Sorry to disappoint you, Shaun McClusky, but there were no hippies stinking up Armory Park the first weekend of Occupy Tucson. Maybe once I smelled patchouli, but that could have been me.
Before I explain to you what took place the first few days at Occupy Tucson, I need to let everyone else know that today at 4:30 p.m. the Occupy Tucson folks had a rally and began a march from Armory Park to Tucson City Hall, 225 W Alameda. There's still time to join them. The council meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. and then there's the march back to Armory Park.
The goal is to ask the mayor and city council members to support them and stop the Tucson Police Department from issuing more criminal trespassing citations and allow Occupy Tucson to stay put without fear of being kicked out or continued arrests. The point they want to make is that so far it's been a peaceful protest of demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights to get together and complain about their government. While I'm still scratching my head thinking the point should be more civil disobedience which comes with citations, I understand their concerns that if it keeps going like this that doesn't bode well for building momentum for the occupation and it will leave many people dealing with heavy fines.
Here's an observation of what I saw over the weekend: Signs were spelled correctly, these folks know how to interpret the Bill of Rights, and they don't chase anyone around that may not agree with them by shouting "ACORN, ACORN." That has to mean something.
By last night, TPD had issued more than 100 citations to demonstrators who stayed overnight or at the park past 10:30 p.m. when it closes. The citation can mean up to a $1,000 fine for each ticket, but let's say Occupy Tucson is able to keep up the momentum despite the citations — what fun for the Justice Court.
By the time Occupy Tucson demonstrators decided to go to tonight's meeting, it was too late to get on the city council agenda. But once demonstrators show up at city hall in a loud way, only a few representatives are expected to enter the council chambers and make a plea during call to audience.
Craig Barber, one of the original organizers of Occupy Tucson, told demonstrators during last night's general assembly meeting that according to city code the city manager has the legal authority to allow Occupy Tucson folks to stay at Armory Park or any other park without being issued a citation.
The code says: “Powers of the director. The control, supervision, and operations of all parks is vested in the director of parks and recreation. The director or his deputy may make such reasonable rules and regulations as are necessary to manage, control, supervise, operate, use, preserve and govern park property and activities, and may designate hours of operation and opening and closing times of the various parks which may be different as to individual parks.”
Barber also offered further clarification on the park alternatives the city of Tucson's Parks and Recreation Director Fred Gray told the Range about last week — non-park properties that could be made available for the occupation without worry of arrest. Not sure if you can call it an occupation at that point, but Barber explained that one of the lots at Sixth Street and Toole Avenue is a gravel lot without shade, grass, trash or bathrooms. Another lot offered was a paved lot, but again, no water, trash, shade or bathrooms.
“We reconned these lots,” Barber said. “It’s a joke.”
There's an alternative the city council may want to consider this council meeting or the next — why not do what the LA City Council did, tell police not to dish out citations or make arrests — plus they passed this nifty resolution that you can read here:
Saturday Night Movie and a Citation
The first night citations were issued Saturday, and TPD Chief Roberto Villasenior showed up in person to tell demonstrators what the police planned to do — line up peacefully and give police your name and get your citation while being videotaped.
About 18 uniformed police stood around waiting to ticket any demonstrator who planned to continue to stay at the park. Before citations were issued, one demonstrator shouted out, “Thank you Tucson Police Department for not pepper spraying us,” referencing what took place earlier that night in Phoenix, where more than 50 police dressed in full riot gear arrested about 40 demonstrators in Cesar Chavez Plaza who were taken to jail. One demonstrator was reportedly pepper-sprayed.
Barber told the Range that demonstrators want to stay at Armory Park. There was discussion of moving to Veinte de Agosto Park, where the Pancho Villa statute is located, but that park closes at dusk, so no matter where they move the issue of citations needs to be resolved, he said.
Now back to Shaun McClusky's concerns about folks stinking up Armory Park with all their — whatever he imagines people do when they exercise free speech. On Saturday morning, Oct. 15, there were lots of signs, an area where you could make signs if you didn't bring one, a computer area for Occupy Tucson folks to update social media, download photos and videos and write press releases, a small table with a burgeoning book exchange, tents scattered in different corners of the park, a peacekeeping tent for the peacekeeping volunteers, and a make-shift kitchen with coolers, water, fruit, snacks and a donation jar.
It was kind of like a large block party, but without the Electric Slide or neighbor Joe grilling hotdogs, but the age mix was interesting. This national movement that's grown from Occupy Wall Street in New York City, that's looked at as young people's movement, certainly attracted all ages in Tucson. Yes, there were 20-year-olds there, with a good deal of them actively participating, but so were a variety of men and women with, well, gray hair.
During the Sunday, Oct. 16 general assembly meeting I saw two kids, probably dragged by their grandmother or mother, sitting quietly at a table ... reading books. Shaun, try not to gasp... I know, just imagine.
There were the regulars that one sees at local protests milling about, sometimes looking confused, maybe trying to figure out their place in this new form of protest and group of younger demonstrators, unless they were wondering where all the signs were comparing Obama to Hitler. Villasenor was true to his word and police presence was minimal — several small groups of uniformed officers regularly walked through the park, while others parked in TPD golf-cart cars across the street or on the sidewalks.
While police continue to keep watch and issue citations, demonstrators like Alex Maldonado remarked to the Range how peaceful the weekend was and how good the police have been to work with.
“They are the 99 percent, too. We communicate with them every day and people are being polite,” Maldonado told the Range.
At 10:30 p.m. Saturday night, demonstrators were kicking back in the park watching the movie The Corporation, while slowly more and more police began to show up and surround them in small clusters. It wasn't until Villasenor showed up that people finally knew what was going to happen next — arrests where you get cuffed and hauled off to jail, like what happened in Phoenix or what ended up happening — 37 "paper arrests" or citations for criminal trespass.
Maldonado is a member of Veterans for Peace and is head of the peacekeeping working group, volunteers who wear orange vests and work on self-policing the occupation. After the first day, it had been a long day of peacekeeping for Maldonado. The crowd slowly grew that day to more than 350 demonstrators, despite the heat. When not marching, folks clumped together in different patches of shade, reading, talking, playing music and eating lunch an dinner.
A medic volunteer kept walking around with bottles of water to make sure everyone was keeping hydrated. He did that all weekend.
There was only one issue the entire day when a man walked through the park shouting profanities and “Get a job,” while holding his cell phone as if he was videotaping everyone, peacekeepers quietly walked over and asked him to leave. He did, and that was that.
During the first general assembly, Maldonado walked up to the park stage and told everyone through the bullhorn, “We are here to protect you … but today, to some extent, everyone is a peacekeeper.”
Once the first general assembly meeting ended, the first march began, and Maldonado and his crew of peacekeepers sprinted to keep up with each leg of the march. The group, carrying signs and banners, stayed on the sidewalk, meandering and chanting down the streets into Tucson’s financial district stopping in front of the Bank of America building at Stone Avenue and Pennington Street and another stop at the Superior Court steps where foreclosure sales take place.
While the police followed, the demonstrators listened to Maldonado's instructions and stayed on the sidewalk. During the march, Maldonado says the response from people around them was mostly positive, even when demonstrators stopped and turned north toward the downtown library shouting at folks there for Tucson Meet Yourself, “You are the 99 percent.” Most people stood there and watched, but a few smiled and waved.
A Quiet Reverence
What impressed Maldonado most was the walk back to the park when demonstrators got closer to the St. Augustine Cathedral — the chanting stopped immediately. There was a special event and mariachis performed in the church plaza. Every demonstrator walked quietly past and were offered cookies by a group of teenagers lined up in front of the church.
“Wasn’t that nice?” Maldonado asked me, beaming.
There are now seven working groups that meet each day working on donations, food, first aide, safety, public relations and technology issues. Working groups present agenda items to everyone during the general assembling meetings and decisions are made through a consensus process that some have complained is sometimes long and tedious.
Maldonado said it’s a new system of decision making in a way the “kids want to do it now. ... It’s a whole new system I haven’t heard about… I figure, our generation has run this country into the ground, so it’s time for us to support these kids and help them turn it around.”