While an assembly of some Occupy Asheville protesters came to a consensus last night to break camp tomorrow, a spokesperson for the protest tells Xpress that “the Occupation isn’t going anywhere” and protesters will remain in front of City Hall.
“The camp isn’t going to go anywhere,” spokesperson Naomi Archer says. “We’re not even going be calling it a camp anymore: we’re a political occupation and a picket.”
According to minutes posted on Occupy Asheville’s website, an assembly last night at Firestorm Cafe had come to a consensus to break camp on Saturday, Jan. 14. The Scrutiny Hooligans political blog, founded by Asheville City Council member Gordon Smith, highlighted the decision this morning.
“There were only 11 people at that [General Assembly],” Archer says. “We are looking to do some more creative stuff, like occupying foreclosures … but the Occupation isn’t going anywhere.”
The minutes note that a meeting by 11 campers last Tuesday unanimously decided to break camp, and was looking to the General Assembly (Occupy’s consensus-based decision-making body) to act on that decision, noting that the logistics of breaking down the camp would require larger help.
During the assembly, members expressed differing opinions on the proposal. One, named Jess, noted that “the movement to disband camp, it’s about management of camp. It is completely unmanageable. Want to refocus our efforts around occupying the banks and doing meaningful things.”
A camper named Yotas added that “We would like the GA to support our decision. Keeping this camp here just to prove that we can at any and all costs would not be that good of an idea. A lot of people are leaving the physical occupation. We have been doing damage control every single day. I’m all about leaving. Perhaps we can hold a press conference to say that we have gotten what we want. We want the whole occupation to REALLY understand why we are deciding to do this.”
However, another, named Natalie, claimed “we have been amazingly lucky with our occupation. To disband camp right when the police are using bad tactics would look really bad.”
According to the minutes, the facilitator asked for the group to reach consensus on supporting whatever conclusion the campers reached, and with two people standing aside, got that consensus.
Occupy Asheville has moved the location of its main camp several times. When the movement began in October, there was a small camp in front of the city’s Wall Street parking deck. Then, after a contentious meeting with Council, who refused to grant the Occupiers’ request for an indefinite spot in Pack Square Park, the protesters tentatively accepted a deal with city staff to camp under the Lexington Avenue overpass. That location faced problems with homeless already in the area and concerns about safety, and the Occupiers chose not to ask for more time there, leaving it at the end of the term allotted by the city.
Protesters then moved to a pre-existing camp outside the federal building and the Merill-Lynch/Biltmore building downtown. After Thanksgiving, they moved to a slice of land in front of City Hall. Because the area wasn’t technically part of Pack Square Park, it wasn’t subject to the 10 p.m. curfew. Camping on the site fell into a “legal grey area,” in the words of City Attorney Bob Oast. Soon about 20 tents were located on the site.
There were issues early enough that Occupy Asheville devoted a Dec. 6 general assembly to the issue of the camp, with discussions continuing since. Opinion at that meeting was divided.
Some said the site was unmanageable, that it had ongoing security concerns with belligerent drunks and that challenges posed by that and winter meant maintaining it would require a level of resources that could be better used elsewhere. Some who supported breaking camp instead favored camping on private or foreclosed property. Others, however, defended the camp, asserting it was a visible location to espouse their message, and that its issues were manageable.
At Council’s Dec. 13 meeting, city staff put forward a proposal to ban camping, enclosed structures and storage on city property. However, the move floundered on concerns from Council members that it hadn’t been sufficiently vetted, and they voted 5-2 to send it to the Public Safety Committee. Instead of sending the ban to the full Council, that committee, following lengthy public comment from many Occupy members, chose to send a proposal for a permitting process proposed by Smith to Council. Staff are currently crafting the specifics of that proposal and Council will consider it Jan. 24. Staff and some Council members have claimed that they’ve received complaints from city employees and surrounding business owners about the encampment.
Archer is critical of the permitting proposal.
“We’re continuing to fight the city’s attempt to try to turn us into something they can regulate,” she says. “We’re a protest against government corruption, against government doing nothing. I’d much rather the city spend their time trying to solve the problems of one of the highest hunger rates in the nation instead of worrying about trying to regulate a protest.”
Archer did say that there had been an “enhanced police presence” at the camp in recent days, and “my personal feeling is that the city’s been trying to weed out the people they don’t want there. I feel like the city’s been really clear about kinds of behavior they’re upset with. They’re concerned about substance abuse and some of the folks that aren’t necessarily participating in the political nature of the protests.”
“We’re working to solve our own problems, we are addressing the safety issues,” she claims when asked what Occupy’s response to ongoing security issues at the site. “There are people there who have been marginalized and this is how they live.”