Panel on legal aspects of the Occupy movement held at law school

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March 23, 2012

1:14 AM

The ongoing national debate regarding the relationship between the law and the Occupy movement has spread across the country, but it occupied a classroom in the Marshall-Wythe School of Law Tuesday.

Cabell Research Professor of Law Timothy Zick and Amin Husain, an activist affiliated with the Occupy movement, discussed the nature of the protests, their legality and their constitutional ramifications before an audience of students and community members.

“The sum total of demands does not get at what the Occupy movement is trying to accomplish, which is creating a new type of politics where people’s participation in the process can evolve,” Husain said.

Husain related his story of how he became involved with the Occupy movement, beginning in his childhood in the West Bank of Israel and later to his time as a student activist, as well as to the five years he spent as a lawyer in New York at the law firm of King and Spaulding.

“I think, in general, authority has been very challenged by this movement, especially in public spaces, and it’s something that we stumbled upon, frankly, trying to find spaces of dissent,” Husain said. “The police have been very brutal about it. Occupy has an anti-capitalist current to its structure. There is social and political inequality that cannot be handled by a third party. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

The academic perspective of Zick complemented Husain’s claims about the nature of the movement. Drawing from his specialized knowledge of the First Amendment, and, in particular his specialization in public space protest rights, Zick discussed the relationship between public protest space and the Occupy movement itself.

“I think physical presence remains an important issue in public intent to dissent,” Zick said. “You have to have sites of public dissent — of public protest — available. Availability, though, raises questions. How long can someone stay in a particular place? How does that affect the surrounding community?”

Zick discussed the particular complexity of the sites chosen by Occupy protestors in both Washington, D.C. and New York City, adding that modern American protest movements have evolved from the demonstrations that many remember from the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 1960s.

“Although public protest is necessary, I think that we need to turn this social moment into a social movement, and it is not clear that is going to happen,” Zick said. “It is very important for political protests in the modern age to have the element of surprise. Public protesting today has been bureaucratized.”

Zick further drew from the 1984 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Clarke v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, in which the Court set a tone for protests in public space.

“We have difficulty, therefore, in understanding why the prohibition against camping, with its ban on sleeping overnight, is not a reasonable time, place, or manner regulation that withstands constitutional scrutiny,” Associate Justice Byron White wrote in the opinion for the Court.

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Chase L. Hopkins
  • Chase L. Hopkins

Associate News Editor Chase L. Hopkins '15 is a history major from Chico, CA. He is in the Joint Degree Programme with the University of St. Andrews in Great Britain. In his spare time, he enjoys taking to the skies as a private pilot.

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