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The Perverse Logic of Occupy Little Rock

Updated: Apr 13

Four members of “Occupy Little Rock” have finally found a public place where the government will let them reside–unfortunately, it is the Pulaski County jail.  One of those arrested yesterday was my new friend, Glen “Mac” Miller, who I recently interviewed. In case you haven’t been following the story, the Occupiers were given ample notice that they had until 7 a.m. Wednesday to leave the park they were camping in, so that the city could use the area for parking for Riverfest.

City police even extended this deadline until nearly 2:00 p.m. yesterday before they began making arrests. This entire saga has raised some important questions regarding the ideas of rights and the rule of law. And since these ideas are at the center of what it means to be an American, they are worth discussing on the Arkansas Project.

First of all, as I asked Mr. Miller on Tuesday, what gives these ‘occupiers’ any more right to occupy public property than anyone else? In our interview, Miller expounded on his opinion that the city was violating his constitutional right to occupy the park. A moment’s thought suggests that this line of argument is confused — because all taxpayers who support government services, such as the park, have the equal right to enjoy its use. It follows that when the Occupiers move in for months and camp out, they have violated my equal right to use the property and your right as well, and indeed the right of all citizens and taxpayers. 

Second, by Mr. Miller’s own admission, he would not be okay with me taking up residence in his tent (and, for the record, neither would I).  But if we are going to use his logic–that public property is acquirable by Occupiers just by squatting on it–what right does he have to keep me out of his tent? The answer, by his logic, is that he has no such right at all.  It is on public property, after all, and if I decide I want to occupy his tent, why shouldn’t I be able to?  Isn’t that my ‘constitutional right?’

And third, are there any limits to the rights of squatters to occupy public property?  Mr. Miller stopped just short of saying that his group should be allowed to demonstrate indefinitely on the lawn of the governor’s mansion, wisely citing security concerns and an admission that any attempt to do so would likely result in a conflict with the police.  But, by his logic, doesn’t he nonetheless have a constitutional right to camp out on the governor’s lawn?  Or perhaps even move into the governor’s residence?

These problems illuminate the dangers of ‘Occupy Logic.’ They demonstrate that the protection of rights cannot coexist well with collectivism and socialism. In such societies, there are no rights, because your rights and my rights inherently conflict, and it is left to the state to decide whose rights are superior. And when the state has to step in to resolve such conflicts, and it has no principled basis to choose between two litigants (or, indeed, any two people who differ over who has the right to stuff), it will be impossible to have social peace.

The American solution is a court system whose rulings people will support, as long as they are generally viewed as principled and fair. It is not clear that there is an Occupy solution to this problem.  

But the American solution to Occupy’s desire for private property is simple: Occupy can stay on whatever piece of property they want to, as long as they are willing to buy it.

In my opinion, the city was more than gracious by allowing the demonstrators to stay on public property for many months.  Ultimately, the city did the right thing by upholding the law and protecting the rights of all Little Rock taxpayers — namely, by ensuring that public property is used judiciously and appropriately, so that it is available to all citizens, not just squatters who demand that they are entitled to the exclusive use of park property that everyone owns.

To conclude that Occupy is entitled to special privileges that other people aren’t allowed would be the wrong conclusion — we simply can’t accept that a small, privileged group of people (say, 1% of us) should deserve special rights to better treatment than everyone else.

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