‘Occupy Delaware’ takes shape
Published: Monday, November 7, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 04:11
Despite cold nights and the threat of arrest from local police Occupy Delaware protesters assembled in downtown Wilmington, Monday to protest the wealth gap between rich and poor Americans.
Protesters held a "tea party" on the sidewalk in front of the Louis L. Redding city council building on French Street on Monday night, after being told they could no longer gather at the adjacent Peter Spencer Plaza because they did not pay a $200 permit fee to remain as a group in the area until Nov. 14.
Wilmington resident Michael Mizner, 25, said Spencer Plaza was an ideal location for the protest because of its visibility and its proximity to the Boggs Federal Building location and other government buildings owned by state, county and city governments.
"We want to be on the government's doorstep," Mizner said. "We're going to remind them every minute of every day to give us recognition."
The three-day trek to Spencer Plaza began at H. Fletcher Brown Park in Wilmington on Saturday morning, where Occupy Delaware protesters set up camp. In an assembly meeting, they voted to stay there overnight on Saturday, even though the protest violated state law.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell granted the protesters a fee waiver for the permit to gather at H. Fletcher Brown Park, valid from sunrise to sundown on Saturday and Sunday. The protesters signed the fee waiver agreement, but stated they did not agree to the curfew.
Newark resident and demonstrator Jen Wallace, 40, said at Fletcher Park Saturday that she believes the protesters were within their rights to stay overnight at the park.
"This is public land," Wallace said. "We own this park. Where else do people have to express their First Amendment rights but public land?"
She said the group did not bring harm to the nearby community.
"We're peacefully protesting," Wallace said. "We're holding up signs. We're walking on sidewalks, where anyone is allowed to walk."
Approximately 80 protesters attended with one of the group's general assembly meetings on Saturday afternoon, where they voted to stay at H. Fletcher Brown Park. Protesters marched to Rodney Square, chanting "We are the 99 percent" and carrying signs.
The occupiers set up an "art corner" where participants could make their own signs, some of which read, "They took my home, they took my job, but they can't take my voice," and "People not profit."
Protester Dana Garrett, 57, a resident of Stanton, Del., said he tries to ensure the safety of all those involved, asking that discussions are conducted democratically.
"The occupy movement is not only about the income disparity, but about an alternative way of getting things done," Garrett said.
He said that the Occupy Delaware protesters were focused on keeping their presence positive and peaceful for the community.
Garrett said he believed the number of protesters, which already represented a diverse group of people, would grow as Occupy Delaware gained momentum, but he said that's not what was important to him.
"It's the symbolism that matters," Garrett said.
Protesters received written warnings from the state telling them that they were violating state laws regarding the park. They planned to vote on whether to stay at the park past the permit's Sunday night deadline on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.
Police presence was minimal during Saturday's rally, with two park rangers and three city cops observing the assembly proceedings.
However, Newark resident Steve Fox, 25, who is a university graduate and protester, said there was a larger number of police patrolling the area.
"They're unnecessary. It's a waste of tax-payer money," Fox said. "We're here, but we're peaceful. We're just trying to make a point."
Garrett said he was pleased with how police handled Saturday's event.
"They've kept a low profile. We appreciate that," he said. "I can't predict what will happen, but I can say the general temper of this group is we're not looking for confrontation. It's about standing firm in our right to protest, not to break the law for the sake of breaking the law."
Wilmington resident Renata Brito, a junior at Hampshire College in Massachusetts who participated in the Occupy Delaware protest, said she came to the rally to see if the demonstrators had a clear plan.
"I'm curious about what's happening here because Wilmington is so diverse," Brito said. "The whole point of the protest is to occupy space, but there aren't necessarily set goals. I think that has a benefit but it could also be problematic because it takes away from the impact it could have."
On Sunday afternoon, the protesters voted to move their camp to Spencer Plaza. They packed up food, supplies and tents and marched up Market Street chanting, "This is what democracy looks like" and "The people united will never be divided," as they moved.
Thirty city police officers and one state trooper arrived at Spencer Plaza on Sunday to observe the protesters. Some protesters said they felt intimidated by the large police presence at Spencer Plaza.