by Max Brantley
Occupy Little Rock, the long-running encampment that was subject of some exasperation on the part of members of the Little Rock City Board of Directors recently, has drafted a response.
Among others, it explains for those who didn't understand the group's core motivation — "the undue influence the ultra-wealthy and corporations now have in elections and public policy."
Does that help, Director Fortson?
As for Director Erma Hendrix's characterization of the protest group as "garbage," the statement responded with sadness and a suggestion that she reconsider "in light of the fact that many of her constituents clearly understand our work, and that we are fighting against factors that affect all Americans, but always fall most heavily on those who have been traditionally marginalized."
Amen to that, too.
The full statement follows:
I would like to address comments recently made by Board members in reference to the Occupy Little Rock encampment located at Capitol and Ferry in downtown Little Rock. I am myself an Occupier, and though I do not stay at the campsite around the clock due to the fact I have a full-time job, I camp when I can, and stay deeply involved in the Occupy Movement, working with my fellow Occupiers here in Little Rock to bring positive changes to our city, our state, and our nation.
Board members have expressed some confusion about Occupy Little Rock’s goals, i.e. "I don’t know what they’re protesting." There are many issues we are concerned about; however, central to OLR’s concerns is the undue influence the ultra-wealthy and corporations now have in elections and public policy. We have several projects underway, concerning both local and national issues, and we use the encampment as a central meeting place to network among ourselves and our supporters, as a readily-accessible place for the public to come to discuss and learn more about issues facing all of us, and as a symbol of our determination to continue our work despite challenging circumstances. We are people who will forsake comfort to make a point.
There were also concerns expressed about reports of violence and public intoxication. Occupy Little Rock as a group considers participation in overnight camping at our site as a privilege, and we do have in place a process for screening participants, as well strict rules prohibiting alcohol, illegal drugs, and disruptive behavior. Persons who do not adhere to these guidelines have, and will be banned from camping. Being in close proximity to the River Market entertainment district, we are unable to control what happens in the general area with individuals not associated with OLR, nor do we have control of media outlets that incorrectly link such incidents with us. We do not operate in secret, and invite all who have concerns about such issues to address them directly with us, to minimize misunderstandings. It should also be understood that we are a leaderless movement, meaning that we address issues as a group, and no one should be considered a leader simply on the basis of being interviewed by the media.
I must say it greatly saddened me to hear Director Hendrix’s comments referring to Occupiers as "garbage" and our protest site as an eyesore, when many of her constituents were enthusiastically cheering us when we participated in the Marade on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January. The numerous shouts of "Keep it up!" and "God bless you all for what you're doing" speak much louder to me on how much of the public feels about Occupy than a few of disgruntled phone calls from folks who probably do not have a clear understanding of our goals and concerns. I myself have had much positive feedback from people who have seen the Occupy Little Rock button I wear, including one lady who insisted I go in front of her in line for the cashier because I was buying camping gear. I would like to respectfully invite Ms. Hendrix to reconsider her position in light of the fact that many of her constituents clearly understand our work, and that we are fighting against factors that affect all Americans, but always fall most heavily on those who have been traditionally marginalized.
I have been with the Occupy Little Rock group since before we set up tents at the Clinton Library, and have been both amazed and tremendously grateful for the amount of cooperation and the cordial relationship we have had both with the City of Little Rock and especially the Little Rock Police Department. Police Chief Stuart Thomas and Lt. Terry Hastings, who came to us at Clinton, offered us an open-ended permit for our current protest site, and have since been an excellent example of how local officials can work with citizens to enable them to enjoy and express their constitutional rights without costing the taxpayer any additional monies or inconvenience whatsoever. I believe as a whole OLR has shown that our intentions are not to disrupt city life, obstruct traffic, or inconvenience citizens, but instead be a visible presence many in our city see as a manifestation of hope.
I would urge the Board of Directors to consider that you have a unique opportunity to work with Occupy Little Rock to solve any concerns citizens may have with our protest site, to resist any pressure from special interests or agencies outside our localcommunity, and continue to be an example of enlightened city leadership that can effectively balance the cherished constitutional principles our country is founded upon with the needs of our city at large.
I thank you for your attention, and your public service.
Melanie T. Lane
On behalf of the General Assembly of Occupy Little Rock.