Friday, November 18, 2011 • 8:36am
In 1961, as a sophomore in college, I experienced groups of students holding teach-ins about Vietnam. Fifty years later, young people in Zuccotti Park were organizing teach-ins on the unfairness of the current economic system.
The 1961 teach-ins were peaceful, but politicians and police escalated the situation and introduced violence by abusing their power so they could intimidate the demonstrators. What followed was a sharp divide in our society, with New York construction workers hunting down so-called hippies, President Nixon rounding up demonstrators in Washington, DC and depositing them in RFK Stadium, and National Guardsmen shooting people in Ohio.
On the last day of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, I happened to be in Manhattan for an investment banking meeting. I decided to walk through Zuccotti Park in my Nordstrom pin-striped suit, Brooks Brothers white shirt and expensive silk tie. As I strolled through the heart of the park, I met earnest, thoughtful, well-organized young men and women. Though I looked like a one percenter, they treated me with respect and even deference.
This Tuesday morning I awoke to learn that Zuccotti Park had been cleared by a large and well-organized police force and that members of the press were prohibited from covering the event.
By evicting the peaceful people in the park, the politicians and police escalated frustration to the level of confrontation. Yesterday and today I saw videos of police escalating the situation in the process of making arrests by choking a man in San Diego and pulling a woman by her hair in New York City. Today I am watching mass demonstrations in several cities in the U.S. with protesters and police in New York tussling one another.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
It seems to me that this is precisely what the Zuccotti Park live-in was all about – free speech and peaceable assembly. I am obviously not a Constitutional scholar but I wonder how the mayor of New York can say with a straight face that OWS people can have one – free speech, without having the other – peaceable assembly?
Occupy Wall Street in the midst of the Great Recession is eerily reminiscent of The Bonus Marchers in the midst of the Great Depression. In 1932, a group of World War I veterans marched on Washington to demand early pay of a bonus they were promised for service in "The War to End All Wars." President Hoover ordered the Army to clear the marchers' encampment and burn their tents. When they returned in 1933, President Roosevelt sent his wife to invite the leaders to the White House for tea and then offered them the opportunity to earn a few dollars to feed themselves and their families by joining the Civilian Conservation Corps.
As the demonstrations continue, I hope sensibility will prevail soon. I hope Mayor Bloomberg and other mayors offer tea to the protesters rather than threats, arrests and physical abuse. I hope the social disruption and animosity of the anti-Vietnam war movement is unduplicated in 2011. I hope for all these things, but I have little hope they will come about. Instead I expect greater civil strife, more arrests and eventually deaths.
Once again the prophetic words of George Santayana ring true. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
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Henry Bassman has lived in Summit, NJ for 37 years. He has been married for more than 40 years and has three daughters who graduated from Summit High School. Henry retired from AT&T where he wrote about high-technology science and engineering. He now is affiliated with a small investment bank that specializes in biotechnology, medical devices and healthcare issues, about which he often writes. Articles by Henry can be seen on ABCNews.com and other business Web sites.
Henry Bassman has written about high-technology and medical technology (biotechnology, medical devices and healthcare issues) for more than 40 years. He retired from AT&T, served in the U.S. Army where he became a captain and worked for ABC News. He is now affiliated with a small investment bank. Articles by Henry can be seen on ABCNews.com and other business Web sites. Henry has lived in Summit, NJ for 37 years and has been married for more than 40 years. He has three daughters who graduated from Summit High School.
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