Occupy Winston-Salem negotiates with city over campsite
After several weeks of negotiations with city officials, Occupy Winston-Salem members (l-r) Sally Hirsh, Andrew Hobbs and Ethan Smith have proposed seven new potential sites for an Occupy campsite in the downtown area. (photo by Keith T. Barber)
Occupy Winston-Salem members Ethan Smith, Andrew Hobbs and Sally Hirsh met with Assistant City Manager Greg Turner on the eve of Thanksgiving to discuss possible sites for a campsite for ager for additional 30-day periods if the group complies with downtown area would hurt small businesses. the restrictions. “Free speech is not even the point of contention; that’s If the group is found in violation of the terms of the usage in the Constitution,” Miller said. “There’s no constitutional agreement, it will have 24 hours to correct the problem. right to camp out on anybody’s property without permission, members of the Occupy Winston-Salem movement in the downtown area.
“We proposed seven new locations including City Hall’s lawn and right now they’re going to assess each location and get back to us [this week],” Smith said. “If they decide whether it’s feasible or not, they’ll come up with a set of usage restrictions. We’ll get back with them after we assess how those work for us.”
On Nov. 21, Smith sent a letter to City Manager Lee Garrity expressing concerns about the campsite originally proposed by the city — a parking lot near the intersection of 7 th and Marshall streets. The Public Safety Committee had approved the site during its meeting a week previous.
Smith expressed gratitude in the letter to city officials for their efforts in crafting a proposal and “working towards ensuring our constitutional freedom of assembly.”
Smith acknowledged that Occupy Winston-Salem’s process of consensus building can be “agonizingly slow,” and stated that he’s been tapped by the group to serve as its representative in the current negotiations. Smith said Occupy Winston- Salem members believe they are setting a precedent.
“We’re laying the groundwork for other groups to do [the same thing],” he said.
Smith outlined the group’s concerns about the 7th and Marshall site in the letter, stating that the location is far removed from the downtown area and city government and financial institutions.
The city’s usage agreement restricted occupancy of the camp to no more than 48 people at any one time. The city’s proposal also restricted the number of tents to 12 and the number of overnight campers to 24.
Occupy Winston-Salem is proposing increasing the maximum number of people allowed in the camp at any one time to 155, the number of tents be increased to 30 and allowing no more than 60 overnight campers.
The city’s usage agreement stipulated that no heating and cooking devices would be allowed inside tents and no heating devices that use flammable or combustible material would be not even public property. There’s even a city ordinance that prohibits it.”
Another speaker said he opposed the use of any tax dollars to provide services to the protesters, adding that the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech, not the license to speech.
Pam Lofland also stated her opposition to the city providing services to Occupy protestors and characterized any resolution to approve an encampment site as “an unlawful distribution of city ordinances, favoring one group over another and leaving the city open to legal action.
“Anyone that votes for this should resign from the city council,” she said.
Michael McGuire said the portrayal of Occupy groups in the media has been inaccurate and unfair.
McGuire said the group’s purpose in establishing a campsite is to exercise its First Amendment rights.
“There is nothing to fear and much to embrace,” he said.
After the Thanksgiving week meeting between movement representatives and city staff, the three Occupy members said they discussed the possibility of establishing a campsite at either Corpening Plaza or Civic Plaza, but met with resistance.
“They have completely taken parks off the table as far as options because in order to get approval to use a park, there’s another board or council we would need to get approval from, the Parks and Recreation Council,” Smith said.
“The camping out is largely symbolic and most of our skyscrapers are financial buildings so we want to be downtown near the financial buildings, near city
City ordinance closes all municipal parks at 10 p.m. so Occupy Winston- Salem would have to be granted an exception and abide by a separate set of government buildings and county government buildings as well,” Smith said in an interview. “We want to be near people because obviously you need to be seen to be heard.”
The primary concern of Occupy Winston-Salem members is the site’s proximity to a daycare center.
“We definitely want to respect the neighbors, not just think what’s good for us but also what’s good for the community,” Smith said. “We’d also like to find a location that will cause less worry to the arts district business owners because we want the community involved. We don’t want to alienate anybody.”
In the letter, Smith also suggested a few revisions to the usage restrictions put forth by the city. Occupy Winston-Salem agreed with city officials to an initial term of agreement for 15 days and that approval can be renewed by the city man- allowed inside the camp. Occupy Winston-Salem’s counterproposal includes working closely with the fire marshal “to establish safe methods of heating, which the group will provide.”
Due to the fact that Occupy Winston-Salem’s counter proposal came on the day of the meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council, in which council members were expected to vote on the recommendation of the Public Safety Committee, Garrity suggested the item be pulled from the meeting agenda and sent back to staff.
The council agreed with Garrity’s proposal. Still, a number of citizens spoke during the public-comments portion of the meeting.
Richard Miller, a local business owner, expressed concern that establishing an Occupy Winston-Salem campsite in the usage restrictions. Smith said Occupy members are looking into the possibility of approaching private property owners in the downtown area and continuing to pursue the option of establishing a campsite at a public park.
The three also agreed that Occupy Winston-Salem is firm in its resolve that the encampment site needs to be in the downtown area due to the symbolic nature of the protest.
“We’re trying to make the statement with our bodies and physically occupy a spot, so being there 24 hours a day is part of the message,” Smith said. “If we pack up every night and go home, we get out of people’s minds, and it’s only when you’re there in people’s faces that you cause controversy to some degree and we’re trying to do that in a very non-violent way.”