Occupy Wall Street, and Keep Occupying It

I’m not in sympathy with the OWS folks, but…

Recently I saw on a blog someone more or less obliquely criticizing those who applauded the Citizens United decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending and applaud the crackdowns on OWS protestors. Damn right that’s a contradiction.

Granted, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that non-discriminatory laws of general applicability that don’t go too far in their limits on liberty are acceptable constraints on our constitutional rights, and laws against camping in public parks are exactly that kind of generally applicable law. But I don’t find that formulation satisfactory in cases like this. The First Amendment specifically protects the rights to speech, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government. I think that means when people are specifically exercising those rights, the generally applicable laws have to be enacted and enforced in a way that allows a lot of leeway.

The OWS protestors should be allowed to camp out in the parks to engage in their protests as long as they damn well please. And the complaints that they’re un-American need to be rebutted with the response that efforts to limit the exercise of peaceful political protest are efforts to undermine the American ideals expressed in the First Amendment.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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18 Responses to Occupy Wall Street, and Keep Occupying It

  1. Phil Johnson says:

    What? Hanley’s best post so far?
    .
    That’s great!!~

    You might come to the light after all.

    -^::^-

  2. BSK says:

    JH-

    I agree with this and posted something similar over on the LOOG.

    BUT……. then I thought about the potential absurdity of saying that middle-class white college grads can sleep in the parks but legitimately homeless people with few other options simply seeking a safe place to put their head down at night can’t. Somehow that doesn’t sit right, though I realize the practical implications of that feeling…

  3. James Hanley says:

    Ummm, so I prioritize middle class political protest over the needs of the homeless? Yeah, maybe, and that is a bit disconcerting. On the other hand, I do believe in providing a better place than the park for homeless people to sleep. Especially when it gets cold. So maybe I’ve got myself covered there. Maybe.

    Jeez, thanks for making me uncomfortable. *grin*

  4. BSK says:

    Hahahaha… not my intention at all!

    Like I said, I agreed with you! But then I thought about the logic of, “Lock up all those homeless! The college kids need a place to bang their drums!” And I realize no one is really taking that stance, but that is sort of the practical reality of the stance. As you said, ideally the response to the homeless sleeping in a park would be, “Hey brother, I’ve got a warm bed this way for you.” I am curious whether any legitimate homeless (that phrase feels icky, no?) have taken advantage of the protests and avoided unnecessary arrests/harassment while sleeping in the occupied parks.

    And, as mocking as my tone is, I’m fully in support of protest in general and don’t think the “who” matters as to what the legal response ought to be.

  5. BSK says:

    Just heard on NPR… (paraphrased)

    OWS leaders are considering stopping the practice of cooking and offering free food for protesters. They feel that less-than-serious protesters (including homeless kids and foreign tourists) are taking advantage of the free food and risk creating a “welfare state”. The irony is just too strong…

  6. Matty says:

    I thought they were trying to demonstrate the advantages of a society not based on the profit motive, shouldn’t ‘the community’ feeding the homeless be exactly the sort of thing OWS should encourage?

    Anyway its nearly November, winter will evict the campers soon enough regardless of any action or lack of it by others.

  7. Troublesome Frog says:

    Matty,

    I’m pretty certain that they’re not trying to demonstrate the advantages of a society without a profit motive.

  8. Matty says:

    That was badly put so I’ll try and disentangle. I understood that the protestors have consciously tried to make their camps examples of the kind of social structure they would like and that parts of that include a reduced (not eliminated) role for profit making and a desire to make the community as a whole responsible for helping those in need. I confused those two things but I think they are both in there.

  9. BSK says:

    Matty-

    I thought the ironic fact is that they are calling for an expansion of the welfare state but then got upset when their mini-society “devolved” into one. One way in which they are not so dissimilar from the Tea Party is that apparent notion that ONE type of handout (student loan forgiveness) is okay but another (free food) is not.

  10. Troublesome Frog says:

    I suppose that’s good for a chuckle, but like most humor by analogy, it’s only funny if you don’t think about it too hard. The situations aren’t especially analogous. One is the government of the wealthiest nation in the world and the other is a makeshift tent society with a 15% unemployment rate and no government.

  11. BSK says:

    Well, yes. Imperfect analogies are just that: imperfect. It’d be one thing if they learned about the problems that can arise from a large welfare state. It is quite another to simultaneously complain about one AND demand more of one.

    And, for those who don’t know me, I believe in a welfare state. I just don’t like the attitude that many of the leaders of OWS have taken, which is well exemplified in this little anecdote.

  12. Troublesome Frog says:

    Well, yes. Imperfect analogies are just that: imperfect.

    Wait a minute. We just went from, “I can crack a joke about this because these two things are similar on a purely superficial level,” to, “This is a useful model of how things really work that the OWS people should have learned from.” This is an imperfect analogy in the same sense that pointing out that you can’t go to the moon in a cardboard box is an imperfect analogy for space flight.

    My guess is that if you surveyed the OWS people about what they really want done, you’d get almost as many proposals as there are people. As far as I can tell, the one thing that they really share is a perfectly reasonable frustration about how our system distributes pain when the economy takes a hit.

    My concern about OWS is that, like the Tea Party, they have some of the political pliability of an angry mob. When you get a bunch of really angry people who have problems but no solutions, politicians don’t see angry constituents who need answers. They see a raw and undirected political groundswell that they can harness if only they can come up with just the right lie or scapegoat the right people. I’m still not sure how this will play out, but it is interesting to see that Republican politicians have managed to choke out the words “income inequality” in public. I never thought I’d see the day.

  13. James Hanley says:

    My concern about OWS is that, like the Tea Party, they have some of the political pliability of an angry mob. When you get a bunch of really angry people who have problems but no solutions, politicians don’t see angry constituents who need answers. They see a raw and undirected political groundswell that they can harness if only they can come up with just the right lie or scapegoat the right people.

    +1

  14. Troublesome Frog says:

    James Hanely,

    You’ve made my day. Maybe because I’m imagining that you wrote that in red ink on my paper. I’m putting it on my refrigerator :)

  15. James Hanley says:

    Well, I’ve had much the same line of thought, but I hadn’t yet found such a trenchant way of stating it. I envy your phraseology.

  16. BSK says:

    TF-

    I’m making several different points.

    OWS and the TP are similar in that:
    A) I read a recent study that found that the apparent hypocrisy of the TP where they railed against handouts while being major beneficiaries of handouts was predicated upon a notion that not all handouts are created equal and that their handouts were deserved and that others were not
    B) Many members of OWS were demanding a larger welfare state that would enrich them while complaining about a welfare state that did not enrich them.

    Basically, both groups were taking a, “It is different when WE do it…” approach. Obviously, that does not sum up either group in totality and was meant more as an interesting observation.

    My larger point was that it was very ironic for OWS to complain about homeless people trying to get a free lunch while they were demanding of the government essentially a free lunch (largely through student loan forgiveness). Given their supposed solidarity-with-the-poor approach, I found this particularly bothersome. Almost as if they were saying, “Don’t THOSE homeless know that the free food is only for THESE ‘homeless’.”

    Another way that OWS is similar to the TP is that, as you noted, both movements are motivated by anger but don’t necessarily have a clear plan for addressing that anger. A TP candidate for governor in NY, Carl Paladino, literally ran on a “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” platform. Bloomberg (I think it was Bloomberg, at least) endorsed his opponent eventually saying something along the lines of, “Anger is real. And anger can motivate. But anger is not a platform. Carl has anger. But he has no answers.” Summed it up pretty well. At least for that particular TPer. And I think the same criticism can be levied against much of the OWS crowd, which is fractured in a more extreme way than the TP, from what I’ve seen.

  17. Troublesome Frog says:

    Basically, both groups were taking a, “It is different when WE do it…” approach. Obviously, that does not sum up either group in totality and was meant more as an interesting observation.

    Are you sure that’s what’s happening? I’m don’t see how a message like, “The super rich have accumulated most of the wealth and the rest of us need help,” is inconsistent with, “We (the people who need help) can’t afford to feed everybody who wants a free meal.” I think you’d be hard pressed to find an OWS person who thinks that those people shouldn’t receive aid. They just don’t personally have the resources to do it. “I can’t afford to take care of myself and feed these other guys,” is not the same thing as, “I deserve help but these other guys don’t.”

    The Tea Party folks, on the other hand, were often truly an exercise in pure hypocrisy. There’s no real coherent way to reconcile, “I deserve government money” and “These other guys in basically the same situation don’t deserve the same.” Even worse, there’s really no way to reconcile, “The government is a plague that only gives money to leeches and we’d all be better off without it” with, “I still deserve my farm subsidies/Medicare/Social Security/government job.

    As for OWS being more fractured, I think they always will be. The Tea Party, much like its Republican Party superset, really seems to stand for nothing but lower taxes without regard to the consequences. OWS seems to be wrangling with a complex problem that has no easy answer. I certainly don’t have a good solution to the shifts we’re seeing in our economy. I find them alarming, but I can’t see a magic bullet that a mob could really get behind.

  18. BSK says:

    Most of the food that OWS is enjoying are donations. They are handouts. From private citizens, but handouts nonetheless. So, they are being provided for, but don’t want to provide for everyone else. And, yes, practically, they can’t feed the world. But invoking the term “welfare state” was uniquely ironic. And they don’t just want less economic inequality. They want direct government handouts. They want something for nothing. But freaked out about others wanting the same.

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