Friday, November 18, 2011

Privilege Down the Drain

Whenever I write something here, I bother to formulate my ideas and choose my words carefully. It's important to me both not to waste my creative abilities, and to respect whatever time you, the reader, are giving me. Thank you for spending a few moments considering my words.

So I find it sad and, frankly, somewhat immoral, when an actual editor of a printed publication mistakes the privilege of the editorial position for a casual soapbox from which to blab more or less thoughtlessly in the style of morning radio banter. It's really a shame.

What got me going on this was reading an editorial this morning in the Boston Business Journal. I can't believe the editor, George Donnelly, spent more than 10-minutes writing it up. But even if he had spent hours, I doubt the quality of the ideas in his piece would have been much improved. How depressing that such incurious, uncritical ideas come from the pen of an editor!

If you don't want to read the whole BBJ editorial, in a nutshell, it asserts that it is wrong to allow the Occupy Boston protest to continue in public because it may lead to "politically less desirable" groups subsequently also being allowed to protest both in public, and at length. It displays a terrible ignorance of the 1st Amendment (the law of our land), a fearsome dose of Fake Patriotism (my own, personal nemesis), and an unfortunate amount of misinformation about the roots of the protest itself (the least worrisome part of this editorial).

It's embarrassing that the Boston Business Journal publishes editorials that make it so clear that its leadership doesn't support the fundamental rights of the U.S. Constitution for *all* citizens--not just the ones who agree with the BBJ editor's personal outlook on life. When one has the great, personal fortune of publishing an opinion-based editorial to be read by thousands, it's really a shame to squander it on silly rhetoric. Editor Donnelly isn't Howie Carr, for heaven's sake [note: Carr is something like Boston's print version of Rush Limbaugh]. Doesn't Donnelly feel any responsibility at all to his readers, or even to his own intellect, to craft an editorial based on factual assessments, critical thinking, and some understanding of our laws, rights, and the actual players involved in the suit at hand, rather than slap down some trite hyperbole about "utopians" and "rent-free" living?

It's not even possible to know if Donnelly is, in his words, "perplexed" and literally doesn't understand the judge's ruling, or if he's just irritated that the judge used legal precedent and the Constitution as the basis for the ruling, rather than Donnelly's own subjective, personal opinion that the Occupy protesters are bothersome to him, and thus not entitled to their Constitutional rights. It seems he was just being rhetorical, but his commentary on the situation is so basic, and his use of the phrase "protected speech" (which is not really the protected right at issue in this case) makes me think that in fact, he actually doesn't get what happened.

Donnelly says "the problem with Judge McIntyre's ruling is it sets a broad precedent for other, and perhaps less politically desirable, occupations of public space." That's spurious (and creepy!). The right of assembly is established in the 1st Amendment. It is granted to all Americans and it does not matter one iota whether they are "less politically desirable." To imply otherwise is deeply un-American and unpatriotic.  Furthermore, Judge McIntyre did not create or reinterpret the right of assembly this week. In fact, the judge was *following*, not *creating*, legal precedent established a few days earlier.

The decision in the case of Occupy Wall Street (a few days in advance of the Boston decision) established two precedents for adjudicating any Occupy protest location: (1) Such a protest *is* protected by the 1st Amendment (by the way, for those who are thinking "free speech," you don't know your whole 1st Amendment. Grab your copy of the Constitution--what, you don't have one? why not? I thought you were a big patriot--and re-read the last line); (2) Because the location of the New York City protest is on private property, the 5th and 9th Amendment rights of the property owner are not trumped by an unmitigated protection of the protesters' 1st Amendment rights.

So here in Boston, where the protest is not on private property whose owner wishes the protest to cease, the legal precedent seems to establish that the Occupy Boston protesters are protected by the 1st Amendment, and there is no other condition strong enough to outweigh the right of the protesters to remain.

Look, I'm not a Constitutional scholar. I'm not even a lawyer. But I'm a Constitution-loving American who has a brain, a copy of said document, and a  belief that it is a moral obligation of every American to defend our rights for *everyone*, and not just for the people we happen to agree with. For me, personally, part of defending our rights means actually bothering to give some considered thought to the issues of the day, not to just blindly accept the sound bites at face value, and to speak up when someone--especially someone who should care more, like the editor of a popular publication--wastes the privilege of his position with unconsidered talk that is contrary to our democracy.

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