#occupywallstreet #occupyboston Part Seven: A Right to be Heard

If you’re interested, parts one through six of my #occupywallstreet #occupyboston series:

Speaking for Myself . . .

I begin this post on 1 December 2011, the day Suffolk Superior Court Judge Frances McIntyre held a hearing to hear cause why a temporary restraining order restricting the City of Boston from evicting the camp at Dewey Square be lifted. As well as as attempt to get inside Judge McIntyre’s head, it’s also a reflection on the issues at hand. Right off the bat, my attempt to get inside Judge McIntyre’s head is, I realize, a fool’s errand. I’m not a lawyer. I am just a sporting amateur who happens to care deeply about the issues surrounding and involved with the existence of the camp at Dewey Square. I happen to feel that there is no other voice in all of American politics who speaks for me and my issues. As a life long labor democrat and then an active ex-blogger at the Big Orange Satan for years, I am convinced that it is no longer the fatally compromised Democratic party.

As a City of Boston lawyer correctly pointed out, freedom of speech is not absolute. Nor should it be. Libel, slander and other speech with consequences come immediately to mind, for instance. However none of those applies to Occupy Boston.

As I see it, the framework lies in the conflict between two valid societal needs: the right of people to constitutionally protected speech, and at the outset there can be no doubt that Occupy Boston’s protest falls under exactly what the First Amendment was designed to protect, versus the City of Boston’s right, and duty, to maintain the public spaces for the benefit of all. Both of which are things we should all support. Even Occupy Boston. (After all, Boston’s green spaces are one of the finer aspects of what I feel is still one of the world’s great cities. That tragically misplaced monstrosity of a cable-stay bridge notwithstanding.) I don’t necessarily feel that the exact space that the tents actually sit on falls under the description of a destination for those wishing to enjoy the Greenway, but rather that the space the camp inhabits is a transit area between the subway station and much nicer green spaces of the Greenway beyond. More of the framework in this discussion are actions the city has undertaken from the outset to limit both the growth of structure in the camp and the spread of tent city itself. Listed as “contraband” are items such as winter tents and insulating materials destined to make the Occupy Boston camp habitable throughout the winter, and on at least two occasions that I know of, miscellaneous items have either been prevented from entering the camp or summarily removed. As for the cost? perhaps Boston taxpayers should question the $3.5 million taxpayer subsidy granted to JPMorgan/Chase instead of the reported $600-$750 thousand in police overtime. All of which goes to illustrate that, as far as city hall is concerned, the Occupy Boston camp appears to be the enemy! (More on that later.)


 

“This is one of my favorite things about OWS. It’s not just a protest, it is a MASSIVE brainstorming session. It is bringing people together who used to not talk, never wanted to or had a reason to, and we are figuring this crooked game out, and maybe we will also figure out what to do about it. This is how problems will get solved.”

Source

I have no idea how Judge McIntyre will come down on this. Certainly, the camp could be a safer, healthier, more structured environment, and several campers I’ve spoken with would certainly be happier without disruptive individuals (some of whom have very serious problems). Had the City of Boston not imposed some fairly stringent restrictions early on, it would certainly be a safer, healthier site today. We would also prefer not to get bogged in matters distracting everyone from the issues which caused us to support the Occupy Movement in the first place. Talk has already begun on Occupy 2.0 as a result of Bloomberg’s atrocious acts against Occupy Wall Street. I don’t know how many physical occupiers (I am not one) have winter camping experience (as I do), but the question of whether the camp should continue through the winter or not has come up already. (My spotty understanding is that there are no plans to until we can see ahead to another viable avenue of protest, in case you’re wondering. However be cautioned that I’m not in a position to possess definitive knowledge either.)

Sarah Palin Speaks!

This post is the result of a thought put into my head by @southsouth, who evidently heard a member of the Miami Police Department ordering FTAA protesters to get back to “your free speech zone.” (Miles from anywhere near it was meant to be heard.) So I played out a quick thought-experiment in which free speech was alive and well, but as an institution, it was restricted to safe, non-intrusive zones where nobody who wasn’t interested could easily avoid exposure. Free-speech made convenient, if you will. I didn’t get far with this experiment because it immediately becomes apparent that American society would be far worse off if this were the case.

I myself have been tuning Sarah Palin out for years now. I don’t hear her. I am not interested in playing “gotcha” with her verbal stumbles nor fact-checking her claims nor exposing what she has written on the palm of her hand. Life is just too short, and she has the right, in America, to make as big a fool of herself (and she’s got talent) as she wishes. I will defend her right to speak out until the day I pass, for guaranteeing her right to free speech helps me defend my own, and I am certain Occupy Boston recognizes this. I don’t hear her. I don’t read (i.e.: “hear”) Glenn Greenwald either, even though I’m probably much in agreement with him in general. There are lots of people I have no interest in hearing. That’s my right as well. This also applies to Occupy Boston and to the entire Occupy Movement in over 100 cities nationwide. None of us have ever had, outside of our courts, a constitutionally protected right to be heard.

Which is exactly why this movement at this time is vital.

Because the camps, the marches, the signs, the drum circles, the bagpipes, the inconvenience caused by peaceful marchers to motorists trying to get home (there’s no guaranteed right to punctuality, as anyone who drives route 128 at rush hour can attest to, either), the chants, etc. are, I posit here, the direct result of decades of neglect. Thirty years of the voices of both ordinary and our most informed people being consistently ignored. Decades in which many people with valuable information that voters needed to know about went largely unnoticed. I could get into a whole diatribe here on how the news-for-profit industry fails to meet the needs of the body politic here, but that’s for another time. However, media consolidation is most definitely on the Occupy Movement’s radar. Be warned.

These days, Twitter’s my thing. Not only do I find it informative (I try to follow people who tend to care about my ponies), but I find that it scoops major news outlets, both internet and broadcast, by at least thirty minutes on a regular basis, and in those minutes I tend to get a story which is more fleshed out than what’s finally offered by those news outlets, mingy about column inches and seconds of airtime. Often, the tweet-stream puts more of a human face on events as well. That’s just the way it is. So, after being a huge skeptic, I’ve come to appreciate Twitter very much. I mention this because in my observation, important pieces of information and defining nuance more often than not go missing from major news outlets.

I also mention this because several times now, I have tweeted up the notion that my vote, and the votes of every other ordinary American no longer matter, and here’s why I bring this up. How much can our votes matter when a reported $3.51 billion (2010) is spent on lobbying in the US? What does that all this money buy? Access. The capacity to be heard where it really matters. That link takes you to a Sunlight Foundation site where the meeting logs of those involved in drawing up the real provisions implementing Dodd-Frank meet with those “most” interested. As if they are the only, or even major, stakeholders. Take a minute and check out the list of lobbyists, bankers and officials (important petitioners are signaled to the committees by the fact they get a representative of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York—FRBNY—to escort them to the meeting). So a Volker Rule gets passed, which somehow allows banks to engage in prop trading as long as it’s overseas. (Anyone who knows about the ICE and booking havens (pdf) knows how big a loophole this really is.) So the ISDA gets to lobby the SEC not to mandate that the amount of risk banks have taken on in the form of derivatives and swaps be reported in 10Q and 10K reports to shareholders, who are left in the dark about exactly these banks do business. More broadly speaking, the structural issues of TBTF banks and unregulated OTC markets still lie there waiting for the next boom and bust cycle, and the next taxpayer bailouts as well.

So all these problems, and potential problems, go unmentioned and unsolved. And to all those reporters in all those videos I’ve seen asking a protester, “why do you occupy?” I have but one answer: “Because, for thirty years, you haven’t been doing your jobs.” Are we supposed to somehow trust that the right thing will be done? Are we supposed to suspend disbelief (again) and ignore that recent history which amply demonstrates that the time for trust needs to end and be replaced by informed consent?

Protest is not only necessary, under these conditions, it is vital. I ask the reader to consider whether the issue of income inequality ever would have entered the discussion in which the US deficit and the “cure” of austerity also takes place without the impetus that the Occupy Wall Street gave it. Even those critics of the camps whom I’ve pointed this out to grant this.

I’ve said all along that the Occupy Movement will gladly trade the tents for the kind of regular media access which neoliberal commentators like Rick Santelli, Larry Kudlow and Erin Burnett enjoy. In a heartbeat. I’ll even donate my winter bag to Santelli and he can sleep out there this coming winter. Because the Occupy faces stiff opposition from the likes of WSJ, CNBC, the Bloomberg Channel, BusinessWeek, et al, who merely report on the Occupy Movement phenomenon (mostly the dramatic evictions), and not on the issues that brought the protesters out in the first place.

Save once. The CBO report on wealth inequality captured the attention of serious bloggers and commentators, thus giving the movement a legitimate, though as yet undefined, position in American politics. Hopefully, only the first victory.


To those of like mind to Mayor Tom Menino, I have this to say. Occupy Boston has never sought to be the enemy of the City, the Police or the citizens of Boston. The history of cooperation emanating from Occupy Boston to the Greenway Conservancy and to the City of Boston is fairly well known. Moreover, the camp at Dewey Square is but the latest expression of dissent, of intellectual ferment and of excellence in thought and debate for which Boston, more than any other city in America, including San Francisco, has been justly famous for. The “Athens of America.” Mr. Mayor, you’re missing a promotional opportunity here.

I read the first part of the brief, I can easily guess the material in the affadavits following, for the Herald and Fox 25 have been more than eager to make Occupy Boston the story instead of the issues for which the protesters camp. As for the protests belonging in Washington, rather than Boston, I say that the protest belongs wherever an angry American happens to be, and that it’s time for you to make your professed sympathy to the issues raised by the protesters real. Does faulty wiring really matter more than the shape of our national debate? Does the lack of easy egress in case of fire so insurmountable a problem that an important (Boston’s is now the oldest remaining camp, remember) expression of dissent needs to be crushed? Aren’t those solvable details?

As for the perceived “right” of protesters to just take over any public space they want willy-nilly, let me just offer the notion that if things are bad enough in the US that every park and public space is filled with enough people that it chokes the City of Boston to a standstill, then at that point, it has very likely become obvious to all that we’ve bigger fish to fry than public access to public spaces and the free flow of traffic.

As for the demand or two which Mayor Menino demands the Occupy Movement decide on, well, I’m fairly cognizant of the current literature in political economy and I know for a fact that nobody in the world has that answer. Hardly anybody, even in the Occupy Movement, advocates a centrally-planned economy no matter what the more idiotic critics like to claim. Washington Consensus? Beijing Consensus? European Technocracy? Nobody on earth knows, but the Occupy Movement is the only political force in America right now honestly and trying to figure it out. The only political force in this country peacefully demanding the dialog.

Because we need it so badly in our economic life, our political life and in our legal system.

So when the Mayor demands a demand or two, I answer that honest solutions deserve more than the soundbite he’s looking for. If he can see only the foreclosure problem, the decline of the middle class in Boston and the problem of unemployment, then Occupy is already far beyond his comprehension. Because many of us already realize that these are only the symptoms of those problems which lie beneath and deserve more than just another patch job to save the jobs of our current crop of elected officials. His concerns are probably excessively narrow, considering the environmental concerns many occupiers insist on as well as the problems of race in Boston, and throughout America. And more.

Or the Mayor should just come clean and declare his philosophical opposition and be done with it. Either way, America doesn’t need another triangulating politician, but rather at least one honest civic leader to set an example for others.

UPDATE:

As I publish this and hop onto Twitter to announce it, I read this:

@andrewb_boston
Andrew James Barrows

PROTESTER HIT BY COP CAR. POLICE TRYING TO REMOVE SINK FROM CAMP. COPS SHOWING UP! RT! #ows #occupy #occupyboston livestream.com/occupyboston

Link


@Fitzy205
Ryan Fitzmartin

Video of #OccupyBoston Protesters surrounding the police van that is carting the #OccupySink away. #solidarity twitpic.com/7mx0of

Link


@Fitzy205
Ryan Fitzmartin

I was assaulted by a #BPD officer tonight while trying to take video of a protestor being hit by an officer at #OccupyBoston tonight.

Link

Please spread this video of a #BPD officer attacking a protes... on Twitpic

I guess Mayor Tom Menino has just announced which side he’s on. Pity. It didn’t have to be that way.

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