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|We are the 99 percent, too|
|by Ryan Watkins|
|October 28, 2011 00:00|
Early Wednesday morning, the Atlanta Police Department, acting on orders from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, arrested 53 Occupy Atlanta protesters who defiantly remained in the city's Woodruff Park beyond an 11 p.m. curfew.
During an early morning press conference, Reed said that the city was forced to take action against the protesters after Occupy Atlanta organizers attempted to host a free hip-hop concert in Woodruff Park over the weekend without a proper security plan.
When Reed announced Oct. 24 a reversal of his earlier order allowing protesters to remain in Woodruff Park beyond the 11 p.m. curfew for the city's parks, activists accused the mayor of misrepresenting the reasons for booting the protesters.
Reed said at a press conference early Wednesday morning the city had spent more than $300,000 in dealing with the Occupy Atlanta protesters. Between 100 and 150 officers were involved in the early morning operation, Reed said.
Reed and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner thanked the APD for conducting the operation without incident. There were no reports of injury.
The mayor's office released a statement earlier today:
“For more than two weeks, the City of Atlanta, downtown residents and business owners have shown tolerance and patience for the members of Occupy Atlanta,” Reed said. “The protesters, however, moved from conducting an initially peaceful demonstration to increasingly aggressive actions. These actions led to my decision today to revoke the Executive Order. I would like to commend the Atlanta Police Department on executing an operation that resulted in no incidents.”
Organizers for Occupy Atlanta vowed to return to the park today, though no indication was given if the group planned to remain in the park beyond the city's 11 p.m. curfew.
Atlanta police have closed the park and warned that anyone who enters, including media, risks arrest.
In a press conference late Monday afternoon, Reed announced his decision to revoke his previous executive order that would have allowed the protesters to remain camped in Woodruff Park through Nov. 7. At the time, Reed was flanked by a large group of clergy members he said he had asked to meet with the Occupy Atlanta leaders to negotiate a withdrawal of the park.
Reed and Occupy Atlanta leaders now disagree on whether the clergy were actually given a good faith opportunity to meet.
According to the mayor:
Mayor Reed on Monday met with more than two dozen faith-based leaders for more than an hour in his office and asked for their assistance in trying to negotiate with members of Occupy Atlanta. On Tuesday, Occupy Atlanta leaders rebuffed the attempts of several leading clergy members to engage in a civil and productive dialogue about the protest. Instead, group members shouted down the clergy members on Tuesday and refused to formally meet until Thursday.
But Occupy Atlanta leaders say a small group of clergy came to the park Tuesday, saying they wanted to meet at 5 p.m. — the time Occupy Atlanta had already publicly announced for a march to the Georgia Pacific building.
The evidence shows that despite the fact that Mayor Reed claimed that he was sending clergy to speak with Occupy Atlanta in order to find a “peaceful solution,” the outcome was already predetermined. Representatives from the group of clergy arrived at the park and requested a meeting for 5 pm. That time was not available because of a planned march which was posted in the schedule on Occupy Atlanta’s website. Participants in Occupy Atlanta and the representatives of the group of clergy agreed on a meeting time of Thursday at noon at Big Bethel AME Church. However, Atlanta police did not wait for this meeting to take place.
We reiterate that the mayor has misrepresented our peaceful protest. There was no violence on Saturday as he claimed. The Hip Hop Day festival promoters had a permit which was pulled by the city at the last minute. The mayor has misrepresented both Occupy Atlanta and the facts at every possible turn. Nor did he appear to have the full confidence of the clergy sent to negotiate with us; Rev. Darrell D. Elligan commented “We heard the mayor, but just because we heard the mayor doesn’t mean we believe the mayor.”
Editor's note: The section below was written before the Atlanta Police Department forcefully removed the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Atlanta's downtown Woodruff Park on Oct. 25.
Corporate greed, excessive CEO pay and corporate influence in the political system are just a few of the concerns of the members of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Though not specifically an LGBT movement, many queer activists have joined the protest to support its call for social change.
The protests officially began on Sept. 17, 2011, when hundreds of activists gathered in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan’s financial district to protest corporate influence over the democratic process.
Since mid-September, more than 100 cities across the United States, and some 1,500 cities internationally, have seen their own Occupy protests pop up, including an encampment at Atlanta’s Woodruff Park which began earlier this month and is in its third week.
The fate of the occupation is in doubt, however, as Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed this week announced his plan to revoke a previous executive order which allowed protesters to remain in the park beyond the city’s 11 p.m. curfew through Nov. 7.
At an Oct. 24 press conference, Reed blamed protesters for defying an order from the city’s fire chief during a planned free two-day hip-hop concert in the park on Oct. 22 and the illegal use of a generator in a city park during the concert for his decision to revoke the executive order.
As of press time on Tuesday, Oct. 25, protesters were continuing to occupy Woodruff Park but many were anticipating being forcefully removed. Organizers vowed that they would return to the park if evicted, and that the “Occupy” movement would not end even if participants faced arrest and could not remain overnight in the park.
A call for social change
Juliana Grant, 35, from Atlanta, is an epidemiologist who volunteers with Occupy Atlanta’s legal and medical committees. Grant, who identifies as bisexual, said that she has been involved with activism throughout her adult life but feels the Occupy Wall Street movement is unique in its call for social change.
“I was following the protest in New York,” Grant told GA Voice. “ I didn’t even realize we were presenting one here in Atlanta.
“It seems to be a broad based, collectively organized call for social change. We haven’t had that kind of movement in the U.S. for decades. If you want to see social change, you should be involved in movements that call for social change.”
Grant’s past experience as a legal observer in other protest movements prompted her to volunteer with Occupy Atlanta.
“When you’re there, you start asking around to see if anything needs to happen,” she said. “I’m a huge proponent of non-hierarchical structures. That’s the downfall of a lot of progressive movements.”
The Occupy movement has no central group of policy makers or defined leadership structure. Decisions are often made with the consensus of the entire group. General Assembly meetings are held daily at 7 p.m. and everyone is given a chance to speak if they wish.
Grant added that the occupiers are wholly supportive of LGBT equality and there is noticeable queer visibility in Woodruff Park and within Occupy Atlanta’s organizers.
“The movement is made up of people from very different backgrounds, including people who have never been involved in any activism before,” she said.
Members of the queer action group Radical Faeries have been stationed in Woodruff Park since the local protest began, offering organizational support. Their presence at the daily General Assembly meetings and the formation of the LGBT committee provides queer visibility in the movement.
Everic Dupuy hails from Liberty, Tenn., but has been involved with Occupy Atlanta since the local protest began. Dupuy is a member of the Radical Faeries.
“As gay people, we make up part of the 99 percent,” Dupuy said. “Just like we fought for our rights to be able to be free and not have to go to prison to be who we are. Today we’re fighting for the same rights as everyone else. The right to be able to assemble together, to voice our opinions and hopefully a create a more fair and just world.”
Despite the protesters not specifically addressing LGBT issues, Dupuy said that the Occupy movement is supportive of its LGBT participants.
“This is an overwhelmingly supportive environment. I feel very comfortable being myself here. I never feel like I need to censor myself here. I kiss whoever I want to kiss. I cuddle with whoever I want. At our General Assembly meetings, they always make it clear that transphobia or homophobia will not be tolerated.”
Before each General Assembly meeting, attendees recite the pledge and guidelines of the protest. The first line states: “We unequivocally oppose transphobia and homophobia. We are in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. We unequivocally oppose racism, ableism and religious intolerance.”
“Often times, people get off work, they come down here or on the weekends. It definitely varies. A lot of people go home at night and come back the next day. There is a group of us that’s been here since basically the beginning,” Dupuy said.
“It’s really important for us to let our message be known and be heard and to be visible. To let our city, state and national government know that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people stand up for the rights of everyone,” he added.
A Roara’ Thunder, a member of the Radical Faeries and the Atlanta chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, said the message of the movement goes well beyond sexual orientation.
“The message of Occupy Atlanta is that there’s something wrong going on. People have had a sense that it’s been going on for a while. It goes beyond the boundaries of LGBTQ. It’s about looking at all of us as a family and being able to look beyond the lines of separating our community from the rest of the community as a whole.”
A Roara’ Thunder has been in Woodruff Park since the start of the Occupy Atlanta protest.
“There’s an impact as far as awareness to the rest of the group that there are queer organizers here. It’s great to be queer and to be here and organizing, but the most important thing is that we’re organizing,” he said.
The APD’s image problem
A series of accusations of misconduct has plagued the Atlanta Police Department in recent years, from the shooting death of Kathryn Johnston, an elderly woman living in northwest Atlanta, during a botched drug raid in 2006 to the unconstitutional 2009 raid on the Atlanta Eagle which saw the city fork out more than a million dollars in two separate settlements.
Fallout from the Eagle continues as the city continues to defend against two additional lawsuits stemming from the gay bar raid.
Earlier this month, a federal lawsuit was filed against 14 police officers and Mayor Reed over alleged illegal strip searches, where five men claimed their constitutional rights were violated by members of the APD during traffic stops.
Possible police action has many activists worried that the APD will overstep its bounds if arrests are ordered in Woodruff Park.
In a telephone interview, APD spokesman Carlos Campos acknowledged the department’s public perception but said any police action taken against the protesters would be “courteous and professional.”
On Monday, Oct. 24, the APD installed barricades around Woodruff Park and increased its presence in and around the park in an apparent show of force after Reed’s announced change of heart toward the protesters.
“It’s no secret that barricades are used for crowd control,” Campos said. He added that none of the entrances to the park were blocked and that until the mayor ordered the park evicted, the police were simply monitoring the situation for changing conditions.
Dozens of officers were stationed at the park Monday evening, while many more were holding at the Atlanta Civic Center.
Also at the Civic Center Monday evening were two APD prisoner transport buses, a command and control van, dozens of police cars and several smaller transport vans used to shuttle officers to and from Woodruff Park from the staging area.
Requests to enter the staging area made by GA Voice were denied by the APD.
Campos also declined to offer specifics on possible operational details or comment on the number of officers involved.
The massive police presence was unnecessary for the peaceful protesters, according to Joe Beasley of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Beasley told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he is calling for the people of Atlanta to recall Mayor Reed.
“We’re calling on the people of Atlanta to recall Mayor Reed for malfeasance in office because he is abusing the taxpayers’ money by having this massive show of force when it’s not needed,” Beasley said.
Mayor turns to faith community to mediate withdrawal
When Reed announced a reversal of his earlier order allowing protesters to remain in Woodruff Park beyond the 11 p.m. curfew for the city’s parks, activists accused the mayor of misrepresenting the reasons for booting the protesters.
During Reed’s Oct. 24 press conference at City Hall, the mayor was flanked on both sides by 25 members of the local faith community. Reed said he had called them to help mediate a withdrawal of protesters.
Among those called on by the mayor was Rabbi Joshua Lesser, the openly gay spiritual head of Congregation Bet Haverim.
Lesser said Mayor Reed reached out to him on Oct. 23 to ask for his involvement in mediating a solution.
“He wanted to know if there was a group of us who would be willing to speak with and negotiate with Occupy Wall Street protesters,” Lesser told GA Voice.
Lesser agreed and met with Reed, along with a score of other religious leaders, on Oct. 24, the day the mayor announced he would revoke his previous executive order.
“I wanted to be here as somebody who was open to the messages,” Lesser added. “But there is truth in some of the public’s safety concerns.”
Lesser said that he had visited Woodruff Park several times to speak with protesters and to learn about the movement and the demands of Occupy Atlanta.
“Where I get nervous is when people get completely demonized,” Lesser said. “That happens on both sides. That’s why I thought it was important for people to see the positives of humanity. Part of what I was able to express [to Reed] was a certain sense of positivity with people that I’ve connected with [in Woodruff Park].”
Lesser could not offer specifics of a plan for the mediation, but added that he was willing to work toward an amicable solution between the city and the Occupy Atlanta protesters.
“Nobody wants police brutality,” Lesser said of possible arrests for those who refuse to leave the park. “There’s going to be, because of everything, great sensitivity.”
Occupy Atlanta held its own press conference Monday evening. La’Die Mansfield, speaking on behalf of the protesters, read a prepared response to the accusations made by Reed:
“The mayor, along with other city officials, has fabricated danger where none exists. Mayor Reed has gathered a group of clergy to come out to talk to us about vacating the park. As far as we know they have not been among the many clergy who have spoken with us every day.”
Mansfield added that members of Occupy Atlanta would be willing to meet with anyone, including the members of the faith community that were called on by Reed but many of the protesters were insistent on remaining in the park after the mayor officially revokes the executive order.
State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), a longtime gay rights advocate; former Atlanta City Councilmember Derrick Boazman; and Dr. Rev. Richard Cobble from the Concerned Black Clergy of Metro Atlanta also addressed the media Monday evening.
“Their voice is the voice of the people that I serve,” Fort said. “Occupy Atlanta’s voice is the voice of the people who have been kicked out of their homes. By their actions, Occupy Atlanta has given a great many people hope.
“Our concern is freedom, justice and equality for God’s children,” Fort said.
At the end of the press conference, protesters gathered together and defiantly shouted a call and repeat: “Whose park? Our park!”
What’s next for OWS protesters?
Many members of Occupy Atlanta are prepared for arrest if the APD should move to evict the protesters. Among the many training sessions offered by organizers is a nightly seminar on non-violent arrest resistance.
Organizers acknowledged that a protester’s decision to be arrested would be made on an individual basis and pledged to continue regardless of police action.
Members of Occupy Atlanta were tentatively scheduled to meet with select members of Reed’s spiritual group after press time on Thursday, Oct. 27, at Big Bethel AME Church on Auburn Ave.
Occupy members are expected to lay out their list of demands toward a workable solution at the meeting.
Top photo: Organizers with Occupy Atlanta protest at a press conference hosted by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on Oct. 24 at City Hall (by Ryan Watkins)
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