With the courts’ approval, the City of New Haven finally evicted Occupy New Haven yesterday. Looking back on the encampment’s history, there are four important lessons we can learn.
First, we should resist any temptation to glorify Occupy in hindsight. The tents were a lifestyle choice. By the end, the so-called protestors were a mishmash of conspiracy theorists and homeless people who wrapped themselves in incoherent populist rhetoric. The Occupiers’ only defining attribute was their sense of personal entitlement to public land. Self-ordained to represent “the people,” they monopolized (and ruined) a public park for their own enjoyment.
So let’s place New Haven’s Occupiers in the rubbish bin, along with the cranks and kooks of history.
Second, the Yalies who supported Occupy also deserve some attention in our postmortem. In defending the movement, they adopted some troubling double standards.
Two of the students organizing the Yale Working Group of Occupy New Haven were also among the most vocal of claimants in the recent Title IX suit against Yale. However, they were conspicuously silent about the well-documented instances of sexual assault in Occupy encampments around the nation. They remained silent after a woman reported being raped in an Occupy tent on the Green this past March.
Whatever you think about the Title IX suit, we have to ask: Why do the Occupiers get a pass?
Similarly, a year ago, those Title IX claimants deemed DKE’s boorish chanting to be “threatening.” Yet, they rediscovered the spirit of the First Amendment for Occupy, claiming intrusive tents and sleep-ins were protected speech.
Ultimately, the federal courts got it right: Free speech is a core constitutional value. Municipalities cannot regulate the content of speech but can impose reasonable rules about time, place and manner. There was nothing reasonable about the Occupiers’ takeover of the Green.
Third, throughout this entire episode, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. failed to lead. He should not have permitted the Occupiers to live on the Green in the first place. He should not have given the Occupiers advance warning of the city’s first eviction attempt. This was a mistake that sparked a costly and unnecessary legal battle. We should not credit the mayor because things ultimately worked out. It could easily have been much worse.
Finally, one party deserves our approval for its role in the Occupy saga: New Haven’s police under Chief Dean Esserman. At every point in the various eviction attempts, they acted with dignity and restraint, employing minimal force. As demonstrated by their misconduct during last fall’s Elevate raid, the New Haven police department has in the past not always demonstrated professionalism and care. Here, they did.
Occupy will quickly become a footnote in history. I, for one, am happy to say good riddance.
Nathaniel Zelinsky is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.