Walking past Bryant Park near Times Square the other day, I was reminded of the free speech double standard that exists between individuals and commercial entities. Since October 27th, the aptly named Holiday Shops at Bryant Park have been hosting an occupation of their own in a New York City public park. Similar to the former tent encampment of Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park, the Holiday Shops are made up of semi-permanent booth structures that are powered by generators and remain on the parks premises 24/7. Furthermore, this occupation has a skating rink (sponsored by Citi Bank) installed in the center of what would regularly be a grassy field, a charity Coat Drive that lasts until December 31st, and, lest I forget, they don’t have to worry about a people’s library because there’s a public one next door.
Anyway, the reason why I’m bringing up this seasonal holiday market is not to denounce profitable partnerships between municipalities and private commercial interests, but rather to point out the batty and inconsistent standards in which New York City, under the governance of Mayor Bloomberg, has dealt with the issue of free speech on public space. While the two-month Occupy Wall Street demonstration faced eviction at the hands of a militarized police force because they dared to remain on public space without institutional backing, the Holiday Shops at Bryant Parks are given the unfettered ability to sell knick-knacks on publicly owned space because they are supported in their endeavor by large commercial interests.