Occupy Wall Street might be getting the most attention, but Occupy Oakland might be the next flashpoint. The city has decided that the demonstrators have had plenty of time to make their point, and that their behavior has gotten bad enough to become a public safety problem. Late last night, Oakland issued an order to the Occupiers to leave the plaza that they have commandeered for most of a fortnight (via JWF):
A document titled “Notice to Vacate Frank Ogawa Plaza” was posted on the city’s website at 8 p.m. by the office of City Administrator Deanna Santana. It said Oakland was committed to allowing free speech, but also had a responsibility to protect public safety.
“We believe that after 10 days, the City can no longer uphold public health and safety,” the notice said. “In recent days, camp conditions and occupants’ behavior have significantly deteriorated, and it is no longer manageable to maintain a public health and safety plan.”
The document cited fire hazards, sanitation issues, a growing rat problem and graffiti. It referred to an “increasing frequency of violence, assaults, threats and intimidation” and complained that protesters had denied access to “emergency personnel to treat injured persons and to police to patrol the Plaza.”
“As a result of these serious conditions, the Administration has determined that facilitating this expression of speech is no longer viable, nor in the interest of public health and safety,” the order said. “Peaceful daytime assembly will continue to be allowed between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. No tents or overnight camping permitted.”
If that sounds ugly, it’s not much behind the flagship occupation at Wall Street. Local residents in the Zuccotti Park neighborhood have had enough of the destructive presence of the protesters — and from the description of the OWS behavior, it’s difficult to blame them:
“They are defecating on our doorsteps,” fumed Katherine Hughes, a stay at home mom who has the misfortune of living one block from the chaos. “A lot of people are very frustrated. A lot of people are concerned about the safety of our kids.”
Fed up homeowners said that they’ve been subjected to insults and harassment as they trek to their jobs each morning. “The protesters taunt people who are on their way to work,” said James Fernandez, 51, whose apartment overlooks the park.
Board member Paul Cantor said that residents are fed up with the incessant racket that emanates from the protest at all hours. “It’s mostly a noise issue,” he said. If people can’t sleep and children can’t sleep because the protesters are banging drums then that’s a problem.”
Well, they were defecating on police cars too, and that didn’t seem to move the city into action. Oakland has its limits; New York City … not so much, it seems. Still, the complaints worried some of the protest organizers, who tried to get the crowd to clean up its act regarding drum circles and dropping deuces on neighborhood stoops. As New York Magazine reported, if the protesters acted like extras from Delta in Animal House, their attempts to organize a response and control the drumming comes straight out of Animal Farm:
But the drums were fun. They brought in publicity and money. Many non-facilitators were infuriated by the decision and claimed that it had been forced through the General Assembly.
“They’re imposing a structure on the natural flow of music,” said Seth Harper, an 18-year-old from Georgia. “The GA decided to do it … they suppressed people’s opinions. I wanted to do introduce a different proposal, but a big black organizer chick with an Afro said I couldn’t.”
To Shane Engelerdt, a 19-year-old from Jersey City and self-described former “head drummer,” this amounted to a Jacobinic betrayal. “They are becoming the government we’re trying to protest,” he said. “They didn’t even give the drummers a say … Drumming is the heartbeat of this movement. Look around: This is dead, you need a pulse to keep something alive.”
So what did the organizers decide to try? A drum tax. Suddenly, the drummers looked from pig to man and man to pig and couldn’t tell the difference:
The drummers claim that the finance working group even levied a percussion tax of sorts, taking up to half of the $150-300 a day that the drum circle was receiving in tips. “Now they have over $500,000 from all sorts of places,” said Engelerdt. “We’re like, what’s going on here? They’re like the banks we’re protesting.”
And how did organizers of this free-speech demonstration react? By, er, telling people they couldn’t talk to the press:
As the communal sleeping bag argument between Lauren Digion and Sage Roberts threatened to get out of hand, a facilitator in a red hat walked by, brow furrowed. “Remember? You’re not allowed to do any more interviews,” he said to Digion. She nodded and went back to work. But when Roberts shouted, “Don’t tell me what to do!” Digion couldn’t hold back.
“Someone has to be told what to do,” she said. “Someone needs to give orders. There’s no sense of order in this f*****g place.”
George Orwell would be proud. Anyone with an assigned reading project for Animal Farm should really be taking notes.