Politics & Policy

Residents vs. Occupiers

The two groups square off at a meeting in Lower Manhattan.

Outside City Hall, the crowd waited patiently on the sidewalk. A man wearing an Occupy Wall Street button asked politely for a show of hands: “How many of the people here are from the occupation?” he asked. “I’m just trying to get a number.”

Five or six people put up their hands, although they needn’t have bothered. You could have spotted them a mile away. One wore a Che Guevara badge, another a comically oversized British Royal Mail jacket. A third was handing out 9/11 “truth” fliers and claimed to be running for the Senate. They had been standing around talking earnestly about Hugo Chávez and Michael Moore and the “great South American socialist experiment,” whatever that might be. The word “revolution” was thrown around with abandon.

#ad#But on the 19th floor, inside the New York State Assembly room, it became obvious that many in the crowd had been less than honest as to their intentions and provenance. What was supposed to be a meeting of residents of Lower Manhattan had, in the words of one gentleman, “been pretty much occupied as well.” Residents were outnumbered by occupiers three-to-one.

There was an opening statement by a suit-wearing, well-spoken representative of the OWS movement, a statement that demonstrated a level of self-indulgence that would have made a college freshman blush: “I want to represent the desires of the drummers to have their voices heard through their drums, drumming down Wall Street.” Then, some of the members of Community Board One took turns to make brief speeches. With the exception of one woman, who spoke movingly of the Zuccotti Park area having been “under siege” for ten years, each endorsed the OWS movement. “You won’t find many One Percenters in here,” one member joked, to applause. “Welcome to our community,” said his neighbor.

“We support your First Amendment rights” was a common refrain. But nobody bothered to point out that the protesters’ right to protest was not the issue up for discussion; instead, the meeting had been called to “strike a balance” between protester and resident, to read a resolution about OWS passed by the Community Board, and to hear from OWS’s leadership (insofar as it exists) how the protesters planned to make sure that local regulations were respected. “They have to have some parameters,” said member Trisha Joyce, in a rare moment of focus. Given some of the testimony from the few actual residents in the room, one would hope so.

Then came the speeches — one hundred of them in total. Each speaker got one minute, a restriction that was well enforced. Well under half of the people who spoke were local residents. As if nervously aware of this, there were a few comical attempts made by OWSers who have moved in to Zuccotti Park to claim residency by virtue of occupation. One even told me afterwards that, as he spoke for “the 99 percent,” he could make his own rules — that’s “democracy,” you see? A younger resident who used his minute eloquently to complain that his quality of life was being ruined, argued against this conceit well: “What does a ‘good neighbor’ policy actually even mean? My neighbors pay rent and treat my family with respect. They don’t shout at me on my way to work. You are not my neighbors.”

To listen to the tirades of some of those involved with the “occupation,” one would get the impression that the United States was a fascist nation, replete with a police force enamored of brutality. It was clearly lost on these types that they had been invited into a government building in order to be indulged by a sympathetic, democratically elected assembly, and were being afforded the opportunity to justify what is effectively trespassing on private property. There was no mention that the laws that govern New York City parks are being wantonly waived in their favor, nor that various city ordinances are all but being ignored. Judging by the attitude of Community Board One, this is unlikely to change any time soon. 

— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.

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