Mayor Bloomberg is planning Draconian new measures to crack down on what he calls the "disruption" caused by the protesters at Zuccotti Park, and he is citing neighbors' complaints about noise and mess. This set of talking points, and this strategy, is being geared up as well by administrations of municipalities around the nation in response to the endurance and growing influence of the Occupation protest sites. But the idea that any administration has the unmediated option of "striking a balance," in Bloomberg's words, that it likes, and closing down peaceful and lawful disruption of business as usual as it sees fit is a grave misunderstanding -- or, more likely, deliberate misrepresentation -- of our legal social contract as American citizens.
Some kinds of disruption in a free republic are not "optional extras" if the First Amendment governs the land, as it does ours, and are certainly not subject to the whims of mayors or local police, or even DHS. Just as protesters don't have a blanket right to do everything they want, there is absolutely no blanket right of mayors or even of other citizens to be free from the effect of certain kinds of disruption resulting from their fellow citizens exercising First Amendment rights. That notion, presented right now by Bloomberg and other vested interests, of a "disruption-free" social contract is pure invention -- just like the flat-out fabrication of the nonexistent permit cited in my own detention outside the Huffington Post Game Changers event this last Tuesday, when police told me, without the event organizers' knowledge and contrary to their intentions, that a private entity had "control of the sidewalks" for several hours. (In fact, the permit in question -- a red carpet event permit! -- actually guarantees citizens' rights to walk and even engage in political assembly on the streets if they do not block pedestrian traffic, as the OWS protesters were not.)
I want to address the issue of "disruption," as Bloomberg is sending this issue out as a talking point brought up on Keith Olbermann's Coundown last night: the neighbors around Zuccotti Square, says Bloomberg, are feeling "disrupted" by the noise and visitors to the OWS protest, so he is going to crack down to "strike a balance" to address their complaints. Other OWS organizers have let me know that the Parks Department and various municipalities are trying to find a way to eject other protesters from public space on a similar basis of argument.
Please, citizens of America—please, OWS—do not buy into this rhetorical framework: an absolute "right to be free of disruption" from First Amendment activity does not exist in a free republic. But the right to engage in peaceable disruption does exist.
Read the rest at Huffington Post Politics.