There is a fine line between protest and occupation, liberation and tyranny and that is why Occupy Wall Street continues to be a mystery to me. Hence the Delacroix, above.
In the past day, Mayor Bloomberg has evicted Occupy Wall Street protestors from Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan. Here is my question — was he right to do this?
Political ideologies notwithstanding, it’s interesting to think about this action in relation to the distinction between public and private spaces.
Zuccotti Park is a privately owned park that Brookfield Properties maintains and opens up for NYers to enjoy. Brookfield does this through a special permit from the New York City Department of City Planning. Here’s how it works: participating allows Brookfield to increase the size of building(s) on their property (beyond standard zoning regulations) because they also have to maintain the open space for everyone to enjoy. So participating creates two advantages for the developer: an increase in the number (and quality) of tenants and an aesthetically pleasing development which reaps economic advantages, as well. This, of course, does not begin to include how this affects the overall urban development of the city and sustainability.
Before moving forward, I want to be clear. I am a believer in privately-owned public spaces for two reasons. First, I do not think that municipal organizations have the resources (financial and otherwise) to maintain the amount of public space that cities (especially NY) need in order to be truly inhabitable. Secondly, I believe that private businesses should participate in the development of their community in a way that is advantageous to both their organization and to the public at large.
Also, let me also point out that I do not live in NYC right now, so all of these opinions are based on my own historical knowledge of NY and my experience working in design and construction. I know many people who are there right now and I hope that they comment on what I am writing here today.
Those things being said, is it right that Mayor Bloomberg evicted the Occupy Wall Street protestors? Does the First amendment cover the freedom to “occupy” as a form of freedom of “speech?” This, of course, is something for the courts to decide, not me, but I do have a gut reaction to this.
I believe that public spaces are, indeed, public, even if they are (partially) privately owned. That is, corporations who have this special permit do not have the right to strictly determine who enters a public space. On the other hand, public interest groups do not have the right to prohibit or discourage other people from entering a public space either, which is what I believe is happening at Occupy Wall Street.
Everyone should have access to the areas that are meant for community and dialogue. All race, gender, religion, ideology, ethnicity distinctions should, to the fullest extent possible, be neutralized in a public space.
Unfortunately, protest is never pretty and it never manifests itself in the way it is first dreamed up. I do not believe that Occupy Wall Street ever intended on being exclusive or a public safety issue. The truth is that protest is passionate and dramatic. It’s extreme. Which is why we protest against governments whose opposite characteristics — structure, consistency, and banality – oftentimes do not encourage change. In short, rarely can protest meet government in a way that is neat and tidy or in a way that can be accurately portrayed in the media. They are too different from each other.
So, what do I really think?
I think that there is a fine line between protest and occupation. Occupy Wall Street has every right to make it’s declarations heard for as long as they want and wherever they want but they still have the responsibility to act as citizens, who enjoy and benefit from the rules and guidelines they are asking corporate America to follow. For me, to live for months on end in a way that prohibits others from enjoying a space meant for inclusion, is similar to having a public space that can only be utilized for a select group of people (to an extreme – segregation?). So, true to their name, their camping out is an “occupation” of a neutral space. Occupations are rarely seen as positive and occupations are the antithesis of public.
But, if not for this park, where else could they protest?
This is where I have a harder time coming to a conclusive decision. Is a city street (blocking traffic) a better venue because it is truly “public?” Must we require corporate organizations to “underwrite” a protest (and it’s associated costs – venue, food, etc)? Neither of these seem like good answers.
If I were part of Occupy Wall Street, what would I do? Where would I go? I mean, there are protest ordinances and permits, isn’t that enough? Do I need to take over a park? If so, should I be angry that someone says I must leave?
Here is the more important question: If I were truly concerned about making a change, why would I continue to create “public space” where crime and sanitation issues get in the way of my ideology? Isn’t this antithetical to any type of protest meant to create better living conditions for citizens? Wouldn’t I be amazed that I had gathered enough people to have this problem and come up with a better and more visible solution?
Here’s what I do think:
No. 1: A government cannot begin control a multi-billion dollar economy, from a logistical or moral perspective, if they can’t control a protest in a public park. You can’t ask one set of people to follow rules while another isn’t required to.
No. 2: Governments need to find a better way to deal with everyone’s right to protest in an effective manner. Yes, it’s true, the park is a mess but where else can they go?
No. 3: Public space is meant for the voice of the many, not the voice of the few who claim to speak for the many. Once one group speaks so loudly that others aren’t heard, there is a problem.
No. 4: Protest is only a childish past time if it cannot articulate its beliefs and negotiate ways to make life better through solutions . How can I put any amount of faith in a group of people who cannot organize more effectively? Why would I listen to them for guidance as to how to change major governmental issues?
Will Occupy Wall Street teach us something about how citizens communicate with the government? Absolutely.
Do I think that camping out in a park is the only way for Occupy Wall Street to make it’s point? Absolutely not.
Perhaps focusing on communicating its message intellectually instead of primarily through the visible demonstration of their disdain will require this group to crystallize their message in a way that might actually make a difference.
You know, to the Man.
5 responses to “Viva la revolucion pero con banos! Occupy Wall Street kicked out of Park”
The occupation is (or was), in my opinion, an act of Civil Disobedience. Quoted directly from Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience:
“If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, ‘I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico; — see if I would go’; and yet these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. summed it up with his flair for stating the profound with brevity:
“I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”
Is any occupation ‘polite’, so to speak? No, by definition. Is it justified? In the opinion of the organizers, yes. There is no requirement that civil disobedience need be pretty, simply non-violent. More importantly, are the issues causing it clear and present? Yes. There is income inequality, you can’t deny it whether you agree the levels of inequality are fair or not.
Can they organize and communicate solutions? Well, yes, kind of: go to occupywallst.org and search for a recent list of 13 demands. They represent, if not specific legislative language, clear ideas for solutions. Maybe they are realistic goals, maybe not, but they do seem worthy of discussing. Additionally, a google search will turn up another list, posted in the Wall St. Journal, to specific bills before Congress that they want to see passed, or perhaps defeated (I confess I did not read through them all). Here’s a link, if that works here:
I’m not sure if network TV news stations are reporting this or not; I threw away my television close to 20 years ago. But the movement has already brought the topic of income inequality into the public discourse with a more urgent tone, which is good for all of us, in my humble opinion.
Thank you so much for posting the Thoreau and MLK. Great additions. There is much to be gained from talking about this.
I hear a lot of people saying things like “They should have been better organized; they should have made their message clearer…” Bearing in mind that our understanding of their message is at the mercy of the media, can anyone actually offer examples of how they would have done it better if this were THEIR protest? I haven’t seen any such suggestions.
An “intellectual appeal” like you’re suggesting would probably be in the form of letters…signed petitions…things of that sort. The kids of things politicians don’t give a damn about. If you want a politician to listen, you either give them a big amount of money, or a big media mess. As the lack of money, or the opposition of the concept of a buying a politician, is exactly what’s being protested, option A is out for these people. So, big media mess it is.
I have to stop typing now because this comment box is running into a bunch of buttons and I can’t see what I’m typing. To be continued when I open an internet browser that is NOT being utilized through freakin’ Citrix.
Okay, so as I was saying…I think you nailed it when you acknowledged, “If not the park, then where?” The only solution would be “Nowhere…stop protesting, you bunch of sillies.” But to stop now would pretty much negate the past couple of months of occupation. I really think these guys are doing the best they can with what they have.
As far as “should they be allowed to be there?”…yes. The judge said so. http://www.myfoxny.com/dpp/news/judge-andrew-napolitano-ows-and-1st-amendment-issues-20111116
That said, I agree with Judge Napolitano as quoted in the above article when he argues against the creation of new laws specifically targeted at this group of protesters. You can’t…you can’t DO that.
Thanks for posting. I would like to make one comment. I don’t really believe that they are “at the mercy of the media.” TV stations have no more credibility than Facebook or Twitter, at this point and with protesters around the world commenting on what is going on, any lack of clarity is due to lack of good reporting, not simply a conglomerate warping what is being said or done. Just saying.