Earlier this month, Occupy Wall Street demonstrators marched to the homes of JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon, News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch, industrialist David Koch and financier John Paulson as part of their protest against “Wall Street greed.” The mainstream media was matter-of-fact in its coverage of what was billed as the “NYC Billionaires Walking Tour.” But the stunt is part of a new and highly disturbing trend of sending protestors to people’s homes.
High profile CEOs and “billionaires” are not the only ones on the receiving end of these demonstrations and threats.
On a spring weekend in 2010, the powerful Service Employees International Union and a group called National Political Action sent hundreds of protestors to the home of Greg Baer, deputy general counsel for Bank of America. Baer’s next-door neighbor happened to be journalist Nina Easton. She later reported that, “hordes of invaders poured out of 14 school buses” waving signs denouncing “greed.” Baer’s teenage son, alone at the time, was sufficiently terrified to barricade himself in the bathroom.
Within the past year, protestors twice showed up at the Maryland home of Dick Knapp, an executive at a real estate company planning to develop the Washington, D.C. area’s first WalMarts. They chanted and held signs identifying Knapp by name.
Arianna Huffington’s Huffington Post website – well known for its liberal views – was recently sued by a labor activist who threatened to make her “a pariah in the progressive community” and “picket her home” if she did not start compensating unpaid bloggers who voluntarily submitted commentary in exchange for exposure that they presumably could not find elsewhere.
Politicians have also been targets. During the fierce battle in Wisconsin over state employee pensions, demonstrations took place outside the homes of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and other state officials. Activists have also protested outside the home of House Speaker John Boehner against proposed cuts in federal payments to the District of Columbia.
The demonstrators currently “occupying” Wall Street suggest that protests like their walking tour are “what democracy looks like” – that they’re part of our American political tradition of dissent. But the iconic anti-war and civil rights rallies that inspired their demonstrations occurred at college campuses, historic sites and other public places.
That’s not to say the civil disobedience back then was always civil. However, with few, if any, major exceptions, 60s-era activists did not send screaming mobs to the homes of individuals in “the military industrial complex” – even as they professed to loathe everything they stood for.
You may or may not be in favor of “the war,” whether that may be in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Libya or Iraq. You may or may not believe in our nation’s economic system. But what you believe is your right. And you have the freedom in our American democracy to loudly and openly voice your opinion.
Protesting at people’s homes, however, is not about asserting an opinion. It is a warning of potential violence. It implies, “We’re outside your house because we’re angry enough to hurt you unless you do what we want.” As the labor activist threatened Ms. Huffington, “until you do justice here, your life is going to be a living hell.”
It is especially ironic that the activist left that so often campaigns against all manner of “harassment” is increasingly using personal intimidation as a political weapon. Protesting at people’s homes, frightening their families and children, isn’t what democracy looks like. It’s what lynch mobs and bullying look like. Civilized people of all political beliefs should demand an end to it.
Elizabeth Ames is a communications executive and co-author with Steve Forbes of "How Capitalism Will Save Us: Why Free People and Free Markets Are The Best Answer In Today’s Economy (Crown Business)."