City Serves Notice On Occupy Arcata – October 26, 2011
Kevin L Hoover
PLAZA – The City of Arcata has formally notified Occupy Arcata that the temporary living quarters on the Plaza will have to go. Some 14 tents and a few cardboard micro-shanties crowded the Plaza’s center the late afternoon of Oct. 26, when written notice was served by Police Chief Tom Chapman.
The City letter states the City’s support for the constitutional right of peaceful assembly, and leverages the same principle to compel compliance. It states that the various structures interfere with the rights of other to freely use the Plaza, and asks that “all tarps, tents and structures” immediately be removed.
“Despite warnings from the police department, your group has continued to encroach on the rights of other people to assemble in the public space that is intended to be open for EVERYONE!” the letter says.
Signed by Chapman but developed with top city staff and the city attorney, the letter echoes what has become an ever-hotter topic among downtowners for the last few days – the sudden emergence of a campground and perpetual party on the Plaza, in which virtually every rule for the park’s use has been thrown overboard.
It further relates complaints from the small, independent businesses that ring the Plaza that the protest has scared customers away from downtown. “We have received reports from some small businesses that these disruptions have caused significant losses in sales, and in a few cases are already threatening their ability to remain open, which seems counter to the Occupy Wall Street movement.”
Chapman hand-delivered copies of the letter to activist Lois Cordova, one of the core Occupy Arcata organizers. Just two days after a major confrontation with police, only a half-dozen or so of the protesters seemed interested in the pivotal law enforcement directive. It was dinnertime, and most of the people inhabiting the Plaza were busy preparing their shelters, making food, talking and generally lazing in the low sun.
Cordova expressed frustration about the drinkers and dopers. She said they upset the public and wrongly bring discredit to the Occupy Arcata movement.
“I can’t control them,” she said. “When I ask them to cool it, they say, “Hey, you want a drink, baby?”
One protester suggested that activist participants – those who are there to effect societal change rather than hang out, eat the free food and party – wear arm bands identifying themselves.
The protesters had issues of their own. They said some citizens had yelled at them and called them “you people.” Multiple complaints centered on alleged rude treatment and harassment by police officers. Several made the point that a public restroom would make some of the problems go away.
Cordova said the mid-Plaza camp had been rotten-egged during the previous night. Several of the protesters wished to engage Chapman in discussions of political and philosophic matters over which the Arcata Police Department has little jurisdiction.
Chapman, Cordova and several other of the more alert protesters discussed the letter and initial remedial steps amicably and at length. Several said they would try to curb the excesses of the less disciplined slacktivists.
Chapman said there was no specific deadline for removing the tents and curbing the inappropriate public behavior, but that he hoped to get things moving in the right direction with a scale-back of the burgeoning camp.
“I’m hoping for voluntary compliance,” Chapman said. “At some point, if the activities continue, there’s going to have to be a stop to it.”
Liberal Arcatans sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street uprising have found themselves appalled at the degradation of the Arcata Plaza into an anything-goes hangout. Online and on the streets, downtowners well-accustomed to Plaza weirdness have found themselves in a state of cognitive dissonance mingled with fascination and disgust over the Occupy Arcata phenomenon.
Many question how the unfocused Plaza protest promotes progressive values, or whether it has the opposite effect.
“The OA on the Plaza needs to clean up its act,” said commenter Reba Melfa on the Arcata Eye’s Facebook page. “Personally, I feel the OA on The Plaza gives the entire movement a bad name.”
She suggested that Occupy Arcata follow Occupy Wall Street’s “Good Neighbor Policy,” Others have compared the OA party zone to the well-kept, vibrant Occupy Humboldt camp at Humboldt State, and found the Plaza version lacking.
“This morning I took pictures at both Occupy locations,” wrote Katherine Lee. “The difference is night and day. The Humboldt location was tidy, there were clear signs about conduct, there were obvious signs of workshop organization, they weren’t blocking the walkways, and there was no trash. The Plaza location was a mess, everybody was smoking cigarettes, the kitchen looked like a bomb went off in it, trash was everywhere, tents and sleeping bags were taking up most of the walkway around the center, the info table had a wish list for stuff, a mention of general assembly times, and a lot of peace-love woowoo. One person out of everybody I saw there this morning seemed concerned about the mess. One.”
Another question is what will happen at Saturday’s Farmers’ Market. The North Coast Growers’ Association has a permit to use the Plaza, the center of which is used for food vendors and a band. Last week the OA installation moved over to the Plaza’s southeast corner, but it was a fraction of its current size. Some of the current campers appear to be dug in, both physically and in terms of attitude.
City officials have suggested that Occupy Arcata move to the City Hall front lawn, which has public restrooms close by. But the protesters dismiss that as being shunted off to the side. “This is the center of town,” one said. “This is where we need to be.”
Queen Doubles food vendor Jada Brotman has been all but put out of business by the encampment. Wednesday she set up on the Plaza’s north side to get away from the rough crowd and closer to any customers who might still brave the Plaza’s periphery. Supporters and fans of the independent businesswoman’s unique Trinidadian chickpea tacos have pleaded with Facebook friends to patronize her struggling food cart.
Occupy Arcata founder Trish Tillotson was away on family business today. She said she wasn’t concerned with the growing criticism offered online. “I’m staying away from the hype,” she said.
Tillotson said she’s been making progress in addressing Plaza businesspeople’s concerns by engaging them one on one. “I feel like it’s moving in a positive direction,” she said.
One APD officer who was out on the Plaza as Chapman negotiated with protesters lamented that small, local businesses were suffering from a protest which ostensibly targets the “one percent” wealthy elite. “They don’t realize, we’re the 99 percent too,” the officer said.