Amid escalating clashes between police and those taking part in Occupy protests nationwide, a prominent progressive organization is urging the Justice Department to step in to protect the First Amendment rights of the protesters.
Democracy for America (DFA), associated with former presidential candidate and ex-Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, emailed supporters Wednesday, asking them to sign an online petition to press federal officials to stand up for the protection of those taking part in Occupy.
Established based on Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign operation, DFA in recent weeks has lent its support to Occupy Wall Street and the rest of the Occupy movement. It’s been distributing Occupy-themed yard signs and bumper stickers, collecting donations in support of the movement.
The response of the White House and other top administration officials largely has been muted as incidents have grown involving police and local officials attempting to quash the Occupy protests.
Although he declared that “we have a long and noble tradition of free expression, free speech, and protests and demonstrations in this country,” White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed as “a local law enforcement issue” one such violent incident in Oakland, Calif. That clash left an Iraq war veteran participating in Occupy Oakland seriously injured after police aggressively tried to break up that protest.
The injury to that veteran, Scott Olson, sparked widespread outrage, and left the mayor of Oakland to publicly apologize.
“The truth is: the universal rights of Occupy Wall Street protesters to free speech and assembly are not being protected right now,” says Jim Dean, Howard Dean’s brother and chairman of DFA. “It’s time for our nation’s top law enforcement agency to stand up and defend its own civilians who are under attack — from New York to Oakland and every occupation in between.”
In his email, Jim Dean cites a declaration made by President Obama: “The universal rights of assembly and free speech must be protected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.”
Obama made the statement in support of demonstrations within Iran.
“President Obama has stood up and showed great leadership in demanding that all governments worldwide protect the rights of their people to peacefully protest without harassment,” Dean says. “It’s time for the Obama administration to lead again by demanding those exact same protections for peaceful protestors here in the United States of America.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.