A recent post by Megan McArdle made some good points about how disturbing OWS’s views and behavior have become:
…this weekend, at the Americans for Prosperity dinner…Occupy DC decided that it would be a good idea to blockade the attendees into the DC convention center…
What’s more disturbing, however, is that my reading, and private conversations, have uncovered a number of people who think this is all right…
I am shocked that anyone would make this argument. This is outrageous. I don’t know any people on the left who would think that this behavior were “non-violent” if it were, say, aimed at abortion clinics. It’s bad enough that many of the occupiers seem to put as little thought as possible into the space they share with many fellow citizens. A sizeable number of them now seem to have decided that physical intimidation is a legitimate tactic with which to express their rage and frustration.
Occupy Wall Street and many other leftists tend to see their causes as the Vitally Important New Civil Rights Movement (TM) of the day, justifying the use of tactics from the tumultuous 1960′s and 1970′s in political movements in 2011. Sometimes, they make this point explicitly (such as how gay is the new black), but other times they seem to act like they can do whatever the want because their cause is just.
As I wrote back in September, my generation seems not ti realize that civil disobedience entails opposing an unjust law by breaking it. In doing so, the protester benefits his cause by taking the punishment to call attention to its injustice and gain sympathy. Civil disobedience does not mean, as Team OWS and many others of my generation believe, that you can do whatever you want as long as you are sufficiently self-righteous about it.
They also seem not to understand that sit-ins and similar forms of civil disobedience were particularly appropriate during the civil right movement because not being allowed to sit certain places was a key policy they were actually protesting. Simply asserting the right to “occupy” any space, disrupt any event, block traffic, or trespass, vandalize, or defecate on any home, business, or public place is either “civil disobedience” against property rights in general, or against the very idea that laws apply to them.
Combine this with their use of numbers and political power to partially protect them from the enforcement of the law, and what we have is not civil disobedience: it is low-grade political violence against order in general. This is not surprising coming from the anarchist OWS movement, but it should be surprising to those who believe that OWS is merely about the richest Americans having too much money.
It is vital that we as a society have views about political etiquette that treats political speech and acts the same regardless of their content. To manipulate the right to protest to allow certain views but not others is dangerous and un-American.
Liberals like the idea of putting themselves in others’ shoes. Popular redistributionist philosopher John Rawls proposed that everyone evaluate a distributional system as if they did not know where in the new order they would be, so I will adapt that strategy into a system for OWS-sympathizing liberals to determine which protest tactics are out of bounds.
McArdle makes an interesting point when comparing OWS to the more extreme branches of the anti-abortion movement, the most significant example of a rightist movement with a record of civil disobedience and other illegal tactics. The left is particularly interested in using the law against anti-abortion protesters. In 1994, the Democrats passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (last seen on this blog demonstrating the hypocrisy of MSA 11 supporters), which made it a federal civil rights violation (in addition, typically, to state or local crimes such as trespassing) to interfere with abortion clinics by means of sit-ins and other obstructive tactics.
Thus, I propose to liberals the following paradigm for protest etiquette: If a hypothetical Occupy Planned Parenthood movement were to use the tactic in question, would you want them arrested? If so they should declare the OWS tactic in question to be out of bounds.