You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til It’s Gone

One issue which the various Occupy movements have brought to light is the vanishing commons, and what that means for our democracy. It all comes down to who owns what: protestors have a right to assemble on public property (as Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Highway Patrol found out last month). But private property is another matter entirely: your constitutional right to free speech (and 2nd Amendment rights and everything else) are at the pleasure of the property owner. We learned this in Nashville when anti-war protesters were arrested at then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office here. Although Frist was a public official, his office was on private property. The landlord called the cops.

Zuccotti Park is a hybrid: a privately-owned public space, or POPS. We have these in Nashville, too, or something pretty much like them.

See if you can tell which of these pictures shows a public street, i.e. public property, and which one is private property (no cheating if you live in Nashville!):

I call them ersatz public spaces; most people don’t even know they’ve stepped onto private property when they’re walking on what looks like any other sidewalk, or slipping a quarter in what looks like any other parking meter (but look closely: that silver meter isn’t for parking, it’s to make a donation to the YMCA). Most of the time it doesn’t even matter … until it does. And when the time comes that it does matter, as the protestors at Zuccotti Park have discovered, it’s already too late.

Far smarter people than I have written about this. But I bring it up now because I don’t think the message has sunk in with the public at large. To me, this is all yet another sign of what we’ve lost — no, scratch that, what we’ve given away over the past 30 years. Like the song says, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Public streets, public sidewalks, public parks: doesn’t seem like such a big deal, until suddenly it’s all gone and you have no place to peaceably assemble or petition the government for redress of grievances. You have no place to protest a corporation’s misdeeds, because that corporation is located on a private street that looks just like a public one. The media could be prohibited from reporting on activities happening on these fake public places. You could be prevented from circulating a petition against something the property owner might disagree with. You cannot hold a voter registration drive without the property owners’ permission. In short: your constitutional rights stop at some invisible line.

You Libertoonians blithely hammering your Ron Paul signs on every utility pole and street lamp: do you know who owns that street light? Are you so sure you have a right to hammer that sign to that utility pole? Your ideology which worships free enterprise, you phony radicals who support the interests of the power elites and ownership class: this message hasn’t applied to you yet. Why would it? But someday it will. As surely as the sun rises in the east, the day will come when your message is suddenly at odds with what the Koch Brothers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce want to hear. And when that happens, and you suddenly find yourself with nowhere to use your right to free speech because years ago you thoroughly vilified the idea of public anything .. what will you do then? Go buy a park?



Filed under privatization, protests

12 responses to “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til It’s Gone

  1. When they came for the National Parks, and I did not speak out for I owned no National Parks.

    Then they came for the public airwaves and I did not speak out, for I owned no broadcasting companies.

    Then they came for my hydraulically fracked oil and I did not speak out, for I owned no land with mineral rights.

    Then they came for my doublewide and I

    • Snort.

      Honey, they don’t want your doublewide. You get to keep that one.


      • Susan A

        Well, most of the elite don’t want to have to look at that doublewide as it reminds them that there are (whisper this) un-wealthy people out there!

    • Joe

      Demo, your point is well made. What always shocks me is that this rush to privatize everything ignores that we, the People, actually own these things they’re often wanting to give away? John Kasich comes in as our governor here in Ohio and wants to emulate Indiana’s leasing turnpikes to a private company for a quick infusion of one-time cash and I want to stand up and yell “hey, we paid for that! Me, my parents and grandparents own that!”. Here locally, our county commissioners are contemplating selling the county’s rehab hospital which does an excellent job (and ironically they want to sell it to the consortium made up party with our University Hospital, once city owned, sold for a pittance). And again, why are you selling MY stuff? Of course the government can’t do anything well, that’s the belief anymore right?

      Heaven knows we made loads of mistakes with some past endeavors (yeah, we steamrolled poor neighborhoods to build interstates that bypassed those destroyed communities, for example #1), but they were bold initiatives that in my 20/20 hindsight I’d have liked to have tweaked, but they were among the things that advanced our society.

      Now, the free hand of the market gets to pick my pocket.

  2. Interesting angle. At some point one will be able to lease ones Constitutional Rights. I’m guessing the infomercials are already in production.

  3. “At some point one will be able to lease ones Constitutional Rights. I’m guessing the infomercials are already in production.”

    Oh, you want the 1%er Civil Rights Upgrade? Well, that’s gonna cost ya!

  4. NPR just ran a report from the OB protest (where they apparently have pitched new tents, after being run off by the Oakland SeKKKuritat the other night). It was about Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former LabSec who said that the students at Berkley (where he teaches) needed to continue in their protests.

    I never really knew what to make of Reich when he was active, publicly, in politics. It seems he has a spine and some spleen for the 15ers and their delusional, sycophantic, installment plan supporters.

    • Democracy Now ran a large chunk of Reich’s speech to Occupy Berkeley on this morning’s report, funny you should mention it. I thought what he had to say was very powerful.

  5. that should have read , 1%ers. I hate etiding!

  6. This gets at something that’s been bothering me for a while.

  7. PurpleGirl

    Zucotti Park/Liberty Plaza (its original name) is a funny case. This space has to be open 24/7 because of the agreement under which the office building next to it was built. The original owners (not Brookfield Properties) got a zoning variance and permission to build taller than the site was allowed. In return for the extra building height, whoever owns the property has to keep the plaza space open 24/7.

    Note that actual City parks have curfews, they close at certain times. Many private spaces have curfews but Zucotti is in a situation of its own.