Occupy evicted in Rochester

November 1, 2011

Brian Lenzo and Ream Kidane report on recent arrests at Occupy Rochester and protesters' resolve to keep the fight going.

ACTIVISTS IN Rochester established an Occupy encampment in Washington Square Park on October 28, but police evicted us that night.

The General Assembly of Occupy Rochester decided to launch the permanent encampment, despite warnings by city official that staying past 11 p.m. would be a violation of city ordinances. The local media swarmed the encampment all evening as news of a showdown between the Rochester police and Occupy Rochester spread.

As the 11 p.m. deadline approached, the crowd swelled to 60 people and gained momentum as occupiers chanted, "Whose park? Our park!" and sang labor songs like the "Internationale" and "Solidarity Forever." Despite attempts by the police liaison team to secure permission to stay in the park, at 11:30 p.m., a final warning was given, and police moved in.

In a bizarre twist, flanked by about five officers, Chief of Police James Shepard began personally arresting occupiers, one by one, as the media looked on. It took nearly an hour to arrest the 32 occupiers who opted to stay and be arrested. During the arrests, 40 supporters cheered and chanted, "R-P-D, go fight real crime" and "Shame! Shame!"

One of dozens of occupiers arrested in Rochester
One of dozens of occupiers arrested in Rochester

By Saturday morning, all 32 activists were arraigned and released on $200 bail. They immediately returned to the park, just blocks from the courthouse, and were greeted by 20 supporters and a huge spread of breakfast food. By noon, the crowd grew to 35 for another General Assembly, where we decided to mobilize community support and call for a rally that evening. By 6 p.m., the crowd grew to 60 despite another warning from Mayor Tom Richards that the park curfew would be enforced as it was on Friday.

Under the watching eye of recently installed police cameras, the GA voted to vacate the park as instructed. However, the harassment continued. Police arrived just after midnight to issue the order to leave. As marchers moved to the sidewalk, one officer confiscated a stack of placards located, legally, off park premises, on the grounds that it was "abandoned property."

The 12 remaining activists decided to march defiantly around the perimeter of the park late into the evening, with six marching until 5 a.m., when the park reopened, and then re-occupying the park.

No one had any illusions that Mayor Tom Richards would be on the side of Occupy Rochester. Richards is the multimillionaire former CEO of Rochester Gas and Electric, firmly placing him in the upper echelons of the 1 percent. However, this time, Richards may have underestimated the anger and resolve of the 99 percent.

Support for Occupy Rochester has spread since the arrests on Friday. AFL-CIO Rochester Labor Council President Jim Bertolone released a statement calling Mayor Richards' actions "an embarrassment to the City of Rochester" and "nothing short of an attempt by the 1 percent to silence the voices of the 99 percent; the victims of decades of wage stagnation and income inequality."

Occupy Rochester is calling on Mayor Richards to drop all charges against the Rochester 32 and allow Rochester activists to continue occupying Washington Square Park round-the-clock. A large march from Washington Square Park to City Hall (and back) is planned for the national day of action in solidarity with Occupy Oakland on November 2. Occupy Rochester is uniting the community around the slogan, "We are the 99 percent, and we will not be silenced."

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