Friday, November 4, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Inconvenience is the Point

When confronted with the fact that the Occupy protests are violating the rights of other people to freely travel, enjoy the public parks, and do their jobs, Occupiers often answer that disruption and inconveniencing others is the point of the protest, as exemplified by one commenter at the San Francisco Chronicle, who said "Inconvenience is the entire point, because otherwise no one listens and no one CARES!

This is not an isolated viewpoint, it is repeated by many in the Occupy movement whenever seriously challenged on their illegal and disruptive methods.  One supporter, a union leader, has called for "more militancy" of blocking bridges and occupying banks.  A protest sign that went viral reads "Sorry for the inconvenience/we are trying to change the world."  Countless tweets enthusiastically repeat the idea, like this one, stating again that "the point of protest" is to inconvenience other people, and this one stating that inconvenience is the protesters' "weapon," justified because they don't have a "$100k lobbyist" (despite the fact that with over $500k in the bank they could afford five such lobbyists).

This idea is deeply disturbing.  The First Amendment includes the word "peaceably" specifically to exclude behavior that disturbs the peace or violates other people's rights.  Disrupting the lives of others is in no way a peaceable protest or protected by the First Amendment, yet this idea is spreading like wildfire through the Occupy community, justifying more and more violence and property destruction like that seen in Oakland this week.  What started as a group that claimed the First Amendment gave them the right to seize property and block travel is fast becoming a group that openly declares disruption is the entire point of their assembly.

Many Occupiers insist that "the First Amendment is their permit," claiming all Supreme Court interpretations of that Amendment are invalid, and only the words of the Constitution, as interpreted by themselves, apply to them.  If so, then by their own logic they are violating that permit by protesting the banking industry, while the Amendment only covers protest against the government.

The fact that in the modern era people often assemble to protest against corporations, instead of the government, is an expansion of the basic right in the Constitution, allowed by the evolving understanding of free speech that has built up over the years as the Supreme Court has weighed in with interpretations.  You cannot claim the expanded right to protest a corporation instead of the government while ignoring all the other interpretations made by the Supreme Court, which firmly state that time, place, and manner restrictions, like those forbidding camping, are reasonable and not violations of the right to free speech.

But forget morality and the law, let's look at the effectiveness of causing disruption.  The Occupier quoted above stated that this disruption is necessary to make people "listen" and "care."  Violating their rights certainly does make people notice you, but does it make them care?  This is the point where Occupy and reality part ways, as Occupiers swallow the idea that by hurting people you can force them to agree with you.  It's as if Occupiers are hoping to harness the Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages become psychologically attached to the thugs who hold them hostage.  In some cases this appears to be working, as Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland reversed her decision to end the Oakland encampment after negative press, and now seeks to do whatever it takes to allow the encampment to continue, even offering to move the campers to a more permanent camp, presumably at the city's expense.

Attempting to induce Stockholm Syndrome may work on someone like Quan, who apparently considers positive press more important than her duty as an elected official, but the overall American character is deeply devoted to the ideal of not negotiating with terrorists.  In cities held hostage to the Occupy camps, citizens are not starting to identify with their Occupiers, they are growing more vocal in their determination to restore law and order.  Comments in USA Today, a non-partisan newspaper popular with the "silent majority" of Middle America, are overwhelmingly opposed to the disruptive tactics of the Occupy groups.  The violence in Oakland has only intensified this sentiment, and more disruptions will do the same.

It is not possible to convince Americans that your cause is noble by disrupting their daily lives, though it may succeed at getting you in the news.  Occupiers, both the pacifist and black bloc wings, are agreed on the strategy of inconveniencing others.  Their only disagreement is how much disruption they should cause.  But while Occupiers squabble over this among themselves, the rest of America is not impressed by this new idea that "inconvenience is the point of protest."  It's nothing more than a narcissistic pretext for bullying, and nobody is buying it.