What Do You Think About Occupy Wall Street?
The protesters of Occupy Wall Street were evicted from New York’s Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning. But was it justified?
Even if you don’t live in New York, odds are you’ve been following the Occupy Wall Street movement. Geared towards speaking out about the corporate influence on democracy, the growing disparity in wealth, and the lack of legal repercussions behind the global financial crisis, the movement began on September 17 when protesters moved into Zuccotti Park in New York’s financial district. Members of the Canadian group the Adbusters Foundation were the first to suggest the protest; hacker group Anonymous then took up the banner and urged on their website, “On the 17th of September, we want to see 20,000 people to flood into lower Manhattan, set up beds, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months.”
Why did they settle in Zuccotti Park? In addition to mimicking the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt, it’s private property, making it illegal for the cops to force them to leave without the owner’s say-so. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during a press conference shortly after the protest began, “People have a right to protest, and if they want to protest, we’ll be happy to make sure they have locations to do it. As long as they do it where other people’s rights are respected, this is the place where people can speak their minds, and that’s what makes New York New York.
And so it went. “We are the 99%” entered the cultural lexicon, and the movement grew as more protesters set up camp in Zuccoti Park. The protesters weathered the snowstorm in October (which, by the way, is the first time I can remember there being snow that early in New York in recent years). Celebrities like Penn Badgely and Tim Robbins even joined up. The movement, however, was noted for its lack of organization as well as the fact that it seemed to have no specific demands, and as such, it saw much criticism.
And as of the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday, the cops moved in and forcefully evicted all of the protesters from Zuccotti Park. Bloomburg seemed to have changed his tune; he defended the decision to clear the park by saying, “New York City is the city where you can come and express yourself. What was happening in Zuccotti Park was not that.” He went on to say that the protesters had taken over the park, “making it unavailable to anyone else.”
But here’s the thing: The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” We’re legally entitled to peacefully protest, and it looks like this right was pretty severely violated when the cops moved in—especially in the WAY that they moved in. Check out the timeline of police action here. Overkill for a peaceful protest? Pretty clearly yes. Furthermore, rather a lot of journalists were detained, arrested, and cuffed as they tried to cover the eviction. So much for freedom of the press.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, a judge ruled that the cops were within their rights to enforce the no-camping-gear/sleeping-in-the-park rule, but that the protesters were within their rights to, well, protest. The protesters have since been let back into the park with the understanding that they cannot under any circumstances sleep there.
Was the movement all that effective? I don’t really know. But does that justify the violation of all those rights that happened during the eviction? My gut says no. All in all, though, I’m pretty conflicted about the whole thing. So I’d like to open up the floor here. What do you think about Occupy Wall Street, Bettys? Are you pro? Anti? Neutral? Should the cops have moved in like they did? What about the whole freedom of speech/protest/press issue? Tell us what you think!
Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s associate editor.