GOOD

Why Can’t We Party in the Street?

It’s getting more and more difficult for Americans to gather on public streets, out of joy or anger, and that’s a problem.

The Distortion street party in Denmark. Photo by ekvidi via Flickr

Over the last few months, we’ve been inundated with images of peaceful crowds of people clashing with police forces decked out in riot gear. The majority of images came from the Ferguson protests and some of the demonstrations that followed.


But we also see the same sort of dynamic even in much less tense, relatively trivial situations. For example, after Ohio State’s victory in the first NCAA football championship, fans were tear-gassed en mass, some at point-blank range, while celebrating in the streets of Columbus.

The event drew some comparisons to the Ferguson protests. Most of those contrasted the media treatment of OSU fans, who were referred to mostly as “celebrants” and other relatively benign language, rather than rioters.

These incidents have raised all kinds of very good questions about the militarization of police and the use of force. But these very different incidents also demonstrate something else: A tension between the state’s control of the streets and the right to assembly and free speech.

Tahrir Square. Photo by Jonothan Rashad via Flickr

According to the Columbus Dispatch, there were a number of dumpster fires on OSU’s campus following the historic win, and a couple couch fires as well. However, none of the fires advanced to major, alarm-level size and most occurred on residential streets further north, not on High Street, where police unloaded tear gas weapons on peaceful, albeit intoxicated, fans. Again, echoing Ferguson, they even hit some members of the media that were there on assignment.

When they were gassed, “Most people on campus seemed to be celebrating without major problems,” the Dispatch reported. The reason police tear gassed fans in the streets, at least according to the Dispatch, is because they wouldn’t clear the streets and move onto the sidewalks.

The heart of the issue lies in people’s right to gather in the streets, which, in fact, shouldn’t really be an issue. Streets are public spaces and in the U.S. at least, our right to assemble in pubic spaces is constitutionally protected—unassailable. Streets have been gathering places for people since the beginnings of civilization. More recently, we saw streets and central squares become important organizing centers in the protests that sparked the Arab Spring as well. Or consider, on a happier note, the iconic image of a sailor, dipping a nurse and kissing her in joy in the center of Times Square on V-day, marking the end of World War II. Try to imagine instead of that celebratory scene, the police force arresting V-day crowds because they were delaying rush hour commuters.

Times Square, New Years Eve. Photo by Anthony Quintano via Flickr

It’s only relatively recently in the United States, that all of our streets’ historic purposes—commerce, socializing, playing—were subsumed by one activity: driving.

Fast-moving cars in particular destroyed the street culture that had flourished in cities worldwide for centuries. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that this idea—streets are places for cars, not people—emerged in the United States, and only after a very purposeful public relations campaign by auto companies.

As that idea became enshrined into public consciousness, it has come to restrict collective expression—be it of joy or anger—by making streets, long the most obvious place for citizens to freely gather, off limits. Court rulings have established, for example, that the First Amendment’s right to assemble applies to streets, but only if protesters get a permit, essentially requiring official permission to protest. Even protesters that use public sidewalks—one of the last remaining places where these types of gatherings are allowed—have had to fight for their legal right to occupy these spaces. For example, during the Ferguson protests, police insisted demonstrators walk on the sidewalks, rather than stand on them, until a Federal Court intervened on protesters’ behalf.

The right to gather spontaneously, to protest or to celebrate, is an essential part of democracy and community, and that’s ostensibly why it’s enshrined in the U.S.’s founding documents. There is no similar right to unimpeded motion in a car and certainly not on every street at every hour of the day.

The streets belong to the people, and while most of the time they are still going to be used as thoroughfares for vehicles, there are occasions where they have higher and more important purposes. When police or the state interfere with those rare, historic moments of spontaneous, collective expression, or use violence to dispatch with them, something has gone fundamentally wrong.

Articles
Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
Health