Hennepin County Announces it Will Tighten Noose on Occupy MN Protestors

Organizer Nick Espinosa talks about the OccupyMN movement
OccupyMN Organizer Nic Espinosa

Occupy MN organizer Nic Espinosa

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota says that free speech rights don’t stop when the temperature falls below freezing. ACLU attorney Teresa Nelson says a move by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office today to strip Occupy MN protesters of their signs — and prevent them from sleeping on Government Center Plaza — as part of a “winterization” move may violate the First Amendment.

“There isn’t an ordinance that says no one can sleep outdoors when the temperature drops below 25 degrees,” Nelson told The UpTake. “That doesn’t comport with the First Amendment. My concern is that they’re trying to restrict where you can be in the plaza.” Nelson compared Hennepin County’s move to actions taken, unsuccessfully, against Occupy Nashville protestors in Tennessee. The ACLU will send a letter of concern tomorrow to Hennepin County.

A Hennepin County memo was distributed to Occupy MN protestors today stating that their days occupying the plaza in downtown Minneapolis may be numbered. Occupy MN spokesperson Nic Espinosa told The UpTake that a rally will be held at 6 p.m. tonight to oppose these measures and, possibly, to fill the plaza with signs. In the past week, Occupy Wall Street protestors in Oakland and Denver have faced police efforts to evict them, but Minneapolis activists have not been squeezed — until now.

What the memo says

The memo, titled “WINTERIZING GOVERNMENT CENTER IRRIGATION SYSTEM AND CONSOLIDATION OF POSSESSIONS ON NORTH PLAZA–NOVEMBER 4″ states that much of the North and South plazas will be closed on Friday morning for the annual winterizing of their irrigation system. Once the system is winterized, “no outside water access will be available.” Friday is also the one-month anniversary of this particular occupation.

The memo, addressed directly to Occupy MN, states that the County will try to squeeze the protest area: “As part of the winterization, Occupy MN will need to consolidate their possessions and reduce the size of their occupation on the North Plaza to a designated area on the east or west side of the North Plaza. Individuals will continue to have access to the entire North Plaza; however, the possessions will need to be kept in a designated area.” By Friday, the County will reduce the number of portable toilets to three, and it will remove “all signs or posters not placed by county personnel”.

More ominously to Occupy MN, the County plans to disallow protestors from sleeping on the plaza once the first significant snowfall arrives or when the temperature dips below 25 degrees. According to the memo, “all portable toilets will need to be removed and the canopy will come down.” The County states it will follow through with these measures “in order to ensure personal safety and allow for snow shoveling, snow plowing, snow removal and snow storage.”

Read the memo here: Winterization-notice-to-OccupyMN

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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