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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

[Updated-again] Occupy Raleigh City Hall? City Council committee says no, 3-0.

Posted by on Tue, Nov 8, 2011 at 4:47 PM

Mayor Meeker pitched thia paves area next to the old police headquarters
  • photo by Bob Geary
  • Mayor Meeker pitched this paved area next to the old police headquarters.

[Update, Tuesday, 11:20 a.m.: I just got off the phone with Joe Huberman. The committee voted 3-0 against the idea of allowing Occupy Raleigh to occupy any part of the City Hall/Police Department block. The three: Mary-Ann Baldwin (chair), Eugene Weeks and John Odom. The issue now goes back to the full Council, which meets next Tuesday. It would be unprecedented in my experience for the Council to vote yes when a committee was unanimous the other way.

Huberman said he was disappointed but not surprised. He expressed some optimism, however, at the news he heard this morning that Mayor-elect Nancy McFarlane — who was not at the meeting — is actively looking for private property close to the Capitol where (with the owner's consent) the Occupy group could encamp. Huberman said he's heard talk about the little triangle of land where Edenton Street comes up the hill to meet Hillsborough Street. You'd think it's public but it's actually privately owned.

Update by Indy intern Maggie Smith, who attended this morning's meeting:The request for a permit was sent to the Law and Public Safety Committee after City Attorney Tom McCormick raised legal concerns at last week's City Council session about overnight encampment at City Hall.

"There is essentially a $700 million corporation at this building," McCormick said at the meeting this morning. "It needs to be treated as a business location."

Assistant City Manager Dan Howe echoed McCormick's concerns about protecting assets at the municipal building, citing the presence of private offices and equipment. "The municipal complex is public, but there is no such thing as unlimited access."

Howe went on to express concerns about the liability of housing protesters on public property, and the costs to the city. So far, Raleigh has spent about $61,000 on round-the-clock security during the 25-day protest, and would spend approximately $400—$800 each day going forward if the permit had been granted.

Citizens also expressed concern at the meeting over safety. One woman related her experience with a group of protesters in Washington D.C., who beat on the windows of her restaurant while she was eating. "I'm sure they also started out saying they were going to be peaceful," the woman told the committee. She also expressed concern that the protesters would block the city's Christmas Parade "if they wanted to."

"My greatest disappointment of the day is that there are people in the city who are afraid of us," said Huberman. "We've been here 25 days and shown no tendencies of violence or destruction." Members of Occupy Raleigh vowed to the committee that they would work with the city to maintain peace and order.

Still, the committee ultimately was fearful of setting a precedent. Howe insisted that this was because Raleigh policies already prohibited overnight stays on public property. "We have plenty of other opportunities for people to exercise their First Amendment rights." They can picket on sidewalks, he suggested, or start a parade if they want to.

But committee chair Mary-Ann Baldwin touched upon a larger and thornier issue: if the Occupy Raleigh group was granted permission to indefinitely camp out downtown on City Hall property, then other interest groups would have the same rights in the future, who might be more controversial. An example? "Neo-nazis," she offered. "This precedent could be damaging. We wouldn't be able to stop other parties [from staying overnight], and this is the main concern by citizens."

If private property is offered, Huberman said, Occupy Raleigh would take it under consideration at a General Assembly session. If you haven't seen one, it's a kind of pure-democracy thing where unanimity is sought or, short of that, no one "blocks" the general consensus.

To this point, Huberman said, the General Assembly meetings have focused on occupying public spaces, not private property, since people want to make the point "that government is not* functioning properly — and maybe you (the government) should do something about it."

(* Corrected to add the critical word "not" to the quotation.)

"The search continues?" I said.

"The search continues," he answered.

***

Here's the original post from this morning:

The Raleigh City Council's Law & Public Safety Committee is meeting this morning to consider Occupy Raleigh's request for permission to encamp at City Hall. Two sites are expected to be discussed:

* A small, grassy plaza behind City Hall at the corner of Morgan and Dawson streets — two blocks from the Capitol along the Morgan Street sidewalk.

* A paved plaza (see the picture above) located below street level on the corner of Hargett and McDowell streets — it's below street level, at the entrance to the basement of the old police department building, now empty, right next to City Hall. It's a bit closer to the Capitol as the crow flies, but that big blank building across the street (it's an AT&T switching facility) is in the way.

The first site is much preferred by the Occupy Raleigh group. The second was suggested by Mayor Charles Meeker as an alternative. According to Joe Huberman, Occupy Raleigh's General Assembly discussed the two sites on Sunday evening and decided that, while Meeker's alternative might be acceptable, they'd continue to request the first one and consider Meeker's idea only if their preferred site is denied.

Advantage of the Meeker site: It's not under the windows of condo owners on Dawson Street.

Advantage of Occupy Raleigh's preferred site: It's more visible to the public, and it has trees and grass — making it a much nicer place to encamp.

Occupy Raleigh is essentially looking for a way to keep tents and other "stuff" in one place while they continue to picket at the State Capitol. At the Capitol, officials have made it clear, the demonstrators are welcome to be on the sidewalk, but their "stuff" — bed rolls, chairs, supplies — isn't.

Whether City Council will allow an occupation of its property isn't clear. Put it this way: It will a bold departure from the Council's usual risk-aversion if it takes a protest group to its bosom.

***

On the other hand, some House Democrats, members of Rep. Bill Faison's business caucus, welcomed a trio of Occupy Raleigh folks to the legislative building yesterday. Readers will recognize the names: Stacie Borrello, the writer/young mom who helped get things started; Kurt Zehnder, the indefatiguable waiter; and Joe Huberman, the Boylan Heights leader of many good causes, past and present.

Here's what they had to say (h/t, Joe Huberman):

Stacie Borrello:

Hello and Thank you. First, please understand that we are delivering this message today as individuals and not speaking for the Occupy Raleigh group as a whole. Our group has no appointed officials or spokesperson and is not ready to release its official goals. We have, however, collaborated on these remarks with more than a dozen other participants in the group.
I am pleased that you would like to better understand our group and why we have been occupying the Capitol sidewalk around the clock since Oct. 15.

The Occupy movement is a powerful, non-partisan, people’s uprising focused on socio-economic issues. As of mid-October, occupations were underway in 1,500 cities worldwide. According to recent national polls, just over half of Americans say they support the Occupy movement — a group that is bigger than any one Party’s voting base.

Locally, the Occupy movement has thousands of supporters. The Raleigh group currently has more than 8,000 followers on its growing social networks. About 1,000 supporters attended our occupation kick-off rally on Oct. 15.

The Occupy movement is not aligned with any political party or elected officials. Our allegiance is to the people of this nation whose voices are silenced by the power of corporate money, whose homes have been illegally foreclosed upon by bailed-out banks, and whose financial security is in jeopardy due to historically high unemployment that lawmakers everywhere have not adequately addressed.

While the Occupy movement supports national and global economic justice, we have focused our remarks today on State-level concerns. The points that follow do not encompass all of our group’s concerns and should NOT be interpreted as the definitive goals of the local Occupy movement.

***

Joseph Huberman:

We are alarmed that stringent voter documentation and registration requirements, if enacted, will effectively block citizens from exercising their right to vote.

We are distressed that State education cuts will put college education out of reach for many residents, make North Carolina less attractive to families and businesses, and result in serious long term repercussions, particularly for our children.

We are alarmed that critical State infrastructure is deteriorating and will put our safety and our economy in jeopardy.

We are alarmed that State budget cuts will contribute to keeping North Carolina’s unemployment rate above 10% for the foreseeable future.

We are alarmed that many people in our State who work full-time jobs still do not earn enough to enjoy basic financial security or reliable access to health care.

We are alarmed that banks have failed to make good faith efforts to modify home loans and are even illegally foreclosing on North Carolinians’ homes.

We are agitated that the bearers of accumulated wealth exercise disproportionate influence over politics and the needs of the vast majority of Americans are ignored for the benefit of the top 1%.

We are alarmed that current approaches to deficit reduction burden the middle and lower classes with job and program cuts but don’t require added sacrifice from the top 1% of income earners.

We are outraged that over 40% of the financial wealth in this nation is owned by only 1% of the population, an imbalance which we believe is largely responsible for our collective economic stagnation.

***

Kurt Zehnder:

We are all witnesses to gross injustices in our nation. Wall Street tycoons broke the national economy. Their unethical business practices set off a chain reaction that put millions of Americans out of work and out of their homes.

Still, the people running the financial institutions responsible for the economic collapse have not spent a day in jail for their crimes. Meanwhile, people across the nation who are calling attention to this grave national tragedy are being arrested and denied peaceful assembly rights.

I am troubled by national and local attempts to limit citizens’ free expression of core political speech. On Oct. 27, North Carolina Capitol police told Margaret, a disabled Occupy Raleigh participant, that she must relinquish her chair even though it was not blocking the right of way.

Margaret explained that her disability prevented her from participating in the demonstration while standing. Instead of making an accommodation, the Capitol Police arrested Margaret and seven peaceful citizens sitting in solidarity with her.

This marks the second time Occupy Raleigh peaceful protesters have gone to jail for exercising free speech rights without impeding the public right of way or threatening any property.

We feel these actions are an attack on our Constitutional rights and we call on you to support our concurrent appeals to the city and the State for a secure Occupation location.

I hope this is just the first step in a continuing dialogue with our elected representatives from both sides of the political spectrum.

We encourage you to visit the Capitol sidewalk to better understand the concerns and goals of demonstrators. We will continue our work to draw attention to our country’s gross economic imbalance and the corruptive influences in politics.

I firmly believe that the public outreach the national Occupy movement is conducting will impact the 2011 election and shape the ongoing economic debate.

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The issue now goes back to the full Council, which meets next Tuesday. It would be unprecedented in my experience for the Council to vote yes when a committee was unanimous the other way.

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No, no, no. You don't understand. Thom wasn't "misleading investors." He was just "letting the free market work."

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