13 November 2011
From Occupation to Provocation: Occupy Albany on the offensive
As if dissatisfied with the modus vivendi negotiated with the City of Albany, members of Occupy Albany are determined to force a confrontation with Governor Cuomo and challenge the state law that keeps them out of Lafayette Park, the state-administered space separated by a walkpath from city-governed Academy Park. Two separate incidents yesterday resulted in arrests. In the afternoon Bradley Russell, who's been prominent among the demonstrators, was taken away for attempting to erect an "illegal structure" in Lafayette. At night, in defiance of the 11:00 p.m. curfew, 23 people committed civil disobedience and were arrested for crossing from Academy to Lafayette. In each case, the occupiers insist that their First Amendment prerogatives trump park curfews. Like other curfew-defiers, they promise court challenges to the state curfew. Russell has probably muddied the issue by his carpentry, since I doubt whether such construction on public land enjoys First Amendment protection. The curfew challengers stand on more promising ground, even when on the move. Let's concede that government has some obvious responsibilities for park maintenance, but those should not be inconsistent with the people's freedom to use public space for the public purpose of a political demonstration of any duration. The issue remains whether public parks belong to governments or to people, while the conflict reminds us, as I've written before, that in some cases, like this one, the two are not one and the same. As for all the "law-and-order" types writing to newspapers or complaining on the radio about inconsistent law enforcement -- if some of the people are exercising their prerogative to claim public space for political expression on behalf of all, or at least 99%, of the people, the least the critics calling for a crackdown can do, I'd suggest, is exercise their prerogative in the name of the people and attempt citizens' arrests -- if they dare.