By Sidney Arroyo
let’s just start by saying than when mitch landrieu decided to force the dismantling of the occupy nola encampment and to have its occupants driven off, the federal court determined that mitch was in fact guilty of a case of premature evacuation.
in a display of overwhelming paramilitary force and controlled media content, mayor mitch landrieu rolled out 150 police, homeland security and other city workers before dawn to intimidate a group of homeless people and human rights activists and drive them from their encampment. then, before rolling news cameras and an accommodating and compliant press, he praised his own humanitarianism and efficiency in depriving the weakest among us of their rights and property.
but now we know that mitch, in his eagerness, jumped the gun and raised the ire of the federal judiciary who had planned to hear arguments regarding the future of the occupy nola encampment.
so instead of his crowning moment of glory, mitch landrieu is now known as the first mayor of an american city to botch the takeover of an occupy wall street encampment.
in so doing he has also delivered a surprising and morale-lifting victory to the movement and to the defense of constitutional rights, both locally and nationally. the judge stated in effect that no one is above the law, not even the self-important politicians of the city of new orleans.
was this a case of mitch just having to use all this power before the judge tried to control it? did he think possession of the park at the time of the hearing would constitute 9/10ths of the law? or was it that he just decided “to hell with the law” and he wanted to watch the show of force so elegantly orchestrated by hizzoner himself from his city hall window?
this is the real story of who, what, when, how and why this happened, because you won’t get the truth anywhere else unless you dig really deep, for in politics, whatever the storyappears to be about is nearly never what it’s really about.
in rationalizing his police action landrieu cited the same weak excuses that have been drawn up and flogged by banking and wall street lobbyists for use by the politicians they fund: health, sanitation, and cost to the city. and as you can tell for yourselves by what you’ve seen and read, the corporate media has fallen into lockstep and been good subservient utensils of the administration and their own corporate owners, parroting these excuses as if they were based somehow in fact. after watching the press not “get it” for two months since the occupy wall street movement began, this lazy approach to coverage should no longer surprise us, it should just sadden us and send us looking for the truth where we can find it.
i know firsthand that these excuses the politicos spew are totally self-serving crap. i’ve been to the occupy nola encampment six times since they moved into duncan plaza, including once last week and again less than 48 hours before the police raid took place, and i saw the truth with my own eyes. i know better.
and you should too, because you probably never visited the camp to see for yourself. and lord knows the movement’s most vocal critics have never visited. instead, they take the same position on the occupy phenomenon as, say, legless men who tell others how they should walk. you know, like talk radio hosts and tv evangelists.
what i witnessed were up to 200 people on any given day or night working together, feeding each other, policing the area to keep it clean, keeping an eye for safety for each other, reading at the library they created, playing music, and engaging people who visited them in conversation about the issues that most of us pretend don’t touch our lives. i found caring people committed to what they believed in, exercising their rights that are supposedly protected by our laws.
while the press glowingly quoted public officials about the “smoothness and efficiency” of the assault on harmless citizens, only fleeting words from protesters made their edited coverage. words like “terrified” and “hectic” were uttered by scared and distraught people scrambling to move before being arrested by the phalanx of police, carrying whatever they could on their backs, forced to leave the rest of their possessions behind only to see them dumped into garbage trucks.
the truth is this: just like the occupy wall street movement everywhere else, the occupy nola movement and encampment is inconvenient and embarrassing to politicians and the corporate business elite. plain and simple.
the truth is that they can assemble a massive armed force to shove around poor people and people committing the heinous crimes of free speech and quasi-legal camping in order to make them submissive, so they do.
they say the park is closed at certain hours, but the truth is that duncan plaza is an unfenced public space and they know that there are no “business hours” to limit constitutional rights. they just don’t care.
the truth is that the sugar bowl’s coming to town soon, and new year’s revelers, and the ncaa football championship, events that bring large corporate bigshots to town. and our politicians are afraid; afraid that the 1 percenters who pay exorbitant sums to come and play at such events may be offended if they have to incidentally encounter actual people exercising their rights and demanding economic change, fairness and accountability. god forbid.
the truth is that our politicians don’t want the rich to see some parts of new orleans, just the pretty ones.
the truth is also that, while the politicians whine about the “cost” of the encampment to taxpayers, they distort the data to further the disinformation campaign. the media cooperates in this.
if the occupiers are left to clean up their own camp, as they’ve been doing all along, the cost to taxpayers would be next to zero.
as for the big “port-a-potty crisis”, let me ask you this: if the city has really paid $50,000 for portapotties, what idiot at city hall is cutting an approximately just-under-$1,000 a day sweetheart deal with the portapotty guys? now there’s a contract the inspector general should look into, because something stinks more than the content of the toilets.
but not to worry, because as of now the camp is providing for their own port-a-potties, courtesy of supporters contributing to their cause. so you penny-pinchers, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. feel better?
also, if the city is so concerned about cost, how much of our tax dollars did it cost for them to lose in court on Tuesday trying to prevent citizens from committing the hideous acts of freedom of speech and right of assembly? and how much more will the next round of lawyers cost?
and how much of our taxes did mitch shove down the john on his dark-of-night raid on the poor and disenfranchised? 150 cops, homeland security, sanitation trucks and workers…..how much of our money did you waste on that now-illegal action that turned out to be all for nothing, mitch?
i look forward to the detailed accounting that we taxpayers deserve for this failed but costly fiasco.
and isn’t it good to know that here, in new orleans, the murder capital of north america, where our murder rate is 10 times the national average, we can afford to waste the time and resources of over 100 police officers in the pursuit of the suppression of free speech and nonviolent campers???
but, even if the cost of all those things is overstated by those in power, may i offer a modest suggestion: that there is no price too high to defend the rights of our citizens willing to stand in the cold, in the rain, in the elements to actively participate in democracy while the rest of us watch safely from our living rooms, flipping between the news and our favorite tv shows.
people willing to make such sacrifices for their rights should be encouraged rather than discouraged, whether we agree with them or not. because when they have their rights taken from them, it’s not too hard to believe that some day we can have those rights taken from all of us, leaving us with only the muffled silence of what’s left of our tarnished dignity as a democracy and as caring human beings.