Politics & Policy

Is the Tide Turning for OWS?

Local residents abandon political sympathies in favor of law and order.

With a little help from the residents of Lower Manhattan and a little more from the denizens of Occupy Wall Street’s tent city, significant parts of Community Board 1 (CB1) and the New York State legislature seem finally to have realized that they have been had.

“We have had twelve meetings,” one member said last night during a CB1 session in City Hall, “and now we’ve given up.” It is about time. To most clear-thinking people, it has been painfully obvious for some time that the powers that be have credulously indulged a group that is simply playing games with the democratic process. Now those powers may have caught on, too.

#ad#One resident summed it up perfectly: “This is about the law. They have been given a waiver for too long.” Indeed so, and they are reveling in it. Channeling John Adams, he made the compelling case that whether or not our elected representatives empathize with OWS is wholly irrelevant in a nation of laws and not men. “In this country, we do not get to pick and choose when and where the law is enforced,” he said. Unlike at the last such meeting, the sentiment resonated; it was generally conceded that previous resolutions at both the state and community-board levels — which routinely started with a statement of support and a reiteration of fealty to the First Amendment — were a big mistake. “We shouldn’t have expressed any political position” was the regretful consensus of the board.

Next, the protesters’ trump card was reexamined. Previously, at any mention of the First Amendment, OWS’s opponents would scatter. Yesterday evening, the issue was discussed seriously. There is no right of “occupation” included in the Bill of Rights, nor does a desire to protest accord a right to take over private property, or disregard the laws of the land. They couldn’t march into Barnes & Noble and take it over for a month with impunity. At the October 20 community-board meeting, the city’s elected representatives were blindly fawning over Occupy Wall Street’s claims to be exercising their rights. Now there is talk also of responsibilities, and it is very much welcome.

It is obvious to anyone who has spent time down in Zuccotti Park that “the law” is not of paramount concern to those in the commune. OWS’s sophomoric representatives will pay lip service to diffuse discussions about community relations and compliance with the law, but they broadly presume their cause to be above it. Those who consider themselves the vanguard of the revolution are, entirely logically given that conceit, unconcerned with the niceties of the society whose institutions they consider it imperative they overthrow, and those who regard the commune as a microcosmic blueprint for a brave new world respond to all questions by referring to their own “institutions.”

Thus we see the nauseating spectacle of rapes being reported not to the police, but to the “Security Working Group,” which hands down internal punishments to offenders. According to activist Channing Kehoe, those guilty of assault are punished by having their blankets taken away. American civil society does not include the option to opt out of the laws of the land, but that is precisely what Occupy Wall Street has done. Their “negotiations” are simply taqiyya for the secular Left. Once upon a time, we called such behavior “secession.”

There is increasing concern that the authorities have made a rod for their own backs. “Are we seriously suggesting that if a jihadist or neo-Nazi group moved in, they would have been indulged like this?” asked a community-board member pointedly. “Or the Klan!” interjected another. Meanwhile, the chairman worried about the precedent: “If any other group moves in in the future, would we be able to evict them, given the example we have set?” His ashen expression answered his own question.

At the last meeting, as I reported, “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.” This time, each took it in turns to express disappointment, concern, and even anger. The rebels have lost their enablers.

“It’s a crime scene down there, and it’s attracting all of the worst people in this city,” said a board member. “We’re hearing reports of rapes, assaults, violence, drug use. The mentally ill are assembling. It’s a public hazard.” There is also concern for businesses. “At this rate, they’re not going to make it through the Christmas season,” the chair of the Small Business Committee said, bluntly. He mentioned Mark Epstein, owner of the Milk Street Café, by name. “This is a new business and he’s not going to make it. It’s an outrage. After all of the economics problems with the loss of the World Trade Center, this is too much to take.”

And then there are the safety concerns. The first half of the meeting was taken up in earnest discussion of a temporary bike path, with particular focus on pedestrian safety, and then by the problem of food carts blocking fire hydrants on Water Street. These are worthwhile discussions for a community board, no question, but they pale in comparison to the problems posed by the “occupation.” “Big, unmarked packages” are being delivered to the park, “with nobody checking their contents,” it was noted. This in an area which — as a result of its proximity to World Trade Center 4, and the Freedom Tower — is on high alert, and in which random searches of large containers is the norm.

This morning, there are widespread reports that Mayor Bloomberg is finally losing patience with the camp. Judging by what I heard in City Hall yesterday evening, he is not alone.

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

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