“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.” So states the First Amendment. What has happened to the right to peaceful protest? Has the Occupy Wall Street movement terrified the powers in charge so much that they will do anything to prevent opposition?

Police in riot gear, swinging batons and using teargas, have arrested noisy but generally peaceful protesters. Even in Berkeley, of places! Encampments across the country have been bulldozed. After a two-month occupation, over 1,000 police descended on Zuccotti Park in NY in the early morning hours of 11/15 to clear out the protesters. Granted, Zuccotti Park is private property, but was a surprise and overly aggressive raid at 1am by so many cops warranted? Should personal property have been confiscated or destroyed? Within hours after the eviction, OWS protesters got a court order allowing them to return and to re-erect tents. As of this writing, that decision was overturned and protesters cannot set up camp.

What has happened to freedom of the press? Journalists covering the OWS events across the country including writer/activist Naomi Wolf have been arrested for doing their jobs, even though they were wearing press badges at the time. Arrests have occurred at New York City, Chapel Hill, NC, Atlanta, Nashville, Milwaukee and Richmond, VA. The Society of Professional Journalists and the New York Press Club have condemned the arrests and issued formal protests.

Besides arrests, reporters have been prevented by police from getting “too close” and filming evidence of abuse of power. Police brass are preventing the witnessing of massive shows of force and violence against the protesters. Isn’t this what is done in third world countries and dictatorships? The New York Police Commissioner is a Special Forces wannabe who has secretly built an incredible operation since 9/11.

In addition to journalists, noted educators and politicians have been arrested including Professor Cornel West of Princeton and Ydanis Rodriguez, a New York City Council Member. Mr. Rodriguez was hit in the head during the 11/14 raid and claimed that he was held without access to legal counsel.

The same pundits who call the Tea Party protesters patriots, emulators of the Founding Fathers and true Americans consider the OWS protesters to be rabble, Socialists, leftist losers and much worse. Most of these pundits are members of the 1% and they have convinced a majority of their viewers and readers that the main ideals of OWS (end corporatism, tax the wealthiest of Americans on a fairer basis, create jobs) are somehow not in their best interests. Real Americans should be afraid of those lazy, dirty Commies. It’s their own fault they don’t have jobs.

The Occupy Wall Street movement includes drum banging idealists and opportunistic troublemakers. However, the majority is comprised of the 99% of us – average people who are struggling with earning enough to pay the bills, those who have lost jobs and homes, and others who have never had enough. Even capitalist tool The Economist recognizes the lopsided inequity between the top 1% and everyone else and the danger of it. (http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/10/income-inequality-america)

To go back to the beginning, what has happened to the right to peaceful protest and freedom of the press? The First Amendment Center documents the free speech issues and marked increase in journalist arrests during the Occupy Wall Street movement. Free speech is hard and sometimes painful. It must be protected and witnessed.

Mary Casey is a student in the MS in Business Leadership and Management program at CUNY School of Professional Studies and is an alumna of Lehman College. She is an administrator for a university in NYC. She loves to travel and wants to see as much of the world as possible. Mary has more comments on the SPS blog than she received on the community/political blog that she created and maintained from 2002 to 2004.

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