ALBANY, OCCUPY KEEP THE PEACE

Section: Perspective,  Page: B4

Date: Sunday, December 11, 2011

THE ISSUE:


City Hall and Occupy Albany work out their issues.


THE STAKES:


Neither public order nor the Constitution have to suffer here.





Pepper spraying peaceful demonstrators. Rousting protesters in the dead of night. A Marine veteran, injured by a police projectile for exercising a right he fought to defend.


That's the unfortunate state of free speech in America these days. But not in Albany.


At least for now, Mayor Jerry Jennings is continuing a policy of accommodating the Occupy Albany protesters who have been encamped in Academy Park since Oct. 21. What's more, both the mayor and the demonstrators have worked out some issues that in another city might have led to forced eviction.


This matters.


It matters because it shows that the city respects free speech, even when it's untidy. And it matters because this protest and others like it, for all their flaws and quirks, are having an important, positive impact on public debate and public policy.


There are plenty of people who don't particularly like the Occupy movement or its messages. Some feel -- or at least like to assert -- that the protesters have no message at all.


Some aren't keen on camping in a park as a form of protest. They question why these protesters insist on a 24/7 presence on public land when, after all, the tea party didn't. That's like asking why the tea party didn't camp out instead of disrupting public meetings and, in a few cases, showing up at demonstrations with guns, tactics that plenty of people found over the top if not outright menacing.


But that got attention, and so has this. The Constitution talks about free speech and peaceful assembly. It doesn't require the speech to be in the Queen's English or the assembly to follow Roberts Rules of Order.


And just as the tea party's often vague pronouncements about "taking back our government" and "losing our freedom" got people reading the Constitution and paying attention to deficits, the Occupy movement has focused attention on the growing wealth gap in America, the undue influence of money on public policy, the struggling middle class, and high unemployment that gets more lip service than action from politicians.


Look no further than the tax and jobs bill that passed at the state Capitol last week for evidence that a governor who has been publicly hostile to Occupy Albany was nonetheless getting the message, and quite possibly feeling the heat.


So good for you, Mr. Jennings, for finding a way to keep the park clean and let the protesters stay. Good for you, Occupy Albany, for accommodating the mayor's reasonable request.


As for the Dec. 22 expiration of this detente, we urge Mr. Jennings not to use some artificial deadline to justify an unwise and unnecessary use of power against people who, in the end, are his fellow citizens.