Now that the Occupy movement has entered its second month, I hope the occupiers are learning some basic lessons in how to build and maintain a civil society. As each encampment grows and matures (admittedly a relative term), its denizens have come to realize that they need to develop ways to function as a group. Learning to do this without trampling each other is causing them to develop the very institutions they claim to despise.
Almost immediately after establishing an encampment, Occupiers usually designate certain people to provide medical care. A health-care system. How will the residents react when the medical providers make decisions about who gets cared for first? Who decides, the doctors or the whole group?
Places have been set aside for reading material to be exchanged, both for entertainment and for study. Libraries. How will they determine what type of material is appropriate, or whether it is too offensive to be included? Would they welcome a copy of Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Some old copies of Penthouse magazine, maybe? If not, who makes the decision to exclude them?
Some thefts have taken place within the encampments. As a result, small safes have been brought in to safeguard cash and other valuables. Banks. Who paid for the safes? Did everybody have to kick in a bit? Who holds the key?
Each day there are “teach-ins,” where group members can learn about subjects that interest them, or that the group has decided they should know. Schools. I wonder who will decide what is taught. What if someone teaches something that someone else finds wrong or inappropriate? What if an anarchist left-libertarian held a teach-in on Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism?
Most ironic of all is that, at a few sites around the country, there have been fights and even stabbings and sexual assaults, leading some groups to designate people to keep watch over the others’ safety. Police. When these people see someone being assaulted, will they intervene? Will they reach out to stop the fist from swinging? If the person then turns the fist on them, are they allowed to hit back? And how hard is too hard? What sorts of weapons are they prepared to counter with?
These are all questions that our forefathers took generations to sort out. From Aristotle and Plato to Adams, Burke, and even Marx, we have argued about the size, shape, and powers of the institutions that compose modern society. That conversation continues today, and the Occupiers are part of the discussion.
If the Occupiers learn these basic civics lessons from their experience; if they agree upon the need for stable institutions, and figure out how to accept peacefully (if not without argument) the decisions made by their society; if they learn that simply camping in a park and saying “no” doesn’t work; then all the expense, aggravation and annoyance will have been worth it.
Who knows, maybe their version will even work better.
— Robert W. Ciccolo Jr. is a captain in the Boston Police Department. The opinions expressed here are entirely his own.