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Occupy Denver: Freedom of the Park

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Over the past three weeks a loose coalition of people have been gathering in Veterans Park, directly in front of the Colorado state capitol in downtown Denver. Calling themselves Occupy Denver, they’ve been meeting to express solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement.

Under what currently passes for normal conditions in these United States, Veterans Park is a popular venue for some of Denver’s estimated 16,000 homeless people, as well as an open-air market for illegal drugs. In the past few days, as the Occupy Denver movement has picked up support, it’s been providing food (most of it donated by sympathizers) to the homeless, as well as holding two general assemblies per day to discuss what their goals ought to be. (I was told by participants that since the protests started the open drug trade has pretty much disappeared). Occupy Denver has no formal leadership or organization; its activities have been modeled on an attempt to engage in what used to be called participatory democracy.

On Monday, a few participants put up a couple of tents and spent the night in the park. By last night, the number of tents had grown to 50, filling much of the park’s space, which is about the size of a couple of large city blocks. Yesterday afternoon, Governor Hickenlooper came down to the park and informed the protestors that they were violating a state law by camping overnight in a public park. Public parks in Colorado are technically open from 5 AM until 11 PM, although it’s possible to get a permit to camp overnight. Occupy Denver had applied for a permit for overnight camping but the state refused to grant one. Later that evening leaflets were distributed, telling the protestors that if they stayed in the park past 11 PM they would be arrested.

At 3 AM a contingent of about 100 riot police arrived to enforce this threat, although apparently no arrests were made until about 6 AM. At that point about 23 protestors were arrested, the rest were forcibly removed from both the park and the sidewalk in front of it (to which the curfew law doesn’t apply) and the tents and other temporary structures put up by Occupy Denver were taken down and seized. The governor then announced that the park was being closed for the day, supposedly because it was “unsanitary” and “unsafe.”

I went down to the park this morning, and spoke to several protestors. Robert Chase, who is with a medical marijuana advocacy group, described how the temporary structures the protestors had placed on the sidewalk were destroyed. He complained bitterly about how the riot police ringing the entire perimeter of the park (when I was there the riot police outnumbered the protestors by about a two to one margin) were being used to arbitrarily interfere with freedom of speech and assembly.

Richard Bluhm, an older man holding a sign that encouraged passing motorists to honk in solidarity (many did) described himself as a “concerned grandfather” from the Denver suburbs, who had been down to the park 11 times in the past two weeks, after dropping his grandson off at the special needs school he attends in Denver. He wore a button reading “We Are the 99%” and told me “I’m here because I’m worried about my country, and this is the only game in town.”

Rachel Boice, a University of Colorado graduate student, described how the twice-daily general assemblies operated. I asked her what she thought the movement was trying to accomplish, and she said its main goal was to achieve “separation of corporation and state.”

Scott Greene, an earnest and passionate young man taking time away from his day job to participate, emphasized how non-violent everyone had been, and how therefore the protestors had been taken aback by the force that was used to remove them both from the park and even from the sidewalk in front of it. He encouraged me to return for tomorrow afternoon’s rally, which he promised would be the biggest yet (Tomorrow a group of Navy veterans have a permit to use the park, which I suspect has something to do with Gov. Hickenlooper’s sudden decision to use force to disperse the protest).

I spoke to Trooper Richard, one of the about 100 state troopers in full riot gear, asking him if they were going to be deployed around the park’s perimeter all day. He wasn’t sure; his orders were to stay at the park until further notice. I asked him if this show of force didn’t seem a bit excessive given how innocuous the protestors seemed. He asked me if I had been here early this morning, and I said I hadn’t, but that the protestors who had assured me they had been completely peaceful at all times. “We need to be prepared for every possible outcome,” he replied.

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  • soullite

    Amazing how so many different cities all had crackdowns at the exact same time. Why, it’s almost as if you had someone on the federal level coordinating it all.

    But hey, I’ve been assured by the good folks here that that is merely paranoia. It’s all just a series of coincidences, and the fact that it has happened twice now is the biggest coincident of all!

    • rea

      this is merely paranoia

      • c u n d gulag

        soullite,
        I think, with your level of anti-Obama/Democratic Party paranoia and disdain, you might want to consider changing your moniker to ‘soul-right.’

        And while I agree with you that Obama has no love for the left, and proabably never has, I for one seriously doubt that he’s going to orchestrate a crack down from the WH on a group whose message he’s starting to pick-up.

        AS a matter of fact, I have NO doubt about it. It just doesn’t any make political sense.

        • On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if a conference call at the mayoral level to “exchange ideas” has occured.

          • Warren Terra

            That’s just what Obama wants you to think! Wake up, sheeple!

            • My god, you’re right! Bloomberg, a Republican, would be among those Obama would contact to coerce into the conspiracy!

              We’re fighting for our lives here!

              • Bill Murray

                but Bloomberg used to be a Democrat and is from Wall Street, so he and Obama are like two peas in a pod

        • jilted

          sotrite double hopey manloved Obama so he is bit hurt that his dreams did not come true

    • Malaclypse

      Why, it’s almost as if you had someone on the federal level coordinating it all.

      Come on, look at the Big Picture! Clearly, the crackdown was organized by the One World Government, which is run by George Soros, who is funding the very people he is cracking down upon, because that is just how you roll, when you are that evil. We are through the looking glass, people!

    • Hogan

      Yeah, getting parks ready for heavy weekend use ON A FRIDAY makes no sense at all except as evidence of federal coordination.

  • Njorl

    “Occupy Denver has no formal leadership”

    Ha!

    I think if you confiscate the port-a-johns you’ll find thousands of digested copies of the secret orders from George Soros which they all memorized and ate. Sure, they won’t be recognizable, but that just shows how devious Soros is.

  • Zoltar the Magnificent

    Hmm. Wonder why they didn’t try this on the TeaBaggers when they started in with threats of violence? Or say anti abortion protesters when they got caught in illegal activity (such as having confederates at the DMV get them name and address information on clinic visitors, as happened in Florida) or when their connection to religious terrorists became overly obvious?

    /irony

    • Because those groups show up, hold their little rallies, and then leave.

      They never did the ongoing-protest thing.

      • Zoltar the Magnificent

        Anti abortion protesters “show up, do their protest, and leave”!? As far as I can tell, they’re out there every day the clinics are open. And, unlike the ‘Occupy _____’ people, the anti abortion protesters are very closely associated with both threats and violence. Plus other criminal activities.

        • Not in any real numbers, though.

          • DocAmazing

            No, but persistently and with impunity. Zoltar’s right: some clinics have had ongoing demonstrations for months with no pushback from law enforcement despite numerous documented violations of the law; it’s not as though no one’s written about this before.

  • 6AM? Wasn’t that when the park was legally open?

    • Paul Campos

      It was closed by executive order today (purportedly for reasons of sanitation — it looked spotless when I was there this morning).

      • Hm. Y’know, Zuccotti park was supposed to be closed “for sanitation” today, as well…

  • creature

    Hopefully, the Navy vets will realize that they are part of the 99%, and invite some folks over to hang out. I’d like to see Guv Beerblast deny an on-going permit to the veterans.

    • Please please please don’t let the protesters get caught dissing the Navy vets.

      • In NYC, Marines had been serving as guards for the OWS folks against the cops.

        I don’t think there’s a danger the activists will start an antimilitary thing, especially with so many vets coming home after Guard work in Iraq and Afghanistan and finding the jobs they were jerked from have been closed.

  • Is that photo from Denver? I don’t think it’s rained in Denver all week.

    • Warren Terra

      The URL says Denver, FWIW, and the internet says it rained off and on all of Saturday October 8.

      • Oh, OK. From Paul’s post, it sounded like most of the action had been taking place just this past week.

        Yeah, last Saturday’s weather was terrible.

  • Anonymous

    The people in power have gone from laughing at these protests to violently opposing them.

    According to the Egypt example, the next step is to foment rightwing mobs to attack the non-violent protesters.

    • According to the Egypt example, the next step is to foment rightwing mobs to attack the non-violent protesters.

      And just in time, the “grassroots, anti-corporatist” Tea Party organizations are staging counter-protests.

      I doubt they’ll turn violent – our street-politics has traditionally been a lot less violent than other countries’ – but it works the same way.

      • I remember the hardhats v. hippies of the 60s and 70s.

        • That’s now 40-50 years ago.

        • Malaclypse

          I remember reading about them…

        • You would never get hardhats into political action nowadays: The tactics used to disenfranchise the average citizen, and the apathetic hopelessness engendered by the last few decades have seen to that.

          And if something does wake the hardhats up, I suspect they will go left this time, as in the previous gilded age.

      • Njorl

        I don’t know if I’d send out the Tea party rank and file. While they’re mostly just standard rightwing yahoos, some are very resentful of Wall Street. Whatever mojo they use on these people might wear off at just the wrong time.

        Maybe they can issue them earphones which repeatedly play, “Only Wall Street can protect you from Wall Street. Bankers have to rip you off because they’re overregulated. Soros is the anti-Christ.”

        • Warren Terra

          Rather than risk direct confrontations and confusion, it’s a lot easier to encourage the worst instincts of the least hinged people associated with the Occupy Together movement – for example, the incident at the Smithsonian Air And Space Museum, in which a CODE PINK protest that had previously been scheduled became associated in the media with the Occupy Together movement, although they were separate demonstrations, represent different issues, and CODE PINK has a very different style of protest from the Occupy Together people – and some smug twit from the American Spectator was one of the leaders in encouraging the Air And Space protesters to start a ruckus, of the sort that could easily have led to significant property destruction.

        • Erik, Son of Erik, Son of Erik, Son of Helma, could lead the charge. They’d follow him.

          Oops! He’s too busy working his three jobs. Forgot.

        • Captain Splendid

          I don’t know if I’d send out the Tea party rank and file. While they’re mostly just standard rightwing yahoos, some are very resentful of Wall Street. Whatever mojo they use on these people might wear off at just the wrong time.

          I’m thinking some of this is going to happen anyway. OWS and the Tea party have more common with each other than they do the two major parties.

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