January 10, 2012
Occupy Tuscon continues the camping
Count Occupy Tucson as one of the few offshoots of OWS that still has campers keeping the original idea for the protest alive.
By 9 p.m. on Monday night, as the group’s general assembly meeting came to a close, there were already a number of people sleeping in solidarity on the sidewalk outside of Viente de Agosto Park, better-known locally as Pancho Villa park, for the statue of the Mexican bandit and revolutionary in the center of the downtown green space. The night before, one activist told me, more than 30 people slept on the sidewalk.
But it hasn’t been easy, nor cheap. Activists say police have issued more than 800 citations for illegal camping or trespassing since the movement began here on October 15. Per capita, according to activist Melissa Donovan, this is more citations than any other Occupy has been issued. And second only to New York City in overall citations.
“The city has slowly suffocated the movement,” she said, noting that several protesters have collected more than 20 citations and one, whom she called “Medic Sam” has more than 40.
The camping hasn’t been consistent, either, as the sidewalk is the fifth area that local activists have occupied, and some are looking into getting a permit for a sixth location. The city has denied the permit request, and an offshoot group called Occupy Public Lands is looking into filing a lawsuit over the denial
The group started in nearby Armory Park. On the first night, 50 citations were issued, activists said.
‘People lined up to get their tickets,” Justin Prather said, “so the cops could get out there as quickly as possible and we could get to sleep.”
When that encampment grew to about 100 tents strong, members of the direct action committee moved to Pancho Villa park and the Joel Valdez Library Grounds on October 28.
On November 4, police cleared protesters from the library grounds and Armory Park but allowed them to stay in Pancho Villa park.
“We were raided out of all parks except this one,” said Prather. “If we were caught sleeping in any other park, we’d get arrested but we were only ticketed in this one. I think they wanted us in as small an area as possible so it would be easier to get rid of us. If we destroyed the grounds it would be easier to get rid of us.”
Then, the city decided even one park was too many for Occupy Tucson. On December 21 some 55 police vehicles and more than 200 officers, activists said, showed up to clear the park of protesters.
“It was very disheartening,” said Charles Jackson. “They set up flood lights all around the park and had it surrounded.”
After an emergency general assembly meeting, Occupy Tucson, which is organized as a legal 501c3 nonprofit, decided to cede the park to the authorities.
“We chose to abide by the law and respect the government that is here in Tucson,” Jackson said. “By being compliant, we thought maybe we could work through some of our other issues.”
But rather than giving up on the idea of a physical occupation, and after a two-day occupation of the grounds outside City Hall, the activists found another way to keep the camping going. In 1984, a group of homeless activists camped on city sidewalks for 70 straight days to protest the lack of legal places to sleep outside. As a result, the city passed an ordinance that made it legal to sit, lie or sleep five feet from the curb.
By and large, though, the ordinance is still being used by those for which it was originally intended.
“Most of the people camping are the homeless,” said Jose Cardenas, as he laid out a number of blankets on the sidewalk on which to sleep for the night. “We are the ones on the front lines.”
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