Occupy Wall Street Meets Fahrenheit 451 – Whose Property Rights?

I’m not the most regular blogger.  I really do strive to post daily, it often doesn’t work out. Sometimes my schedule pinched.  Other times, health issues get in the way (ever try to write with a toothache?).  But then there are times when the news makes me so angry I can’t find civil words that might illuminate instead of inflame.  This past week my tooth hurt, but it was really the latter.

As most know by now, the New York City Police organized and conducted a raid to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters last week.  They did it under cover of night using paramilitary tactics.  There was excessive and unnecessary violence.  I won’t go into that here. You can try one of the literally thousands of YouTube videos about the police brutality.  It was an apparent coordinated national effort since 18 other cities conducted similar raids with similar tactics on the same day.

Yale University lecturer John Stoehr has written how the order for the police to clear the Occupy Wall Street crowd from Zucotti Park came from Brookfield Properties, a private company, despite a court order allowing the protesters. For Mayor Bloomberg private property rights trump any kind of public rights, even when the public’s right is backed by a court.  Stoehr also observes how Brookfield Properties is also subsidized by the public coffers to the tune of $174.5 million.  Apparently those private property rights include the right to the public’s money.  It’s no wonder that JP Morgan Chase has felt the need to bribe donate to the Police Department.

The mayor and his police force’s concern with property rights doesn’t extend to everybody.  Only the rich, the 1%, are entitled to property rights protection.  Ordinary citizens are not.  Consider the police department’s treatment of the property of a private library.  Many have told the story of the police’s destruction of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s public library, but I’ll let the American Library Association tell it here:

The People’s Library, a library constructed by the New York Occupy Wall Street movement, was seized in the early morning hours of Nov. 15, by the New York Police Department during a planned raid to evict Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park. The library held a collection of more than 5,000 items and provided free access to books, magazines, newspapers and other materials.  According to ALA members who visited the site, the library reflected many of ALA’s core intellectual freedom values and best practices—a balanced, cataloged collection, representing diverse points of view, that included children’s books and reference service often provided by professional librarians.

City officials assured library staff that library materials would be safely transported to a sanitation depot, but the majority of the collection is still missing and returned items were damaged, including laptops and other equipment.  The likelihood of recovering all library materials is bleak, as witnesses reported that library materials were thrown into dumpsters by police and city sanitation workers.

Longstanding ALA policy states:

“The American Library Association deplores the destruction of libraries, library collections and property, and the disruption of the educational purpose by that act, whether it be done by individuals or groups of individuals and whether it be in the name of honest dissent, the desire to control or limit thought or ideas, or for any other purpose.”

American Library Association (ALA) President Molly Raphael released the following statement regarding the destruction of the People’s Library:

“The dissolution of a library is unacceptable. Libraries serve as the cornerstone of our democracy and must be safeguarded. An informed public constitutes the very foundation of a democracy, and libraries ensure that everyone has free access to information.

“The very existence of the People’s Library demonstrates that libraries are an organic part of all communities. Libraries serve the needs of community members and preserve the record of community history.  In the case of the People’s Library, this included irreplaceable records and material related to the occupation movement and the temporary community that it represented.

“We support the librarians and volunteers of the Library Working Group as they re-establish the People’s Library.”

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 60,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.

The police and Mayor Bloomberg had no right to destroy these books, magazines, and computers. They had no court orders to do it.  They simply did it because they could. Because they can’t tolerate people learning and thinking for themselves.  In doing so, Mayor Bloomberg and the entire police force have revealed that none of this is about property rights as conservatives and libertarians like to claim. It’s not about the “rule of law” – they ignored the courts. It’s not about protecting some “liberty” or “Western cultural tradition”.  It makes no difference whether the police seize steal private books and destroy them in hiding, or they burn them in public. There’s a long history of  governments and police forces that destroy books. None of it is democratic or supportive of freedom.  It’s about enforcing special privilege for an elite and for destroying democracy.  It is in service to oligarchy, not democracy or liberty.

8 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street Meets Fahrenheit 451 – Whose Property Rights?

  1. The Conversation About Book “Burners”

    Democracy is not a shallow subject. The precious gift bestowed upon us, here in the United States, by our founders is truly unique. Not only is it unique, it is under attack and in danger of destruction by… By whom? By what? Just as the concepts created by our forebears to guide us in our practice of democracy deserve in-depth consideration, so too does the critique of the forces that threaten those concepts. It appears to me that it is a way of thinking and communicating which poses the greatest threat.

    I am quite familiar with a shallow and dangerous way of thinking; I was guilty of being a practitioner from childhood to somewhere between 31 and 41 years of age. My father was a “McCarthy-ite” who taught me all I knew of politics and history. My first presidential election after reaching the age of 21 was the one in which I campaigned passionately for Barry Goldwater. By the age of 41, at the end of that decade I became a liberal; along with that transition, came a transition in thinking. I suspect a conservative reading this will attribute the latter to the former. That oversimplification is identical to my level of thinking in my early twenties; were I confronted in those days with a friend expressing that same transition, I would have seen it as “simple.” I already knew from my dad’s teaching that liberals were “wrong” therefore if someone both became a liberal and their way of viewing life changed, it must be because the “liberal thinking” corrupted the intellectual processes.

    My dad’s conservative certainty in all matters political struck me as incongruous. Here was a man who never achieved any significant monetary success, who was in no way an equal participant in the capitalist system he so vehemently espoused. Yet his certainty was unshakeable. “Why?” I asked myself after his suicide, “did he cling to his doctrine?” The sad note he left behind spoke almost exclusively of finances. When I think of it, my heart aches with the sadness of a son, who might have been of some help to his dad. But he had an absolute certainty. This taught me to be suspect of certainty, a movement toward growth, indeed. Coupled with the absolute fact that he both loved me and respected my mind, I began a search to understand the “why” of my question.

    I have always been a reader; I have a passion for books; I own thousands of pounds of them; I revere a well reasoned, and well written tome. Exercising my passion for reading, learning, and thinking, I began the study. I did not start by going to the education system, as I have always found it to be mostly filled with well intentioned folk who do not learn as I do. Back then I was uncertain of the cause of that difference, but I accepted their judgment that it was my not “applying myself” which caused the failures. I knew I would have to teach myself, and since I had already become a teacher (though, sadly I referred to myself as a “back door teacher” since I had not achieved a college education.) I began to study alternative education; I found a home. I began a study about how one learns, and I discovered much embarrassing truth about my former thinking. Along about the end of this decade I discovered a college which knew that I, the learner, could be in charge of my education. Goddard College saved my academic life; and five years after turning 41 I graduated as a “real teacher” certified in two states to teach K through 12 in social studies and art.

    This brings me to the news of today which has broken my heart open. A library to which my wife and I made a small contribution has apparently been destroyed by thugs. I hesitate to write “thugs,” but then one must be a thug to destroy some books let alone a collection that was precious to those who contributed and read them. I sent two copies, purchased new in hardback, of Parker J. Palmer’s book Healing the Heart of Democracy: THE COURAGE TO CREATE A POLITICS WORTHY OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT to the Occupy Wall Street movement. I have read this gem of a book once and am re-reading it. It is no radical anti-anything book. It speaks of the gift given us in the form of the concepts handed down by our founders and the need to protect it. Of all the books I have read it is the most pro-America book of all. This little book has already taught me many things about Democracy. I am truly an idealist who likes to get problems fixed, seeing my country wobble down the middle of the road weaving sometimes to the liberal side and sometimes to the conservative side has made me frustrated beyond measure. In the reading I have realized that this is the way democracy looks. In the last sentence in the above paragraph I summed up what I learned just in the last three weeks: I repeat it in a token of gratitude to the author:

    One of the beauties of that most precious gift left to us from the founders of our country, I propose, is that they intended not to leave us answers, but to leave us with a framework within which we might have the CONVERSATION THAT IS DEMOCRACY.

    Thus this morning I learned that the attack on the occupiers attempting to make a statement of despair, a statement that our country is in great danger, disposed of the entire beautifully catalogued, and cared for library at Zucotti Park, including my two copies of a book dedicated to the conversation which we as a country desperately need. This was done while the press was prevented from witnessing the “action.” That the responsible party, Mayor Bloomberg launched in the early ’80s, Bloomberg LP, a global media company with over 310,000 subscribers, and prevented the press from bearing witness to the early AM atrocity, speaks volumes about where our precious country stands today. Throughout history there have been many book-burnings. This one, the morning of the 15th of November though small in scope and not technically a “burning,” will live on as one of the seminal moments in our messy history.

    To those (mostly young) courageous occupiers, you have earned my undying love, gratitude, and humble admiration. Keep learning, keep loving, and be of good heart… I am there with you in spirit. You have begun a momentous change, and you have already begun the conversation. Thank you,

    Roderick L. House

    PS: When the next library is set up, I’ll send a couple more of those beautiful books.

    • Dear Roderick House: As the author of “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit,” I was touched by what you say here, touched on many levels. Thank you so much for your words and your witness. Because I know one of the Occupy Chaplains involved with Occupy Boston, I was able to donate several copies of my book to their library. I would be deeply honored if you would let me send you the two copies you mentioned so that you can pass them along to your friends in Occupy Wall Street. If that’s something you would welcome, please send your UPS delivery address to me at PJP39@aol.com and I will send the books to you as soon as I get the information. Again, you have my admiration and my gratitude for what you said about your own life-journey, about Occupy, and about our country, as well as about my book. With warmest wishes, Parker Palmer

    • Mr. House,
      I second the comments Parker Palmer. I too was very touched by your story and witness.

      Comments like yours inspire me to keep writing and blogging.



      • Dear Jim: I should have added my thanks for your original post. This morning I am sharing your blog with friends and colleagues. It’s very good to know that there are professors out there who are speaking out this way and fostering conversations that remind all of us what a precious, strong and yet fragile gift democracy is. WIth gratitude, Parker

  2. I too am humbled by the Roderick’s story and heartfelt words. Coming from an individual on an arduous personal journey—and aren’t we all such persons—his going public in this blog post rings with honesty and truth. And his words of appreciation for Parker Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy convey the “rope to the barn” role of this book in his life—and in fact, the life of our democracy as we struggle to navigate yet another troubled time.

  3. Pingback: Occupy whine of the day « Don Surber

  4. I applaud the police in ridding this park of the vermin who were camped out there. And don’t cry me a storm for their “library”. They could go around the corner to a real library and find thousands and thousands of books to read. The first should be a very short one, Animal Farm. At the end everyone wanted to be one of the “pigs” where all were equal but some more equal than others. Who knew we would now have real pigs “occupying” our streets.

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