‘Citizens United’, not united citizens

17/11/2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve been following the news of the various Occupy encampments, especially the ones where I’ve lived or I know people.

The shutdown/crackdown of the UC Berkeley occupation has been difficult to take. Oakland, DC, NYC, Portland, Sacramento — these have all been in public parks. The UCB occupation was on campus, which is a different sort of space. The Chancellor’s justification is posted around the web — Brad DeLong has one letter, Crooked Timber has a link and video.

There is a history — a tradition, even — of political protests at UCB. The university is very proud of its history, but seems to want to leave it safely in the past. They don’t want the messiness of actually existing student demonstrators.

Two thoughts on the events:

– As an alumnus of UC Davis, I feel a special responsibility. The UC asks me for money — should I support the University when it spends its funds hiring riot police to suppress students?

– The Citizens United Supreme Court decision said that money was speech, or more specifically, that the things that money could buy — air time, production value — were speech for First Amendment purposes. If the UCB students used money to buy the tents, and those tents were used to communicate their message, then aren’t the tents ‘speech’ as defined by Citizens United? What is the difference between paying for a television show or billboard and paying for a tent?

Events of the last few days suggest that there is more support for Citizens United than for united citizens.

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