Occupy Wall Street Occupies the Agenda of Manhattan Community Board
An unusually dynamic and lively Manhattan Community Board 1 Meeting took place blocks away from Liberty Park yesterday. The Quality of Life/Financial District Committee met to deliberate over Occupy Wall Street and hear remarks from residents. The board members, which have been in support of Occupy Wall Street, have been receiving an increasing amount of complaints about the occupation.
The meeting was packed, according to Tiffany Winbush, a PR/social media strategist in attendance. More than 100 people signed up to speak during the meeting. [For a comprehensive and detailed blow-by-blow of the meeting, go here or read FDL writer Cindy Kouril’s live blog of the meeting.]
Members spoke first saying the occupation made life harder but they would not work to force an end to the protest. They acknowledged the occupation was a work in progress. According to Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones, they also declared they would not vote for any resolution aimed at regulating Occupy Wall Street that impinged upon the occupiers First Amendment rights. One board member even put forth a list of demands for a resolution: limit drumming, arrange for toilets, enforce prior agreements with the board, work with businesses and get barricades removed.
Residents, who stood up to speak, condemned the occupation for the loud drumming. A woman, according to Village Voice writer Rosie Gray, said, “The occupiers are not our neighbors.” One local resident said, “I don’t care what your views are…A neighbor pays rent…These people don’t pay rent.” Another person stood up and said, “The First Amendment is great, but you’ve invaded our neighborhood.”
Parents, who support Occupy Wall Street, were present. A parent encouraged residents to bring their children down to the park to explain to them what the movement is all about. (The occupation has shown special concern for accommodating families. On Thursday, at 10 am, the camp was re-arranged to make it possible for a family sleepover to happen. It is a place where parents can teach their children about democracy and, in fact, about 200 parents will be staying overnight with their children.)
A resident called Occupy Wall Street’s “Good Neighbor” policy a”farce.” The policy, posted around the park, went into effect on October 13. The policy established there would be “zero tolerance” for drugs or alcohol, violence or verbal abuse and abuse of personal or public property. Participants would be required to follow health and sanitary regulations and they would be encouraged to “utilize appropriate off-site sanitary facilities.” A community relations representative would be on site at all times to “monitor and respond to community concerns and complaints.” And, most importantly, occupiers would “limit drumming” to 2 hours per day between 11 am and 5 pm.
The area is pretty loud at night, even if no occupiers are drumming. As noted during the meeting, there are around 60 construction projects in the area. There is loud drilling that begins every night right about the time the GA meets.
There were a number of residents that expressed support. One said they are so nice and must not be from New York. Another resident, who lives a few blocks away, according to Paul Newell, a Democratic District Leader for NY’s 64th Assembly District, said, “Welcome to the neighborhood…I am so glad you are here.” And, another testified that his or her job had been lost, his or her parents had been foreclosed on, his or her sister was in a school that she could not afford and he or she had been waiting for something like Occupy Wall Street her whole life.
The residents displayed great frustration with the barricades and police presence that has been sustained. A Financial District resident said the “biggest problem is the barricades.” A 71-year old resident said the only time he didn’t felt safe was when he was shoved by the police. One resident said, “Let’s stop panicking and open up the streets again.”
When the meeting was ending, members voted on a resolution that addressed the issues created by Occupy Wall Street and police. They agreed to pass limits on drumming and they agreed to call for the removal of barricades. The members were overwhelmingly in favor of the resolution, which will now move on for a vote by the full community board next week.
It is worth noting that one member asked an occupier about Occupy Wall Street’s views on the upcoming 2012 election. A person with Occupy Wall Street responded, “This is not about politics.”
The occupiers are savvy and understand supporting any political party, major or marginalized, and/or endorsing any political candidates could stunt the growth and success of the “Occupy” movement. (And, that is probably a resolution saying Occupy Wall Street rejects both the Democratic and Republican Parties did not reach a consensus in the GA.)
In the past week, the drumming has been a great source of conflict. Drummers have complained about how it impinges upon their ability to engage in protest and resistance in the park. They have cast the restriction as something oppressive. Needless to say, the agreement to limit drumming, which was reached on October 13 when the GA passed a “Good Neighbor” policy, has not been obeyed by the drummers. And, a few occupiers have been very concerned that the community board would cite the drums as reason to withdraw support for the occupation and even call for a police raid on the camp.
A General Assembly (GA) on October 14 featured a debate that lasted more than fifty minutes. (I was present for the debate and a recording of it can be viewed here.) A representative from the Community Planning Committee explained at the GA on October 14 (6:55 mark):
The Manhattan Community Board, which has supported OWS against the Bloomberg cleanup bullshit, asked us days ago if we would agree to a “Good Neighbor” policy. This “Good Neighbor” policy included limiting drum circles—just the really fucking loud drum circles—to 2 hours, any 2 hours, between 11 am and 5 pm. Two days ago, we sent down a beautiful mediation team to ask them if they would do this. They did not stop drumming. We took this as a no. Yesterday, in front of the entire GA, we passed a consensus to limit drumming to the 2 hours I mentioned before. This was consented upon. In the only body that we have that represents decisions in our community, this is our link. It’s the bond that ties us together. Tonight and throughout the day, the drum circle continued. This may have been because the drummers did not attend the GA and therefore did not know a consensus had been reached. This sucks for the drummers. They feel they have been misrepresented. Today, we received from the Manhattan Community Board a really fucking angry letter that [said] even though we said we’d try to stop them and even though we consented upon it that we could not uphold the consensus we had reached within our GA. This reflects badly in our community. It reflects badly out into our greater community.
A drummer delivered a rebuttal (19:30 mark):
If this is a community, everybody comes together. This decision was made without the drummers. Everybody are individuals. Nobody is in charge over the other. This compromise could have been handled differently. How you approach an individual is with respect. And when you approach an individual respectfully, you will get what you want. Nobody is in charge. This music has brought you here. So when you march, you will need drummers.
A mediation team representative nicely summed up the main concerns of the drummers, which she came to understand after listening to them (25:00 mark):
The drummers are very proud of the contribution that they are making to the movement. I heard that they care a lot about this movement. They want it to work. The way they want to contribute is by expressing lots of the frustration that probably many of us share. Their language, one of their languages, are drums. Also, they want to attract many people who are gathering in the spirit of music, celebration and expression. I think we should thank them for that. (Cheers) Speaking as mediation, I think it’s very important that we listen to the good intentions and the needs that we all share and acknowledge and acknowledge them and in a second step think how we can meet everybody’s needs.
A resident named Pat Moore stood up to speak at one point (42:55 mark):
I live down the street. I’ve lived there for 34 years. I support your movement and so do most of my neighbors. But, I beg of you. This is a residential neighborhood of working class people, the people you support. The drumming is driving us crazy. I beg you to give us some relief. I know this drumming is a symbol of the movement. I’m just asking you to limit it to the hours you’ve agreed upon in the “Good Neighbor” policy.
The issue of drumming may not seem like something that warrants this much debate. One certainly does not want to see drumming be what brings Occupy Wall Street to an end. But, the situation is not that dire yet.
The occupiers are very determined to work out a way to accommodate everyone in the park so that each person can continue to contribute and enjoy being part of Occupy Wall Street. Though there are cliques that have formed after one month, each person is committed to continuing the occupation. They will creatively develop ways for drummers and other musicians to make contributions to the movement, whether this happens in Liberty Park or off-site somewhere else.
They will work this out because this is a movement that understands they are at the forefront of something big and they have a responsibility to deal with this in such a way that they can continue to put the focus on the crimes of Wall Street and the income inequality and unemployment, which continues to worsen in this country.