Legal Significance of Social Protest in the Modern World

This video featuring Occupy Wall Street protestors violating the instruction of a police officer to clear the Brooklyn Bridge was used in an article featured in The Economist as evidence when describing the Occupy Wall Street Movement as ineffective political action (“This Is What Ineffective Action Looks Like.”).  One of the highly debated issues throughout the Occupy Wall Street Movement has been the police action used to suppress protests. This criticism has brought into question what specifically defines freedom of symbolic speech and protest as protected in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.  In one of my earlier posts, I showed a video which examined two lawyers exchanging differing opinions on the legalities of forcing protestors to leave Zuccotti Park in New York City.  The Economist goes on further in this article to blame their protest as ineffective because the age group protesting does not vote, claiming only 24% of people 18 to 29 vote (“This Is What Ineffective Action Looks Like.”). …And of course none of those 24% could possibly be any of the thousands of political activists spending their time protesting in the streets of New York.

Another article I found on takes The Economist’s article and discusses how flawed the author’s ideology is when critiquing the Occupy Wall Street Movement as a form of ineffective protest.  Kain opposes the notion that the Occupy Wall Street Movement will fail to bring people to the poles.  He compares the Occupy Wall Street Movement to the Tea Party Movement, which definitely had a significant impact on Republican primaries and politics (Kain).  The Tea Party Movement is comparable to the Occupy Wall Street Movement in many ways. Similarities between the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the Tea Party Movement include:

– No truly defined National goals or purpose

– Fueled by Social Media

– Consist of enraged activists from extreme sides of the political spectrum

– Both fueled by economic discontent

In The Economist’s defense, I believe the article was intended to call the Occupy Wall Street Movement ineffective protest compared to the Tea Party Movement on the basis of the specific problems each contested most prominently.  The Tea Party Movement was against excessive government regulation and increasing taxes.  Whereas, the Occupy Wall Street Movement opposes corporate greed and the increasing economic disparities between demographic groups.  It is easier to fight specific policies such as raising taxes than fighting the whole capitalist system American society revolves around.  Furthermore, another article from discusses a greater sense of peaceful protest can be found in the Tea Party Movement as opposed to the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  On September 12, 2009, a Tea Party demonstration of 100,000 people was planned to occur on the National Mall, but over a million attended with fewer police intervention and little violence (Kibbe).  Many question the practicalness of demonstrating by blocking the Brooklyn Bridge and causing, what many to perceive as, chaos.  Personally, I feel the Occupy Wall Street Movement has ambitions to large to accomplish the optimal desired change, while the Tea Party Movement was basically just telling legislators to stop raising taxes.

However, Kain argues that the full legal and political impact of the Occupy Wall Street Movement will not be visible until a few years and elections down the road (Kain).

Moreover, many believe the Occupy Wall Street Movement is not influencing policy or protesting to the right audience.  Wall Street doesn’t make the rules of the game…they just play it.  Perhaps OWS protestors would be better suited in Washington D.C.  There could be legitimacy to this argument.  Yet, it is truly impossible to tell if the Occupy Wall Street Movement has impacted public policy.  The government’s size and complexity make it impossible for any legislator to pass a one time “fix it” bill that would end the discontent of the supposed 99%.  In many cases, Public policy is something that is more accurately evaluated years after put into effect.  In a previous post of mine, I outlined a series of unconnected government decisions and corporate actions that directed the United States towards the present era of financial instability.  However, it should be noted that a policy change of the Federal Accounting Standards Board seriously contributed to the housing crisis of the last decade.  Once this reaction was seen, policy change occurred. It is naive to assume at the current time that legislators are not noting the movement’s importance and that its meanings will not be incorporated into future legislation.

The video posted below features Richard Norton Smith of George Mason University speaking on the Washington Journal.  He goes through historical references of political encampments in United States.  He also outlines parallels between those movements and movements of today like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.  Smith traces political demonstration using “occupy” techniques all the way back to 1894 (Smith). He also references Hoovervilles of the 1930’s during the economic hardship of the Great Depression.  He does concede that these significant forms of protest throughout United States history has usually eventually resulted in favorable social or political change of some degree. 

The Occupy Wall Street Movement has significance that is broader than the goals it is actually protesting to change.  It cannot be overlooked that there have been two large, political, social protest movements that have swept across national headlines in the last five years.  With many similar aspects visible between the movements, it is quite peculiar that they stem from two complete opposite sides of the political spectrum. Sometimes, two different paths can lead to the same conclusion.  Outcry from radicals on both ends of our bypartisan government is a clear indication that our society has many problems economically, socially, and politically.  Perhaps, we must meet in the middle.  From my perspective, the greatest significance of the recent social and political movements regarding economic disparity in the United States is not about the respective goals of either movement and is more substantial when viewed from the characteristics of each movement.  Politicians do listen to public opinion as much as many may disagree.  Political driven movements of this caliber will result in gradual societal change as the values of American society and culture continue to shape, evolve and develop.

Kain, Erik. “The Importance of Activism for Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.”Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 03 Oct. 2011. Web. 03 May 2012. <;.

Kibbe, Matt. “Occupy Wall Street Is Certainly No Tea Party.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 19 Oct. 2011. Web. 1 May 2012. <;.

Smith, Richard N. “C-SPAN VIDEO LIBRARY Created by Cable. Offered as a Public Service.” C-SPAN Video Library. C-SPAN. Web. 03 May 2012. <;.

“This Is What Ineffective Action Looks Like.” Democracy in America. The Economist, 3 Oct. 2011. Web. 1 May 2012. <;.


One response to “Legal Significance of Social Protest in the Modern World

  1. you are right we need to do something, i heard about these guys they look like they are actually offering a solution

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