Columns » Max Brantley

A sit-in to re-Occupy LR

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Robert Johnston, the former state legislator and Public Service Commission member and full-time advocate for peace, the homeless and pedestrian safety, among other causes, has an idea.

It's inspired by Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant." Remember it? Why, if just three people walked in singing "Alice's Restaurant," someone might think it was an organization. And if 50 started singing? "... friends they may think it's a movement."

So Johnston has invited sympathizers and Mayor Mark Stodola to join him in a few bars of what I'll call the "Re-Occupy Little Rock Rag."

At 9 a.m. Thursday at Fourth and Ferry, the site from which Occupy Little Rock was recently evicted and four people were arrested, Johnson intends to plunk down on a lawn chair with a cool drink and sit for an hour. He wrote the mayor:

"I will be exercising my 1st Amendment Rights of free speech, free petition to the government and assembly (if at least one other patriotic soul joins me)."

He said he'll leave at 10 a.m., but encourages others to stay and sit a spell longer. And he plans to return every Thursday.

"I hope one or more others will pick up the spot, the chair, the umbrella and the sign (supplemented by other signs perhaps). 

"This is sometimes known as a protest, sometimes as a vigil, sometimes as a sit-in.  It has a long tradition in America."

If nothing else, it could be Little Rock's own "Group W bench," after the place where draft-era misfits like Guthrie were consigned. Out in Chenal Valley, City Director Lance Hines and his ilk can snigger in the men's grill about such nonconformists and their unsightly demonstrations. But you know the lawn chairs will upset his delicate aesthetic sensibilities, just as OLR's tents did.

What is Johnston protesting? How poorly the 1 percent fared compared with the 99 percent during the recession, for one thing. Also the imbalance in political power between the two groups. He told the mayor he and OLR have other protests "most or all of which are legitimate and deserve attention from the political powers in this country, including you."

Just don't call the Occupy camp or Johnston's day camp an eyesore.

"You want eyesore?" he wrote Stodola. "I can take you to 47 worse eyesores in this city. "

Occupy's camp was a "testimonial to American freedom and the U.S. Constitution," Johnston wrote. It made him proud of the country and city. Now he's ashamed by the city's eviction and feels strongly enough to risk arrest himself.

His letter asks Stodola to come down to his lawn chair Thursday and talk. I suspect Johnston understands that the city is through talking. The establishment has ruled, prevailed and moved on.

You might as well try to get Mayor Stodola to talk about the $22 million he gave the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce to throw dozens, maybe hundreds, of people out of their homes to make way for an office building for private enterprise. You might just as well ask him to allow non-establishment representation on the board of the chamber-created, publicly financed agency that will throw Little Rock residents from their home with their own tax money. You might just as well ask him for a full accounting of how the chamber spends the tax money he gives them.

The chamber certainly won't be singing any choruses of "Alice's Restaurant" with Johnston. But it will happily supply the muscle to elect candidates who'll pull the plug on Johnston's amplifiers. City leaders know that tune by heart.

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