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22 November 2011

Occupying a Private Space versus a Public One

New York City at Thanksgiving time is always wonderful.  One of my fondest childhood memories is spending the morning watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on television, at a time when it was the ONLY one televised, and it was an incredible honor to be a high school band chosen to march and play in the parade.  The parade (as well as the NYC-block sized flagship store in Herald Square) is one reason that New York City remains the greatest city on earth.  The parade remains a private-public partnership started in 1924 and going strong today.

The one advantage that the Occupy Wall Street movement as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has had in Zuccotti Park over all other Occupy ____ movements is that in New York City, the protestors have not been camped out in a public park like in Oakland or Chicago.  In Chicago, all public parks close at 11:30pm.  No one is allowed to be in the park after that time.  The City of Chicago police have every right to arrest anyone for trespassing after 11:30pm.  I can't find the hours for Oakland, CA, but again, the responsibility lies with a governmental body, like the police department, the parks district or the Mayor's Office.  In New York City, there has been for as long as I can recall (I have read now that it began in 1961, almost as long ago as I am old), an ordinance that permits private developers to build upward if they also provide (in some formula) open publicly accessible space outward along the street level so that the City would not evolve into narrow canyons of streets lined with skyscrapers.  So, is Zuccotti Park public or private?  It is in fact a privately owned space open to the public, like Books on First.  Freedom of speech only goes so far in a private place.  (After all, Walmart does not sell The Last Testament: a Memoir by God, nor should they have to do so).  The current owners Berkshire Office Properties (who changed the name in 2006 from Liberty Plaza Park to honor its chairman John Zuccotti -- another blog about names in the offing) had been very patient and in fact, canceled its first attempt to "clean" the park after one month's occupation when it was immediately accused of finding some pretext to remover the protesters and then, bar their way back in.  It knew then that the protesters had found sympathy among other New Yorkers and people around the world.   It did not make good business sense to be "the bad capitalists."  Now, the neighbors are getting a little irritated, so Berkshire has changed the rules and in the tradition of honoring private property, the place is clear.  I am not too surprised, though, that Mayor Bloomberg and the courts are still talking about public safety and sanitation versus capitalism; it's a more politically correct way to address the public.

Also, I wanted to share with you a story about another Occupation, one by veterans of World War I and how that too ended with bulldozers to the tents, under MacArthur's command, no less.  The moral of the story -- after awhile, even when people sympathize with the protestors, enough is enough, go home already.

We all have much for which to be thankful, thank God.

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