Last night, Occupy Asheville’s coordinating council agreed on a letter asserting its camp in front of City Hall is “a representation of the people’s natural rights.” While not explicitly rejecting a proposal by Asheville City Council to voluntarily decamp, the letter didn’t accept it either, leaving an impasse over the fate of the camp heading into Council’s Feb. 14 meeting.
“We assert our rights as free-thinking people to speak and assemble freely in the time, place, and manner of our choosing and as best serves the needs of all people,” the letter reads. “We expect that City Council, as public servants, will also uphold these universal rights.”
The letter adds that Occupy Asheville “will pursue further dialogue.”
At Council’s last meeting, a proposal crafted by Council member Gordon Smith creating a permitting process for campers fell one vote short of passage, as did a move by Esther Manheimer to ban the camp outright and give protesters a Feb. 1 deadline. Occupy Asheville opposed both measures.
Council member Cecil Bothwell, along with Smith, then proposed that Council adopt a resolution against corporate personhood at its Feb. 14 meeting and asked the protesters to consider voluntarily decamping before that time. At the same meeting, Council will also vote on a possible deadline for the camp.
After two meetings of its general assemblies and another — two hours long — of its coordinating council, Occupy Asheville is no closer to taking the city’s deal. Spokesperson Naomi Archer tells Xpress that the group is united behind the letter, and “the statement is a reflection of where Occupy Asheville is … I think the letter speaks for itself. It’s not meant to be disrespectful, it’s meant to uphold our human rights.”
Among Council members, Bothwell’s been vocally supportive of Occupy Asheville since in its inception. Though at the last meeting, he did recommend that protesters take a different approach, moving away from the camp to focus on larger issues (some members of Occupy have made a similar argument in ongoing debates about the camp).
“They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do, however they want to approach the issue,” Bothwell says. “But I expect on Feb. 14 Council will extend the park rules to where they’re camped.” As such a move would also extend the neighboring Pack Square Park’s ban on camping, it would mean eviction.
“I hate for it to be an ultimatum, but I think that’s what’s going to happen,” Bothwell tells Xpress. “Occupy has two ways forward, one is to decide that they’re going to move on to some other expression or to confront the city and I guess they’ll get evicted.”
“I think there are people in Occupy and in social justice action everywhere, who like that confrontation,” Bothwell adds. “That’s part of the street theater, that you get thrown out. Then that’s the news. If that’s the mood of the Occupy people, they’ll get arrested or thrown out.”
While he believes such an approach has its merits, “I don’t know where they’re going to go with this. The sense of Council is that we’re supportive of the goals and issues that Occupy is raising, but we can’t do much about it. They can beat their heads against city hall all they want to, but I can’t change corporate personhood.”
Since Occupy Asheville, after moving between a number of downtown sites, set up tents on the swath of city property in early December, the camp has remained a source of debate both within and outside of the movement. Council members have cited concerns from passerby, city employees, and surrounding business owners about sanitary conditions and aggressive members of the homeless population. In debates at its general assemblies, some members of Occupy Asheville, in favor of breaking camp or changing location have also expressed concerns about belligerent interlopers and exposure to the elements. Others, however, have contended that the camp is an important public presence that offers help to marginalized populations.