A recent news story passed somewhat inauspiciously earlier this week. Maybe a minor mention in newscasts around the U.S., but it wasn’t even the lead story in the area in which it occurred. It concerned the removal of the Occupy protestors from the park they inhabited in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
It’s not big news anymore, either the protesters or the removal of the protestors, which has taken place in cities around the country from New York to Oakland to Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale. There were a few news stories about the excessive force police used in some of the instances, such as Oakland, where mace and billy clubs were wielded against unarmed citizens. Of course, the news stories never call them citizens; they refer to them as protesters. But they are citizens, and they do have rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.
The U.S. sent military backing, in the form of airstrikes, to protect the protestors in Libya who were demonstrating against their government. It was successful, at least for them, as they were able to oust the leader of the country. In Egypt, we aided the protesters as well—in moral and some logistic support—in their quest to free themselves from their heavy handed leader, for better or worse. And we are expressing strong support for the protesters in Syria, who are waging a battle against an oppressive government.
You can read all kinds of commentary about the Occupy Wall Street protestors, and the offshoots that have taken root in cities across the country. People call them trespassers, lazy college kids and unemployed bums who should be looking for work rather than demonstrating against the corporations that provide employment for many Americans.
I happen to sympathize with the cause since evidence shows that major corporations, with the massive amounts of money they spend on lobbying in Washington—especially the financial firms on Wall Street and both the insurance and oil companies, seem to have gotten their way into just about every area of the government affecting them—from regulations (or lack thereof), to tax breaks.
But even if you don’t agree with their cause and feel they are just a bunch of scraggly bums, as many in the conservative movement have expressed, you should be aghast at the actions taken by our governments, on the local and state level, with the ambivalence of the federal authorities.
These are American citizens trying to express their rights. They are protesting against what they see as a major problem in our country. They are peacefully demonstrating against what they see as a government that is no longer representative of the people. And they have every right to do that.
Why is it that our government would support the actions of protestors in other countries, but in our own, shut them down and call them a nuisance and a problem to be swept away? And don’t give me the tired excuses the police departments are using, such as a lack of cleanliness or proper facilities, or that the property isn’t theirs to use. That it’s for their own good, their own safety, and that they are a menace to others. Or even that there are illegal drugs being used, so they need to be shut down.
In the ‘60s they also cracked down violently on Vietnam War protesters and civil rights protestors. And those protesters turned out to be right. Our government was lying to us about the war, and the time for equal rights for all our citizens had come. One might say those were grand issues that were worthy of such civil actions as major protests, and what the Occupy groups are doing isn’t. But that’s not for others to decide, is it? This is supposed to be a free country and yet we’re denying the right to protest to groups of people that feel strongly that there is a major injustice happening.
The saddest part of the story is that no one is paying attention. When the NYPD gets a gift from the biggest Wall Street firms and then proceeds to shut down the protesters, there should be a major outcry. There should be an investigation, lawsuits, and a feeling that we are, in essence, no different from the other countries where the protesters are being dealt with harshly. It’s still the government preventing its citizens from expressing discontent.
It’s the way this country started, with the Boston Tea Party. It’s very American to protest against injustice and a government that has taken too much control. So while conservative groups may not like the cause of Occupy Wall Street, they should be joining those who support the cause in condemning the shutting down of these protests. Without the right to protest, we will lose our most basic tenet, the right to have a government of, by, and for the people.
Obviously, the politicians are going to look the other way, since the corporations these people are protesting against are pouring millions of dollars into their campaigns and into their salaries when they leave office and become lobbyists, which most of them do. It really is up to the people to try and change things. Protesting against a corporation seems like a pretty hopeless task but the whole point of a free country is to be able to express our opinions and if enough people join in, maybe something can be changed.
That’s what America is about, or at least was supposed to be about. Not only are we, as a people, not paying attention to what the police are doing with the backing of the government, but we are in essence throwing away our right to be free. We support those in other countries trying to gain freedom but we are losing it ourselves and doing nothing to stop it. Freedom is dying right before our eyes.