Some say that it took an Arab Spring to create the American Fall.
It sure has been interesting to watch the Occupy “movement” grow from a small protest on Wall Street, the symbolic center of corporate America, into a variety of protests that have sprung up at cities around the nation and the world. Perhaps as interesting to watch as the organic, spontaneous and seemingly unorganized exercise of the right to peaceably assemble has been the befuddled reaction by many commentators. “How can a leaderless phenomenon have any impact on the democratic process?” they say. To that, I would say, how can it not?
The genius of the American founders is that they understood that the center of democracy is the public square, and that only the people can occupy it. If citizens forgo the responsibility, or if government forbids us the right to peaceably assemble to express our grievances, then democracy has been replaced by oligarchy. The tragedy that we have witnessed in American politics is that we as citizens have willfully and irresponsibly given up the public square, and indeed, as recent actions have shown in cities around the country, we literally no longer have public squares in every sense of that word.
Even here in Kent, it has become standard operating procedure to require permits to use streets, parks and other public places, ostensibly in the name of “safety.” Yes, we may occupy sidewalks for peaceful demonstrations, but usually only sidewalks that happen to abut public property because the sidewalks, after all, are the responsibility of the property owner adjacent to them. The public square is effectively no more.
The loss of the public square is more forcefully confronted in the mounting protests that are in some communities becoming general strikes. While some say the messages are muddled and at cross purposes, taken as a whole the message of Occupy is clear: we want our country back. It is really quite simple; the 52 words of the preamble to the constitution say it quite well. “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”
We want our country back from the powerful interests that divide our “Perfect Union” so that they can own us, and own the public square. We want our country back from those whose idea of justice is to declare corporations people and take away the power from “We the People.” We want our country back from those who believe that corporate welfare is more important than the “general welfare.”
Occupy speaks to our need to build a public square in downtown Kent, because the one that people think we have is private. With our new downtown development the only public spaces are the streets and perhaps a new public parking lot behind some buildings and a new transit facility which most surely will have gates. Our inability to think that we need a real public square is a sign that we have lost much of our public lives as citizens. Yes many of us do work hard to make our place a better one to live in, we individually and in small groups help those in their time of need, and we take great pride in our community. But what the Occupiers are also telling us is that we have not worked hard enough to defend that, which is our common wealth, especially those of us that have plenty for ourselves.
Occupy therefore has an important meaning as we work to create a thriving region in which we learn to rely more on each other using local resources, preserving and protecting our place and conserving energy and water. In short, Occupy is a vision that mirrors our Founders vision, for the creation of a sustainable prosperity and a Perfect Union.
Occupy also understands that sometimes in order to change the public discourse we need to exercise more strenuously our First Amendment Rights, perhaps the most important 35 words that have ever been ratified by a people.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. “
Our speech is abridged when some voices, especially those with money, are taken more seriously than ours. When this happens, the only recourse is a public showing of our grievances. Does this mean that we all need to camp out in the intersection of Main and Water? Of course not. But what it does mean is that we have the responsibility to speak up, to act up, and not give up on our Founders vision.
Some say that it took an Arab Spring to create the American Fall. Unless we learn how to better occupy all of our cities, towns and regions we may be watching the fall of the America. Only “We the People” can maintain “the Blessings of Liberty to us and our Posterity.”