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Occupy arrests not the smartest move

Posted: November 17, 2011 4:56 p.m.
Updated: November 21, 2011 5:00 a.m.

I didn’t really mean to write about Gov. Nikki Haley again after last week’s criticism of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s decision to grant a permit to the state of Georgia to dredge part of the shared Savannah River. I rarely write about the same person or topic twice in a row, but I can’t keep quiet on Haley’s decision to crack down on Occupy Columbia’s, er, occupation of the State House grounds at night.

To be honest, I’ve only skimmed headlines and blurbs about the entire Occupy movement. While I am squarely in the so-called “99 percent,” and can identify with participants’ feelings, I’m just not the protesting type.

Besides, I’m not sure most of the Occupy folks -- whether its Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Columbia -- are actually protesting the right thing.

Localife and West Wateree Chronicle Editor Keri Todd Boyce posted a link on Facebook to a great opinion piece by the New York Times’ David Brooks published Oct. 31. With the title “The Wrong Inequality,” Brooks argues that America’s “experience of inequality” is just as polarized as our politics.

Brooks splits inequality between “Blue” and “Red” inequality. Blue inequality, he writes, is usually experienced in large cities -- New York, L.A., Boston, San Francisco and D.C. Brooks says in those places, you’ll see the top 1 percent “zooming upward, amassing more income and wealth.” Most, he says, are owners or managers of non-financial businesses. Some are in finance, but also doctors, lawyers, engineers or in sports, entertainment or media (I’m definitely not one of them).

Brooks talks about Blue inequality this way: “You ... see the superstar effect that economists have noticed in the income data. Within each profession, the top performers are now paid much better than the merely good or average performers .... you see people similar to yourself, who may have gone to the same college, who are earning much more while benefiting from law tax rates, wielding disproportionate political power, gaining in prestige and contributing seemingly little to the social good.”

Brooks then moves to smaller cities like Scranton, Des Moines, Macon and Fresno. Those are where folks experience Red inequality.

“In these places,” he writes, “the crucial inequality is not between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent. It’s between those with a college degree and those without.”

Brooks argues that’s what the media and the nation ought to be paying attention to, and I agree.

Which brings me to what happened Wednesday night.

Occupy Columbia’s Facebook page states that it “is a movement seeking (to) alter a broken political system though this is not the sole intent of the movement and all opinions have (a) voice in Occupy Columbia.”

That didn’t really tell me a whole lot, so I went to its website and checked out its FAQ (frequently asked questions). It points out it is not part of Occupy Wall Street or an umbrella organization called Occupy Together. However, it still doesn’t really say what it’s doing other than supporting the other Occupy movements. I’m still confused.

Still, its members have a right to their opinions and a constitutionally guaranteed right to protest.

So what, exactly, gave Haley the right to order the arrests of Occupy members Wednesday night?

During what was described by some media as an “impromptu” news conference that afternoon, Haley claimed Occupy members’ gear, sleeping bags and other equipment were the problem.

“We have mattresses on the ground, we have toilet paper in the bushes, we have plants that have been messed up, we have things that have been causing a problem in terms of the respect of the grounds of the State House,” she said. “We go by the rule of law in South Carolina. We are not California, we are not New York. We are South Carolina and we believe in respect of property and respect of citizens.”

Really, ma’am? Really?

S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender doesn’t think so. In an interview with a Columbia TV station immediately after the arrests, Bender called Haley’s order a “pretext,” and that the Occupiers (if I may use that word) were occupying government space -- spaces he said the U.S. Supreme Court believes are “traditional place(s) to express their views.”

Bender said he believes Haley ordered the arrests because she disagrees with Occupy Columbia’s message. He, as others have, noted that Occupy Columbia has been in place for more than a month -- with no problems whatsoever -- and equated the arrests with the way South Carolina handled protests during the Civil Rights movement.

Wednesday’s arrests were a violation of these protestors’ civil rights and plays right into the hands of South Carolina being seen as an ultra-conservative backwater. It also makes Haley look very petty, suddenly deciding that mattresses and toilet paper are tools of disturbing the peace.

I said I wasn’t sure Occupy Columbia was protesting the right things. Perhaps it is, after all. Perhaps its message is one we should all take to heart: not everyone at the top levels of state government has the majority of South Carolinian’s best interests at heart.

It certainly doesn’t seem as though the governor does.

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