Faced with evictions, occupy movement protesters look to new tactics

Disrupted by police, Occupy movements in several major cities now mobilize largely during daytime hours or through marches designed around specific issues. Some are aligning with local community groups, churches, and unions.

Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe/AP
Boston police officers remove an Occupy Boston protester from Dewey Square in Boston before dawn Saturday. More than 40 people were peacefully arrested as the park was cleared. The city had set a Thursday midnight deadline for protesters to leave or face eviction.

As the Occupy movement heads into the cold winter months, the movement is counting on ingenuity, good luck and – in one case – the federal courts to keep it mobilized outside financial districts and city halls across the United States.

The greatest challenge to date are the evictions by city governments that complain that overnight camping in city parks violates curfew laws and threatens public health and safety. Occupy movements in several major cities – Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles – were disrupted by police action and now mobilize largely during daytime hours or through marches designed around specific issues special to each city.

Protesters in all these cities argue the evictions violate free speech rights and that the use of curfew laws is hollow considering they are rarely enforced, especially before the Occupy movement became a mobilized presence on the streets.

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The latest eviction happened early Friday morning in Boston where police arrested over 40 people at Dewey Square, where protesters had camped for 10 weeks. Showing up at 5 a.m., police removed about 150 protesters. The removal took about an hour and is described by people on both sides as largely peaceful with many leaving voluntarily.

The event struck a somber tone as many protesters hoped they could have been given a specific date in which to exit the park on their own.

“I would have like to have seen us do it ourselves,” protester John Ford told the Guardian. “Because there is a certain amount of respect and dignity that comes with intentionality.”

In some cases, protesters are turning to the courts to make their case that the evictions violate their free speech rights. A Suffolk Superior Court judge barred the Boston eviction in mid-November, granting the group a temporary restraining order. However on Wednesday, the judge decided against permanent protection, arguing that the park is state property with a curfew deadline and laws banning structures such as tents.

Occupy protesters in New Orleans received better news this week when a federal judge on Tuesday ruled that they could keep their camps for at least seven days in a park across from city hall, 12 hours after police forcibly removed the encampment at dawn. City officials complain that the Occupy protesters are creating a public health risk, which is costing the city over $50,000 in cleanup costs. They also say the encampment is denying access to the park for people unrelated to the movement.

US District Judge Jay Zainey scheduled a meeting Monday to determine whether or not the protesters can stay permanently.

The Occupy movement originated in New York City on Sept. 17 when several dozen demonstrators tried to pitch tents in front of the New York Stock Exchange to protest economic inequity and corporate governance. By October, similar activist movements under the Occupy banner had swelled in cities throughout the US and Canada.

The movement continues, if not just on the streets, but virally online, in classrooms and in small office spaces, where activists are planning day-to-day activities and partnering with local community organizations to provide manpower and resources for local issues ranging from unfair foreclosures to threatened cuts in union benefits and rights.

One splinter movement that is gaining momentum is Occupy Our Homes, which is aligning with local community groups, churches, and unions with Occupy activists in an effort to set up encampments outside homes under the threat of foreclosure by banks they say are profiting from wrongful evictions.

Leading the movement in California is the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and the ReFund California Coalition, two groups that are working to stop foreclosures and arguing against what they describe as predatory mortgage lending.

At New York University, Occupy leaders are being invited into the classroom as guest speakers. Two courses planned for next semester are designed to examine the “history and politics of debt and finance,” according to the university.

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