The Observer headed out to the Occupy Little Rock camp at Fourth and Ferry last Thursday for the last time. It was the deadline, the last day, the Big Adios. Even though the City Fathers had told the OLR folks they could stay there as long as they liked if they'd get the heck off the lawn of the Clinton Presidential Library last year, they'd had a change of heart, basically telling OLR they didn't mean FOREVER when they said forever, and yanking Occupy's permit to stay. The city needed that lot for bus parking, don't you know? Well ... overflow bus parking, anyway. At 7 a.m. that morning, the permit was officially kaput, and anybody who wanted to stand his ground at Fourth and Ferry when the cops chose to take it back was subject to arrest.
The Observer was there at 6:30 a.m., and we waited with 20 or so souls from OLR and maybe 15 other members of the Mainstream Media as the OLR folks cleaned up some, laughed some, complained a bit, and burned sticks and wads of twine in an old washing machine drum at the center of the lot. Talking to them, there was a sense that the lid was coming down on a place that meant quite a bit in their lives. There was a sense that, for a moment, they'd caught something real by the tail, but it was slipping away again into the dark, maybe never to be seen again. The Observer was there last fall when they marched on the Capital building, several hundred strong. Here, on a lovely, blue-sky Thursday, was where that march ended.
Some we spoke to said that the OLR camp in Little Rock was the final original Occupation on public land in the nation. We haven't had the heart to check out whether that was true or not. If it is true, it's a testament to the fortitude of OLR and the even-handedness of the City of Little Rock, no matter how you see the endgame. Where some municipalities came in with dozers and riot gear within a few weeks of the Occupations in a lot of big cities, Little Rock at least tried to let it play out and die a natural death. When OLR stubbornly held on through the winter and into the spring, they pulled the plug.
We sat there all day on Thursday, through lunch, finally moving a lawn chair into the shade of a tree as the day wore on. At one point, a truck rushed by on the Interstate and a man in the window shouted, "Get a job!" Most of the Occupiers didn't even look up at that. They've surely heard that line enough that it has dissolved into the general noise.
At 2 p.m., the police arrived. First they blocked off the streets around the lot at 4th and Ferry, then started working their way around the perimeter of the lot — from tree to lamp post to tree — with a roll of yellow police tape. There had been quite a bit of speechifying earlier in the day about what would happen at that moment, but in the end, all but four of the Occupiers retreated outside the tape. Of the four who remained, two were Baby Boomers, old enough to be grandfathers. There's a message in that, but we don't know exactly what, and probably wouldn't want to say if we had a suspicion. It's hard to armchair-quarterback a thing like that. Who in their right mind, after all, wants to go to jail?
After a brief chat with the chief of police, who strolled over with a smile and a cup of coffee in his hand like he was greeting kinfolks at the family reunion, the four were cuffed. In short order, they were led to vans and driven away. As the remaining Occupiers watched from outside the tape, a dog and his handler began roaming the site, the dog pushing his nose into the piles of clothes and wooden pallets. By then, 30 or more cops had moved in. Some of them wore white haz-mat suits, the officers searching, stooping, picking up, taking photos of the lopsided and forlorn tents that remained.
The Occupiers began trickling away. After awhile, we followed. There is, after all, nothing interesting about watching a dream become just a parking lot again.