Friday, September 28, 2012

Case dismissed: Why the charges against Occupy Chicago being dropped is just the beginning.

It'd be really easy to go on a celebratory rant about how fighting the law and winning (which I've already done all over the social medias), but after my (and 90 of my closest friends) got our cases dismissed for exercising our right to public assembly and free speech, after I submitted a petition to the mayor the night before we were arrested asking him to respect the protesters' first amendment rights, after the chanting and cheering and collective nights in jail, after the nearly year between the arrest and the decision, I'm still pretty pissed off.  And everyone else should be too.

Just looking at what happened on its face should be enough to get our blood boiling.  It was a fairly cut and dry case- people assembled peacefully, and a law that is selectively enforced was used to stop that assembly.  A constitutional right was denied, and people went to jail because of it.  For all of the freedom loving and constitution praising that goes on with people of all political stripes, this is pretty fucked up.  It's not just an example of how Chicago in particular, but the country as a whole, tried to stop a protest because they didn't like it, it's an example of how while people were going to jail illegally, the nation as a whole debated whether or not to take the protests seriously.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter if it was Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party.  If it was GLAAD or the KKK.  We aren't a country founded on a common idea of what is right or a shared belief of how we can solve our problems.  We're a country that is founded on civil debate and balancing of beliefs in order to reach a national stability.  This is undermined every time we look the other way as basic, constitutionally guaranteed rights are taken, even for just one day, away from people trying to be active in civil discourse. 

We have a problem looking at politics as a thing we can actively participate in.  It's a side show that relies on gaffs and pandering to keep us entertained as we pick and choose between one part or the other, where the only states that voting really counts or means anything are swing states.  If you vote republican in Illinois, for example, you're throwing your vote at a giant blue monster and hoping that the numbers will increase the GOPs spending in two years for conservative voters in the near north suburbs.  You're hoping to send a senator or representative, so you elect Joe Walsh because, hey, he's basically on your team.  We do the bare minimum and think that we're taking part. 

Because the deck is stacked against the ordinary citizens.  The closest we get to having an active voice is when we go to town hall meetings and ask a question that gets a politically safe answer.  We don't have the money to smear the candidates' faces all over the sides of billboards or on prime time TV, so the politicians play to the ones who can shovel out the cash.  This is why people protest.  This is why angry citizens take to the street, blocking traffic and risking arrest.  Because it's the only way to actually make one's voice heard.  You make enough noise, and they have to look at you.

But the rest of the electorate sits back and wonders about why the protesters can't just work inside the system.  Form a political party and have their needs met.  Why they have to camp out overnight or bring a loaded gun to a rally (mind you: if you bring a loaded gun to a political rally, you're being a huge douche. Though, the same can be said for a lot of the anarchists I met in jail.). Schedules and apathy, laziness or being ill-informed, un-decidedness or a conflict with the means or message stop participation and start to churn the populous' stomachs, starts to make people believe that they shouldn't even be out there.  And then, when three hundred people in Chicago go to jail, and a year later there arrests are proved unconstitutional, no one really gives a shit because they've either forgotten why they were there, or didn't care if they got arrested in the first place.

Are there limits to exercising your first amendment rights?  Did the director of Innocence of the Muslims go too far?  Is there a time or place where assembly shouldn't be held?  Should the New York Times or Wikileaks be allowed to publish classified information?  Is there a way to balance out doing something for the public good while still looking out for the private citizen?  What am I even talking about at this point? 

What I'm trying to get at here is that this isn't a moment to be celebrating that Rahm was wrong and we are free.  This is a time to be pissed off that we were ever prevented from using our basic rights.  This is a time to remember why each of us, individually, was in that park those nights.  It's a time to not be blinded by the current back and forth political blather and remember that there are solutions out there that aren't determined by who's red and who's blue.  It's a time to remember that a mayor who can't honor the constitution shouldn't have a second term.