Occupy 2011: When OWS Protesters Become Trespassers

by Jeff Norman

Is fighting economic injustice such a righteous pursuit that it entitles Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters and their disciples to indefinitely control whatever space they invade? Even though the whole movement is centered around the word “occupy,” deciding which property to take over, or how long to monopolize it, doesn’t seem to be based on any guiding principle. Occupiers need to clarify what, in their eyes, makes terrain seizable.

The owners of Zuccotti Park in New York are apparently authorized to prohibit camping and similar activities, and yesterday they gave entrenched demonstrators a day’s notice to vacate the park long enough for workers to clean and inspect it. Thereafter, they warned, only those who obey park rules will be allowed to use the premises.

The decision announced early this morning to postpone the scheduled cleaning, made no mention of those rules.

The protesters say the City of New York should neither enforce the rules nor “evict” occupiers from the park. But what they haven’t explained is how the police could legally or morally justify ignoring a property owner’s trespass complaint.

Although occupiers pride themselves on adhering to a strict and democratic decision-making method, it’s not clear how – or if – that procedure honors the wishes of park owners, besieged neighbors and various non-OWS users of the park.

The movement’s overall mission has great legitimacy, but its land grabbing policy requires some elucidation.

This article was also published by Citizen Jeff and The Huffington Post.

Rights trump 'interests.'

"The right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," enshrined in the Constitution, is a sacred privilege of citizenship. It must be protected more ferociously than, oh, say, private property. 

"Land grabbing" is a loaded description of the Occupy Movement's ad hoc encampments. When Proudhon declared La propriété, c'est le vol!, he didn't have in mind temporary occupations of public or, as in the case of Zucotti Park, quasi-public spaces (nor, in the spirit of Proudhon, should private property be exempt from occupation if circumstances warrant). The inconveniences engendered by occupiers are insignificant when measured against the wrongs that are being protested.

"Behind every great fortune there is a crime," Balzac wrote. It hardly needs mentioning in present company that Occupy exists only because crimes of epic proportions perpetrated by the oligarchs who control the political mechanisms of this republic continue unabated despite the havoc they wreak on most of its inhabitants. Fixating on Occupy's possible violations of health codes, noise ordinances or park regulations misses the bigger picture. To ask the protestors to expend time and energy explaining the legal or moral -- moral? really? -- justifications of the occupations is to ask them to take their eye off the ball. 

The guardians of public order and private property -- from cops on the beat to prosecutors to magistrates -- make judgements all the time about which rules and regulations need to be enforced, to what degree and against whom. It is for the City of New York to explain why the unimpeded flow of vehicular traffic or a prohibition against handing out food in a park exceeds the right of the people peaceably to assemble. Besides, the demonstrators, as proper heirs to Gandhi and MLK, are not attempting to avoid prosecution; they just don't want dangerous unnecessary confrontations with armed police and private security personnel.

In any case, this is a political fight, not a legal confrontation or debate about right and wrong. Physically "occupying" is a political tactic; it requires no legal sanction. In fact, like sit-ins, it draws much of its power from the willingness of the occupiers to defy authority. That the demonstrators hold the high moral ground, as I believe, is beside the point. The outcome, as always, will be determined by who is strong not who is right.

For now, the good guys are winning. The oligarchs and their political camp followers are nervous and confused and, in most locales -- Oh, Oakland! -- overreacting. This is a "which side are you on?" moment, as the old Labor anthem had it. (It seems to me that the Oakland "general strike" and the shut down of the port is to be celebrated. It is only when the confrontation begins to really cost the oligarchs that they will be willing to relinquish some of their power.) The Occupy Movement has already changed the focus of the political debate and transformed public opinion; if it goes on long enough and gets big enough, the occupiers might even force a change in the arrangement of power. It would be a shame if the movement gets distracted by nitpicking in its own ranks.

Parenthetically, the Constitution does not mention that the people's cause must meet some standard of righteousness.  You and I may believe that to be for economic justice is to be on the side of the angels; John Paulson and his cohort would probably beg to differ (okay, "beg" is the wrong word). It wouldn't matter if the assembled were petitioning for
free Jujubes, wax lips, Zagnuts, candy cigarettes and Sugar Babies for all; the right to do so would stand. -- John Gabree

Pictures of Occupy.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails