The Occupy protests bear a striking resemblance to one another in spirit, courage and resolve.
November 3, 2011
Occupy Wall Street has spread like wildfire to all corners of the globe. No matter the distance between them, the protests bear a striking resemblance to one another in spirit, courage and resolve. The non-hierarchical decentralized structure, the inclusiveness and cooperation are staples of the occupations. The authoritarian response that accompanies any powerful uprising is also a constant among the protests, with little exception.
As the eyes of the country are glued to Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street, and to Oakland, where the violent police response has ignited a historical series of protests, OWS offshoots in over 900 cities worldwide are building communities and transforming the world despite all the obstacles.
Here are three occupations around the country that are thriving despite various underhanded schemes to crush them.
Occupy Tucson (Arizona)
The city of Tucson has avoided attention-grabbing police raids. They’re trying to quell protests using a quieter approach.
Occupy Tucson has been camped out at Armory Park, just two blocks from the city’s financial district, since October 15. Every night since, police enter the park at the 10:30pm curfew armed, not with riot gear and paddy wagons, but with a pad of citations or written arrests. Each citation amounts to a class one misdemeanor that carries up to $1,000 in fines, up to six months in jail, and up to three years probation. Occupy Tucson activists refer to these tactics as “financial and legal attrition to kill the movement.”
Craig Barber, 28, an Occupy Tucson protester who describes himself as an “underemployed professional with unaffordable student debt,” says the Tucson Police Department has issued over 400 criminal citations thus far. This includes protesters in the two nearby satellite camps at Veinte de Agosto Park and Library Park. There is a permanent presence of roughly 100 protesters every night, many of whom have received multiple citations.
“I think that the city of Tucson has been watching the national theater and has noticed that the physical reaction does in fact galvanize more support, so they’re using the more insidious tactic of legally intimidating the occupiers as well as financially bleeding the movement and also overwhelming our legal support,” said Barber, adding that the handful of attorneys volunteering their time to support the cause are swamped by the sheer volume of citations.
There is a growing concern that the potential for criminal charges is stifling participation. “If you’re a teacher or somebody who needs to pass a criminal background check for your employment, a criminal misdemeanor charge is a real concern,” said Barber. “There is also the chilling effect that it has on people who would want to come and participate in the occupation, but can’t necessarily afford a $1,000 fine per night or afford to have a misdemeanor charge on their record.”
The citation protocol has also distracted the movement by diverting energy away from their original goals. “We started out wanting to protest the issues of economic inequality and disenfranchisement in our democracy because of corporate financing of politicians, but now because of the city of Tucson’s response to the movement, our priorities have shifted to defending our first amendment protected activities.”
Despite phone call and email campaigns demanding that city council members change the citation policy, and marches to city council meetings, Tucson representatives have remained silent on the issue. Having given up on swaying the city government to step up, members of the legal working group are in the process of filing a lawsuit against the city.
This is why Occupy Tucson is trying to get the word out to the community that sleeping overnight is not required. “You don’t have to get a misdemeanor charge in the Occupy Tucson movement. During the day we don’t have any problem with the police; it’s only when the 10:30 curfew rolls around,” says Barber.
This is a particularly significant message to communicate to the surrounding Hispanic community.
“The broader implication,” Barber says, “is that has caused the Latino community to be fearful of law enforcement in general and I think it’s a further chilling effect which is discouraging people of Hispanic descent in our community from participating because if they come out and they get a citation, the officer could then ask them for their papers. And we also have a large undocumented population that could be deported if faced with a citation. It’s very accurate to say that Arizona’s immigration policies are having a chilling effect on first amendment activities.”
Occupy Tucson’s PR and outreach working groups are teaming up with Latino community activist groups to encourage more participation to accurately represent the people of Tucson.
Faced with tremendous complications, it’s remarkable the extent to which Occupy Tucson has flourished, creating its own library, medical tent, a food station that consists of four different tents in order to comply with Pima County health codes, a garden, and solar panels with rechargeable batteries which are used at night for lighting. Barber referred to the encampment as a ” micro-city.”
Moving forward, Occupy Tucson hopes to continue growing and get back to protesting the corporate greed and political disenfranchisement that inspired them to camp out in the first place.
Occupy Richmond (Virginia)
Occupy Richmond was launched on October 15 in Kanawha Plaza, a public park in front of the city’s Federal Reserve Bank. After just two weeks of building what became a vibrant and thriving movement against corporate greed, the Kanawha encampment was torn down by police in an unannounced late-night raid that shocked protesters.
Despite being employed and in school full-time, 34-year-old Alex Pagliuca has committed himself to the movement. He told AlterNet, “I’m doing this with whatever time I can scrape together. It’s the first time I’ve seen a protest movement in my lifetime where people are willing to actually sacrifice something, their comfort and convenience. They’re even willing to go to jail.”
Richmond law prohibits camping in public parks overnight, but according to Pagliuca, the city often directs their sizable homeless population to take shelter in Kanawha, making it the only public space where the homeless are safe from police harassment, which is partly why the group chose to occupy Kanawha in the first place.
When the city’s mayor, Dwight C. Jones, visited the park last Thursday, October 27, he used the people’s mic to inform protesters that, “As mayor of this city, I’m going to have to ensure that the laws of the city are enforced,” adding he would send city representatives to meet with demonstrators.
On Sunday, Oct 30, protesters received a late-night visit, not from city representatives, but from the Richmond Police Department, first on foot, then horseback, and eventually by air. At a brief point in the raid a helicopter hovered overhead. Nine people were arrested for failing to follow police warnings to leave the park, four of which are being held without bail. After allotting the movement 15 minutes to collect their belongings, police spent the next four hours bulldozing the two-week old encampment.
A post on the Occupy Richmond Facebook page read, “When the Richmond Police raided our camp on Sunday night, they slashed our tents, bulldozed our supplies, and threw countless tents and food stocks into dump trucks.” According to Pagliuca, that included a kitchen, library, information center, and media tent as well as a “comfort tent” where extra blankets and gloves were stored.
Pagliuca wasn’t present when the police arrived, but immediately grabbed his camera and headed to Kanawha after receiving a text. “When I got there, there was 150 to 175 police surrounding the place and probably 100 to 125 protesters,” Pagliuca noted.
This was Occupy Richmond’s first large-scale confrontation with the police. Pagliuca places the blame entirely on the city government, saying police had been largely cooperative prior to the incident.
“I think people are genuinely shocked. We’ve been nonviolent. We were feeding and clothing the homeless. We were exercising our first amendment rights and were essentially told we can’t do that. This doesn’t make any sense,” said Pagliuca.
The level of resolve that comes out of these midnight raids is encouraging. A representative from the Occupy Richmond media team had this to say about the police raid: “We’re still active, and our numbers have grown exponentially since the raid. The Richmond Police Department made a huge mistake on Sunday night in their attempt to stop the Occupy Movement, and this is a mistake they will fully realize when they see how many new members we’ve acquired in the past 30 hours.”
Meanwhile, Kanawha’s homeless population, most of whom have joined the movement, “have nowhere to go,” says Pagliuca. Occupy Richmond formed a working group to assist them in finding temporary shelter while the group decides where to occupy next.
(Un)occupy Albuquerque (New Mexico)
(Un)occupy Albuquerque began October 1 on the University of New Mexico campus. The demonstrators at UNM originally called themselves Occupy Albuquerque, but later voted to change the name to (Un)occupy Albuquerque out of respect for New Mexico’s indigenous communities which have suffered under US government occupation for centuries.
Cody Jo, an undergraduate student studying creative writing and philosophy at UNM, spoke with AlterNet about his experience with the movement. He and his classmates were encouraged to observe/participate in (Un)occupy Albuquerque by their professor Desi Brown. According to Jo, the UNM faculty has been largely supportive of the movement.
One exception is UNM president David Schmidly, who refused to renew the movement’s permit when it expired last week. Instead, Schmidly ordered campus police to clear Yale Park of any protesters who remained past the permit’s 10pm deadline on Tuesday, October 25. The Digital Journal called the evening “a face-off … between some 500 protestors and about 80 police officers” made up of UNM police, the Albuquerque Police Department and New Mexico State Police. As the deadline passed, a helicopter hovered overhead while 20 officers in riot gear stood in the street in “defensive formation.” Ultimately, some two dozen protesters who refused to leave were arrested for trespassing.
Jo was a casualty of Schmidly’s policy as well, but his experience is unique in that he wasn’t actually involved in the protest when he was arrested. The day after the police raid, the campus police busied themselves with keeping the park clear of occupiers. That evening, as the General Assembly was pushed out of Yale Park, protesters took refuge in the coffee shop across the street, at which point Jo decided to relax on a bench on the perimeter of Yale Park away from the protest. He took out a book and began reading.
Twenty minutes later he was approached by 10 campus police officers, whose attire he described as “battle ready,” and ordered to vacate the bench. Jo stood his ground, exchanging words with the officers for about five minutes about his right, as a student, to sit where he pleased at a school he pays to attend.
The campus police responded that they were required to follow the university president’s orders, but Jo remained resolute, even replying, “He [the president] might be your boss, but he’s not mine, so I don’t have to do what he says.” Ultimately, the police became impatient, at which point Jo was lifted from the bench by two officers, thrown to the ground, and cuffed. As he lay face down with his hands bent behind his back, one arresting officer dug his thumb into Jo’s arm, leading to painful bruising and a possible infection, which he was later denied treatment for at the county jail.
The ACLU filed an injunction and the movement’s permit was reinstated with conditions. According to an ACLU press release:
“The new permit is valid through November 6, and allows for the use of the park as a forum for protest on weekdays from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM and Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico was involved in facilitating the balancing of protesters’ First Amendment rights with the university’s desire to impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of the protest.”
The various Occupy movements across the country highlight the remarkable level of courage and commitment that protesters have devoted to this cause. Whether it’s New York City, Oakland, Tucson, Richmond, or Albuquerque, the 99 percent have shown that, against all odds, they are here to stay.
An organic movement, born 6 weeks ago, will continue to spread and for that, I am glad…Lara