By Max Mogren – Collapsenet Staff
© Copyright 2011, Collapsenet, Inc.
November 9, 2011, 1300 PST, SEBASTOPOL -- Passionate negotiations continued at Tuesday’s Santa Rosa City Council Meeting. After several hours of public comment and deliberation, the council publicly decided to reconvene for a special session at 5pm this Thursday (11/10) to formally decide the city’s stance towards the growing occupation on the grounds of Santa Rosa City Hall. This is consistent with today’s reporting in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Other unconfirmed reports from within OSR have suggested that the City might be planning a Thursday removal of the camp by Santa Rosa PD. At press time, Arrow Flora, a spokesperson for OSR told Collapsenet, “We’re getting mixed signals and we have requested a brief meeting with the City Manager today. A report of a late-night vote by the council that was posted on our web site is apparently not correct. We have decided that the larger message is more important and we have agreed to comply with the city’s camping permit process in order to keep our presence in Santa Rosa. What we have to find out is whether the city will be receptive and continue negotiations in good faith, or whether they have completely ‘lost patience’ and have another agenda. It is too soon to know yet. We have seen both positive and negative signs.”
There are currently 107 tents on the lawn at City Hall, approximately 40 more than last week when this reporter counted 65 total tents. In the last week Occupiers have also added a half dozen portable toilets and several more support and service areas to meet the needs of the growing encampment. The camp now boasts a kitchen where free meals are served to all-comers, a welcome and information booth, a medical tent, solar power generation, and an impressive library.
During Tuesday evening’s meeting most seats in the chamber were filled and approximately thirty supporters stood in the back. Three dozen citizens took advantage of two minute time slots to address City Council. All but two of the public speakers spoke in complete support of the Occupation. The two citizens who spoke against the Occupation did not disagree with the Movement’s message but encouraged the council to enforce local camping ordinances which would limit the protest to daytime hours. These two speakers sat next to each other, read from prepared statements, and left the chamber shortly after speaking.
Deliberations began with a presentation by a SRPD Lt. Jerry Soares who stated 26 arrests have been made since the Occupation began on October 15th – an average of only one arrest per day. He stated that 173 incidents related to the Occupation required SRPD’s presence, but that number seemed grossly exaggerated because it included “security checks” where officers patrolled the encampment without being called to the site or provocation of any kind.
Other aspects of Lt. Soares presentation seemed intentionally misleading as well. For example, he questioned the protesters motives for occupying by showing a photo of the deserted street corner in front of City Hall while pondering why protesters were resting in their tents instead of actively engaging the public. The photo’s lighting and lack of street traffic made it obvious that the photo was taken early in the morning before daytime activities had commenced in downtown Santa Rosa.
After Lt. Soares presentation, three dozen citizens spoke in support of the occupation. Michael C. Ruppert, founder of CollapseNet, implored Santa Rosa to look at the bigger picture – the accelerating collapse of industrial civilization – and presented all councilmembers with complimentary copies of his book “Confronting Collapse”.
Many speakers were cut off mid-statement due to the two-minute slots allotted. The general theme of public statements was the importance of local government and protesters working together to address the issues we face locally as corruption and inequality runs rampant across the nation.
After the public comments, all city councilmembers spoke in support of the Occupy Movement, but several stated their view that the physical occupation could not continue due to public health and safety considerations.
The meeting maintained a respectful and cooperative atmosphere except for when Councilman Jake Ours accused protesters of threatening violence and stated: “This City Hall, this is ourhome. You folks are guests in our home.” The chamber erupted with shouts of protest, but the respectful atmosphere quickly returned when Councilman Ours clarified his statement.
Of notable concern to both Lt. Soares and the Council was the increasing number of area homeless taking up residence in the encampment, isolated incidents of public urination and defecation, and the potential for sex offenders or other criminals to take advantage of the encampment. An incident that took place in the encampment on Tuesday morning where two intoxicated homeless had a domestic dispute was the primary justification for this concern.
Some Occupiers expressed concern that Tuesday morning’s incident may have been intentionally set up by law enforcement to justify removing the encampment. This is consistent with reports from Occupy Wall Street where NYPD Officers encouraged drunk and disorderly homeless from across NYC to “take it to Zuccotti” Park in an effort to tarnish the Occupations’ image.
Regardless of whether these homeless were intentionally steered to Occupy Santa Rosa or were drawn there by free food or the desire for a sense of security and community, it is notable that Occupy Santa Rosa – despite being a fledgling movement under constant threat of eviction – has been providing basic services like food, shelter, and healthcare to those most in need.
The comments of one young protester in particular resonate with me as I write this. He spoke of how Occupy Santa Rosa is laying the framework for sustainable, intentional communities at a time when the existing system is failing so many citizens of Sonoma County. As the globe transitions – by necessity due to resource scarcity and growing populations – away from economies based on Infinite Growth, the Occupy Movement strives to meet the basic needs of those the existing system has left for dead.
Whether the City Council decides to evict Occupy Santa Rosa or not, the number of struggling and homeless people in Sonoma County is sure to rise as economic collapse progresses. Whether the growing ranks of the dispossessed are shoved back into the shadows or allowed to express their legitimate concerns for our collective future, they will continue to exist and, in some form or another, their voices will be heard.
Let us hope the Santa Rosa City Council chooses wisely and does not force the Occupy Movement underground where the respectful atmosphere of shared purpose and cooperation with local government would be hard-pressed to continue. We are all in this worsening predicament together.