Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: A Dangerous Precedent

Many cities have allowed Occupy groups to violate laws, because the mayors and city councils have nostalgia for the sixties, see themselves as civil rights activists and feel sympathetic to this particular cause, whatever they see the Occupy cause as being, since there are no official platforms or goals for the movement.

The whole point of having laws, instead of the whims of kings, is that they apply equally to the people we like and the people we don't like.  Many people have brought up my previous custody case, assuming that since I made "freaky" artwork, I must support Occupy.  My case is a perfect example of a judge not applying the law equally, choosing a favorite based on his personal preference.  Giving special privileges to Occupiers is every bit as unfair as using my artwork against me was.  Let's look at what might come of the precedent set by the Occupy movement.

The Tea Party is now planning to sue cities, to obtain refunds for the fees they were required to pay to get permits for previous rallies.  They say they plan to stage rallies in the future, at which they expect to be treated the same as Occupy gatherings: no permits required, no time limits, and  a right to block traffic whenever and wherever they wish.  The Tea Party has every right to do this.  Treating Occupy differently from every other group that's ever held a rally is a violation of the 14th Amendment, and is discrimination.  If the Tea Party follows through and takes their case to court, they will likely win, and cities will either be found guilty of discriminatory preference for one group or required to allow all other groups the same privileges as Occupiers, or both.

The Westboro Baptist Church loves lawsuits.  They are no doubt eagerly watching to see how this plays out, and if the Tea Party wins its case, you can expect that they will take full advantage of the new legal precedent set by the Occupy movement.  WBC follows the letter of the law while they harass soldiers' funerals, and scream "God hates fags!" at travelers.  When they know they have legal protection to block streets and seize parks, they will do that too.  If you don't mind being hours late to your destination now, because you agree with "the cause," how will you feel when it's because of a street-blocking group shouting that you're going to hell because America doesn't execute gay people?

Because of the privileges shown to Occupy, we may soon live in a world where when you plan a trip, you will have to take into account groups blocking streets randomly.  There will be no app to help you route your trip around the road obstruction, because the groups choose what streets to block on the spur of the moment, while marching.  Any given park may be seized by a group at any time, and once seized you can basically write off that park forever, because the groups seizing them consider them their permanent homes and have no intention of leaving.  Dysentery, cholera, and other diseases caused by overcrowding and poor sanitation will become routine facts of life, as these groups insist on living in unsafe conditions, washing their utensils in buckets filled from local restaurants' bathroom taps, eating food prepared over tins of Sterno instead of full heat, and then mingling with the general population.

The simple pleasure of driving down to the local park for a cookout or game of Frisbee will be gone.  It will be up to your local activists groups, not your city's laws, whether or not you can do that.  Meanwhile you'll still be asked to pay taxes for the upkeep of these roads and parks, which you will not be able to use.  White Power, NAMBLA, Communist Party USA, John Birch Society, the KKK, Hell's Angels, and religious extremists of all types will all have the power to decide where you can and cannot travel.  And it will all be completely legal, because of the precedent set by the Occupy movement.

Before you jump on the bandwagon of support for this group, think through the consequences of what you're supporting.  What's good for the goose is good for the gander.  If it's ok for Occupy to violate the law, every other group, even the nastiest, will also be allowed to violate laws the same way, or else we'll live in a world where those in favor with the powerful will be allowed to do things that those out of favor are not allowed to do, a discriminatory hell.  Instead of skin color, privilege will be determined by the content of the sign you hold, with "righthinking" people given power to violate the rights of everyone else.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: A Revolution, Not a Protest, In Their Own Words

It's reasonable for people to insist on proof, especially for extraordinary claims, such as that people who say to media that they're merely doing peaceful protest in the style of Martin Luther King, are actually fomenting revolution.

That's why I created this Storify, showing explicitly, in their own words, that a large number of people participating in Occupy Wall Street indeed see it as a revolution, an attempt to overthrow the current governments of not only the United States, but all governments globally, as shown by their use of the #globalrevolution hashtag.

I did not put these people up to saying these things, these are their own words freely tweeted.  Read what they have to say and then make up your own mind as to whether the illegal camping and marching of people who support a literal revolution, bloodless coup or not, should continue to be tolerated in our cities.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Ethics of Occupy Wall Street

The purpose of peaceful protest is to point out some kind of wrongdoing, some situation that needs to be remedied.  If protesters themselves commit ethical violations during the course of their protest, they lose all credibility.  How can the public consider protesters good judges of ethics, fit to point out what is and is not a wrongdoing, if the protesters cannot conduct themselves ethically during their protest?

As I blogged about previously, peaceful protest, the attempt to raise public awareness about grievances in a free society, is governed by different rules than revolutions.  People waging revolutionary wars often need to do things that would be immoral in a peaceful protest, like taking up arms and seizing land to house troops on.  If Occupy Wall Street is truly a peaceful protest, then it can't use revolutionary justifications for its behavior, and must restrain itself to legitimate tactics of peaceful protest in order to have credibility in pointing out wrongdoing in the system.

Does the Occupy movement have ethical credibility?  Looking at the question both morally and legally, there are some clear historical precedents to help us judge the legitimacy of the movement as a force for social justice.

Legality and morality are separate issues that aren't always completely in sync.  Civil disobedience refers to acts which are illegal, but still ethical.  One historical example is when Dr. Martin Luther King organized protests that violated unjust segregation laws.  The goal of the protest was to show that the laws were unjust and that the actions of the arrested protesters should not have been illegal.  No one else's rights were violated in Dr. King's protests, and the protesters submitted willingly to arrest, acknowledging that although their actions were morally right, they were still illegal, and the state had a right to arrest them.

A different type of civil disobedience was shown in a recent protest against the Keystone XL pipeline, popularized by Daryl Hannah.  These protesters blocked a sidewalk in front of the White House, then submitted to arrest, in order to create a media spectacle.  The pipeline protesters were not trying to prove that the law against blocking sidewalks is an unjust law, they broke that law solely to draw media attention to their environmental cause.  Because the law they broke wasn't unjust, they couldn't use the same ethical justification as Dr. King.  Instead, they made sure that their violation of the admittedly fair law was purely symbolic, conducted in a safe manner respecting the social order, without genuinely violating anyone else's rights, just a token of disobedience.

The pipeline protesters sat in organized rows, symbolically "blocking" the sidewalk, but still leaving plenty of actual space for other people to pass, and being orderly enough that they could hear police instructions in the event of an emergency.  They did not resist arrest, or characterize their arrests as unfair "attacks" against them.  Because of this respect for other people's rights, and respect for the social order, the pipeline protesters' civil disobedience was still moral, even though the law that was broken was not an unjust one.

Illegal Occupier encampments and marches match neither of these well-known civil disobedience types.  The laws that are being broken by Occupiers are not unjust.  Camping, public health and traffic laws are completely fair, reasonable, and necessary to protect the rights and safety of all citizens, so Occupiers can't claim an "unjust law" justification for disobedience.

Occupiers' disobedience is also not just a symbolic token of lawbreaking with no real damage or danger. They physically use their massed bodies and personal possessions to completely block other people from traveling or using parks, and have done so on a daily basis for well over a month, with the intention of continuing to do so indefinitely.  During their marches Occupiers are often so loud and disorderly that marchers in the back are not even aware of it when police interact with those in the front, and if an emergency arose there would be no way to relay vital safety messages to everyone.  

OWS actions have many innocent victims.  Travelers on the Brooklyn Bridge, and on other streets and bridges in Occupied cities, have been stranded, often for hours at a time.  Thousands of people all over the country have been prevented from getting to work, picking up their kids, getting food, or otherwise going where they needed to go.  In Boston, Occupiers' refusal to break camp meant several festivals were canceled, including a children's Pumpkin Patch Festival and a food drive for the needy.  The illegal OWS camping and marching harm the general public as a whole, but especially children, who are most disappointed by not being able to use a park, most frightened when their parents are several hours late to pick them up, and most disturbed by exposure to screaming, disorderly crowds of adults acting without restraint.

Does the Constitution offer protection for these OWS activities?  The Supreme Court has ruled that illegal camping is not constitutionally protected, and that park authorities have a duty to protect the integrity of the parks entrusted to them by the public.  In every Occupation where people are camping in non-camping parks, their use of park grounds as living accommodations damages the parks and violates the rights of other people to freely use the space.  Park rules against camping fall squarely in the category of reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions governing free speech, and do not violate the 1st Amendment, since protesters have the options of simply using one of the many available camping parks, if camping is vital to their free expression, or using non-camping parks to speak in as long as they do not attempt to set up living accommodations there.

Some Occupations have received special, temporary waivers from authorities to camp in non-camping areas, which raises a different set of ethical issues.  Authorities charged with enforcing laws have a right to use their discretion in deciding which broken laws to prosecute.  A traffic officer might decide to let a speeding driver off with a warning, or might choose to issue a ticket.  This is a judgment call authorities are empowered to make, allowing them to react flexibly in preserving the social order and keeping the peace in their jurisdiction.  Sometimes, for one reason or another, enforcing a law would cost the taxpayers more trouble than it would be worth, so lawbreakers get a pass.

The fact that some authorities have chosen to use their discretion to temporarily allow illegally camped Occupations to remain, in violation of laws and the rights of other citizens, does not mean that the Occupations are legal, or that they are ethical.  This discretionary leniency can rightfully be revoked at any time, based on the authorities' evolving understanding of what will best serve the public.  The Occupiers' violations of other people's rights remains unethical even if no legal charges are ever filed.

In America, the 14th Amendment requires that everyone receive equal protection under the law.  If all previous protest groups have been required to obtain permits to march, obey camping laws, and limit their protests to a set timeframe, it would be a violation of the 14th Amendment for authorities to grant Occupiers special privileges exempting them from these requirements.  Contrary to the Occupiers' complaints that authorities are violating the 1st Amendment by enforcing camping laws, it's actually Occupiers who are asking authorities to violate the 14th Amendment and give them privileges not available to other groups.

It's possible that activist groups who play by the rules and obey the law would be within their rights to sue Occupied cities for discrimination if city officials give privileges to Occupiers that were not given to anyone else.  Then again, cities might be able to make a counterargument that since OWS has openly broadcast appeals for followers to obstruct police, saying they "won't allow" police to enforce the law, and since their physical protests are supported by cyber attacks on police databases, Occupiers are not in the same category of group as peaceful protesters, but are instead a type of organized gang, requiring different law enforcement approaches than those used for peaceful protest.  These are questions courts and lawyers will have to sort out in the future.

At the moment, all we can be certain of is that in light of their numerous ethical violations and refusal to respect the social order necessary for rights to be available to everyone, Occupiers have no credible claim to being judges of wrongdoing.  It is hypocritical for OWS to demand that banks or government officials volunteer to be more saintly than the law requires, while Occupiers themselves refuse to obey reasonable and fair laws, recklessly causing harm to their fellow citizens, damaging public property, and demanding unequal treatment under the law.  Their message, should they ever articulate a specific one, is irrelevant.  Why should we take public policy advice from people who consistently violate other people's rights?  Who cares what bullies think?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Revolutionaries or Protesters?

After every incident resulting in arrests, Wall Street Occupiers are quick to repeat that they are "peaceful protesters."  They constantly reference the First Amendment and the civil rights movement.  Yet they also compare themselves to Tahrir Square and the French Revolution.  A common Occupier "snappy comeback" to concerns about the group's lawless methods is, "America's Founders did much more extreme acts."  Well, yes.  America's Founders were fighting a revolutionary war, to overthrow their government.  Different rules apply in that situation than in peaceful protest.

The Founders believed that in order for revolutionaries to be legitimate, they must represent a majority of the people, and they must exhaust all methods available within the system first.  It is not something to be done lightly, as Jefferson emphasized in the Declaration of Independence.  "No taxation without representation [voting rights]" was the slogan of America's Founders justifying their war.  If they had had voting rights empowering them to change the laws they objected to, they would not have claimed a right to start a revolution.  If they had not had the majority on their side, they would not have succeeded in it.

In any war, seizing territory and setting up encampments on it is crucial.  Your troops need somewhere to stay, and the more disputed territory you claim, the closer you are to winning the war.  Commandeering streets and bridges, so that you control the flow of traffic in a city, is vital.  Attempting to evade or escape being arrested by the enemy is not only sensible, but honorable.  Property destruction is a valid tactic to deplete the enemy's supply lines.  Secrecy and deception is also legitimate in war; it's wise to make the enemy think you're doing one thing, while you're really doing something completely different, so your attacks will have the element of surprise.  Even propaganda is tolerated in times of war, with each side trying to make itself look like the winner, to sway general opinion.

None of those tactics are appropriate for peaceful protest. The whole point of creating a government of, by, and for the people was to ensure that no future revolutions would need to be fought in the streets, and no tactics like those would be necessary.  The ballot box gives Americans all the power we need to change anything, including completely eliminating or amending our Constitution if enough people agree.  You're perfectly free to speak out and advocate for the changes you want, in writing, in public performances, on TV, radio, internet, whatever medium you want, as long as you don't infringe other people's rights, or endanger the public in the course of your speech.

Currently claiming to speak for 99% of Americans, Occupation organizers US Day of Rage have been trying to gain support since March, and planned to announce a demonstration once they had 50,000 followers on Twitter.  By July, they still had less than 6,000 followers, a devastating failure to prove even 1% of the public agree with them.

The original US Day of Rage flyer calling for the Occupation asserts that the current government is "treasonous" and "tyrannical" and therefore it's justified for people to invoke their sovereign right to overthrow it.  No proof of this treason is offered by the Occupiers, nor any proof that they tried to legally redress their grievances and were met with tyranny.

The past month has not clarified things any further, as Occupiers have no platform, policy goals, or acknowledged leadership, only releasing a Declaration mimicking Jefferson's style, but lacking his detailed justifications, instead making a blanket accusation that "corporations" caused the current financial crisis and "They" deliberately caused various grievances.  If this is a revolution, it's failed to justify its existence on any level.

We can also see from the original USDOR flyer that Occupiers' current tactics are not what was originally advertised to the public.  What was billed as a peaceful, law-abiding sidewalk demonstration has become a set of encampments that seize public-use parks for their own private lodgings, not just in NYC but in many other cities, conducting loud, disruptive marches to block vital infrastructure whenever the group chooses to.  If this were war, that bait-and-switch between the advertised tactics and the ones actually used would be a clever ruse that succeeded in temporarily capturing territory.  If it's meant to be peaceful protest, it has crossed the line into violating the rights of the public to use our public parks and streets.

Being angry isn't enough to solve our problems.  There's no one segment of society we could just get rid of to magically fix things.  Yes, Wall Street traders and banks capitalized on a bubble by recklessly investing, but it was Congress who legalized that recklessness, and it's losing our industrial base to overseas manufacturing that left a lot of people lacking good jobs, causing them to default on mortgages, which made the reckless trades fail.  There's a lot of blame to go around, and getting out of this mess will require research, thoughtful analysis, long, boring, chart-filled proposals, and cooperation between political parties.

Occupiers need to decide, are they opting out of that process of reason, debate, and finding compromises, and instead waging war against the rest of us in an effort, even if it remains largely nonviolent, to overthrow our current system of government?  Or are they peaceful protesters seeking only the right to speak and have their message heard, so we can consider their input before making choices at the voting booth?  You can't claim the mantle of Gandhi while using the tactics of war.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: A Liberal Dissent

I am a Liberal, and I do not support Occupy Wall Street.  Many Liberal pundits are putting pressure on all Liberals to embrace this movement, but there are several reasons why I cannot agree.  Let's examine the facts of what the Occupiers have said and done, before rushing to support them:

  • The First Amendment
Occupy Wall Street protesters have uniformly refused to apply for permits for their demonstrations, or to obey police orders to disperse, claiming the First Amendment gives them a right to free speech wherever and whenever they choose.  Of course there are decades of legal precedent showing that the First Amendment is interpreted by courts to mean that people exercising free speech must take into account the manner, place, and time of their speech, to avoid violating the rights of others or creating an unsafe situation.  The famous example is, "You cannot shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater." 

By Occupy Wall Street's logic, you could walk into a gun shop and grab whatever guns you want, because the Second Amendment gives you a right to own a gun.  Having a right to do something doesn't absolve you of the need to work out the logistics of exercising that right, to make sure you're respecting others' rights and keeping things safe for everyone.  Police go through extensive training to recognize unsafe situations.  If their judgment is that your "impromptu march" is creating an unsafe situation and needs to be dispersed, you must respect that and obey them.  You have the right to disagree later in court, not by fighting the police in the street.

  • Civil Disobedience
When called out on the illegality of refusing to disperse, violating health codes, and blocking streets and bridges, Occupiers often refer to America's rich history of civil disobedience.  It's true, in this country we respect people's rights to nonviolently break a law for a cause, and consider it a valid tactic for raising awareness.  However, true civil disobedience requires those who practice it to willingly submit to arrest, to acknowledge that the issue must be fought in a court of law, not with violence in the streets.  This has not been the behavior of Occupiers, who scream at police, try to "unarrest" members being arrested, and who struggle, go limp, or run away when it's time to be arrested for the cause.

Civil disobedience must also be freely chosen by the participants.  There is at least one proven example of leaders in the front of an OWS march refusing to relay the message to the back that they could leave the area without any charges filed.  NYPD video proves that this warning was given, but those in front shouted so that those in back couldn't hear it, even though they had all been trained for two weeks in the "People's Mic" technique for relaying messages to large crowds.  

Many of those arrested on Brooklyn Bridge were convinced that police tricked them into being there, and had no idea that they had a chance to leave with no charges.  Several hundred people were not charged, because police were aware those people did not hear the warning, but who was it that made sure they didn't hear it?  DailyKos examined this incident in detail, speculating about the identities of those who shouted down the warning to leave, but Occupy Wall Street has not made any internal inquiries or procedural changes to ensure this does not happen again by requiring the People's Mic to relay police messages, so everyone can freely choose whether they want to be arrested or not.

Comparing the behavior of Occupy Wall Street with the Tar Sands protesters at the White House is telling.  Daryl Hannah spectacularly raised awareness for her cause when she submitted to arrest for refusing to move from a sidewalk in front of the White House.  Her group took care not to block the travel rights of others while disobeying police orders to move.  Ms. Hannah put her hands behind her back for cuffs with a smile.  She did not scream at or struggle with the police.  She knew the police were just doing their jobs, and that she deserved arrest for refusing to move, instead of asserting the "sovereign" rights of the American people as a justification to break laws and not be arrested for it.  She paid her fine and went on to give interviews that brought national attention to the proposed tar sands legislation.  

When the Occupiers form large groups that block streets and bridges, chanting "Our streets!" and "Take the bridge," they are violating the rights of ordinary citizens who have a right to travel on the roads their taxes pay for.  The streets are for everyone to use; they don't belong to any one group, even if that group claims that they speak for "99%" of Americans.  Travelers on the Brooklyn Bridge were stuck for two hours because of the marching Occupiers, who showed no sympathy for those who may have been trying to get to a hospital, pick up their kids, or be on time for a job they desperately need to feed their families.  This is clearly beyond the realm of civil disobedience into simple mob rule, and it is not what democracy looks like.

  • General Assembly: Leaderless Consensus Organization
Many people are impressed by the Occupiers' choice of anarchist-based General Assemblies rather than traditional decision-making models.  They see it as an innovative new technique, much like "crowdsourcing," that could become the new standard model for activist groups.  However, this technique is not new; it is the method Anarchist activists feel all governments should operate by, and they have been using it in their communes and gatherings for years.  

In many ways, the "Occupation of Zuccotti Park" is just a marketing tool for this particular type of Anarchist decision-making process.  Protesters do not need to sleep in the park to defend it from armed attack, as those who slept in Egypt's Tahrir Square did.  The purpose of forming a micro village in Zuccotti Park is to demonstrate that this Anarchist model can be successful at sustaining a community.  

Devotion to this demonstration of the Anarchist model has led Occupiers to steadfastly ignore the increasing health risks caused by their refusal to allow the park to be sanitized by its owners, and from continuing to live in such close proximity without proper sanitary facilities on site.  This refusal to acknowledge basic facts of science does not speak well for the group's overall grasp of reality, and poses a real health risk for the entire city, especially during flu season, as visitors mingle with those living in unsafe conditions, then go back to the wider community, carrying viruses with them.

Has the Occupation of the park proven the success of the GA model?  It has indeed created a community which has subdivided into various committees, for food, trash removal, security, music, etc, to provide for the needs of the occupiers.  However, it has completely failed to come up with a set of realistic demands or goals for the movement, releasing only declarations of grievances, and tentative demands that display shocking lack of awareness about how the world really works.  Occupiers propose a demand for the forgiveness of all debts, for example, without explaining how that could be done without causing a devastating crash that would destroy the world's economy.  

The Occupation of Zuccotti Park is not self-sustaining.  It is supported by a steady flow of donations from the outside world, so it is not proof that the anarchist GA model creates self-sustaining communities.  There is no sympathetic group of space aliens who would support us with donations if the entire world turned to this model of organization.  Goods and services must still come from somewhere, and without laws regulating their creation, and government enforcement of those laws, we get sweatshops, quack doctors, and unsafe products.

What works for a small group does not necessarily scale to 300 million people.  It is impossible for all 300 million Americans to come to 100% consensus on any issue, because we're simply too diverse and large a population.  No matter what the issue is, at least a portion of the population will disagree on any proposed solution.  This is why we agree to live by majority rule, because we could never possibly please everyone completely.

  • No Need for a Goal
Initially, every critic of the Occupy movement pointed out that it has no goal, nothing specific that it would like to achieve.  Lately this has been spun by OWS supporters as a false criticism.  They claim that simply continuing to occupy the park is a valid goal, that providing a place to gather to talk about grievances (despite the existence of an internet that would be much more efficient for that purpose) is a valid goal, or that valid goals will emerge through the GA process over time.  This has been applauded by many pundits as innovative and evidence of new emerging paradigms, but I have to agree with my friend who said "The Emperor has no clothes."

If the President himself, flanked by all the Rothschilds, Bloombergs, and Dimons, appeared at Zuccotti Park, hands in the air, and said, "You win, we'll do whatever you want, just tell us what will satisfy you," OWS would have to say "We'll get back to you when our online voting is concluded and the votes ratified by GA consensus."  Without an answer to "What would make you go home again?" this is protest for protest's sake.  Without specific goals, there's no way to tell when you've won, and you have no justification for demanding media attention and political support until you have them.  

People have a right to know exactly what they would be supporting by joining this group.  "Support us now and we'll tell you what you supported later," is not logical or fair.  "We'll tell you what our demands are once we're more powerful" is downright sinister.

Does Occupy Wall Street deserve Liberal support?

Given these facts, I cannot support Occupy Wall Street.  I am a Liberal, and believe in using the government as a tool to regulate markets so products are safe and wages are fair, keeping the government out of our bedrooms and gardens, and defending the right to dissent, but I cannot defend a movement that does not use true civil disobedience and instead engages in mob rule tactics and deception, all for no real reason except to advertise the model village they created to prove that anarchist thought can succeed in governing a small group.

There are legitimate groups pursuing rational goals of financial reform, without resorting to open lawlessness, seizing private property, resisting arrest, or tricking supporters into being arrested.  They want to create change within our existing system of government, not replace it with the anarchist consensus model.  I support those legitimate groups, because they are what democracy really looks like.