A New York judge ruled yesterday that the City of New York has the right to clear Zuccotti Park of encampment equipment. In his ruling, New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman said protesters "have not demonstrated that they have a First Amendment right" to remain in the park, with their sleeping gear "to the exclusion of the owner's reasonable rights ... or to the rights to public access of others who might wish to use the space safely."
The protesters are now able to return to the park, but no tents or sleeping gear will be permitted.
The park now has become a symbol of national anger against multinational corporations and banks and the small financial elite that runs them. A good part of that symbol is intrinsically connected with the “occupation” of the park by protesters. Take away the tents, as the Bloomberg administration is fully aware, and you dilute that symbol. As I mentioned in an earlier post, that probably wouldn’t stop the protests from continuing in other forms or in other locations, but it might disperse the locus of attention.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I’m confident, however, that there are still people in this country who value the First Amendment and understand that citizens have a right—in fact, a duty—to protest against injustice. Such protests may be inconvenient for some, but it’s the very right we have to express our outrage that separates the United States from completely autocratic regimes where this right does not exist.