In New Hampshire, “Live Free or Die” is more than just the state motto – it’s a constitutionally protected right. Now, the state constitution’s “Right to Revolution” clause is being used as a defense by Occupy New Hampshire protesters arrested during their camp’s eviction in November.
Occupy New Hampshire was evicted from their encampment in the state’s largest city on November 20th, just three weeks after the camp had been established. Five activists were arrested and charged with Criminal Trespass, while more than a dozen others were issued citations for violation of the park’s 11 o’clock curfew.
Matthew Richards, 20, described the unique courtesy of both the occupiers and police prior to his arrest that night (an attitude which later earned Occupy New Hampshire the label of “too polite for its own good”). The local police chief visited the occupation’s nightly General Assembly to tell occupiers that arrests would be made that night, Richards reported.
At 11 o’clock, members of Occupy New Hampshire lined up single-file to receive summonses before leaving the park. Richards chose to stay. “They asked me if my cuffs were too tight,” he recalled. “They drove us to the police station and booked us and then we were out in an hour. We came out and had a pizza party in the lobby of the police station.”
Now, members of Occupy New Hampshire have joined their defense and submitted a joint motion to dismiss the charges. Written by Barbara Keshen of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, the thirteen-page document obtained by NYU Local argues that the protesters’ actions are protected by both the federal and state constitutions.
The document offers a standard defense of Occupy New Hampshire’s encampment as constitutionally protected symbolic speech, arguing that the encampment demonstrated “the possibility of a more democratic, just and economically egalitarian society. This symbolic expression in a traditional public forum exemplifies political speech, which falls squarely within the guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly, association, and the right to petition the government.”
This constitutional arguments are commonplace in defense of Occupy encampments around the country.. However, according to the motion, “the New Hampshire constitution provides even greater protection for the defendants’ actions than does the Federal constitution.” These include clauses in the state constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech, assembly and petition in language even stronger than what can be found in the First Amendment to the Federal constitution.
Even further, the New Hampshire constitution guarantees its citizens a “Right of Revolution”: “whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right out to reform the old, or establish a new government.”
The motion to dismiss offers an interpretation of this clause as it applies to the case at hand, stating that the Occupy movement “seeks to bring out revolution by implementing the aspirational government that is its goal. When the “Occupy” movement provides free transportation, food, shelter, and medical care to the 99%, that is revolutionary. When the “Occupy” movement rejects hierarchical decision making, but instead adopts an open, participatory, consensus model of governance, that is revolutionary. The Defendants were engaged in a peaceful revolution to be brought about by example, not by bloodshed.”
Matt Richards is enthusiastic and optimistic about the motion. “I think we have all the law on our side no matter how many conservative judges we go in front of,” he said. “I know that we’re right. I know that we were in the right staying in the park, legally and morally.”