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The "People's" Park by Tom Connor
 

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  • A funny thing happened to my friend awhile ago. She was training for a marathon, and her run took her through a park that was being used as an Occupy New Orleans settlement. As she was passing it, a young woman she described as a "gutterpunk type" darted in front of her with a scowl and a hand flat in front of her in a "Stop" gesture. She was so close and appeared so suddenly my friend almost ran into her.

    "Hey!" the gutterpunk said, "you need permission to be here! This is the people's park!"

    Here's what bothers me about this: how is my friend not covered by the term "people?" Was it her pink running shoes? Did she have the wrong iPod holder? I'm friends with her, so I'm obviously biased, but I've always thought the term "person" was pretty applicabile in her case. Because of that, I'm baffled at how a movement that claims to represent 99 percent of America, operating primarily in public spaces, could suddenly decide the public spaces are its own property and only certain people are invited in.

    It's not an isolated incident, either. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Occupy Oakland protestors all but put several small restaurants out of business by using their doorways as toilets. When the owners complained, they were told their concerns didn't matter because, if the one percent had their way, they would be closed soon anyway. The question arises again: if Occupy represents the little guys, why create a self-fulfilling prophecy of putting small restaurants out of business by using the most literal interpretation of "piss on me and tell me it's raining" possible?

    This all points to my big issue with Occupy. Though I largely support it on philosophic grounds, the movement's glaring failure was that it never explained to anyone why (or even how) it got to determine who counted as "the people" and who didn't. The public as a whole never understood how they did that, or why they deserved that right. I say this because, if you look at a lot of evidence out there, being in the 99 percent was no guarantee of admission; in many cases the movement was as cliquey as your high school's varsity cheerleading team. That's fine on its own, but at least be consistent - don't claim to represent my friend and then bar her from a "people's" park. Don't claim to represent small businesses (incidentally, the biggest job creators in the United States) and knowingly make it harder for them to operate.

    I've read a lot of responses to arguments like this one, mostly from Occupy's leadership, that generally admit the movement has its bad apples, but that it ultimately seeks to do good. Fair enough, I can understand that. However, wouldn't that also imply that there might be good people amongst the otherwise villainized one percent, and that maybe they show the same diversity of opinion and action? Again, a consistent explanation is lacking.

    I really wanted to get behind Occupy, I really did. The problem is that I don't think I can wrap my head around their reasoning, and judging by the way I've seen them treat others, I'm not even convinced they'd accept me if I tried.
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