By Josh Sager
Urban camping is not an unusual occurrence, but with the rise of the occupations, it has become a fact of life in some cities. Shown below are two photos, one of a pre-movie premiere (Twilight: Breaking Dawn) camp and one of an "Occupy" encampment (Occupy Boston).
Picture of Occupy Boston Encampment
Picture of Twilight movie premiere camp (CBS News)
As you can see from the above photos, both camps are very similar in terms of location, structure, and spacing. In both camps, there are tents and makeshift structures placed in an empty lot, which are intended to allow a small group of occupiers to live in relative comfort until their goal is met; the primary differences between the two camps lies in their purpose, goals, and how they have been reacted to.
Throughout the country, "Occupy" encampments have encountered serious interference from local governments, zoning boards and police forces; the justification of this interference is commonly health concerns over the urban camp sites. Oakland and New York police forces have raided or even attempted to shut down the occupy sites in their jurisdictions over "health and safety" concerns.
While it is true that any urban camping site has numerous issues surrounding it in the fields of health and cleanliness, there are numerous examples of raids on "Occupy" sites, but I have yet to find any raids on other urban camps, such as movie premieres or sale lines outside of stores. In both camp types there is a significant need to deal with personal hygiene and campsite sanitation, but as this issue is present in both camps it would stand to reason that if one is deemed appropriate, then the other should also pass muster.
At both the occupations and other urban camps in wintertime, there is a need for insulated tents, bedrolls, and jackets so that the people camping remain safe during adverse weather. At several occupy locations, such as Occupy Boston, the police have prevented campers from bringing in cold weather gear, citing fire safety and zoning as the rationale. How is it safe for campers in movie premiere lines to have winter gear, but unsafe for "Occupy" campers to have the same gear in a similar situation? Either the authorities are being negligent in allowing campers to have dangerous gear at the movie camp, or are using a false justification to prevent the "Occupy" protesters from being safe and comfortable.
If the differences between the reactions to the occupations and the other "urban campsites" is not in the physical presence, then it must be in another characteristic of the camps. The "Occupy" camps are intended to promote a political message and protest issues present in society, while the other camps are based around the increased consumption of goods. The constitution of the USA guarantees the "right right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances", while it mentions nothing about the right to wait outside of a business in order to receive a service or good faster; I am not saying that the shoppers don't have a right to wait in line for days rather than risk receiving their goods a little later but, unlike the occupiers, their actions are not constitutionally protected.
If it is truly unsafe for people to camp on the streets for a protest, then it must be unsafe for those who are camping to receive a commercial good; unless the police are willing to argue that commerce and quick consumption are more important than a constitutionally protected political protest, they must either stop all urban camping or stop breaking up the occupations.