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Tim Howe

Tim Howe is a film student and participates in Occupy Boston

October 13th, 2011 1:36 PM

The Right to Remain Silent, An Obligation to Speak Up

The following essay is an account, from my own perspective, on the events of Monday, October 10, 2011, the aftermath of decisions made by peaceful protestors and the right to peaceably assemble. This in no way should be taken as a representation of Occupy Movement as a whole.

The recent controversy brought by the shutting down of the Occupy Boston expansion raises the question: does the government have the right to limit our ability to peaceably assemble?

In the early hours of Tuesday, October 11th, 141 peaceful protesters were arrested for occupying a piece of public property (1). The standoff started when the Occupy Boston movement started accumulating massive support, and quickly began running out of room at their original base of operations in Dewey Square, across from South Station.

On Monday, the overcrowded demonstration of protestors started setting up tents in the most logical place for expansion, the next park down in the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Many of the tents were moved there by Occupants who stayed at the base camp instead of partaking in a march, which amassed over 1,000 people. When the march returned to Dewey Square, many demonstrators were surprised to learn that the camp had expanded.

Immediately, a large police presence grew in the area. Dozens of Boston Police cruisers were circling the area. Soon, the protesters were given an ultimatum: consolidate back to your original location before midnight, or you will be forcibly removed.

Tension grew steadily in the air as night fell upon the camp. The protestors discussed their options and many felt strongly that they must defend their right to peaceably assemble on public property. Strategies were developed on how they would defend their newly acquired land, and some people gave talks and demonstrations on how to remain non-violent during the police raid.

Soon, the streets were lined with hundreds of police officers. Some Boston Police, Transit Police, and the Massachusetts State Police Riot Squad. Shortly after 1:30 AM, the raid began. The defending protesters locked arms and sang songs and chants such as “Solidarity Forever”, and “The people united will never be defeated”. Members of the group, Veterans for Peace stood holding flags in between the invading riot police and the protestors. From a distance, I watched as each of their flags fell to the ground. The police entered the park, arrested anybody who refused to leave and through away tents, food, water and medical supplies of the Occupants. 18 paddy wagons were required to carry away the arrestees.

Our right to peaceably assemble is clearly declared in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, stating, “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting… or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (2). This past Monday, Mayor Menino and Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, together call an action to silence our speech, limit our right to peaceably assemble, and attempted to tell members of the press.

Mayor Menino has publicly announced, “Civil Disobedience will not be tolerated” (1). I find this statement absurd, considering this great nation we live in was founded on the acts of civil disobedience, such as the Boston Tea Party, when citizens of Boston boarded a British ship and discarded all of the tea on board to revolt against taxation without representation. Other acts of civil disobedience, which the mayor would obviously not tolerate, include the Underground Railroad, the Civil Rights movement and the introduction of labor unions, which led to the eradication of child labor (3). Without peaceful acts of non-compliance in our society, we would still have slavery, segregation, and we would still be under the rule of the British Empire.

The biggest problem I have with the mayor’s statement is the use of the word “tolerated”. If he had used the word “supported”, the sentence would have taken on a completely different meaning. Tolerated comes with a heavy undertone of dictatorship and authority. I have never been under the impression that we democratically vote for our dictators, but seeing the way our government has reacted to a strong public outcry for change makes me question the institution which I have put faith in all of my life.

(1) Protester arrests decried, defended
October 12, 2011
By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff 20011, NY Times Co.
http://articles.boston.com/2011-10-12/news/30271721_1_civil-disobedience-protesters-demonstrators

(2) Amendments to the Constitution
September 25, 1789 | First Congress of the United States of America
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
http://www.house.gov/house/Constitution/Amend.html

(3) The Role of Civil Disobedience in Democracy
by Kayla Starr, adapted by Bonnie Blackberry
http://www.civilliberties.org/sum98role.html

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