"Occupy Wall Street" protesters vow to keep fighting

Occupy Wall Street protesters clash with police at Zuccotti Park
AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

COMMENTARY Now what? That's the question hanging over the Occupy Wall Street movement after an estimated 1,000 New York York police officers evicted protesters from Manhattan's Zuccotti Park in a raid starting just after 1 a.m. this morning.

For the demonstrators who have camped in the plaza since mid-September, sparking similar "occupations" nationally and around the world, the short-term answer is clear: Get back out there. Despite roughly 200 arrests in the crackdown, some protesters jumped over barricades and tried to re-enter the park. When police turned them away, others headed north a few blocks to rally in Foley Square.

In a statement, OWS also vowed to carry on the fight:

Some politicians may physically remove us from public spaces -- our spaces -- and, physically, they may succeed. But we are engaged in a battle over ideas. Our idea is that our political structures should serve us, the people -- all of us, not just those who have amassed great wealth and power. We believe that is a highly popular idea, and that is why so many people have come so quickly to identify with Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent movement.

You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.

At least one local judge agreed, issuing a temporary restraining order that said New York authorities have no right to bar protesters from entering the park. The state's Supreme Court is expected to rule later today on whether that order may stay in place. 

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By contrast, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was resolute in defending his decision to disperse the protesters. He cited security concerns as the main reason for clearing Zuccotti Park. Bloomberg also invoked the Constitution, saying in a statement that the First Amendment doesn't give people the right "to live outside the law."

Some have argued to allow the protestors to stay in the park indefinitely -- others have suggested we just wait for winter and hope the cold weather drove the protestors away -- but inaction was not an option. I could not wait for someone in the park to get killed or to injure another first responder before acting. Others have cautioned against action because enforcing our laws might be used by some protestors as a pretext for violence -- but we must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws.

No right is absolute and with every right comes responsibilities. The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out -- but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others... There is no ambiguity in the law here -- the First Amendment protects speech -- it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space.

Remember Zuccotti Park

If the law is unambiguous regarding the city's rights -- and that remains to be seen -- the longer-term social and political ramifications of the events in Zuccotti Park remain murky. As the history of the women's suffrage, civil rights and other mass movements show, the OWS protesters are right -- ideas are hard to suppress. Especially popular ones. Polls show that a majority of Americans support the group's push for economic fairness, while public opinion is also squarely behind proposals to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. 

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In other words, Bloomberg could build a glass dome over Wall Street and angry people would gather to throw rocks at it. As a force for change, meanwhile, OWS won't win or lose in any one place. Not in Oakland, where an Iraq war vet was recently seriously wounded in an Occupy-related protest; not in the hundreds of other cities around the country where Americans are rallying against economic and political inequity; and not in lower Manhattan.

As with previous social uprisings in the U.S., this fight is likely to play out over years. Also as in the past, the movement's success will hinge on its ability to enlist others and, eventually, harness that energy to a concrete agenda (not necessarily through our dominant political parties, it's worth noting). And if OWS continues to grow, Zuccotti Park -- until recently known as Liberty Plaza Park -- will be remembered not as the place where a movement died, but where it was born.

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    Alain Sherter covers business and economic affairs for CBSNews.com.