Evicted from Tents, Occupy Moves Onto Sidewalks and Into Clinics

Rebecca Burns

Members of Occupy DC sleep on a city sidewalk on March 26.

As Occupy encampments in Louisville, Ky., Boise, Id., and New Haven, Conn. may this week be forced to disband or relocate, displaced demonstrators are finding new ways to keep the spirit of occupation alive.

Following the dramatic evictions of last fall, the fate of many remaining encampments now rests in mundane legal battles taking place largely outside of the public eye. After the city of Louisville, Kentucky denied an extension of Occupy Louisville’s permit last week, the heretofore legal encampment lost its final permit appeal yesterday. With a move-out deadline of 12:01 A.M. Saturday morning, Louisville Occupiers are slowly packing up.

At Occupy New Haven, one of the last remaining camps in New England, police had already begun bulldozing the encampment on Tuesday when Occupiers received a dramatic stay — a federal appeals court issued an injunction allowing the protest to remain for another week. A hearing on April 17 before the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will determine whether the city can proceed with the eviction. Though seven members of Occupy New Haven remain as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, one has dropped out, saying in a lengthy Facebook post on the group’s website:

A lot of people from local and regional community organizations are hanging back right now from helping us because of the whole controversy, and the longer we stay on the Green, the more damage we do to our cause. I think that our ranks will easily double or triple if we can get off the Green and prove that we will continue on in our struggle. 

We can thumb our noses at the city and be prideful and arrogant, or we can move forward with greatly increased support to fight the 1%. If we want physical reminders of corporate greed and the rift between the rich and poor in this country, we can put things everywhere that can accomplish the same thing without all this controversy, and if we act quickly, we can do it on *our* terms …

The importance of a continued physical occupation has often been a divisive topic within the movement, with many Occupiers insisting that encampments are what draw attention to the urgency of the cause and differentiate the movement from advocacy groups and non-profits. But while re-occupation remains on the minds of many in the movement, others have argued that it’s time to adopt new tactics.

In New York, Occupy Wall Street is now doing so of necessity. After an encampment was once again briefly established and then evicted from Union Square in Manhattan last month, demonstrators are adopting what they call sleepful protest,” sleeping on sidewalks where they say they are protected by a federal ruling. Though the strategy has resulted in seven arrests in Washington, DC this week, Occupy Wall Street members have been camped out on the sidewalks outside of the New York Stock Exchange, Bank of America and Citibank for the past four nights without incident. One demonstrator explained in a video interview:

What we’re doing here is kind of a complete return to what we originally planned on doing [at Zuccotti Park]. Union Square was kind of a healing process because we were beaten up and sick of Wall Street. … This time we’re not committing any form of civil disobedience, we’re in full compliance with the law, we’re not disorderly in any way, we’re just providing silent messages. And it’s a really interesting phenomenon. We’ll eventually spread out to all of Wall Street. I kind of think of it like we’re a tumor and we’re going to keep growing and growing, in a cancerous sense … Of course, capitalism’s the real cancer.

In protest of the city’s anti-camping ordinances, Occupy Santa Ana, Cal. set up mats and tarps in the city’s Civic Center, where they announced Tuesday that they would sleep outside for seven nights. Though anti-camping ordinances have been used (and passed specifically in order to) evict the Occupy movement, Santa Ana demonstrators sought to call attention to the ordinances’ effect on the city’s homeless population. Calling their protest necessity village,” Occupiers made clear that they were not setting up a camp, but showing solidarity with those who are ticketed when they are forced to sleep outside.

We will sleep, not camp, understanding them as different actions in solidarity with those whose very existence is now a crime,” said organizers Massimo Marini to the Orange County Register. Cities in Orange County need to recognize the difference between camping and the necessity to sleep every night.”

In Chicago, the movement yesterday lent support to approximately two dozen mental health patients and advocates who were occupying one of six clinics set to close as part of a city budget, passed last November, that includes $410 million in spending cuts.

The model of community-led, Occupy-supported sit-ins has proved successful as of late in Chicago, with occupations earlier this year at Brian Piccolo Specialty School and Serious Energy factory ending in victories for parents seeking to stop the gutting of a community school and workers insisting on the chance to seek a new owner for their factory instead of its immediate closure.

As in these previous actions, Occupy Chicago and other supporters encircled the entrances of Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic from outside while patients and other demonstrators locked themselves inside the building. The action was planned by the groups Southsiders Together Organizing for Power (STOP) and the Mental Health Movement, which has put out a report challenging the Chicago Department of Public Health’s claim that the closing of half of the city’s mental health clinics will not impact the availability of care. Before staging the occupation, mental health advocates say they have been calling for a hearing on the closings since October and have delivered more than 4,000 letters to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

A Save Our Clinics” rally began earlier in the day, with approximately 200 supporters at the demonstration, according to organizers. At approximately 4 P.M., demonstrators barricaded themselves inside using chains, chairs and vending machines, announcing their intention to stay in the clinic until Mayor Emanuel agreed to keep all of the clinics open and stop the plans to privatize the city’s neighborhood health centers.

Shortly after 9 P.M., patients inside the building were approached by a police officer trained in mental health interventions, who tried to convince them to abandon the protest. From a livestream being broadcast from inside the building, N’Dana Carter, who uses the clinics set to close and organizes with STOP, could be seen calmly explaining the situation to the officer. We appreciate that you’re here, but we’re not a bunch of out-of-control people,” she said. We’re here because the mayor’s pushed us here … We support the police and we know that you’re going to have to do double-duty, and every time a mental health patient has an issue, you’ll have to stay with them until it’s resolved.”

As the night went on and the crowd dwindled, police began to move in. At approximately 1 A.M., they used bolt cutters to cut through the chains and arrested 23 people inside the clinic.

Eleven were released without charges; twelve will reportedly be charged with criminal trespassing and were still being released as of the time of writing. At a press conference this morning, the occupation’s organizers vowed further action.

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Rebecca Burns is an In These Times contributing editor and award-winning investigative reporter. Her work has appeared in Bloomberg, the Chicago Reader, ProPublica, The Intercept, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.

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