The first sign of something called “Occupiers” was in an ad in a little Canadian — that’s right, Canadian — magazine called Adbusters and published in Vancouver, British Columbia. It displayed a picture of the bronze figure of a bull which decorates Wall Street, with a ballet dancer posed on it. The only text said, “What is our one demand? Occupy Wall Street. September 17th, Bring tent.”
And on September 17th, a hundred and fifty people showed, then each day more and more until it peaked at 20,000 physically present on Zuccoti Park in lower Manhattan, and similar demonstrations were spring up all over the country — indeed in other countries, too. What do these crowds do at these meetings? Many of them listen to speeches. Who are the speakers? Anyone who wants to. If you are standing in the crowd for a while and have a sudden urge to support — or opp — something that’s been said, you go to the “stackkeeper,” who adds it to the stack of those who got there before you. When all of them have said their piece, you get to climb up onto whatever they are using for a soapbox.
That is the freest of free speech, but there are handicaps. The police won’t allow electronic microphones. Therefore, when you speak you have the same range as the famous orators of Athens and Rome, and not an inch more. What the Occupiers do when technology is forbidden and the crowd stretches more than a couple of yards away is to use the same technology as was available to Marc Antony eulogizing Caesar. That is, the human voice. Those nearest the speaker turn around and repeat what he said, then the job is repeated by those farther away. It isn’t perfect. People in the fringes are unlikely to get a reliable understanding of what some of the speeches are about. But it is certainly democratic and the police can’t take it away.
The tents and sleeping bags were hauled away in a midnight raid, so that technically the NYPD is not violating the Bill of Rights’ Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly, though clearly the police are going out of their way to make it tough. Still, New York police have been markedly less hostile than those of, say, Berkley, California, where one policeman was filmed strolling down a long line of seated and unresisting Occupiers and methodically directing his pepper spray into their eyes and faces.
(Simultaneously, though not connected, FBI agents in Connecticut moved in and arrested four local police, allegedly for discriminating against Latin-Americans. The policemen were described as “bullies with badges.” Some police certainly deserve that name.)
(Most of this data was gleaned from reports published in the monthly newsletter The Washington Spectator. Each issue features a different subject. $18 for a year’s subscription, at The Public Concern Foundation, P.O. Box 241, Oregon IL 61061.)