Love or Hate Occupy Wall Street, it is Now a Question of Freedom

I loved looking at their eyes, seeing their faces as I walked circles around the outside of the newly barricaded Zucotti Park. It was Liberty Square only the night before, but on the morning of November 15th it was vacant of all liberty. I consider myself a reasonable person; I will not hate men and women who work for the NYPD just because I don’t agree with the actions of some. I’m certainly not going to act violently toward them. I am consistently one of the voices (among many) preaching nonviolence at the front line of these stand-offs with the NYPD. Earlier that morning, at 2 a.m., I stood a block away, barricaded from Zucotti Park, trying to promote a peaceful resistance to the violent eviction. I am not someone the police officers should hate. In a different setting, many officers and I would agree on a lot of issues. We all think that corporate and government power is out of control, however, these officers “have a job to do.” Despite that job, their eyes and faces paint a complex picture of the human element behind the helmet and mask. 

The range of emotion among the officers seems to cross a spectrum like any other. They are indifferent to us, hate us, are annoyed by us, agree with us, and maybe even love us. Some talk to us for hours while we stand in front of them, some won’t even look at us, some mock and threaten us. Civilians follow a similar spectrum. With the protesters gone, many residents and Wall Street workers, fed up with the protestors presence, walked by a bit excited the morning following the eviction. Smiles on their faces, many gave a thumbs up or shook the hands of officers. “Great job,” they said.

As one tall, prestigious-looking gentleman walked by, shaking an officers hand and clapping, I couldn’t remain quiet. I clapped loudly behind him. “Good job guys! Oppressing free speech! Way to go!! Eff the first amendment! We only have a right to free speech when we agree with you! Thanks guys!” I yelled. The man turned around and walked slightly in front of me as I followed. He said “I have a right to my opinion.” I replied, “I agree, you do. I fight to protect that right, but your opinion is that I don’t have a right to express mine.” We had a little exchange. Part of his argument was he strongly believes people have a right to use the park. Of course, I agree with that. But I reread the constitution. Come to find out, there is nothing in the Constitution regarding a right to use a park. Maybe the right to publicly assemble, but that favors my point more. And my point is, no one should be celebrating the restrictions on anyone’s freedom. Just because you do not agree with how someone uses his or her freedom, does not mean you should praise the forces that oppress it.

If we are talking about the right to use the park, why is your right to use it is more valid than mine? Is your leisurely stroll through the park more valid than my use of space for chats with visitors because mine is associated with a message you think you don’t like? I feel sorry for those that judge strongly, as it appears their opinions are based on ignorance. The media plays a large role in framing what they think the protest is, rather than what it actually is. It would be hard for American to disagree with what the movement is really about.

The camp at Zucotti is an assembly of people, exercising their free speech to figure out better ways to hear everyone’s voice, and to bring power back to the people, away from corporate power and an over-inflated government. You may disagree with some of the opinions in Zucotti Park, but that’s the point. You may disagree with some of the methods in Zucotti Park, but that’s the point! Come. Disagree. Or better yet, if you like, start your own assemblies in your communities where people can come and discuss issues, agree and disagree, but find solutions together. What I don’t understand is the joy people expressed, knowing people’s freedoms were violently oppressed, and you cannot deny that is what happened.

Clearly, we need to question what happened on November 15th. The sudden, harsh, and secret crackdown in the cover of night, with the eyes of the “free” press strategically blocked by barricades and trucks, is something no one should tolerate. I want to ask these officers if, when they were young and in school studying history, for example studying the civil rights movement, how did they feel about those stories? How did they feel about, reading about the forces that oppressed the voices of Americans because they were people of color? Did they feel anger toward the oppressors? Did they ever wonder if they would one day be the oppressors? Officers on the NYPD need have a personal challenge ahead of them. They need to decide, at what point are they part of something that violates what they believe in. At what point, does “doing their job” go beyond the rhetoric of “public safety,” and translate to oppressing dissenting voices.

We all have “a job to do” but if we believe in freedom of speech, than we all need to stand up for everyone’s use of it, especially when we do not agree with the message because that is when it matters most. If you only believe in freedom of speech when someone agrees with you, then you don’t believe in freedom of speech at all. Make no mistake, our camp in Zucotti Park IS a statement. It says, “everyone can have a voice here.” It is us, using our right to assemble, as an expression of frustration with the state of our country. Violating that is an affront on the foundation of our nation.

2 thoughts on “Love or Hate Occupy Wall Street, it is Now a Question of Freedom

  1. FYI – the Ed Show last night gave you terrific coverage and said the arrests in NY motivated people across the country. It was a very positive show. Glad to hear you are safe.

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