belongings, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. The park will remain closed until the city can review a judge’s restraining order seeking to allow protesters to return with their belongings, the mayor said.

“The First Amendment protects speech,” the mayor said in a press conference at City Hall. “It doesn’t protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over public space.”

Actually, Mayor Mike, the First Amendment right to assembly does precisely that, and it is not limited in the constitution. And Zuccotti Park, while a private place, was created in exchange for a zoning variance and therefore is quasi-public space. You've screwed the pooch, mayor.

But I digress...

It was inevitable that the protestors would be tested. Between the cold weather (which if I had been mayor and wanted this to die away, is what I would have waited for) and the anger of surrounding residents (sorry, there's a price for living near a stock exchange), something was bound to give. What was not inevitable was the forcible eviction of people who have been nothing but compliant to the concerns of officials and neighbors.

All kinds of excuses have been proffered: health risks (yes, because sooooooooo many of the protestors were being rushed to hospitals, and are uninsured...wait, that's the POINT!), security risks (crime at OWS is lower than the surrounding, still-well-patrolled neighborhood), sanitation (admittedly, hundreds of people create a mess over a period of time, no matter how well they clean up after themselves), community issues (all of which OWS was willing to address, and has always been willing to address), even inconvenience to the surrounding commuters and workers.

None of which is sufficient to justify tearing the thing down, destroying books and videos, throwing away food, clothing and shelter. None of which justifies debasing a peaceful protest that has done nothing but try to live within the law.

And now you leave them with fewer options than they started the protest with: jobs are harder to come by, housing is weaker than before, and no one will listen to the truth.

OWS scares the people who cheer on the dismantling of Occupy. The fact that young, bright people with college degrees-- people who should be higher on the ladder of success-- are forced to live for months in a park because they can't get jobs that pay them a living wage (nevermind allow them to pay off student loans) is a scar on the American conscience, and the people who oppose the OWS protests are terrified that, there but for the grace of God, go them. They want to be in denial of the facts because facts are scary things. Also, facts have a known liberal bias.

And they should be scared. There's 99% of Americans who, if they suffered a catastrophic illness or the loss of a job or a divorce or some humiliation of equivalent degree, would be in precisely the same position as these people are now. All 326.7 million of us.
This isn't a bunch of dirty smelly hippies. These folks represent the rest of us. They do not lie when they call themselves the 99%.