Occupy Rochester won a huge victory on Thursday evening, forcing the multi-millionaire mayor, Tom Richards (Democrat), to reverse his position and negotiate an agreement to let us camp in Washington Square Park 24-7. The mayor was stubborn and vowed to enforce the park ordinances preventing us from camping. To make a long story short, over course of 2 weeks, over 50 people were arrested in two sets of "mass" arrests, all live on the local news and police harassment continued to escalate. Comrades can read the our report in SW from last week for details on how that went down.
On the national day of action in support of Oakland, we drew 350 people to march on City Hall, with about 1/3 of that being unions. The Sheet Metal Workers Union brought big signs and made a powerful image for the media of how popular and widespread our movement is. 15 more people were arrested that evening.
Simultaneously as the public confrontations and big marches were happening, the Labor Outreach Working Group and the Legal Working Group worked to draw union support and draw legal help to file a civil rights lawsuit against the city. The Labor Outreach team convinced a team of Labor officials to have a private meeting with the Mayor earlier this week, where they apparently gave the impression they would be joining the civil disobedience on Veterans Day if the Mayor did not sign an agreement with OR.
From the legal angle, we discovered that the law the Mayor was "enforcing" was not a ban on camping, but a requirement for permission to camp overnight from the Parks department. This key distinction gave the NYCLU grounds to argue the law was unconstitutional, since it granted the power of censorship to an unelected city official. The NYCLU met with the Mayor and indicated they "may" file a lawsuit and seek an injunction against the law unless the Mayor came to an agreement.
The Rochester public was becoming more and more sympathetic with our cause as we peacefully demanded our right to remain in the park. The combination of Labor pressure, NYCLU support as well as our persistent defiance of the ordinance with numerous televised arrests, tipped the balance.
The Mayor asked for our demands, we decided them in a GA and the next day (Thursday) the city presented a contract allowing us to camp with certain paramaters. OR voted at the GA, partly televised live on the evening news, to accept the offer.
The mayor then showed up in person and signed the agreement in front of all the tv cameras and the OR General Assembly.
Our planned Veterans Day march, lead by members of IVAW, targeted predatory practices by the banks against Veterans and their families. It drew 250 people, about 30 of them vets. It was a celebration with energy like we've never had in Rochester before. We have been camping for the past 2 nights, with about 25 campers overnight and a persistent presence of around 40-60.
Also, key to our success was staying ahead of the city in the media. We started a 4 person media outreach team that sent press releases anytime something was happening, sometimes 5 a day. I was on that committee and writing many of them. Banking on the strict deadlines (and laziness) of staff reporters, the more text we sent them, the more likely our voice came through in the articles and stories.
The confidence among local activists is at an all time high. We are turning our attention to a foreclosure eviction defense this coming week. The family and Take Back the Land Rochester, took advantage of the Mayor's visit on thursday to speak to all the news cameras.