The immorality of sit-ins, hunger strikes, and other protests

This latest comic is inspired by two anti-business movements in the Sacramento area.  In April, activists petitioned Sacramento’s city council to block a McDonald’s from opening in the midst of what some would term a “food desert.”  This followed on the heels of a January through March sit-in strike that successfully closed the U.C. Davis branch of U.S. Bank.  Both campaigns were driven by a misguided desire to narrow free market choices available to the community.

While these kinds of paternalistic projects are at odds with the values of free choice and personal responsibility, at least the anti-burger campaign was conducted within the limits of the local political process.  But the anti-bank sit-in demonstrates the widespread and reckless abandon with which too many progressive protesters pursue their cause today.

It’s common and commendable to ask if the ends justify the means.  The anti-U.S. Bank campaign is a clear case where neither the ends nor the means are justified.  In blocking physical access to the bank, members of Occupy UCD actively prevented customers and employees from engaging in mutually beneficial commercial transactions.  Such stunts that diminish the legitimate choices of others are a real threat to freedom.

The university administration, perhaps still reeling from November’s pepper-spray incident, was complicit in its failure to remove the blockaders.  Now, U.S Bank is suing the campus for breach of contract because its police did not effectively enforce an ordinance barring people from blocking public spaces.  On top of $2 million+ lost in future rent and revenue sharing, U.C. Davis stands to shed additional dollars fending off the suit.

By allowing those with gut-felt convictions to run roughshod over the rule of law, the administration betrayed the civil society it claims to honor and cherish.  In an even greater let down, Seattle Mayor Mike McGuinn allowed a large, organized, and anonymous mob of masked “black bloc” protesters to smash  numerous store front windows on May 1.  Among the infamous moments captured was the hypocritical smashing of a Niketown window by a Nike shoe wearer.

The solipsistic morality that drives most protest should give us all more pause than it does.  Besides actions that violate others’ rights of movement or property, there are protests of self-inflicted harm.  Consider the multiple self-immolations that ignited the Arab Spring last year.  Or, look at the not-so-fatal hunger strike.  This act of protest is way overrated.  It’s akin to terrorism in that the protester threatens violence if the target of coercion refuses to grant the demand.  The only difference is that the protester supplies his own body for the violence rather than that of a hapless victim.  Self-sacrifice is warranted for ends like saving children in a burning building, but harming oneself to coerce another is as immoral as harming others.

When protesters stop respecting the rights of others or even the value of their own bodies, civilization takes a step backward.  Rather than romanticize protest, which devolves to a gut appeal, our culture should uphold the truly constructive engagement that arises from our more measured, non-coercive political and economic processes.

The failed citizens

With the exploits of the pepper spray cop, UC Davis is now thrust into the media spotlight.  While everyone is angry at how the administration and its police have treated the students, no one seems to be angry at how society has failed to make them into decent citizens.

Their cause could be the most noble of causes, but the protest movement at Davis has paralleled and now in fact merged with the morally and effectually bankrupt Occupy movement.  The tents first popped up on the quad last Thursday night, and on Monday they re-emerged, scores of them.

Reporters have widely documented the headaches that come with these Occupy camps, namely sanitation, property crimes, and violence.  Recently, authorities were faced with removing 200 pounds of human waste from the Santa Cruz Occupy encampment, and other sites have spawned rats, hookworm, and scabies.  I recalled this today as I walked by a pair of port-a-potties on the edge of the UCD quad, supplied by Lord-knows-who.

I’ve also wondered, given the reported rapes at other Occupy sites, whether the campus Women’s center would ever break the sacred bond of “solidarity” to inveigh against the squatter village.  But with the pepper spray outrage so fresh, it seems to me the weight of visceral outrage is too strong a tailwind for such a reasonable course to prevail.

But more disturbing than the safety and health concerns is the occupiers’ inherent disregard for others’ property, time, and resources.  Whether they occupy the administration building, the library, or the grassy quad, they force the university to spend extra dollars paying employees to keep the lights on and otherwise look after them.  When law enforcement from adjacent jurisdictions are called in, taxpayers take an additional hit.  I wonder if the poli sci majors out there would ever suppose they are playing out the tragedy of the commons.  Everyone suffers when occupiers break the rules to abuse public spaces and public resources.  They preclude others from the use of those spaces, and at the end of it all, someone has to pick up the tab.

On top of this, protesters fail their fellow citizens with their decibels of anger.  Occupiers are well-known for saying they want to “start a dialog,” but its kind of hard to have a conversation with a human microphone.  Pithy mantras and signage abound, but the idea that a hopped up crowd is the best way to facilitate a substantive, calm, and rational discourse is a delusion.

Speaking of delusion, what good do protesters think they are doing by adopting socialist revolutionary modalities?  They hold “general assemblies” like they were on the ramparts of the Paris Commune or were maybe a more effective incarnation of the UN.  And this upcoming Monday will be a “general strike,” reminiscent again of the tools by which European citizens secure the economic mediocrity of their welfare states.  Amazingly, UCD occupiers even considered whether to “declare campus as an autonomous sanctuary space based on international historic model.”  I wonder how many students are aware of how all of twentieth century history testifies to the failure of this kind of business.

At last, its interesting to note how protesters and occupiers never admit to any wrongdoing.  While large crowds of people are generally prone to interlopers, chaos, and emotional firestorms, occupiers would have us believe they are always decent, always innocent, and always right.  Their public relations strain our credulity.

Hopefully the UC Davis campus will soon regain an administration and police force with some moral currency, so they can sweep away the encampment, this time cleanly and non-offensively.  That will surely save us from great troubles down the road.

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