The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights and prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right of peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.  Freedom of assembly is the individual right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests.  The right to freedom of association is recognized as a human right, a political freedom and a civil liberty.  Thus, the United States Constitution explicitly provides for the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The African-American Civil Rights Movement between 1955-1968 was aimed at outlawing racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring voting rights in the south. This movement was characterized by major campaigns of nonviolent protest and civil rights disobedience that produced crisis situations between activists and government authorities. Several major pieces of legislative achievements during this phase of the Civil Rights Movement including passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination based on “race, color, religion, or national origin” in employment practices and public accommodations; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that restored and protected voting rights; the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, that dramatically opened entry to the U.S. to immigrants other than traditional European groups; and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, that banned discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. African Americans re-entered politics in the South, and across the country young people were inspired to action.  A remarkable civil rights achievement that exercised the right to demonstrate.

Occupy Wall Street (referred to as “the 99%”) is a resistance rights movement consisting of people of all races, genders and political persuasions who have decided that they will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.  According to their website, this movement parallels the “Arab Spring” movement that was a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests occurring in the Arab world that began on Saturday, December 18, 2010.  The concept of “Arab Spring” is to develop a “Strategy of Tension” to change public opinion, using shared techniques of civil resistance in sustained campaigns involving strikes, demonstrations, marches and rallies, as well as the use of social media to organize, communicate, and raise awareness in the face of repression attempts.  The current demonstrations consist of organized workers, business leaders, veterans, students, clergy personnel, civil rights fighters, women’s rights advocates and many, many more, and continue to expand with over 60 cities being affected.

In a recent interview on CNN, former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell said that demonstrations are “as American as apple pie” and there is plenty of justification for the movement’s outrage, but also some reason for concern over its direction.  “What you’re seeing with Occupy Wall Street and the others are people who are unhappy and they’re directing their unhappiness now toward Wall Street and toward those they think are doing too well in our society.”  While Powell went on to suggest that the growing wealth gap was worrisome and in need of addressing, he also cautioned the Occupy movement not to give in to divisive forces of violence and nihilism.  “It isn’t enough just to scream at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. We need our political system to start reflecting this anger back into, ‘How do we fix it? How do we get the economy going again?'” Powell said.  Of course, Secretary Powell is one of a very few Republicans who support the demonstrations.

Based on how wealth is distributed in our country, it is apparent that the rights of the 99 percent are not being protected. The financial gap between the 99% and 1% continues to expand.  The rich get richer and the middle-class is quickly transitioning to the poor.  The Wall Street Movement is all about economics.  Millions of homeowners have lost their homes to foreclosure and millions more homes are underwater.  Republican politicians continue to give tax breaks to the rich while slashing vital public services.  As evidenced in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states, rather than protecting the middle class during these difficult economic times, they’re trying to eliminate the rights of workers.

“Who are we? Well, who are you? If you’re reading this, there’s a 99 percent chance that you’re one of us.

You’re someone who doesn’t know whether there’s going to be enough money to make this month’s rent. You’re someone who gets sick and toughs it out because you’ll never afford the hospital bills. You’re someone who’s trying to move a mountain of debt that never seems to get any smaller no matter how hard you try. You do all the things you’re supposed to do. You buy store brands. You get a second job. You take classes to improve your skills. But it’s not enough. It’s never enough. The anxiety, the frustration, the powerlessness is still there, hovering like a storm crow. Every month you make it is a victory, but a Pyrrhic one — once you’re over the hump, all you can do is think about the next one and how much harder it’s all going to be.

They say it’s because you’re lazy. They say it’s because you make poor choices. They say it’s because you’re spoiled. If you’d only apply yourself a little more, worked a little harder, planned a little better, things would go well for you. Why do you need more help? Haven’t they helped you enough? They say you have no one to blame but yourself. They say it’s all your fault.

They are the 1 percent. They are the banks, the mortgage industry, the insurance industry. They are the important ones. They need help and get bailed out and are praised as job creators. We need help and get nothing and are called entitled. We live in a society made for them, not for us. It’s their world, not ours. If we’re lucky, they’ll let us work in it so long as we don’t question the extent of their charity.

We are the 99 percent. We are everyone else. And we will no longer be silent. It’s time the 1 percent got to know us a little better. On Sept. 17, 2011, the 99 percent will converge on Wall Street to let the 1 percent know just how frustrated they are with living in a world made for someone else. Let us know why you’ll be there. Let us know how you are the 99 percent.”

Bill Riley of Fox News said that the Wall Street Movement “is dead, and that’s a good thing.” New York Republican Congressman Peter King said,”These are people who were living in dirt, these were people who were involved with drugs, there was violence, there was rape. You’re talking about a small number of people — you could probably get more people in a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday than you’ve got in Zuccotti Park.”  “They’re mad that other people are making money? They’re mad that there are no jobs in this country? Or not enough jobs? All of us believe that. We’re trying to find a way to do it. You don’t do it by living in dirt. You don’t do it by carrying out rapes. You don’t do it by carrying out anti-American slogans,” King said.  Not too long ago, I recall the Tea Party folks carrying anti-American slogans as well as “hate” signs yet King never made one negative comment about the Tea Party.

As noted during the Civil Rights demonstrations, history teaches us that peaceful protests and demonstrations are very effective as long as the objectives are clear. Only time will tell if the 99% will achieve their objective and influence change.  I do believe, however, that its impact will affect the 2012 presidential election in a powerful and dramatic way, but that’s just my take.

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