Monday, February 6, 2012

Still Occupying

Reuters reports police tore down an Occupy site in the nation's capital while from California we have a report of continuing Occupy protests in Oakland. With the onset of winter there was speculation that occupiers, like Napoleon's Russian Army would collapse in the face of unrelenting winter. It turns out they haven't vanished at all, it's just the coverage.

Police removed protesters as they confiscated bedding and most tents on Saturday from an "Occupy" protest site just blocks from the White House, enforcing a no-camping rule for the public McPherson Square they had ignored for months.

Dozens of mounted police and police on foot in riot gear earlier sealed off the square, which is administered by the National Park Service, and moved in before dawn to enforce the no-camping regulation.

Demonstrators have been in the square since early October to target the growing income gap, corporate greed and what they see as an unfair tax structure favoring the richest Americans.

By early evening, police had scuffled with protesters and moved all but one out of the park as they cleared most of the encampment. Police said the move was only an enforcement of park rules but Occupy demonstrators called the action a "full force eviction" and said the police had beaten them with batons and pushed them out so violently that several people were trampled.

Police said there had been eight arrests and one injury to a police officer who was hit in the face with a brick. Protesters said a protester had been beaten unconscious but the police did not confirm the injury.

"They pushed and beat us out." said Sam Jewler, a protester, 23, from the nation's capital who has been camping in the square for months.

The National Park Service has repeatedly warned protesters it would start enforcing a ban against camping in the square alongside K Street, home to many of the powerful lobbyists who seek to influence lawmakers, and at the Occupy movement's site at Freedom Plaza, both a few blocks from the White House.

"They can go back in," said U.S. Park Police Sergeant David Schlosser, who said the police were just moving protesters out in sections while they implemented the no camping rule. Earlier in the day he told reporters the police action was not an eviction but just "nuisance abatement."

Guarded by police, sanitation workers cleared away most tents and heaps of bedding, palettes, crates, tarpaulins, full-sized mattresses, books, clothes, straw and other debris that had accumulated over the four months of occupation.

By evening, only a handful of empty tents remained. The police had also taken down one of the group's most sentimental symbols of resistance, a large blue tarpaulin decorated with moons and stars and the words "Tent of Dreams" in reference to the ban on sleeping in the park.

Many demonstrators had packed up their belongings and left, but a group of about 60 stood in a cold drizzle just feet from police blocking entry into the park and vowed to continue the movement in some form and retake part of the park on Sunday for a meeting to reassess their next move.


Some protesters vowed to sleep on sidewalks in sight of the park and some planned to seek shelter in nearby houses and a local church. While some demonstrators berated the police, others appeared defeated. One woman cried while a nearby protester kept his arm around her.

"The most important thing is to maintain our presence. That is the plan," said Edward Sahadi, 47, a baker from Key West, Florida, who has been at the site for more than three months.

Others hinted the movement could move on beyond the camp.

"This is not an ending. It's just an evolution. ... We occupied spaces. We can occupy more than that. We can occupy ideas," said Sariel Lehyani, 28, of Washington.

The Occupy movement began when protesters set up camp in New York's Zuccotti Park on September 17, sparking demonstrations across the United States and elsewhere in the world. Its message of economic equality has become a recurrent theme in the U.S. presidential race.

But the eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters and others in public spaces in other U.S. cities in November and December has made the protests less visible and organizers are now struggling to maintain momentum without the physical camps.

Local media in Austin, Texas, reported that police had cleared an Occupy encampment there, with seven arrests. A spokesman for the Austin Police Department was not immediately available to comment.

Demonstrations in the U.S. capital have survived so long because of an unusually warm winter and a permissive approach by federal authorities reluctant to provoke a confrontation.

But the McPherson Square had encampment has drawn increasing complaints from members of Congress and city officials because of the rising costs of policing, squalor and rats. The protest site has also drawn a number of homeless people.

Despite their small numbers, the Washington protesters have received outsized media attention because their camps are near the White House.

The National Park Service forbids camping on federal land not designated as a campground. Park rules allow tents or temporary structures as part of protests but they cannot have bedding and a tent flap or side of the structure must be open.

There was no sign of police activity at the second protest site, Freedom Plaza. Schlosser said: "We'll address Freedom Plaza at a later time."

Jeffrey Light, an attorney advising the Occupy protesters, said police had been removing tents that were in compliance with regulations. The clearing operation "is what has happened in so many other cities and it's going to happen here," he said.

Meanwhile the Mercury News reports people spoke of peace at the latest Occupy Oakland gathering and march Saturday night, a week after more than 400 arrests, flag burnings, tear gas and chaos filled the same streets during the weekly anti-police protest.

About 150 people gathered on the grass at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall about 7 p.m. in a mellow mood before a planned march at 9 p.m.

Late Saturday, demonstrators began marching toward police headquarters; police followed them, mostly keeping their distance. Some protesters covered their faces with ski masks or bandannas and held signs, which included "End the war in Oakland," "No justice, no peace," and "We are the 99%."

The rally and march followed a midday rally a week earlier, when protesters tore down a fence and attempted to enter the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. They were met with tear gas, and the confrontation kicked off a chaotic Saturday, culminating with more confrontations outside a YMCA and a flag burning outside City Hall. Police arrested 403 protesters, and 12 received stay-away orders.

Oakland resident Parker Anderson said he was arrested when police blocked protesters and forced them into the YMCA when they were attempting to get back to the plaza.

Following the arrests, he said police crammed 24 people into jail cells that fit five, did not allow them to make phone calls and prevented sick people from getting medications.

"Something needs to change, and I think that's what we're trying to do," he said.

Vicki McGuire, an Oakland psychotherapist, said she dropped back from the protests on Jan. 28 after it became clear that trouble was brewing. "Whether you're a pacifist or a 'diversity of tactics' person, police are accountable for their actions," she said.

McGuire said she initially began supporting the Occupy movement after seeing groups at her child's school compete for arts grants of $20,000, which she considered a pittance. She said she would continue to support the movement despite fissures between peaceful protesters and others.

"We're working on it," she said. "We're not giving up."

Information on the Occupy Oakland website said that those who "identify as peaceful" and are likely to interfere with the actions of fellow protesters may not want to attend the night's march and rally.

"It is a militant action. It attracts anti-capitalists, anti-fascists and other comrades of a revolutionary bent. It is not a march intended for people who are not fully comfortable with diversity of tactics," the message read.

But Occupy Oakland activists said "diversity of tactics" should not be read as being in favor of violence.

"Tonight's tactics is nonviolence," said one man with a megaphone. "End the war in Oakland."

No comments: