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.


  1. Someone should have told that to the protesters on all those other countries too! Order for all in the world!

  2. Receiving permits and leaving when asked defeats the point of an occupation. You have too much respect for authority.

    Regarding the message, I believe that in the early stages the point was just to be seen, be heard, be acknowledged, something you can't achieve by just signing online petitions or ranting on Facebook. Millions of people feel they have been disenfranchised and they are finally making their voices known. Given the number of problems in the country, it should come as no surprise there are many different causes being championed at these protests. I'm confident a more defined list of goals/demands is coming, such as the ones found here:

  3. @ClintJCL, You raise a great point. The Egyptians were not demonstrating to try to convince their fellow Egyptians to support a policy or vote a certain way. They were waging a revolution to win the right to vote at all. Obviously, in a revolution the rules that govern us when we peacefully protest for changes within our system do not apply.

    I sincerely hope that Occupy Wall Street does not see itself as being the start of a literal revolution, although many supporters of OWS do indeed literally state that as their goal. I hope those are only fringe elements, and that the group will acknowledge the rule of law and their responsibilities to keep everyone safe while exercising their free speech.

  4. @Anonymous What does an "occupation" mean to you? If obeying the law defeats its purpose, does that mean its purpose is lawlessness?

    Why should your group be treated like special snowflakes, allowed to do things other activism groups are not allowed to do?

    This isn't about "respect for authority," it's about respect for your fellow Americans. You disrespect every other activist group when you demand special treatment, and you disrespect the population at large when you violate their travel rights and disturb the peace.

  5. To occupy is to take possession or control of. The purpose is not to break the law, however if this law needs to be broken to accomplish whatever the purpose is, I'm fine with that. And I don't know why you'd assume I think the rules should be different for OWS. I'd tell the corportist Tea Party the same.

    You seem far more concerned with people suffering the inconvenience of a blocked road or bridge than you are about the consequences of jobs being outsourced, healthcare and education costs skyrocketing, banks illegally foreclosing on homes, corporations buying our elections, etc.

    If you're gonna sit around until a group appears who's ideals exactly mirror your own then I hope you have a really comfy chair. This movement is in it's infancy. You can still help mold it

  6. It's not an anarchist decision making model, it's a democratic one.

  7. I am looking forward to your lengthy piece condemning the violent, confrontational actions of American Spectator editor Patrick Howley, who admitted to and bragged about leading marchers directly into the National Air And Space Museum in Washington, DC, on Saturday, where they were pepper sprayed (Howley was sprayed twice) and several were arrested.

    Howley infiltrated the Occupy DC protest with the express intent of discrediting and tarnishing the reputation of the members of the group, and he went on to cheer for the security guards who pepper sprayed him. (here is the link, for those interested:

    You have a glaring logical fallacy in the second paragraph-- "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."

    The second amendment gives you the right to *own* a gun, not to walk into a gun store and *steal* all the ones you want. The second amendment does not condone theft, much like the first amendment does not condone the old saw of "yelling fire in a crowded theater." Before we get bogged down in semantics, you did post in a tweet that you "... said grab. Meaning, without paying for it." Since you knowingly and intentionally conflated the right to own a gun with the process of looting and theft, I am not surprised that you conflate the concept of "freedom of speech" with "freedom of unobtrusive speech that I personally agree with."

    As the old concept of sit-ins and nonviolent, peaceful civil disobedience has been a liberal trope for (god, am I that old?) fifty years, I'm pretty certain that you are aware that previous practitioners of this tactic understand that their actions directly flaunt the law. They do this because the dynamic of a protest shifts from the simple act of a group of people holding signs to people who are willing to place their actual legal freedom on the line for the sake of a point they want to get across. Would the tea party have received the same attention at the infancy of its movement if it was simply a bunch of cranky old coots writing angry letters to editors, and not a bunch of cranky old coots who gathered together with a bunch of cranky racist coots to wave racist signs around for TV cameras? Of course not. And why would any media willingly broadcast a boring event consisting of well-behaved people who politely hold signs for an hour and then go home?

    I digress. Onward! (my comment is truncated, I'm posting the rest of it below; no spam is intended.)

  8. (continuation of my previous comment, no spam is intended, again. Blame blogspot!) " 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."

    The common practice among police departments is that generally, persons involved in a mass arrest are not charged with anything stronger than a misdemeanor and thus are not legally allowed any time in front of a judge. They are (generally speaking, based on past behavior of police and courts) charged with something similar to "failure to obey a police officer" or "jaywalking" cited for fifty to one hundred dollars and then released after a few hours in handcuffs. If they choose not to pay the fine, the default sentence ranges anywhere from one day in jail to three days in jail, with no appearance before a judge in any step of this process. The only way for any person involved in a mass arrest to appear in any way, shape or form before a judge, magistrate or court is to either file or be part of a civil lawsuit against the entire police force involved in the incident. That carries its own issues with it, like insurmountable court costs, legal fees, unsympathetic judges who will throw out entire cases based on minutiae and so on. The only recompense in this matter is the arrested person could possibly find themselves involved in a class action suit brought about by a "activist legal group" which, again, has many of the same pitfalls as I've mentioned earlier.

    But back to the post:

    What violence? What burning, looting and pillaging? What rock throwing? What assault? This is not a rhetorical question. I'd like to know what act of violence was committed on the part of the women who were peacefully sitting *behind* a police barricade, waiting to be handcuffed when they were pepper sprayed by a NYPD commander. This is also not a rhetorical question. I'd like you to answer that.

    "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."

    Is it illegal to scream at police? It's illegal to interfere with someone being arrested, sure, but have you ever been arrested? Do you not think that the starry-eyed hippie kid who's going to get a big, fat reality check in the form of a 250 pound, muscled cop wrenching his skinny little vegan hands behind his back is going to at the very least experience some form of a "freak out" and start acting like a fish on a hook?

    I almost missed this. You're complaining about the "violent" protesters and how they apparently have no respect for America's long tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience, but you then complain that they're *going limp* when they're arrested. Do *you* have any familiarity with America's long tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience? Do you not know that "going limp" is as old as the tactic of nonviolent civil disobedience itself? These are not rhetorical questions.

    Look, if you're going to be against Occupy Wall Street, that's fine-- but don't do it from a "liberal" perspective. Do it from the perspective that your writing and opinion belies-- that of a neo-conservative. You'd come across as being far more honest.

  9. Look! footage of stinking cop hating hippies assaulting the police!


    Why dont you admit the only reason you dont like OWS is because Anonymous had some hand in it

  10. I'm a libertarian and not a liberal, but we need more political discourse like yours. Whatever your ultimate policy goals are, you're calm, reasonable, and using logic, not drum circles or shouting or whatever else. It's refreshing!

  11. Libertarian. I hope everything moves peacefully for change, but OWS is truly about the survival of the human species. Wall St traders are wrecking the globe in profit seeking. Imprisonment shouldn't be traded on NYSE (CXW GEO), nor military weapons makers (LMT etc) and MONsanto is corrupt and corrupting our government, doing heinous things to Americans and in foreign nations (cancer causing food stuff, GMO seed that won't reproduce after 1 season being sold to Africans). Capitalism is broken so that only the same old billionaires rake in the money and young grads can't get business loans to start new companies since they're already mired in debt to begin with. The government is violating the Constitution left and right, so condemning OWS actions only makes sense if you're getting paid for it, or you buy into GOP type of rationale.

  12. Anything you've written could be said against protestors anywhere--including the recent uprisings in the Middle-East. Which government would issue permits that could jeopardize private business? None! Yet, the right to peaceful protests (mass action) is a fun

  13. @DeaconFrye Thank you for your detailed response. The "logical fallacy" you point out was exactly the point I was making. Just as the Second Amendment gives you no right to steal a gun, so the First Amendment gives you no right to seize private property on which to exercise your free speech. I'm sorry that was not clear enough for you to understand.

    The women behind the barricade, who I did not mention in my post, were not sitting peacefully by any stretch of the imagination. They were cheering on a man who was violently resisting arrest. They were also pulling on the police netting, trying to tear it down. They had been warned repeatedly to step back from the net, and they became aggressive instead. This may not be apparent from the short 40 second clips of "police brutality" that have made the rounds of the internet, but longer, less popular clips show the truth and you can find them if you truly care about facts.

    While we're on the subject, let's talk about the OWS response to that incident, which was to find the name, address, phone number, and family member information on the cop they're pretty sure was the one who used pepper spray. That officer's family now needs police protection because of the threats made against them by OWS supporters. What part of Liberalism is that?

    I also find it appalling that these women were singled out for attention based on their femaleness, as if women should not have to obey the same laws as men. It's sexism, plain and simple, and it was exploited to the fullest by this group.

    I am aware of previous protests where people resisted arrest by going limp, but I don't consider resisting arrest to be a core Liberal value, even if it was used by Liberal protesters in the past, who were doing it for clear, important goals, unlike OWS, which has no goal.

    There's simply no need for resisting arrest, except to make a spectacle for media, especially since, as you point out, those arrested will not face very serious consequences.

    Screaming at cops is not illegal. It's also not respectful or a good way to get a message out. It is certainly disturbing to the people who live in the neighborhood and are trying to go about their days. If you can't get your message out without screaming at cops and disrupting the lives of local residents, you might not have a very good message.

    I find your whole reply to be evidence of what I stated at the beginning of my post: Liberal pundits, and their fans, are putting pressure on Liberals like me to endorse this group.

    You threaten to take away my Liberal cred and declare me a closet Neocon if I don't support OWS. I'm sorry, I can't. They not only offer no solutions, they do not respect the law or their fellow citizens. I think as time goes on, and the true character of this group emerges, those Liberals who jumped on the bandwagon to support OWS in a kneejerk reaction to Beck and Breitbart condemning it will regret their support.

    More incidents like the Air & Space Museum will occur. Although one GOP infiltrator is now blamed for that incident, he did not force the other people to rush the guards. They did that on their own. Or if you prefer to believe that one lone man could trick them into that kind of violence, then they must be mere sheep who could be led to do anything. Either way, not something I can support.

  14. @primeris You've listed many issues that are indeed of concern, but raising them to the level of the "survival of the human race" is hyperbole.

    The world is a complex place. No one sets out to do evil. Monsanto did not intend to destroy humanity, it just saw a way to maximize its profits using techniques many people find unethical. The same goes for the other corporations. This is fixable. We can totally outlaw those unethical corporate practices if enough people vote for legislators willing to do so.

    If our government were truly "violating the constitution left and right," everyone at OWS would have been shot dead the first day. That's how real oppressive regimes do things. America is not one. The worst thing that's happened to anyone is bruising from resisting arrest, and misdemeanor citations.

    People have asked me, how can the extreme left and the extreme right get along so well at OWS? What is it that brings Alex Jones followers together with Anarchist extremists?

    The answer is extremists on both the left and right believe in secret ruling cabals that deliberately caused the crash in order to consolidate their power and imprison us all as serfs, and that, since this cabal is all-powerful, nothing can be done to fix anything within our current system.

    I'm not sure whether that's what you believe, but your reply sounds like it's coming from that line of thinking, that somehow this situation was caused on purpose by evil people and we can't fix it by normal means.

    It's simply not true. The only thing wrong with our system, the reason why nothing seems to change, is that when only about 50% of eligible voters show up at the ballot box, margins of victory are so small that even 1% can make the difference. That's how special interests make the magic happen. They get people to go out and vote.

    We have no idea what the other half of the country, those who haven't voted in decades, truly want, and we won't find out as long as they continue to believe the conspiracy theorist mantra that our system is so broken that voting won't change things.

    I hope as the internet continues to connect people and get them engaged in politics, the power of expensive campaign ads will wilt before the power of free social media, and people will begin virally endorsing candidates they truly trust, who will do what the people really want done.

  15. So what if Anarchists sustain it, they are part of this country. What we are witnessing is Democracy itself. In the past, in America, if you had a gripe, you called/wrote your reps, opined on the pages of the newspaper and possibly joined an org to amplify your voice via lobbying. From this point forward, if you have a gripe, you can walk yourself down to the main city square, which most all towns have, say your piece, and, if it resonates, watch your voice expand exponentially via the power of the crowd. It's seems like an effective way to fill the 'last mile' infrastructure lacking in our current system. Having said that, what's the first order of business, the thing we've (er, 99% of us at least) all got a gripe about? You guessed it: Bankers. Once the current crisis dies down, you will see different people keep this going with different issues, ad infinitum.

    And you are correct that mob rule isn't the best system but in the short run it fills the gap between individual issues and groups that support them. When I got to the General Assembly this evening, I was informed that as a 'white male of privilege' I would get to speak last if I had an issue. This is clearly undemocratic, racist, sexist and antithetical to the spirit of the movement. It's a rule proposed and passed by participants of a GA I didn't attend. So right off mob rule has produced an odorous, majority rule decree perpetuating the very inequality we are all fighting. And I'll be honest, as a white male sleeping in the rain on concrete, marching and chanting my support, it felt like a punch in the gut to be told I was suddenly a second class citizen of the Assembly simply because of my race and color. Linking my gender and color to the word "privilege", as if one is synonymous of the other, added insult to injury, though it's all in the eye of the beholder I guess. I talked with some of the organizers about this and their position is that "it's the GA's decision", so if I want to change it, I've got to propose we change it, in the square, at a General Assembly. Very democratic, or the mother of irony depending on your perspective.

    So yea, not to be too long winded here, but I think "revolution" is the wrong word, this is what democracy looks like. That we haven't seen it in quite some time is both sad and, now that it is blooming, inspiring. If you are a Liberal and believe in government, to miss what is happening with #OWS is to miss the birth of grassroots democracy itself. Join us!

  16. I applaud your stand against the thong of media thugs that are at the core of this group.
    I just can’t get behind this group too, I agree the banks are out of control, but that doesn’t add up to changing things to a socialist government.
    They use freedom of speech to fight for changes that would take away that same right.

  17. @Simeon I agree, Anarchists have a right to speak and gather in this free country. However, they still have to obey the same laws as everyone else, even though their movement's goal is to remove all such laws.

    Until they win an election and prove they speak for at least 51% of the people, they don't have a right to consider laws optional, as the Anonymous writer above does.

    I think the idea of a town square where people air their grievances is brilliant! Our nation could really benefit from something like that, to augment the more widespread and efficient national forum of the internet. Meeting in real life in town squares would give a physical and local dimension to people's political discourse.

    However, there is no need to create a safety hazard by trying to shoehorn a park into being a campground. It's just not reasonable. The symbolism of it, creating something that kinda looks like a small, yoga-practicing Tahrir Square, got attention in the first few days, but there are scientific reasons why it's not a good idea to try to keep living like that indefinitely.

    Why can't OWS use donations to rent sleeping (and showering) space for protesters who could then take shifts keeping the park full of wide awake people (not piles of their stuff) all hours of the day and night?

  18. You've got quite the interesting crowd here, Magdalen. I share a lot of your opinions on this issue. I still have not seen a list of achievable demands for this protest.

    Simeon thinks this is the birth of grassroots democracy itself. One Anon thinks your permit comments would apply in the Middle East under live ammo. Another thinks Americans can actually "occupy" (as a military term) civic spaces. Another thinks he's a mind reader. Primeris thinks that if the government misbehaves, you must be a GOP plant or getting paid for advocating civility. And a fair description of Deacon Frye would call his sanity into question.

    I support OWS simply because it's a thrill to see the average American milquetoast actually get off his/her ass and do something. But I don't support some of their tactics. People who block routes used by emergency vehicles are potential murderers. And IMHO the people who blocked the "no arrests for dispersal" message on the bridge should be sued by the group of subsequent arrestees in civil court.

    That said, I hope this does spread across the nation as it has been doing, provided the protestors don't end up making it impossible for cities to allow repeat performances.

  19. Air & Space Museum is not private property.

  20. Neither is the park they are occupying, it was public, a corporation brought it making it "private", but under a specific legal agreement that it is to be treated as public space, open to the public 24/7. They got to own the land in name in exchange for paying for the 9/11 clean-up. If you think corporations should be able to simply clean up property once, then convert public land into private land -- well, that's why there aren't many public spaces left to occupy anymore. They want to buy our public roads and convert them to toll roads too. It almost passes every year year. Fuck corporations converting our public space into privat space. It's not tresspassing if you have a legal agreement in place that your private property is to always be treated like public property.