It's hard to know what to make of the Occupy Wall Street protests, though I applaud the protesters for actually doing something. While Congress squabbles over petty differences, the U.S. economy is limping along and the unemployment rate is stuck above 9 percent. (Some experts argue the real unemployment rate -- including the unemployed no longer receiving benefits and the underemployed -- is more like 17 percent.) So it's not surprising that a group of angry citizens has taken residence in Zuccotti Park in New York City to protest everything -- corporate greed, financial bailouts, corruption and so on. The politicians simply aren't addressing these topics.
I have been taken aback, however, at the response to the Occupy Wall Street protests, which now have spread across the globe. People who praised the protesters in Egypt and other Arab nations earlier this year are denouncing the OWS movement and advocate shutting down the protests, despite the protesters' Constitutional right to peacefully assemble and speak their minds -- no matter how cluttered, disjointed and unstructured their message actually is.
This nation was founded on free speech. In fact, the OWS movement relies on two parts of the First Amendment: "The right of the people peaceably to assemble," and the right "to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Any attempt to stifle the protests is as foolish as it is illegal. OWS is growing because more and more Americans agree that our politicians are completely out of touch. Attempting to shut down the protests will only add fuel to the fire and increase support for the OWS movement, which already is growing. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 67 percent of New Yorkers support the OWS movement and an overwhelming 87 percent support the group's right to protest.
The best way to determine whether OWS has any real strength is to let the protests play out. If the movement's position or message is faulty, untruthful or just plain wrong, Americans will figure it out, support will dwindle and the protesters will gradually go home. But if their message can withstand the national scrutiny it is about to be given, the protests will continue and grow, as will support for the movement.
So it will be interesting to see how far OWS will go. With fall coming to New York, it will get harder and harder to stay in Zuccotti Park. Above anything else, whether you agree with the protests or not, it's refreshing to see the First Amendment in action. Of that alone, we should all be proud.Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio