ZELINSKY: Occupy in review

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 nathaniel.zelinsky@yale.edu.


  • MapleLeaf14

    For the last time, it’s not public land; it’s not a public park. I can’t believe the YDN didn’t catch that. It is owned by a private 5-member committee. Also, this is either the second or third time you’ve used the straw man argument of attacking Occupy based on the rape there. That is a tragedy and a horrific crime, but the Occupy encampment was mostly free of crime, and violent crimes happen sadly regularly on the Green. Nate, you don’t like Occupy for one reason: their “populist rhetoric” (which you, of course, call “incoherent”). Oh, I say! Those plebeians want economic equality! Imagine!

    • MC09

      Please. New Haven Green is effectively a public park. It’s five member board is a common affectation found in many New England towns. My guess is that it would become a public park if they tried to materially change the nature of the Green – say by providing semi-permanent housing for 100 people.

      Look at the photos in this article and tell me there is any coherence; http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/clock_ticks_on_emergency_occupy_appeal/

      Also, do tell: how often, then, do violent crimes occur on the Green? Very rarely, I think you will find.

  • mjg2627

    Good riddance indeed. More things to think about: the tens of thousands of dollars spent cleaning up the green, the ugly brown spot that now sits where the tents used to be, the occupiers’ countless hours of lost economic productivity, the taxpayer dollars spent on police working overtime hours, and the fact that Occupy was a registered Dwight Hall Organization.

  • gz2012

    @mjdg627: Learn your facts about Dwight Hall before you post things publicly.

    Nate: It’s hard to count the number of obfuscations/bait-and-switches in this article:

    1) You pretend that New Haven Occupy is the same thing as Occupy.

    2) You pretend that referring to “the Yalies who supported Occupy” (which apparently refers to all of them) is the same thing as referring to 2 specific people, whom I won’t name here, but whom you are very clearly referring to. Whatever you opinion of those two individuals, you can spare everyone else your self-righteous attacks.

    3) You claim that opposing hate speech and defending Occupy are inconsistent readings of the First Amendment. Whatever your opinion of EITHER of those things (and I’m not defending or attacking either one), these are entirely consistent opinions.

    4) You say that Mayor DeStefano “failed to lead”? Please. He failed to agree with you. That doesn’t mean he failed to lead.

    5) And finally, this is not so much about obfuscation, but it is certainly quite a stretch to take Occupy to task for “monopoliz[ing] and ruin[ing]” a public park. The Green is a pretty large area, of which they used probably < 20%. Their presence did not stop Yalies or New Haven residents from using the Green. And, as for Yalies, since when HAVE they used the Green? For the record, the only thing I ever remember most Yale students saying about the Green is that it’s a dangerous and dirty place where you shouldn’t go (this elitism before Occupy showed up). You’re much smarter than this.

  • cpick

    Nate got one thing right. “Good riddance!”

  • mbj

    How many times have you or other Yale students actually been on the New Haven Green during your time at Yale? Do you plan on ever setting foot there now that the camp is gone?