A few people on the Facebook have been questioning the rationale of activists at Occupy Rochester getting arrested to protest the Mayor’s insistence that we not occupy the park 24/7. It’s a fair question; though the way some have asked it has been a bit immature to say the least. Really? Name calling? Ah, the glory of the internet.
Before I get into the rationale behind the acts of Civil Disobedience, I’d like to point out one thing. The people who are doing the questioning always cite mainstream news outlets. As if our current corporate media have any intention on reporting these events in a fair fashion. One of the main premises of Occupy is that there is too much influence on society by corporations so it’s in corporate entities’ best interests to portray us as out-of-work malcontents as opposed to thoughtful people who are just fed up and are willing to get off their asses to do something about it. So first of all, you should check out a General Assembly – in person. The Livestream feed is OK, but it’s not the same. The GA’s are long at times and now that they are outside are a bit cold, but as the chant goes: this is what democracy looks like.
OK, arrests. Why bother? I need to start with a story. (Oh, did I mention that this was going to be a freaking long post?)
I work for the Center for Disability Rights. I do systems advocacy. A lot of that is trying to get laws changed or even just enforced. We all know that there are a gazillion dollars that gets thrown at our politicians at every level and usually by industries that do not have disabled people’s best interest in mind. I’m sure I’ll blog about disability rights at some point, but for now let’s just say that the system is fucked. I’m sure we can agree on that point.
So we lobby, make phone calls, do online petitions, complain, educate, get out the vote, all the usual stuff. But CDR is also tied to a national group called ADAPT. Click on the link to learn more about what they are all about – very worthwhile. So twice a year, Rochester ADAPT joins our brothers & sisters from all over the country in a certain city to participate in Civil Disobedience…getting arrested. Why? Because it works. I’ve seen it.
I’ve gone on three ADAPT trips and I have seen ADAPT carpetbomb Paul Ryan’s plan to gut Medicaid, get a meeting with the Secretary of HUD when he refused to answer our calls for months, slow down the stupid deficit reduction “supercommittee” in cutting health care, and more. On our last trip, the President was in the Rose Garden doing a press conference on his jobs creation bill while we were on the other side of the White House. Our noise was so great that he heard us during the press conference and his administration called us right there and then to tell us that a key program would not be cut in all the other crapola they were going to do to the budget. At the state level, ADAPT took over the “War Room” in the Capitol Building earlier in the year. New Governor, Andrew Cuomo right there and then announced that New York State would be the first state in the country to buy into the Community First Choice plan. You can web search what that means, but it was a gigantic victory.
ADAPT performs Civil Disobedience including arrests and it works. Why? Because these politicians know that no matter how many secret meetings they have, whatever the amount of campaign contributions they get from the nursing home, pharmaceutical or whatever industries, there will be people in wheelchairs showing up to their offices with handcuffs, ready to have themselves dragged out of their offices by police. These issues mean life and death to these folks and they have nothing to lose. And it is one tool in their toolbox.
So why is it important that people are willing to get arrested in Rochester to have 24/7 access to Washington Square Park? First of all, completely occupying the park is important. See my other post for the explanation of that. Second, this is a fight for first amendment rights. That’s what other people die for in other countries. That sounds melodramatic, but it’s absolutely the case here. The Mayor claims that the park hours are enough time for free speech. Who the hell made him the King of Free Speech? He doesn’t get to decide and if he is going to trample on the Bill of Rights there needs to be people out in the streets willing to tell him that he’s wrong. Seriously. Think about this. Being in the park is a “violation”. So why weren’t tickets just given out? Because this is a show of power. Maybe you aren’t willing to stand up to “the man” but should you be denigrating those who do?
Is this smart as a tactic? In this case, yes. Mayor Richards is the ONLY mayor in the state refusing to allow people to occupy public space. (Some mayors have even helped their local Occupy movement.) The arrests aren’t the only tactics being used, but it is an important part of the entire effort to affect real change. The corporate media hasn’t portrayed the arrests in the most sympathetic light, but you’re talking about it and that matters. That’s crucial. And what position is the Mayor in right now? He’s kinda screwed himself. Oh sure, he’s portrayed himself as the guy who has extended every opportunity to talk with protesters, but under his rules. And what your buddies at the corporate news agencies haven’t told you is the protesters reached out to the Mayor first. But his counter was a meeting in his office with 6 people only 4 of who were allowed to speak. He didn’t see the irony in that.
I think it’s interesting that those who insult the local Occupy movement the most, for the most part, don’t get off their asses to do jack squat. Internet bitching is the most they do. And that is their right. That’s what free speech is all about, isn’t it? You can relatively say whatever stupid ass thing you like. And you can do it online or live, in a public place. The funny thing is, the people who were arrested are actually defending the couch sitters’ right to say stupid shit on the internet, while the people who say stupid shit on the internet….say stupid shit on the internet. The SSSOTI folks seem to think that Civil Disobedience doesn’t matter. I disagree, but at least the arrestees are doing something. What are YOU doing?
Oh…and you may be asking that if I’m so gung ho about CD, why haven’t I been arrested yet? Well, I’m still on double-secret probation from CD in Washington. I’m sure my time will come.
UPDATE: Literally, as I posted this, the Rochester Police Department started harassing people at Washington Square Park, "under orders" to make sure people weren't sleeping on the sidewalks tonight. THIS is how the Mayor is using police resources while crimes go on elsewhere. Again, not a good showing for him.