By Naomi Wolf
When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the order to temporarily remove the protesters from Zuccotti Park and rid it of all tents, books and signs, he invoked “safety and public health,” although the safety and health of the protesters at the hands of the NYPD turned out to be far more of a danger. He confiscated the protesters’ generators — though generators are used in every New York City street fair. In his statement, he insisted that there is “no absolute right” to First Amendment freedom of assembly — which is patently untrue — although later in the afternoon Judge Michael Stallman ruled that the city’s actions were reasonable restrictions. Instead of imminent safety issues, the timing of the crackdown was far more likely to do with the fact that the Occupy movement was planning something media-savvy at last: a “carnival” on Wall Street on Thursday in which protesters would telegenically tell their individual stories of hardship, job loss and disenfranchisement. It is that event that posed a “safety risk” — to the efforts of Wall Street and the Bloomberg administration to manage the narrative.
Where does Occupy Wall Street — and the satellite movements in Oakland, Denver and Portland and other cities which have also recently faced night-time police raids — go from here? I have argued that the organizers need to become a major electoral block and make the case that they will get out the vote for leaders who support citizens’ rights to First Amendment expression (especially during those critical Congressional elections) and that they will call for the defeat of city leaders who brutalize and suppress citizens. They could even lead a recall drive for abusive city mayors. Dozens of city and state leaders, such as California’s Gray Davis, have been successfully recalled by voters since 1911. New York State does not have a legislative recall mechanism, but Occupy can put it on the ballot through a referendum. And Cuomo can recall Mayor Bloomberg by presenting charges. So Occupy Wall Street has to put pressure on Cuomo by showing that they will organize to get out the vote for him or against him based on thousands of registered voters.
Occupy has an ill-advised resistance in some quarters to engaging with the voter registration process, but that may be changing. They are terribly vulnerable now without electoral organization and can expect only further violence and aggression. But if they register voters in recall drives and start to field their own candidates, they will send a powerful message to cities’ leaders across the country that suppressing constitutional rights is a political death knell.
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