This is NOT What Democracy Looks Like

I’m very upset this afternoon. I received word this morning that Occupy Wall Street had been raided in the middle of the night–over 200 citizens were arrested, the entire camp dismantled, and everything thrown into the trash.

Three things about this event are most disturbing:

1. OWS had created a massive public library in the camp: 5,554 volumes strong. While some of the books were rescued, the vast majority of the collection was thrown into the trash.

Five thousand books, gone. Knowledge, destroyed. Here is an online database of the OWS library. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, no matter what your opinion is of the Occupy movement, this is abhorrent. The destruction of books has no place in a civilized society. It is certainly not a hallmark of democracy.

The OWS Library has a blog here, with photos, information, and personal accounts of what happened last night.

2. The press were not allowed near Zuccotti Park. Reporters were pushed back, forcibly removed, and told that there would be no reporting done last night. NYPD established a “no-fly zone” (note: they have no authority to do that. The air is the domain of the FAA.) in order to ensure news helicopters could not cover the removal, arrest, and destruction of the Occupy camp and its occupants.

Freedom of the press is just as important as freedom of speech to a democratic society. Journalists and reporters serve the same purpose as books in a democracy: to bring knowledge to the people, but also to ensure transparency and accountability.

Again, political beliefs and opinions on the Occupy movement must be set aside here. We cannot allow the freedom of the press to be infringed here.

Here is a roundup of links from journalists reporting their eviction from the area.

3. The police waited until the middle of the night to begin their operation. As with the removal of the press, it is a move that cannot be permitted in a free society. The timing, as with the eviction of the press, was to ensure the least amount of witnesses as possible. It is easier to accept unacceptable actions when you cannot see them.

How might you have reacted if you watched video footage of NYPD tearing down a library, and throwing book after book into dumpsters? How might you have reacted had you seen it with your own eyes?

It would have been very have to accept that. It would have been very hard to take Mayor Bloomberg’s word that this was truly about “public safety.”

It would have been blatant-in-your-face evidence that the property of the citizens protesting was not to be stored at a safe location for them to retrieve later. Unless you consider the dump to be a safe location, that is.


No, these three points are something that every citizen should be concerned about, regardless of what is thought about the protesters,  the protest, or their tactics.

One lesson that Americans should have learned by now is to be very leery when a government figure proposes infringing on the rights of citizens in the name of “safety.”

7 Comments on "This is NOT What Democracy Looks Like"

  1. So you are saying that my right to free speech allows me to pitch a tent in the middle of Bardstown road indefinitly as long as i have somthing worthwile to protest? Which brings me to the next point. When will these protesters, or just a majority of the general public, understand what exactly a corporation is or does. And who actually pays taxes. Simply put..loathsome wall street is your parents 401k. Anyone with a retirement account, that will not be drawing an over-inflated govenment pension, wants “wall Street” to make a lot of money. Profits go to shareholders.(401k, mutual funds etc.) Second, have you ever noticed that when government taxes anything (like your cell phone company)the charge is passed along to the comsumer? If you tax GE 20% of earnings then guess what, the board of directors and ceo are not going to say “oh shucks”. They will make sure that profitabily remains at the same level by a:laying off workers and moving production to china or b:raising prices to offset lost revenue. Simple economics. This is really common sense stuff.

    • Brian,

      Robert Reich’s book Super Capitalism describes what you are getting at like this. He says that all of us have three interests, or sides, within us. We are all consumers. For the reasons you state, we are almost all investors at some level or other (or at least have a stake in investment in general), and we are all citizens.

      He makes the case that the global economy (born, interestingly, largely as a byproduct of the Vietnam war) has made it possible for us as consumers to get great deals. It has also made it possible for us as investors to make great profits. He lays out a strong case for how much LESS expensive many things are now, despite inflation, compared to 50 years ago. And also how much greater the profits are.

      But he also makes a case that in our zeal to get great deals for our consumer side, and great profits for our investor side, we have subjugated the interests and responsibilities of our citizen side.

      We do have legitimate civic interests beyond inexpensive goods and high profits. We have a legitimate civic interest in maintaining some level of air and water quality. We have a legitimate civic interest in defending the integrity of the processes we use for self-government. We have a legitimate civic interest in providing for our national security. We have a legitimate civic interest in some degree of financial security and stability. We have a lot of civic interests. Thousands. Some are big, some are small.

      Each and every one of our civic interests comes with a cost, and there are only two places in the world where that cost can be born… the prices we pay for things as consumers and the profits we earn as investors. Because of that, the point is well taken that the citizen side of us has to balance its interests with those of our other two sides. But what it also means is that our consumer side and our investor side ALSO have to balance their interests with those of our citizen side. When we seek lower prices or higher profits, we have to ask ourselves at what cost to our civic side will they come?

      It is not only the interest, but the responsibility of our civic selves to define the rules of the road for our consumer selves and our investor selves. It is their job, then, to strive for the lowest prices and highest profits WITHIN those rules.

      We can lower the prices of lots of things by bringing back slavery. Our consumer and investor sides would love that. It is our citizen side that checks that and accepts higher prices and lower profits in order that our civic interest in not having slavery can be fulfilled.

      We are out of balance. Our citizen selves have given too much ground to our consumer and investor selves. We have abdicated too much of our responsibility to ensure that our civic interests have a proper place at the table. Regaining the balance will increase prices and decrease profits, to be sure. But we can’t look at the overall equation as if there is no value to our civic interests that counter-balances the values of our consumer and investor interests.

      • Keith,
        As you could well imagine, I believe Reich is completely backward on almost everything. Of course he is leftist who believes “good” government policy is the answer for almost everything. I am sure if he were around in October 1917 he would be on the first boat to Russia. I am not saying he is a communist, just that he believes, like many, that really smart people, through government policy, can remedy economic inequities. Not that the concept of balance is bad idea. But who makes the rules? Who says “Target, you and your shareholders have made enough money, so just ease up a little and buy more expensive union made american products to sell to consumers at the same price”. If you want people to boycott wal-mart because 85% of the merchandise is from china then fine with me. But the 99 percenters are going there to buy their sleeping bags and tents and everything else.
        You won’t stop them, because it is cheaper! Because some really smart people got together and figured a way to get stuff cheap, sell cheap, and make a lot of money in the process. Reich may have identified the problem as he sees it, but his solution is always to enact “smarter” government policies to try and alter behavior. Does this ever really work? Especially in a global economy? And I am always amused when I hear union leaders and politicians say they are fighting for the middle class. Who the hell wants to go through life dreaming of being middle class? Should we not encourage our children to do better than middle class? If my daughter said she wants to be a hairdresser, I would tell her Great! But you really need to own a shop. Maybe a chain of shops. Go public. Employ hundreds of people and become rich! Be the best there is at what you do! Someone like Reich doesn’t get that. He only sees a static equation of business, labor, and government.
        I have yet to see a “one percenter” admit they were one. Heck, I may be one. If not, I want to be. That has always been this country’s greatest advantage over the rest of the world.
        Anyway, Back to the article.. This looks perfectly like democracy to me. As a society, we have elected people that pass ordinances that prohibit people from camping anywhere they please for as long as they please, regardless of how noble you think the cause may be.

        • You make a good point about boycotting places who do business in ways you don’t like, and one that Reich addresses in his book. It also happens to be the point that justifies any level of government involvement in commerce whatsoever… the question of how much is too much being a completely different issue.

          Reich makes the point that we should neither expect nor desire corporations to behave in “socially conscious” ways. That isn’t what they are designed to do. They are designed to compete with every fiber of their being within the boundaries we proscribe for them. Any additional concession they make to anyone’s idea of “the public good” that doesn’t also translate into their private good ultimately risks their very survival, which is in no one’s interest. Corporations aren’t charities and if they try to behave like charities, there will always be another one next door that is NOT so charitable, waiting to pounce on it and wring that economic efficiency out of the system. That is as it should be. Competition that isn’t cut-throat doesn’t accomplish the objective of competition.

          That’s why the key is in the proscribing of the boundaries. That’s why it is our civic responsibility to define the boundaries within which competition is fair game, and the outside of which it won’t be tolerated. We have proscribed, for instance, that corporations may not take up military arms against each other as part of their competition. Since we didn’t want them doing that, it was appropriate for us to prohibit it, because it is very likely that doing so WOULD be in the interest of some corporation or other somewhere, and expecting it to voluntarily abstain when others don’t would be the equivalent of asking it to commit suicide.

          And yes, as we go beyond armed force as a tool of competition into more nuanced areas, it does require that government be smart about what it does. And we have to accept that government, as corporations, is fallable and will make some mistakes. Sometimes it will under-regulate, sometimes it will over-regulate, sometimes it will regulate the wrong things… which we should interpret as a reason to stay engaged in holding government’s feet to the fire to do its job as well as we can make it rather than trying to prevent it from doing its job.

          You seem to assume that a desire for regulation is automatically a desire for handouts to the undeserving, like when you speak of more expensive union-made goods. I won’t tell you that never happens because, hell, I mean, pizza has just been declared a vegetable. Shit happens. The trick is to be vigilant for the distinction between smart regulation that delivers civic value equal to or greater than it costs us in economic inefficiency vs. misguided or corrupt regulation that does NOT do that.

          Sure, having a government that works requires smart people being in it and requires constant, committed vigilance on our part as citizens. But to suggest that we aren’t capable of doing that, I think, is to suggest that the American people are incompetent, and I don’t think that is the case at all.

        • I meant to include in there that consumers face the same competitive economic forces as producers. They make decisions that aren’t in their economic interest at their peril. That seems kind of extreme, but economically speaking, it is true. Which is why it is okay to regulate consumer behavior, smartly, alongside producer behavior. Which is what we do when we decide not to leave it up to consumers to make the decision whether or not they will pay extra to purchase products that weren’t made with child labor.

    • Brian,

      Keith already addressed some of your points, and as late as I am in getting back to you (and I apologize for that) I’d like to address the rest.

      I wouldn’t actually recommend pitching a tent in the middle of Bardstown road, considering how wild Louisville drivers are, but if you feel that is where you need to protest to make your point, you’re welcome to it.

      We tossed around the phrase “freedom isn’t free” quite a bit in the last decade, referencing the necessity of military endeavors. I believe it applies much better in this context. Freedom, justice, democracy? These things aren’t simple or easy. They’re messy and they’re complicated.

      A protest is many things. It does many things. A protest isn’t going to be convenient, or satisfactory to everyone–and it’s not supposed to.

      Sometimes it’s necessary to have a protest just to prove that we are still able to protest. The blowback OWS is receiving is showing the current answer: no, we don’t necessarily have that right. When protesters are expected to be quiet, out of the way, have a clear mission and specific, detailed demands and solutions that everyone agrees with–and can expect to be arrested, beaten, maced, corralled, and roundly mocked for stepping outside even one of those boundaries? We don’t have the right to protest.

      Protesting should never be a crime–and that it’s being treated like one by many police departments and mayor around the country is very troubling indeed–despite the cause or beliefs of the protesters.

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