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Does freedom of assembly really exist in this country?

Anyone who believes in the most basic of American freedoms outlined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should have been surprised to find out in 2011 that the right to free assembly, outlined in the First Amendment, actually does not exist in many areas of the nation.Crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy movements across the country showed American citizens that if you plan to protest longer than 24 hours and you wield such dangerous weapons as a tent or sleeping bag, police can use as much force as they deem necessary to remove you from the premises you are occupying.Despite the disappointing setback for American liberty, participants in the New York City-based Occupy Wall Street movement received some good news this week when barricades were removed from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, where the Occupy movement began on Sept. 17, 2011, in the city’s financial district. About 300 occupiers reportedly moved back into the park Tuesday night, but police warned them that anyone who decides to take a nap will be arrested, as sleeping and/or lying down in the park is now forbidden.Fueled by the success of movements in Egypt, Greece, Spain, Chile and other nations, occupiers have called for fairness in the global economy and decried the role of Wall Street and the richest 1 percent of the population in engineering an economic collapse and subsequent recession in the United States, without being held accountable for their actions. Time magazine took note last month by naming “the protester” the 2011 Person of the Year. The national dialogue, meanwhile, has shifted to recognize the plight of poor and working-class people, and to consider what responsibilities come with being among America’s wealthiest citizens. News about demonstrations is updated online at www.occupywallst.org.Unfortunately, police squads across the country have been effective in taking much of the wind out of the sails of the Occupy movement, and places like Zuccotti Park are unlikely to become truly “occupied” as they were in the fall of 2011. The powers that be have decided that peaceful assembly is only legal if you plan to protest for less than a day at a time, or until they’ve had enough.

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