Occupy Asheville has announced its opposition to proposed city ordinances that would ban camping, storage and enclosed structures on city property. The ordinances, which Asheville City Council will vote on tomorrow, Dec. 13, were drafted in response to an encampment by the protesters in front of City Hall.
The protesters’ media working group has called a press conference for noon tomorrow on the steps of City Hall, and released the following statement:
The City of Asheville is attempting to criminalize Occupy Asheville encampments and silence a specific form of political speech it does not like with three proposed anti-camping ordinances. The ordinances defy both human rights and common sense, and are anti-Occupy and anti-homeless. The enforcement of these ordinances will directly contradict the City staff’s own research into why these ordinances should exist by jeopardizing the rights to free speech and assembly as well as the public safety and welfare of protesters and those persons struggling to live without homes.
Encampments and sit-ins for political assembly and advancing human rights have a long and storied history in this country and are a Constitutionally protected form of free speech and assembly. Frank La Rue, the United Nations Envoy for Freedom of Expression has said that local governments, like the City of Asheville, are violating the human and constitutional rights of Occupy protesters by removing them with targeted ordinances or by force. We believe all people have the right to assemble to express their grievances without government interference and that homeless people should not be deprived of their right to survive under difficult conditions.
Occupy Asheville is a 24 hour political encampment expressing deep frustration and alarm at the crisis of corporate greed and personal profiteering within Wall Street and the federal government that is stripping the wealth from the bottom 99% for the benefit of a very few. The government has failed to hold the banks and institutions accountable, and has instead served to coddle and protect those interests from accountability and reform. The bankers continue to profit while common folks are losing their homes. Occupy encampments are the moral backlash to this culture of greed and corruption and hold the value that the human needs of the 99% should come before corporate profit and the wealth of the very few.
The City of Asheville’s attempts to remove Occupy protesters are without moral or legal value. They reflect a head-in-the-sand approach by our city leaders to the economic and social crisis that is engulfing our nation, and the world. This cynical business-as-usual attitude is what has led our country into its current crisis and is unacceptable within our local community where our friends and neighbors suffer while the City brokers its space and infrastructure to corporations like U.S. Cellular and Wells Fargo Bank. Occupy Asheville will continue to fight the City’s morally bankrupt attempts to silence our assembly and free speech, and we will use whatever peaceful means possible to hold the City accountable for their actions.
The memo, written by City Attorney Bob Oast, for the proposed ordinances, asserts that they’re an attempt to balance free speech rights with the need for multiple groups to use city property.
“In essence, what the ordinances do is clarify that public properties, including parks, remain available for free speech or assembly purposes, but that other activities not essential to the free speech or assembly use do not occur in such a way as to interfere with the use and enjoyment of these properties by others,” Oast writes. “Unpermitted activities must yield to activities for which a permit has been obtained. As drafted, these ordinances provide that they may be enforced through criminal penalties, a Class 3 misdemeanor.”
The fate of the City Hall camp, and whether Occupy should maintain it, has also been a subject of some debate among Occupy protesters at recent general assemblies, citing concerns about safety, such as issues with belligerent drunks, and challenges posed by camping during a mountain winter. Some participants asserted that the protest’s resources are better focused elsewhere, such as occupying foreclosed properties or setting up a base on private property. Others, however, have argued that the current location is ideal to reach the public and, despite its problems, is becoming safer and better organized. However, Occupy Asheville has not yet reached consensus on what course of action to take.
Photo by Bill Rhodes