Use It or Lose It: The Right to Observe

Veryshortlist.com, a reviewer of the short Stand Your Ground filmed in London, expresses concern over, “the privatization of our public spaces,” which is a growing issue in the United States as well – even if it doesn’t trouble citizens even half as much as it ought to. Meeting up with each other in semi-public spaces with “free wifi” such as Starbucks, restaurants and shopping malls provides us with the illusion that we’re free to meet when and where we want but in reality, this is far from true. At one NY Starbucks I was recently told, “If you want to use the occupy a space at the counter, you’re going to need to consume something,” (as if I wasn’t already consuming – oxygen, for starters), but the barista meant, “You need to buy something we sell.”

And, a few years ago I found out that the “mall experience” extends beyond window dressing in shop windows – to every aspect of shopping mall goings-on: social and political groups must obtain permission to congregate in their space. Ditto for tabling outside a supermarket – if either the manager or the big bosses don’t agree with the cause or group you represent, they will not authorize you to set up a table at on their store property. Odder still was the fact that one Bergen County, New Jersey municipality wouldn’t let peaceful demonstrations take place on any city property – although the police don’t bother those who congregate on public sidewalks, as long as pedestrian traffic isn’t interfered with.

Veryshortlist.com also says this about the film:

All six of the photographers were especially careful to stand on public ground. All six drew the attention of private security guards. In three cases, the police were called out; happily, the cops were on the photographers’ side each time. And yet the film is disturbing.

I can attest to the disturbing quality. I couldn’t help but ask myself as conflicts played out in the film, how would this scene have been different if there were no videographer shooting the interaction between the six photographers and the security personnel harassing them on public property, trying to bully them into putting their cameras away.

Domination of society by the rich used to be a bit more subtle in its presentation but today, it seems that the wealthy and powerful consider that we average – and poor – citizens need clear lessons on how to not violate the lines they’ve drawn between their world and ours. Interestingly enough, they don’t appear to be much concerned with citizens’ legal rights to stand in public spaces and observe and document what they wish us not to. For what it’s worth, Warren Buffet agrees with me that the wealthy need to learn how to play nice and share.

I found it chilling that all of the security guards enforcing the will of wealthy employers seem to be working class citizens and are therefor, very much on the wrong side of the debate over the rights private citizens’ have to make our way through this world with freedom and dignity.

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