Occupy’s Right To Occupy To Get Public Hearing

Click Photo to Watch City Council Debate Johnson's Resolution to Limit Occupy's Right to Gather

On Wednesday May 2, the Minneapolis City Council will hold a public hearing over the resolution proposed by Council President Barb Johnson that critics say would restrict Occupy Minneapolis’ right to gather at Peavy Plaza and other public spaces controlled by the City. At a committee meeting on April 18, during which several Occupy activists were permitted to speak, the City was accused not just of curbing the right to free speech and free assembly, but of forsaking Minneapolis’ homeless population.

“If you’re not going to provide shelters for homeless veterans, and yet there are members of this City Council who want to spend millions of dollars for a bailout for the Vikings, there’s an incongruity there,” said an activist named Lee.

“Peavey Plaza is one of the few safe places that homeless people such as myself can go to have a good night’s rest without having to worry about rapists or thieves,” echoed Occupy activist Xman Dee.

“I reject the notion that it is a safe place for women to be to avoid rape to be sleeping out on a public plaza. That’s insanity,” Johnson countered. “We have supported in this city — through allocations in the budget process ever since I’ve been on the Council — funding for shelter for folks. To put the onus on us that we don’t care about homeless people is incorrect and, I think, really offensive.”

Johnson’s resolution states that Peavy Plaza would be open only between 6 a.m. and midnight. It would prohibit camping, sleeping, or laying personal possessions on the plaza. Any property left there could be confiscated by the City. After given notice of trespassing, any person who remains may be arrested by the Minneapolis police department. Police evicted and arrested Occupy protestors near Peavy Plaza on April 7. During the melee, a policeman was captured on video assaulting a TV cameraman and publicly chastised for it by Chief Timothy Dolan. Dolan announced yesterday that he would step down as police chief (it’s unclear whether the actions against Occupy had anything to do with his decision.)

“I’m not interested in limiting anybody’s right to free speech,” said Johnson. “I am concerned about public use in a city where we have 380,000 people that live here, 150,000 people that work in our downtown every day. When you have a city, you have to balance the interest of groups.” Johnson told The UpTake that the measure was discussed before the April 7 police altercation. “We know that Occupy Minneapolis was going to become more active and potentially try and find a place to be on one of our public plazas.”

The Council President may not have the support she needs to pass the resolution. After she introduced it on April 13, the council voted 9-4 to send the resolution to a public hearing instead of passing it outright.

“I think this resolution is a solution in search of a problem,” said Council member Betsy Hodges. “We have had sufficient regulation. I think it’s not just unnecessary, I think it’s wrong.”

“This resolution is targeting us as American citizens,” said activist Osha Karow. “You’re trying to restrict our ability to peaceably assembly, which is one of the things that we’ve been doing.”

“The work that we’ve done, specifically surrounding Monique White’s case, has received support from the majority of City Council and from public figures around the state,” said Occupy Minneapolis organizer Ben Egerman, who is also involved in the Occupy Homes movement to protect homeowners from foreclosure. “If this type of measure had been passed at the time, none of this work that we are doing, which has received so much acclaim, and which we’re very proud of, would have been possible if we hadn’t met on government plaza in the fall and started talking about whether or not we could do this sort of work around foreclosures.”

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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