For now at least, the occupation continues.
A small, diverse group of activists, inspired by the national Occupy Wall Street protests that have cropped up this past month, have built an “Occupy Lawrence” camp in South Park. Their first rally — in front of US Bank, 900 Mass. — took place Oct 8. They’ve had tents pitched in the park since this past Saturday and, despite chillier weather and even a little rain Monday, they say they’ll continue to “occupy” indefinitely.
The group obtained one 24-hour permit to stay in the park from Saturday to Sunday. So, technically, camp members sleeping on-site Sunday and Monday nights violated a city ordinance — the park is closed from 11:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. But people involved say there have been no clashes with officials, save a polite request by parks and recreation workers to move the tents about 10 feet to accommodate tree maintenance. The bathrooms within the park remain open.
Mayor Aron Cromwell says the city has no intention of kicking the occupiers out any time soon, at least so long as they continue to be peaceful.
“We’ll continue to do our best to work with the group,” Cromwell said. “They understand that they can’t have the park completely to themselves, and we understand that they want to get across their message of, well, I’m not exactly sure of what, but to voice their frustration.”
“Legal liaison” Jennifer Dillon Christensen talked with Cromwell on the phone Monday afternoon. She said that the mood remains amicable, both within the group and between it and the city. That said, the protesters plan to remain in the park “until progress is made.”
How they’ll define that progress remains unclear. But with working groups — on media, donations, legal matters and recruitment — a voting system and even a social media campaign, this small offshoot of the movement does have its organization.
Who are they?
Some are young, some are old, some are students, some are transient, some have full-time jobs. In short, there’s not exactly one defining characteristic in them all. Ginny Cambron, who’s been organizing the group’s resources throughout the weekend, said that they’re open to all walks of life. What brings them together, she said, was “a hope for a community that’s more unified and equal.”
What do they want?
The group itself is still trying to figure that out. They have a website, where the main point of discussion appears to be highlighting and asking for change in the widening economic disparity, the main point of contention for the original New York protesters.
Jason Phoenix, the appointed media representative, said that the main goal is “starting a conversation with the community about how corporate greed is destroying our environment and our humanity.”
The occupy protests taking place across the country, he said, will, if nothing else, help build a generation that can be “future leaders.”
“We’re building little governments of our own,” he said. “It’s training camps for future leaders who can go on to influence our country and help make things more fair.”
How do they operate?
There’s been a general assembly every evening at 6 p.m. since Saturday. The consistent participants — about 20 in all — engage in direct democracy. Individuals propose resolutions and then give hand signals for votes — two arms up for support, two arms down for disagreement. Monday night, they unanimously passed a proposal to send a delegation of at least three to today’s City Commission meeting. They don’t have a list of specific demands for the commission. Instead, they plan to say thanks for the understanding and that they plan to stay at least through the week.
They give away food and take donations of supplies. Jessie Anderson, who volunteered to be a donations coordinator, said Monday afternoon that they had gotten food from several local businesses and even $100 in cash from a passer-by.
The Rev. Joshua Longbottom, associate pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt., said his church had agreed to work with the group “as schedules allow” to share kitchen space in its efforts to share food with Lawrence’s disadvantaged.
“A movement for economic justice is in line with the goals of our denomination,” he said.
Why South Park?
Christensen said they chose the park, despite it not having a perceived “anti-corporate” significance, because of a historical importance of protest there. And the visibility close to downtown helps them “start a conversation,” as Phoenix said, with residents like-minded and otherwise. The weekly downtown rallies they plan for in front of US Bank are all about visibility, too, they say.
People come and go within the group — even after just two days of “occupation” — but most speak of the long term as they use their voting process to hash out details of their demands and continue to peacefully assemble.
Everyone from the mayor to the pastor to the protester says the future of the group is “wait and see” but several within the group remain hopeful about the possibility of some kind of change.
“The spirit is strong; the vision is clear,” Christensen said.