A win for Occupy Rochester

November 14, 2011

Brian Lenzo explains how Occupy Rochester activists got the city to back down.

OCCUPY ROCHESTER won a huge victory on the evening of November 10, forcing multimillionaire Democratic Mayor Tom Richards to reverse his position and negotiate an agreement to let the group camp in Washington Square Park.

Until that point, the mayor had been stubbornly vowing to enforce the park ordinances, preventing occupiers from camping out. Over course of two weeks, more than 50 people were arrested in two sets of "mass" arrests, all reported live on the local news. Police harassment of occupiers continued to escalate.

Pressure was building after two weeks of harassment and the dozens of arrests by the Rochester Police Department on orders from Richards. Each series of arrests, which were nonviolent and largely peaceful affairs, seemed to draw more and more public support.

The decisive moment came when local labor leaders and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) met separately with Richards to demand that he negotiate a settlement with Occupy Rochester. The NYCLU suggested that it might file a civil rights lawsuit and seek an injunction against enforcement of the city ordinance.

Rochester Occupiers marching on the November 2 day of action in solidarity with Occupy Oakland
Rochester Occupiers marching on the November 2 day of action in solidarity with Occupy Oakland

The ordinance did not ban camping outright. It merely suggested that permission to camp in public parks was to be granted by the head of the Parks Department. The NYCLU suggested that the courts might find that unconstitutional, since it granted the power of censorship to an unelected city official.

The NYCLU and the Occupy Rochester legal team met with Richards early on November 10 and drafted a settlement based on the demands articulated by the Occupy Rochester General Assembly the previous evening. On Thursday evening, the Occupy Rochester General Assembly unanimously approved the proposed settlement, part of the meeting actually televised on the local news and on our livestream.

Mayor Richards showed up and signed the agreement in front every local media outlet and the 50-person General Assembly. The full text of the agreement is available online.

OUR PLANNED Veterans Day march, led by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), targeted predatory practices by the banks against veterans and their families. It drew 250 people, about 30 of them veterans.

During the rally in front of Bank of America, IVAW member Joe Soel captured the anger and confidence of the crowd. Using the people's mic, he yelled, "The banks don't give two shits about the men and women who shed their blood in the sands of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, but they are more than willing to make a quick buck off them."

It was a celebration with energy like we've never had in Rochester before. We have been camping out for the past few nights, with about 25 campers overnight and a persistent presence of approximately 40-60 people during the day. The confidence among local activists is at an all-time high.

A local family facing foreclosure by the notorious Stephen J. Baum law firm took full advantage of the mayor's visit to Occupy Rochester on Thursday, and spoke to all the news cameras about their story.

Occupy Rochester will be turning our attention to a protest of Wells Fargo, the Baum law firm and a possible foreclosure eviction defense this coming week, as well as participating in the national day of action on November 17.

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