22 December 2011

For Christmas, no room at the park for Occupy Albany

For the past two weeks, Academy Park has had a vaguely ironic look to it as the city's holiday decorations glowed at night next to the diminished tent city that was Occupy Albany. The occupiers had been on borrowed time since the city had extended their permit to an absolute deadline of today. Negotiations had reportedly been ongoing over continuing the encampment -- the city has never disputed the right to hold daytime protests there -- but the Occupation's fate was probably sealed by the report from last weekend of someone sneaking into one of the tents and attacking its occupant. Given the presence of homeless people and the constant possibility of a sudden crackdown, the apparent absence of any sort of voluntary security, of even people assigned to watch in shifts, was distressing. It came out today that there had been two similar attacks recently. The city may well be making more of these incidents than they justified, but these were the circumstances under which Mayor Jerry Jennings' patience was finally exhausted.

Walking up Lark Street this morning I saw the streetlamps and telephone poles tagged with postcards and xeroxes urging people to defend Academy Park. These bore the familiar image identified either with failed historical terrorist Guy Fawkes or fictionally successful terrorist "V." I know that for many people "V" stands for generic resistance, but he was a poor mascot for people who were presumably outraged when Tea Partiers spoke of "Second Amendment remedies" for alleged misgovernment. In any event, these signs hinted that, if the showdown came today, Occupy Albany would not go down without a fight. And it didn't -- but it did go down.

So now we've had one more round of street theater and one more lesson in the parameters of "free speech," and we have a new year on the way. You can look here for a more complete story, but the moral of the story remains to be determined. Some parts are easy, and always have been. There was yet another guy on the news this evening saying the First Amendment doesn't extend to pitching a tent, but I say that if money is speech, so is a tent. If there is no limit to how much a person can spend to make his point, there's no rightful limit to how much time a person wants to spend making a point. In the U. S. Senate, there is the right to filibuster. Some people deplore this fact, but they should concede that as long as politicians have it, ordinary people should as well. Perhaps the clearest lesson learned from all the Occupations nationwide is about Americans' patience for protest in this so-called Year of the Protester. At a certain point, and quite early in many cases, protest became obnoxious to many of us, and not simply because we thought the Occupiers had no agenda or direction. It became offensive for these people to declare a crisis of democracy, to claim that the vast majority had been marginalized. Yet even if they were wrong to blame the crisis collectively and exclusively on 1% of the population, their own fate proved their point about their own marginalization. They were not allowed to claim more than an implicit ration of speech while the highest court of the land recognizes no meaningful limit on the speech money can buy. That fact alone makes further protest imperative -- but I wonder whether I'll actually see anyone exercising the privilege promised them by the city tomorrow morning. I hope I do, but that can't be the end of it. 2012 is nearly upon us, and now is the time for resolution.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If the occupiers are truly serious about getting the changes they demand, they'd better be ready, willing and able to fight for it. My suggestion is they arm themselves with pepper spray and gas masks for the next rally.