We Aren’t Really Entitled to Our Smugness

 Given I was raised abroad, spending three years in Singapore, which was effectively a dictatorship at the time and for all I know still is, the arrogant Western boasting about freedom always struck me as rather parochial, as well as deluded.  Just like those idiots on the US right wing terrified of turning into ‘Socialist Europe’, we have a similar attitude to countries whose governments may function differently to ours.

We all-too-easily dismiss nations whose political systems work differently, but over the last few years I would hope we’re finally learning that a real, functioning democracy is entirely distinct from ‘having the ability to vote on certain topics’.  The point of the Occupy movement has always seemed to me to have two main elements at its foundation: the fight for economic equality, and the fight for true democratic representation.

As we have discovered, whether or not we have the vote, we most certainly have no influence at all over the important issues which need to be addressed in the world at the moment.  We can vote ourselves all to pieces and it will have precisely zero impact on the decisions being made.  The Occupy movement seemed to be an attempt to rectify that, but by its very existence it has really only served to point out how incredibly superficial our veneer of democracy actually is.

Freedom in the West has always seemed to be evaluated more as bellowed by that clown Mel Gibson in Braveheart than in any sensible measure of personal and political liberty. People who think of nationalised healthcare paid for by taxes can focus on the taxation, and forget the enormous value of knowing that whatever goes wrong with you, you don’t need to worry about access to medical care, which is a significant factor in personal ‘freedom’.

And for all we get obsessed by voting in this, picking this party, that party, or the other, as has become increasingly clear, this isn’t really much of a democracy, despite the pretty wrapping paper.  Actual decisions are made between lobbyists and members of government, the former group competing to purchase the decisions of the latter.

As the Occupy movement shows, as soon as people insist on changing the topic of conversation to something more significant than which team they want to win Parliamentbowl 2011, well… the protesters are slandered and undermined, and the press do their very best to ignore both the serious political issues at stake as well as the scale of the protest.

And now, now that it is dangerously close to becoming an influential protest with something uncomfortable to say about the inequalities of our governance and the unaccountability of those who govern, it seems that the police in New York have the power to simply disperse or arrest those engaged in peaceful protest and, which might be even worse, the power to prevent the press having any access to report on what they are doing or how they are doing it.

So, to put this more clearly, apparently the right to protest is not protected, and the right to report on the processes of government, as implemented by the NYPD, is also not protected.  As this issue does not appear on any ballot, how exactly are the people of the United States allowed to participate in the governing of their country, then?

As I said, before we act all smug and superior about our freedom, we might want to have a look at ourselves and wonder which of the most important freedoms and democratic rights we think we actually possess.

Below is a crude copy and paste from this Storify thread (I did this in case the original is taken down), so apologies for the rotten formatting, but it goes to show the scale of the press suppression as the protesters were forcefully disbanded. Shame on everyone involved in the response to this protest.

**text pasted below**

Around 1:00am on Tuesday, November 15th, the NYPD moved in to clear Zuccotti Park of all protestors and equipment. Members of the press, both independent and mainstream, were systematically prevented from covering the story

  1. #BREAKING: Police in riot gear raid Zuccotti Park, order protesters to vacate bit.ly/uDycwr #OWS
  2. “I’m press,” I said. “Don’t care,” officer replied. #OWS
  3. Village Voice writer Rosie Gray sums up the theme of the night:
  4. Me: “I’m press!” Lady cop: “not tonight” #ows
    4 hours ago
  5. The CBS livestreaming helicopter cut the feed just as the raid got underway. Reuters Social Media editor Anthony De Rosa confirmed that the NYPD ordered them to leave the airspace
  6. I just spoke with the CBS News desk and they were told to leave the airspace above Zuccotti Park by NYPD
  7. Jared Malsin of the New York Times was arrested according to Guardian contributor Laurie Penny
  8. The square is in total lockdown. @jmalsin of the NYT being arrested with others.
  9. Many other press members reported being threatened with arrest:
  10. Michael Rusch, Editor-in-Chief of Byline Beat and a freelance photographer for the New York Times:
  11. I’ve almost been arrested now twice even though I have repeatedly presented my press badge. Tonight, Gotham is on lockdown. #OWS
    3 hours ago
  12. NYT reporter Brian Stelter spoke with NY1 Education Reporter Lindsey Christ:
  13. Per @LindseyChrist, riot police didn’t distinguish between media & protesters. “They took a Post reporter and threw him in a choke hold.”
    35 minutes ago
  14. Reporters/photogs being thrown to ground and pushed to wall if they get in front of the wrong officer. Other officers calm and polite.
  15. The NYPD also made every effort to prevent media from seeing what was going on from outside the park:
  16. Ryan Devereaux of Democracy Now, contributor to Guardian, The Nation and others:
  17. Police are now pushing the press off the block. They just took the press pass off ab NBC news anchor. #OWS
  18. Police parked two NYPD busses in front of press cage, engines running, blocking shots of square. Yelling at media trying to work. #ows
  19. The New York Observer reported that credentialed mainstream reporters were not being allowed in, confirmed by Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson
  20. Here with credentialed photogs from NYT, WSJ and Reuters they’re also being barred from #occupywallstreet
  21. Cops telling me not even media with press passes allowed inside
  22. Just spoke with credentialed CBS reporter Manuel Gallegas outside barricade “They’re kicking everybody out, write about it.”
  23. I was blocked from viewing nypd raid at #occupywallstreet along with reporters from cnbc, nbc, cbs, wsj and reuters #mediablackout
  24. NYPD inspector who took press badge from NBC4’s @glorioso4ny and refused to give name http://twitpic.com/7ef2i2
    2 hours ago
  25. Columbia Journalism student and reporter Andrew Katz confirmed that even the Associated Press was kept out:
  26. Walking with an @AP videographer to try and get a better view. NYPD wouldn’t tell us why press is being penned #OWS
  27. NYPD says my @columbiajourn press badge isn’t legit enough to get me inside park (cc @rachelsterne @sree #OWS
  28. At 3:36am, Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson (who snuck into Zuccotti Park) reported that teargas was deployed on peaceful protestors (video below). Harkinson later clarified that it was pepper spray, not tear gas
  29. Are people who are chained together seriously being teargassed? How is that even real? http://yfrog.com/163yiz #ows
    2 hours ago
  30. Ok I’m goint to make a dash to get closer. Might get arrested.
  31. I just got shoved out of the park by a police officer. I’m now going to explain what I saw.
  32. The riot police moved in with zip cuffs and teargassed the occupiers in the food tent
  33. Correction: cops used pepper spray, not tear gas
  34. Everyone I witnessed being arrested was resisting peacefully
  35. As I was observing, a cop approached me and asked me who I was
  36. He said that all the press is in the press pen, and that’s where I had to go
  37. I said I would not,.That he would have to arrest me, but I would go peacefully.
  38. At that point he grabbed me by the arm and started hauling me away
  39. Even after the park was cleared, the NYPD continued to prevent press from covering events on public streets:
  40. Photo of park now, totally cleared http://twitpic.com/7ef8lp
  41. We are being stopped by police from going further South on Broadway along with a credentialed Japanese TV crew.
  42. Cops just violently shoved me away as I tried to shoot this man in a stretcher being loaded into ambulance http://twitpic.com/7efa2v
  43. The man was on oxygen, indicating serious injury. He was wheeled out of the park.
  44. Officers shoved me onto sidewalk then said I can’t be on sidewalk. Pushing us back from Cortlandt to Vesey #OWS
  45. Speaking to an Al Jazeera press team who managed to sneak through and were chucked out #ows #freedomofthepress
  46. Just got escorted out by an officer who saw me tweeting. #ows