Crackdowns on Occupy sites in Oakland, New York City, and most recently Washington DC, have vividly illustrated the erosion of the First Amendment, which guarantees rights to assembly and to petition our government for redress of grievances. The problem, however, extends beyond those particular sites where crackdowns have made headlines.
The Occupy site in Tacoma is also facing new challenges after representatives of the Washington State Department of Transportation notified the protestors of complaints from local business owners and began taking preliminary steps to build a fence blocking off the campsite from the rest of the city. As one protestor noted, “It’s pretty clear they want us to leave, which is really unfair…We’re not causing trouble. We’re keeping the conversation alive.” Steve Pierce, communications director for the Transportation Department, has now issued statements that “It’s gotten to the point where some of the issues need to be addressed.” However, Pierce stressed that if it comes to that point, the removal will be done in a “thoughtful and sensitive way.”
The situation in Tacoma is hardly new to followers of the Occupy movement. It may not be as shockingly violent or as widely publicized as the Oakland Police Department’s actions in removing Occupy protestors in October and January, but at various sites around the country the Occupy protestors are facing increasing pressure from local authorities. While local officials and activists bicker over technicalities, the simple fact remains that Americans have protected rights to civil political protest that cannot be ignored or removed.
The Occupy movement in Tacoma has a relatively simple mission statement aimed specifically at rebuilding a thriving economic community while “bringing attention to the disastrous impacts of unregulated corporate activity on political, economic, and environmental systems through free speech and peaceable assembly.” It would be one thing if the protestors were acting outside of the law or advocating for an unachievable or questionable change in policy, but these concerns raised by Occupy protestors are things that many if not most Americans recognize as being in the public’s best interest.
So under what authority can public authorities justify efforts to end these demonstrations? And perhaps more importantly, why are more people not concerned and outraged at these attempts to neutralize the fundamental right to free speech and peaceable demonstration on which the entirety of civil liberties rest? The response to questions such as these is of vital importance and carries a huge potential impact for every American.