I’m beginning to wonder whether the right to assemble is effectively dead in the US. No one who is a wage slave (which is the overwhelming majority of the population) can afford to have an arrest record, even a misdemeanor, in this age of short job tenures and rising use of background checks.
Now at least in New York (and I hope readers in other cities will chime in) the right to assemble seems to be pretty much a dead letter. I was in Sydney during the global protests against the Iraq War, and I was told that the New York demonstrations (which were already hindered by typically lousy winter weather) were pretty much blocked by the police. Protestors were tying to gather at the UN, and the cops put up a cordon at Second Avenue. The result was the turnout was far lower than the number who tried to show their opposition and were stopped.
The latest New York City protest is OccupyWallStreet. Even though its turnout last week fell well short of hopes (the estimates from the group were that 2000 participated; the New York Times suggests numbers more like “hundreds” but the photos from the 17th make figures larger figures seem plausible), making it a nuisance level demonstration rather than a major statement, the powers that be seem to be trying a bit too hard to prevent it from getting traction.
The organizers were using Twitter to promote participation and visibility. And so Twitter intervened. From AmpedStatus:
On at least two occasions, Saturday September 17th and again on Thursday night, Twitter blocked #OccupyWallStreet from being featured as a top trending topic on their homepage. On both occasions, #OccupyWallStreet tweets were coming in more frequently than other top trending topics that they were featuring on their homepage.
This is blatant political censorship on the part of a company that has recently received a $400 million investment from JP Morgan Chase.
The protestors were relegated to Zucotti Park, west of Liberty. If you know Lower Manhattan that is technically near Wall Street but well away from any offices buildings. It is on the periphery. The New York Times depicts the demonstrators as naive and ineffective, i.e, harmless:
Occupy Wall Street, a diffuse and leaderless convocation of activists against greed, corporate influence, gross social inequality and other nasty byproducts of wayward capitalism not easily extinguishable by street theater, had hoped to see many thousands join its protest and encampment, which began Sept. 17….
By Wednesday morning, 100 or so stalwarts were making the daily, peaceful trek through the financial district, where their movements were circumscribed by barricades and a heavy police presence. (Various arrests for disorderly conduct were made.) By Thursday, the number still sleeping in Zuccotti Park, the central base of operations, appeared to be dwindling further.
Members retained hope for an infusion of energy over the weekend, but as it approached, the issue was not that the Bastille hadn’t been stormed, but that its facade had suffered hardly a chip.
So the protest is only in the low hundreds. In a separate story, the Times reports that the police arrested 80 as they moved to Union Square (notice how high a percentage that is) and even the anodyne Times makes the policing sound heavy-handed:
The police made scores of arrests on Saturday as hundreds of people, many of whom had been encamped in the financial district as part of a lengthy protest, marched north to Union Square….
Protest organizers estimated that about 85 people were arrested and that about five were struck with pepper spray. Among those was Chelsea Elliott, 25, who said that she was sprayed after shouting “Why are you doing that?” as an officer arrested a protester at East 12th Street….
Nearby, two other protesters standing handcuffed on Fifth Avenue told a reporter that they had both been arrested on sidewalks and were not aware of having broken any law.
“They put up orange nets and tried to kettle us and we started running and they started tackling random people and handcuffing them,” said Kelly Brannon, 27, of Ridgewood, Queens. “They were herding us like cattle.”
Next to her, David Smith, from Maine, said that he had been chanting “Let them go” as people were handcuffed, and was then arrested by a senior officer who told him that he was being charged with obstructing governmental administration.
The article included this tweet:
@DustinSlaughter there’s 50+ of us arrested in a caravan, netted & maced by police after standing on sidewalk where they told us to
This video show police macing women who were already corralled and who made no aggressive or threatening moves
The authorities apparently felt that the response was so low that they could get rough with the protestors, meaning that their perception was that even unflattering coverage would not incite much bigger turnout. Sadly, they may have judged this correctly.