Sunday, September 30, 2012

It's a Free Country...isn't it?

Last week a Cook County judge threw out convictions against 92 Occupy protesters in Chicago, saying the arrests were unconstitutional and that the police denied these citizens their First Amendment rights. The Chicago police had used a "curfew" standard as justification for the arrests, but the judge saw this as a smokescreen since the police routinely choose not to enforce curfew at other public gatherings, such as President Obama's 2008 victory celebration. Mayor Emmanuel called this an "apples to oranges" comparison, but where should the line be drawn, and does every person get an equal voice?   

According to Constitutional law expert Gregory Magarian, the government routinely "retains the power to limit the 'time, place, and manner' of expressive activity in public forums" but, "in practice, these limits [swallow] First Amendment rights whole." Where should the lines be drawn? When might the government reasonably restrict access to public property? What would our society lose without public space to air dissenting opinions?   

“The Occupy protests," according to Magarian, should lead us to take a hard look at how our legal system protects — or fails to protect — meaningful opportunities for political dissent.”

A final thought: the 99% figure in the poster above refers to non-millionnaires. While one percent of Americans are millionaires, an incredible 50% of Congress-men and -women are millionaires. Is this disparity worthy of protest? To what extent do the rules created by the rich favor the rich? For the purposes of this post, I want to limit that response to the First Amendment. Are attempts at limiting the Constitutionally protected rights of speech and assembly really a way of silencing the have-nots? Does everyone in our democracy have equal access to voice their opinions?   

24 comments:

Derek Hawley said...

It seems to me illogical to declare that all rich Congressmen vote for laws favoring the rich. By that argument, all white Congressmen would vote in favor of racism, which is clearly not the case.

Furthermore, even if 50% of Congressmen were voting for laws that favor the rich, while the other half voted for laws favoring the "99%", it would still remind me of the way the Senate was set up, where every state, no matter the size, had equal representation. If one was going to make the argument that sheer numbers are the deciding factor, at least two dozen states would like to disagree.

Sarah Henzlik said...

The "Occupy" protests have always really interested me since they began assembling last year. I think the reason they are protesting, to end economic greed, inequality and corruption, is valid, but sometimes they do seem to step out of line. Despite this, I do think the Cook County judge made the right decision to throw the case out. Legislators today do seem, as Mr. OC said, to represent the upper, upper class. Could it be that they are in a bubble and govern that way? I hope not, but it does have a compelling case in that Constitutional law expert G. Magarian saw how the government routinely limits first amendment guarantees. Based on these figures, I think that as of right now, everyone in our democracy does not have equal opportunities to voice opinions or dissent. I hope this will change, and that the 99% gets more of a voice in the future.

Lily Stein said...

In my opinion, the line should be drawn when the safety concerns of the public outweigh the importance of protecting free speech. That is, if safety is at all questioned, then the protesting should be stopped. As long as it is a nonviolent protest, people deserve to have their First Amendment rights protected no matter what. Without public space to air dissenting opinions, these rights would be completely lost. Unfortunately, individually I do not think that the 99% of people who are not millionaires really do not have a strong voice unless they all come together. Therefore, everyone in our "democracy" does not have equal access to voice opinions. A person in the one percentile of millionaires has much more power in our society than those lost in the 99 percentile. They have much more access to speak out and influence others, which, like Sarah said, will hopefully change in the future.

JAKEYWITZ said...

While money may influence some of the acts of congress, especially those pertaining to corporation regulations, I think that the voice of Americans is more powerful than ever. Not only did the Occupy protests happen, but every action and event was relayed to the rest of the world via the internet. This caused more and more Occupy protests around the world. If anybody remembers, the SOPA and PIPA laws regarding internet regulation were heavily countered by internet users campaigning against the laws.
Regarding whether or not the protests posed a safety issue, I think that traffic inconveniences are not enough of a reason to stop the right to assembly. Perhaps the inability to quickly drive adds to the impact the protests have.

OC said...

Thanks for these early comments. I have amended my original post a little to clarify the ambiguity Derek noted. I never "declared" (all) the rich voted (only) for the rich, however. I ASKED if they vote in a way to protect the interest of money! (Increasingly they may HAVE to in order to get re-elected). Regarding the second point: does our country have a history of white people voting in ways that favor white people? Hmmm...let me think.

Zach Peltz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Hoying said...

The congress is so skewed towards the upperclass because the people with the most influence tend to be people from wealthier backgrounds, and in order to be in congress, you obviously need influence. I don't see that changing anytime in the near future. However, I do think that the lower and middle classes of America can still have a good representation in congress. We would hope that many of the congress men and women do realize that the majority of Americans are not millionaires, so they would tailor laws to favor most Americans. I think that many of them do, they just need to hear what the lower and middle classes want. Like Lily said, they only way most Americans can be heard is by coming together. Therefore, by limiting their first amendment rights, it would silence the have nots by taking away their voice.

Christine Ryan said...

I also agree with Lily, that if pretests are unsafe, then they should be stopped, and peaceful protests. As many others have touched on, it is very expensive to run for congress, so people with more money are more likely to be elected, therefore having more influence in our government. Additionally, people with more money tend to have more power, and have an easier time making their voices heard. I do not think this is going to change. It might not be fair, but it is how our world works. I think the Occupy protests have the right idea, in that for people with less money to be heard, they need to work together. If they could figure out where to draw the line, and not cause any unsafe situations, I think their voices might be heard better

Noah Quinn said...

I agree with Lily, and Zach that the First Amendment right to assembly should only be limited if it becomes harmful/violent to others. Unfortunately, police officers will not always respond to such situations in the most constitutionally just ways, as we've seen with several arrests of these Occupy protestors. Whether its the need to show authority, Police officers have always had much difficulty dealing with protestors and how to act justly.

SeanSP said...

I would like to point out that the first amendment protects the right for "people peaceably to assemble." Harmful/violent protests would not be protected, so stopping them would not be limiting constitutional rights. However, as I understand, violence was not the reason these protests were stopped. I think the judge was correct in dismissing the charges.As stated before, the police did not enforce the curfew for other events. Limiting the rights of people simply because the are showing dissent seems unconstitutional.

Lily Schroeder said...

Sean brings up an interesting point of having the right to "peaceably assemble" under the first amendment. Therefore, could peoples right to other things be taken away if violence came into hand? Like Lily said earlier, a line should be drawn when safety comes into question of the people and their right to free speech. I, like many of my classmates, agree that it was the right choice for the judge to drop the charges. The 99% of people have to somehow voice their opinions to the outweighing 1%-- how could they accomplish this goal if their protesting of Occupy Chicago is ruined by police charging them for curfew violations? I think democracy in our country is not respected according to its own definition. The 1% of congress-men-and-women may have it much easier voicing their thoughts to other leaders and big names and through media than the other 99% of the average population. I, too, hope the 99% will come through in the future and reveal their own voice.

Heidi Blumenthal said...

I found this blog post very interesting, and since there are so many comments, it was fascinating to me to see a repeated theme. The one major theme that I have seen over and over again in these comments is the idea that the Congressmen are wealthy upper class people who are serving all Americans. Zach said that during elections candidates are trying to win support and votes from the wealthy in order to get more funding because as many others said, running for Congress is expensive! But I want to take this one step further. Not only are these Congressmen funded by the rich, they also often vote for laws favoring the rich because the rich are the ones who are supporting their campaigns. If the Congressmen want to stay in office, they will represent the 1% of America that is giving them money.

Unknown said...
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Olivia James said...

I don't see any reason why the protesters should be stopped. As many people have said, as long as it isn't breaching on the safety of anyone, people should be able to voice their opinions.
While I fully support the rights of these protesters and they should not be charged for voicing their beliefs, there's another thing I find interesting about these protests. Their main slogan seems pretty inaccurate to the point they're trying to make here. The protesters are trying to single out the 1% of millionaires in this country, to show that they get much more benefits and are unfairly favored with the law. I just don't think it's that simple. 99% is almost the whole population, so people in this percentage group range from extremely poor to extremely upper class, though not quite millionaire status. The majority of those protesting are probably not in the latter group, so I highly doubt that truly 99% of the population is really being voiced here. It just sounds really inaccurate, because this 99% they are talking about has such a huge range.

Maxx Klein said...

A large gathering or a protest seems to be a difficult situation for police control.The Occupy Wall Street movement was at times an angry protest which makes the area difficult to enforce control. The Obama victory was in contrast a peaceful celebration. A protest like the Occupy movement creates a situation of unpredictability. During the NATO summit this year in Chicago, I remember several cases in which some protesters were arrested because of their violent clashes with police. In particular, one clash resulted in a Chicago police officer being stabbed. I am not suggesting that police made the right call by arresting these 92 protesters, but I understand their wanting to seize control while uncertain of the unrest of protestors that could create a violent circumstance.

Andrew Gjertsen said...

Maxx, I agree in the fact that police should take control if the protesting starts to present itself as a riot. In fact, its actually a crime.
This is the definition of an unlawful protest: A meeting of three or more individuals to commit a crime or carry out a lawful or unlawful purpose in a manner likely to imperil the peace and tranquillity of the neighborhood.
The definition presents itself however as a seriously thin line to walk as a police officer. The occupy chicago rioters: A) Are a group of three people or more B) Possibly imperil the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood. In that sense, they are breaking parts of the unlawful protest law.
On the other hand however, it is under their first amendment right to protest. With such laws being so difficult to draw the line between, I feel police officers are battling for control of the protesting situation and laws at the same time.

Maddie said...

I do not think that by arresting these "99%ers," the government will silence the have-nots. Many Americans are not afraid to go against the law to make a statement. The Occupy movement was a peaceful way for many Americans to get involved and make a statement against economic inequality. The fact that 50% of congress-men and -women are millionaires, to me, further defends rationale of the Occupy movement. I do think the disparity is worthy of protest. American men and women used their right to assemble, and I think it made a difference in the way peaceful demonstrations are carried out with social media and how people form can form a community around a cause.

Ellen Lyman said...

As Andrew was saying earlier, some of the parts of the first amendment have lines that are blurry. I think that because the lines are not clearly defined, it allows for the police to bend the rules more easily for some groups but not others. I think that if these lines were clearer, the 1% and the 99% would be treated more alike.

Anna Rowe said...

Freedom of speech is an inherent right given to every American regardless of their socioeconomic class. Therefore, it is confusing statement to make that the 1% are favorably protected under the law. Anyone with a collaborative effort can make their opinions known as long as it doesn't put innocent bystanders in harms way. The moment it crosses the line or becomes violent that is when it deemed necessary for authorities to come in and exert their authority. Personally I believe this comes down to what the media chooses to cover and exploit to make their point.

Alexis B said...

I think that every person does not get an equal voice. I just blogged about this myself. A good example of unequal voices could potentially be the new voter ID laws. If voted into action, the laws would require people to have a photo ID in order to vote to prevent voter fraud. Some say that this could prevent minorities like old people or poor people from voting. If they can't get to a place to buy an ID or can't afford one, they can't vote. In this case, putting strict regulations on how to vote ends up restricting who can vote, which would prove that not everyone has an equal voice.

Jeremy Noskin said...

In response to the 99% poster, I think the rich tend to favor the rich. In this upcoming election, if Mitt Romney is elected president he plans to lower the taxes on the rich. This may have a positive effect by potentially stimulating the economy, but still favors the rich. It is also surprising that Congress is primarily made up of millionaires, but they campaign as "ordinary people that are just like you." To me, the big question is whether these people campaign this way just to win more votes or because they actually have these beliefs. Nevertheless, it seems like laws will continue to favor the rich if the economy does not turn around.

Aj Watkins said...

I agree with Jeremy - the rich try to favor the rich as much as possible. Jeremy's example of lowering taxes on the wealthy is a perfect example of this. Most of the wealthy people in this country are more concerned about buying themselves happiness through material goods, and think that tax dollars are only spent on those who aren't capable of getting a job or are too lazy to get one. Obviously, this is not the case in most instances. The way the economy is going right now is a strong barrier to allowing most people to get a solid-paying job.

The Occupy protests themselves are a whole separate story in my issue. The way I understand the protest is that those who are not millionaires do not believe it is fair they pay as much or more tax than those millionaires. I understand their protest, and I definitely think it is something protected in the First Amendment. The right to assemble is exactly what they are exercising, and I think these arrests take the punishment way too far.

Alana said...

Aj, I do agree that the state the economy is currently in doesn't allow many people in America to get solid paying jobs. But when you said earlier "Most of the wealthy people in this country are more concerned about buying themselves happiness through material goods, and think that tax dollars are only spent on those who aren't capable of getting a job or are too lazy to get one" I would argue that this is not entierly true. Many wealthier people are bothered by the fact that they do not know exactly where their hard earned money goes, is it really helping the poor? And in some cases their are people whom are to lazy to get jobs! So is it fair that a hard working rich person should pay for their needs?

As for the protest I definitely believe that it is protected in the First Amendment rights. In this situation I believe that the police are not doing their job. The police should be making sure that these people have are not having their rights taken away from them. But instead the police seem to be looking for a way to stop the protest, as they did here, when enforcing curfew.

alex wolkoff said...

I agree with Maddie, I do not think that by arresting the 99% protestors, the government will have silenced the have-nots. I would argue that the 99% would be more inclined to protest because they would have more of a reason to want to. However, as Lily mentioned above, the line should definitely be drawn when the protest disrupts the safety of the public. A peaceful protest is by all means allowed, I would even say, encouraged. But, when the protest begins to get out of hand and the safety of the public becomes jeopardized, than direct measures need to be taken, such as the police getting involved. Now, the question becomes what is considered a danger to the public?