At what point does power restrict freedom? My area of research has to do with mental health care and the law. I look at what points people who are considered to have lost their grip on consensual reality have their rights and autonomy taken away by the state.
Here with an impending eviction of Harbourside Park we have a conceptually similar situation. A group of people who are perceived as not adhering to a normal way of living are going to be soon faced with a decision. Leave the park, ie normalize, or be confronted with the law and the restrictions that follow from that.
The decision to restrict freedom seems easier to make when a group has been categorized as other; different or abnormal in some way. I think there is something abnormal about what is happening with the Occupy movement. I also think we are at the point where it might be time to consider the virtues of abnormality.
I understand not wanting to participate in Occupy, or ignoring it altogether. We are free to choose. My question is, what is there about the movement to not support? Here as elsewhere, (and I have been to the encampments at Dewey Square in Boston and the womb at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan), I have seen a lot of things. I have seen people motivated to contribute their time and energy to provide food, shelter, and camaraderie in a virtually judgement free setting. I read from Joel Hynes' Straight Razor Days at the Zuccotti Park library. I was violently chased through Manhattan by the riot police for my efforts. Hynes does have a gift for antagonism.
One of the abnormal things about Occupy is that it doesn't matter if you are well-off or poor, formally educated or not, lifestyle-open or whatever you can think of. It doesn't matter how you might live or self-identify, you are a person and are welcome and invited to participate with all the other people participating, and everyone has an equal opportunity to make a contribution. Structurally speaking it's not so much a hatred of power or wealth so much as it doesn't matter that you have power or wealth. It won't give your opinions and perspectives any more weight. If you have something to say, you are welcome to say it and people might agree or disagree. It seems pretty democratic to me, and it speaks volumes that it is abnormal.
While it may be abnormal, it's not a vague thing. It is the participation in an ongoing public conversation about the world we live in. The validity and the need for this ongoing conversation to be happening is legitimized by the threat of eviction. The fact that a group of people in our city who are volunteering time and energy participating in this are soon going to be restricted by the city, with force if need be, is confusing to me. Don't we want people off the couch, away from the TV, talking about important issues that affect everyone, while trying to help people in need? At what point did that become an undesirable thing to the point that force could be used to prevent it?
I don't participate in meetings anymore. I think it's amazing that they happen though, and I fully support them. It's not about agreeing or disagreeing with any particular point being made, it's about the importance of being allowed, of being free, to participate in the world in this kind of way. Why is it that I am free to go down to George Street to get loaded on any night of the week, but I will soon be restricted from participating in a conversation about democracy? I don't understand the underlying set of values that has to be in place for that to be the case.
So, while I have been away from the meetings for a while, I will be at the park when the eviction happens, because I think Occupy is a great use of a public park and they should be free to do it. I wonder if the officers that could be used for an eviction sympathize with Occupy, maybe officers who have been at the wrong end of discrimination, officers who are fed up with seeing crime that comes out of inequality, of laws they have to enforce that don't seem to address underlying social problems that can create cycles of violence, addiction, and fractured communities. If I were a police officer I would want people to be spending their time talking about ways to make the community safer. Who is it exactly that benefits from an end to that conversation? My understanding is that Harbourside Park is cleaner and safer because of the Occupy presence.
It may very well be abnormal for a group of people to have sustained a conversation about democracy down at Harbourside, but I think it's a good kind of abnormal. I think we need to take a serious look at what kinds of things we restrict, discourage, or interrupt, with the use of power and force. Is participating in positive community-building really something we want to discourage? And do we really think the threat and the possible use of force is the way we want to interact with each other?