Are Occupy Wall Street’s tents free speech? NYC Mayor Bloomberg says no.
What is free speech? According to the Supreme Court, money that corporations spend to influence elections is free speech, and cannot be limited. But it seems a lot of our officials think it’s perfectly OK to place limits on free speech when it comes to the 99 percent.
Which is particularly ironic considering that opposition to unhealthy, democracy-stifling corporate influence on elections and government is at the very heart of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
In New York today, Mayor Bloomberg told the assembled media that because tents used by Occupy Wall Street shouldn’t be considered as part of their demonstration, those tents are not protected by the constitutional guarantee of free speech and peaceful assembly.
This has been an issue across the country – Boston, Seattle, Denver, San Diego. Local officials have used local park regulations as the deciding factor in placing limits on the right of citizens to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed rights.
So let’s get this straight…
- Society may have a compelling interest to regulate the massively corrupting influence of unlimited corporate campaign cash, but that’s just too bad, because it’s free speech that cannot be limited. (For a background video on this Supreme Court decision, see: “The Story of Citizens United“)
- But if a city’s parks administration finds it inconvenient and messy for people to be in a public park after 10 pm – with tents! – it’s okay to put limits on the free speech rights of THOSE people.
“The Constitution doesn’t protect tents,” Bloomberg said. “It protects speech and assembly.”
Note to Bloomberg: If spending $1,00,000 on TV ads that support Republicans is “speech”, then having a tent at your month-long demonstration (so you don’t freeze to death) is speech, too. In case you don’t get it:
- If you have a million dollars, you can spend it on fancy production values and air a commercial on prime time that goes out to millions of people. That’s “free speech”.
- If you don’t have a million dollars, and want to get your message out to millions of people, sometimes you have to do something more creative – like occupy a park. In order to do that, some practical things are necessary, like tents. Without tents, it is not possible to occupy a park. If the occupation is a critical part of the message, then banning tents has the chilling effect of banning free speech.
“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
It’s a dearth of public participation that has been a problem, which is alsoat the heart of Occupy Wall Street. We don’t need rules that inhibit public participation – we need rules that encourage it. And last time I checked, city ordinances don’t trump the Constitution.
UPDATE: From the comments, a suggestion by Alexis: “I wonder if they painted the tents with messages, if the government could still use the ‘tents aren’t part of free speech’ argument.” Shall we try that out in the field and see if it works?
Background on Citizens United and corporate campaign cash:
- A cute graphic video explanation, “The Story of Citizens United – Why Democracy Only Works When People Are In Charge“ from the folks who brought us “The Story of Stuff”
- A basic explanation of at Wikipedia
- A complex explanation at SCOTUSblog.
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More Serious posts about Occupy Wall Street:
- Are Occupy Wall Street’s tents free speech? NYC Mayor Bloomberg says no
- Anatomy of a Victory: Occupy Wall Street Wins a Big One
- DON’T close your Citibank account today. They’re arresting people
- Going to an OWS protest tomorrow? Read this EFF guide to your cellphone sercurity & rights
- Evicted! Mayor Bloomberg brings enhanced interrogation techniques to OWS
- Why are they lying about OWS – and why are they getting away with it?
- Police brutality catapults OWS into the mainstream media
More FUN posts about Occupy Wall Street:
- Lemony Snicket explains Occupy Wall Street to those who are confused
- Calvin and Hobbes explain OWS
- Occupy Sesame Street!
- Why we occupy: The Story of Citizens United – Why Democracy Only Works When People Are In Charge
More Occupy Wall Street resources:
- Find your local occupation at Occupy Together – now planned for more than 1,000 cities! | Twitter |Facebook
- Atlanta: website | Twitter| Livestream |Facebook
- Boston: website | twitter | yfrog | Livestream |Facebook
- Dallas: website | Twitter| Livestream |Facebook
- Los Angeles: Website | Twitter| Livestream |Facebook | Youtube
- New York: website | Twitter| Livestream |Facebook
- Portland: Website | Twitter|Livestream |Facebook
- San Francisco: Website | Twitter|Livestream |Facebook
- Seattle: Livestream (Video) | website | Twitter |Facebook
- Information about making donations can be found here: nycga.cc/donate