Author's Note: It feels tremendous to be posting something on this blog again. It's been nearly two months, but I love having this forum to air my beefs, etc. Thanks for reading!
“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.”
When the Founding Fathers gathered to sign the US Constitution in 1787, it was done with the knowledge that they would quickly add a Bill of Rights as amendments to that document. People like Thomas Jefferson had wanted it inserted into it even before it was ratified, but the fact of the matter is that they got it in there quickly, and rights like the ones above, listed as the First Amendment to the Constitution, were added in short order.
Fast forward to the present time, and you see people in the streets of Chicago who are taking full advantage of that provision in the document that has governed our country for centuries. People are taking to the streets to protest various things around the site of the NATO Summit, whether that be anti-war protests, voicing anger at the banking industry, or demanding that curbs be made on the notion of free trade agreements.
All of these things are worthy of discussion, whether you agree with the stances of the protesters or not, but the fact of the matter is that what is going on in Chicago isn't inciting some type of public debate. Rather, it (or, to be more accurate, the coverage of it) has transformed things into a gong show, a circus showcasing the far left-factions of the Occupy movement, and the people of the city (and the rest of the nation, for that matter) have grown to resent the people participating in these demonstrations.
Whether it is throwing bottles and rocks at police officers, damaging property, or in general causing a ruckus wherever they go, these people seem to be forgetting the part of the amendment that mentions “peaceably to assemble.” And that is a shame.
There are a couple of thoughts that go through my head while reading messages from friends or folks I follow on Twitter saying nasty things about the people who are getting most of the notoriety through these protests. For starters, there is the feeling of acknowledgment that their feelings have merit. Yes, it is incredibly hurtful for me to see a city that I love being treated with such disdain by people who seem like they are in the streets only to break things and express their feelings violently, and that nauseous feeling leaves me nodding in agreement when I see calls for those responsible to be arrested and have the keys to the jail be thrown away.
The second thing I feel is a degree of sympathy for the people who are there to express their first amendment rights according to the letter of the law. There are plenty of people who just have catchy signs who feel a genuine desire to let the government know that they are opposed to Wall Street corporations or the military industrial complex, and their voices are being drowned out by the knuckleheads who think breaking windows and looting stores qualifies as enjoying American freedom.
The third thing I feel is anger at the generalizations that are often made about those who are in the Windy City. The common refrain when people are defending protesters is that critics should not let a couple of rotten apples spoil the bunch, and there is a degree of truth to that old adage right now. Yes, the media is focusing on the sensational aspects of the story, because there is very little to be gained by showing people peacefully marching down a street holding signs and chanting. Stories of people menacing police officers in front of the Art Institute and clashing with police officers at the corner of Michigan and Cermak makes for much better copy, and TV and print journalists are thriving on that stuff. Unfortunately, it paints a picture of everything going on as a big shitshow, when in reality it probably is a minority of people who are just looking to cause trouble, and a majority who just want their voices heard.
Finally, and apart from the reactions I have to my friends and acquaintances who are critical of the spectacle that is going on, there is the notion that the Occupy movement is a bunch of degenerate hippies who would, in the words of someone on Twitter, “scatter more quickly at the sight of job applications being thrown at them than a hail of rubber bullets.” It may seem convenient to paint with a broad brush and say that Occupy protesters are just lazy lowlifes who don't feel like getting jobs and would rather suckle at the teat of government largesse, rather than acknowledge that the movement is comprised of people from all types of financial and employment situations.
To me, it seems as foolish to do that as it does when my fellow liberals take the broad brush out of the hands of conservatives and try to say that all members of the Tea Party (notice that I have capitalized both movements out of respect for their stances) are hideous racists who are convinced that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim and that only white men should have rights. That kind of nonsensical talk makes for great fodder when revving people's engines in advance of an election, but the reality is that most Tea Partiers believe in smaller government and fewer taxes, while most people in the Occupy movement believe in less government intervention in foreign conflicts and more government regulation over the banking and investment industries. That doesn't fit on a bumper sticker, and it tastes bitter coming from the mouths of political commentators on TV, but it is reality, and that is a lot more potent a force than the fiction the media tries to shove down our throats.
To sum up, the protests in Chicago are more complex than most people like to believe. Yes, the security precautions and people who are there to cause trouble are both tremendous pains in the ass, and I don't envy the citizens of the city (or the people who are going to have to commute there Monday) for a second.
What I would encourage you all to do, however, would be to think before you type that facebook status condemning every protester in the streets of the city as some jobless lowlife with nothing better to do than destroy things. Remember the people there who take the tenets of the law that our Founding Fathers put together as gospel, and are simply there to make sure that the leaders of the free world know that they aren't satisfied with the way that they are doing things.
Yes, it is easy to just make blanket statements, but I implore you to avoid that temptation, and to realize that expressing your right to free speech does sometimes mean a right to organize a protest to lend voice to your cause. Yes, it may inconvenience you, but so long as it's peaceful and is focused on that goal, then we should encourage it, not belittle it.