Talks Center On How Protesters Can Continue Their Rally At Park
By MARK SPENCER, JENNA CARLESSO and HILLARY FEDERICO
October 11, 2011
After a day of maneuvering on ground rules, not much was settled Tuesday about how Occupy Hartford could proceed with its demonstration on a small plot of land at Broad Street and Farmington Avenue that the group has christened "Turning Point Park."
Several representatives of Occupy Hartford met with Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts and David Panagore, the city's chief operating officer, Tuesday evening to discuss whether the group can continue using tents to stay overnight in the park.
City officials made it clear that ordinances prohibit overnight tents in the park, and even some demonstrators were reluctant to challenge that at this stage in the protest, which started last week.
But others saw the tents as a crucial step to occupying the park and by late Tuesday night they were putting them up after a brief demonstration that drew about 100 people.
After putting his tent up, demonstrator River Gilmartin said he wanted to respect the police, but was determined to stay in the park 24 hours a day.
"I came here as an occupier," he said.
For now at least, there appears to be détente over the issue, with both city officials and protesters agreeing to continue to meet.
The Hartford demonstration is one of dozens have sprung up around the country and globally after the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City began getting national attention in mid-September. In Connecticut, demonstrations also are developing in New Haven, New London andBridgeport.
The groups have raised an array of issues, including unemployment, health insurance reform and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In Hartford, a 5 p.m. meeting between city officials and demonstrators at ArtSpace Hartford, a block from Turning Point Park, fluctuated between cooperative and combative. Panagore said the city wanted to support free expression, but its top priority was protecting public safety and health.
"When we get down to our ordinances, camping is not allowed in that part of the city," Panagore said.
Representatives of Occupy Hartford told city officials that protesters are getting organized to keep the park clean, feed people and prepare for a long-term occupation. They said they wanted to conduct the demonstration lawfully.
The debate moved to the city council meeting at city hall at 6 p.m., where a handful of residents voiced support for Occupy Hartford.
"I personally have no problem with it," said Nick Wolf, who lives across the street from Turning Point Park. "All the individuals there have been keeping it in pretty good shape."
Tuesday morning, protesters had collapsed their tents in the park as they awaited the outcome of negotiations with the city. They have been using meetings they call "general assemblies" to decide how to conduct the demonstration.
At a 7 p.m. general assembly Tuesday, protesters differed on how to proceed. While some wanted tents put back up, others wanted to leave the park at night to avoid the possibility of arrests. Some wanted to re-evaluate strategy.
Police said Tuesday that no arrests had been made in connection with the Occupy Hartford movement.
Many of the people in the park Tuesday had no intention of spending the night, but wanted to show their support.
Marsha Ryan, a retired administrative assistant, came with three friends from western Massachusetts. They were holding signs and waving at cars on Farmington Avenue.
"Our 401(k)s are gone," she said. "Our future is uncertain."
Other demonstrators were clearly preparing for the long haul. Volunteers are providing three meals a day in the park, serving donated food.
"As long as people want to eat, we will serve them," said volunteer Lisa Karl.
Another Occupy Hartford march and picket will be held Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Bank of America building downtown, people involved in the movement said.
The movement began planning in Hartford two weeks ago. More than 60 people attended a meeting on Oct. 2 at the Charter Oak Cultural Center, participants said, and several Facebook pages have been formed to support Occupy Hartford.
Last Wednesday, about 70 people gathered at Bushnell Park in the morning with an additional 30 at night to discuss what kind of protest might unfold in Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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