Monday, January 30, 2012
Both police and members of the movement deserve credit for this. Their relationship has had tension and disagreements, including this morning, but little more. At least some of that is due to numbers - Occupy Charlotte rarely boasted more than a few dozen protesters at Old City Hall, making it less likely to face sanitary problems and loss of internal control. The group also distanced itself from a flag burning in December, a message that it would rather do simply what it came to do - protest economic unfairness and the powerlessness Americans feel over the country's corporate interests.
So why is Occupy losing its overnight privileges here? The group is a victim of another force beyond its control - the approaching Democratic National Convention. Charlotte’s leaders, looking at Occupy’s difficulties elsewhere and the impending arrival of thousands of protesters here - wisely decided to get proactive about its public areas. Taking a cue from other cities, Charlotte banned semi-permanent structures and sleeping on public property in an effort to make mass overnight camping difficult.
That new rules might have come anyway - Republicans were a little too grumpy about the tromping on the Old City Hall lawn - but the DNC made it necessary. Although we’ve had some issues with some of what police will be allowed to do in September, we think the overnight camping measures will respect the free speech of protesters here while protecting the safety of our citizens and interests of our businesses.
The rules passed last week, and police began enforcement this morning. And maybe it's unfair that Occupy Charlotte, a movement that caused little more than inconvenience and a muddy lawn, now must take down its tents. But what was legal last fall is no longer. We hope, though, that police will allow protesters some reasonable protection from the elements, such as portable canopies.
The movement here now faces choices about if and how it will drum its message of financial inequality. It’s become a cliche now, each time a camp is cleared in a U.S. city, to talk about Occupy’s “victory” - putting that topic at the front of the national discussion. Although we haven’t always agreed - or sometimes even understood - exactly what the protesters want, we welcome the voice they’ve had here in a legitimate debate over our financial future. We hope they continue to use it.
Peter St. Onge
Posted by The Observer Editorial Board at 9:09 AM