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While I was finishing this post yesterday, the regular Saturday protest march in support of #OccupyDenver turned violent. I hope to visit #OccupyDenver again this week and attend a General Assembly. After that I will post some thoughts about yesterday’s events.
Civic Center Park is a giant open space in downtown Denver that connects City Hall and the State Capitol building. It hosts many of the most important memorials, museums, and cultural institutions within Colorado. It is the most public space in Denver and in Colorado.
This is the home of #OccupyDenver along the eastern boundary of the park and facing across Broadway toward the state owned memorial park. From the war memorial state troopers in their cruisers are parked on its granite base peering across Broadway at the protestors. And it is between the power of the State and the less fortunate that #OccupyDenver resides in a mix of tarps, folding tables, and piles of donations.
The commentary in the mainstream press often highlights the government’s concern with “safety” and “sanitary” issues. Once you accept that this is a public space that has for years supported a population of homeless and petty criminals it is hard to understand how the protestors are now an incremental safety issue.
The sanitary issues are a bit more complex. The park is never going to appear majestic swamped in blue tarps, but if you look at the entire open space between the Capital and the City Hall #OccupyDenver is on perhaps 1% of the space. Is there really no room in that entire public space where citizens petitioning their government can in fact petition their government? What is the point of public space that is so regulated the right to petition the government is only allowed if you leave at night?
I spent three hours on Thursday chatting with whoever had interest in chatting with me. The police had given #OrganizeDenver some general rules on what temporary structures (folding tables yes, tents/igloos no) and where (on this part of the sidewalk, but not this part) they could work. And during that entire three hours volunteers were collecting trash, accepting and sorting donations, feeding the crowd including the homeless, and discussing their grievances.
It has always been the case that Civic Center Park has an odor of ammonia and trash. If #OrganizeDenver evolves into something more, the combination of its low cost footprint and fundraising prowess could solve a host of problems in the park. Why not tell #OrganizeDenver you can camp in a limited space, you must provide yourself with portable toilets, haul trash, meet these reasonable standards, and pay for all of it out of donations?
Why spend money on expensive police presence, nightly compliance raids, and obvious surveillance? Would not a lot less money buy portable toilets and trash collection? It really is hard to avoid the conclusion that the City and State have tolerated “sanitary” issues for decades and the government’s intransigence with #OccupyDenver is the real cause of any incremental issues.
A typical criticism of the #Occupy movement is that it has no organization, no leaders, and no real agenda. Individual members have individual issues from tar sands to private prisons to re-enactment of the Glass-Steagal law, but the protesters are by their own admission just starting a grass-roots movement. There is a general theme that the government is not working on behalf of most Americans – the 99%.
The 99% is not a claim of support, but rather the simple concept that the government works primarily for the wealthiest and most powerful. It is an expression of disgust at the government’s showering of wealth upon bankrupt banks and the powerful in the hopes that these same institutions and people will re-ignite the economy.
For this long-term executive and capitalist it was a much more interesting day than I expected. I had to remember back twenty-five years to the parking lot before a Grateful Dead concert to relax amongst #OccupyDenver. I had to remember that people that do not look or think as I do petitioning their government are not a “safety” or “sanitary” risk. They are also part of “We the People”. Would it really matter if they were dressed in khakis and blazers?
And if the government would engage not oppress, they might hear a message. You cannot pass more bills giving tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting services and infrastructure. At long last, will you not do something to help the whole country and not just the rich and powerful?
Or as one protestor from Leadville summarized, “It’s Fucked Up! Bullshit! Bullshit!”
That is the political accomplishment of the #Occupy movement and it very well may be its only one – the coffin nail in the current economic policies of either party. If elected officials want to swell the ranks of the #Occupy movement with more and more middle-class voters, try and pass another combination of tax cuts, spending cuts, and bailouts.
And if the government wants to engage instead of oppress or co-opt the #Occupy movement; make a little room in the public space for them. Then, get the troopers off a war memorial dedicated to the people who gave their lives for the idea that people have a right to petition their government.