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No Mayor Has The Power to Deny Anyone Their Right to Peacefully Assemble
Americans have a long tradition of peaceful protests, demonstrations, and marches, and why shouldn’t they? The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that the government cannot interfere “with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibit the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.” Some notable peaceful protests include the woman’s suffrage movement, Civil Rights movement, and Viet Nam anti-war movement and in each instance, the peaceable assemblies affected change in government policies. Unfortunately, each one of those historical protest movements engendered violence from law enforcement officials that failed to deter the participants, and in fact, only garnered attention for the particular cause because patriotic Americans were repulsed that their fellow citizens were arrested for exercising the Constitutional right to assemble peaceably.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has gained support as more Americans begun to realize that the protestors reflected their concerns that Wall Street, corporate banking interests, and the wealthiest Americans were exerting undue influence on the government and were responsible for the gross income inequality apparent in America today. In Oakland’s version of the Occupy movement, police in riot gear fired bean bags, rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades at peaceful protestors on orders from Mayor Jean Quan after she unexpectedly reversed her support of the protest movement. For the past two weeks, Quan told the police to leave protesters alone because she said she supported the protests, and that sometimes “democracy is messy.” Quan’s order to police had the desired effect and proved that indeed, democracy is messy; especially when law enforcement uses violence to disrupt peaceful protests.
The scene was reminiscent of Tahrir Square in Egypt when government forces opened fire on peaceful protestors, and although it seemed unreal that American citizens would be the recipients of police brutality for lawfully assembling in a public place, video footage and photographs proved the reality that in America, the Constitution is not worth the paper it was written on. Although Oakland appears to be the only city that police openly used brute force against the occupiers, in cities across the country government officials began a concerted effort to deny protestors their Constitutional right to peaceably assemble for a governmental redress of grievances. In Oakland’s case, it is not entirely clear why Mayor Quan changed position and stopped supporting the protests, but her unexpected reversal and authorization of force against the protestors seemed to coincide with officials in various cities who, like Quan, decided that the occupy movement had to be disrupted.
There are any number of reasons mayors across the nation have changed their minds and decided they cannot afford to allow the occupy movement to gain any more momentum in their cities, but one valid assumption is that as more Americans understand the reason protestors are railing against corporate control of the government and the widening income disparity between the haves and have nots, the movement has the potential of engulfing the entire country. The media has been complicit in keeping the protest movement out of the public’s consciousness because all the major networks are owned and operated by large corporate entities that the occupiers are railing against. The media can ill-afford for ordinary Americans to learn that their sentiments regarding corporations and banks is shared by protestors because if they did, every major city in America would be inundated with tens-of-thousands of irate Americans demanding change. Make no mistake, Americans overwhelmingly agree with the occupy movement whether they have heard of it or not.
In the latest New York Times/CBS poll, two-thirds of Americans believe that wealth should be shared more equally which is one of the main complaints of the occupy movement. Although the occupy movement has not yet began positioning itself in electoral matters, the poll reported that 70% of Americans feel Republicans policies favor the wealthy over the poor and middle class. The occupy movement has not come out against capitalism per se, but only that there is a disproportionate distribution of wealth favoring the wealthy and their corporations who exert influence over the government to perpetuate income inequality. Clearly, if more Americans knew about the occupy movement and the complaints about government favoring wealthy Americans at the expense of the middle class, poor, and elderly, they would support the occupiers and oppose Republican en masse.
The biggest fear Republicans and their corporate-controlled media has is that the occupy movement’s mission and complaints about banks and corporations controlling government policy become well-known by the public. It is why Democrats must tap into the occupy movement’s energy and redirect their anger toward Republicans who are progenitors of income inequality to the benefit of the rich, corporations, and Wall Street banking interests. A transition from occupying cities around the country to the ballot box will certainly doom the Republican Party in 2012 and that may explain the frenzy to stop the movement in its tracks.
There is a problem for those who think using force against the protestors is a good idea and it was evident in Oakland. After police launched their first assault on the protestors occupying Oscar Grant Park they numbered about 300, when news of the attack made the rounds, the group swelled to 1,000. Similar events happened during the Viet Nam war protests and if there is one thing Americans will not tolerate, it is having their Constitutional rights revoked. As news of the violence spreads, there will invariably be substantially more participants joining the protestors and especially after an Iraqi War veteran was critically wounded when police fired either a tear gas canister or a flash-bang bomb that struck the veteran in the face fracturing his skull. Scott Olsen, 24, is in critical condition and is not breathing on his own at last report. So much for the Constitution’s guarantee that the government cannot interfere with peaceably assembled protestors.
The occupy movement will continue to grow as news of their mission reaches the public who overwhelmingly agree with the protestors. The recent news from the Congressional Budget Office verifies what the occupy movement already knows and it is that income for the top one percent of wealthy Americans grew by 275% over the past 28 years. Americans know their incomes have been steadily declining over the same period and that knowledge has provoked the 99% movement to take to the streets to occupy Wall Street and major cities across this nation. If mayors and leaders in major cities thought the occupy movement was reaching its zenith, they cannot fathom the numbers of Americans who will inundate their cities when Americans’ worst fears about the wealthy growing their income becomes verified.
Americans deserve to be allowed to protest as part of their Constitutional right, and no mayor, or corporate shill in power has the right to deprive any American the right to peaceably assemble. Republicans have precipitated every last outrage that has given the wealthiest 1% an unfair advantage in acquiring wealth, and their attempts to finish off the poor and middle class are bound to fail unless they can persuade more leaders to open fire on peaceful protestors. In Oakland they used rubber bullets, flash bombs, and teargas; but if Republicans have their way, the non-lethal weapons will give way to live ammunition to slaughter the protestors where they stand. Remember, Republicans derided President Obama for supporting Egyptian protestors and they supported Egyptian military forces opening fire on peaceful protestors. Based on the Republicans’ efforts to protect Wall Street bankers and the wealthy at any cost, it is not a stretch to imagine a Republican governor or mayor authorizing the use of lethal force against occupiers representing the 99%. On the social media outlet, Twitter, Herman Cain said, “this Bud’s for the Oakland police for doing such a good job” after they opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters that critically wounded an Iraqi War veteran. Now, imagine the rejoicing in Republican circles if police begin using live ammunition on peaceful protestors for exercising the Constitutional right to protest peaceably. There can be little doubt Republicans are strategizing on how best to encourage a wholesale slaughter to send a message that if you mess with the wealthy, you are going to die regardless of the Constitution. They have spent the past ten years protecting the wealthy at all costs at the expense of 99% of the American people, so slaughtering a few protestors will not bother them in the least.