Louisville Metro Government says Occupy Louisville demonstrators must leave their encampment downtown.
Occupy Louisville began six months ago as an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York. Demonstrators first occupied the Belvedere, then Jefferson Square Park. At the request of Metro Government, the protest moved to Founder’s Square late last year. Demonstrators erected a tent city and used the park as a center of operations, holding meetings and operating a small media center. But the city believes the situation has devolved.
“Basically what Occupy has now turned into is a homeless camp,” says mayor’s spokesman Chris Poynter.
The protest at Founder’s Square is one of the longest-running occupy camps in the world. And it has been a point of contention with Metro Government since it began.
Even though the city granted a permit for the camp last year, officials declined to renew it, saying overnight camping at Founder’s Square would have to stop after December 31. Occupy filed suit. Action in court stalled when the city reversed and granted a renewal. That permit will soon expire and the city has again rejected Occupy’s request for another renewal. Demonstrators have until next Friday to leave.
“It is true that many of the people there in those tents do not have other places to go, but the idea that they’re not activists or their voice doesn’t matter or that they’re not involved in Occupy Louisville in any other way other than being homeless is something we totally disagree with,” says Occupy member Greg Huda.
Huda says Occupy may reconsider legal action after the permit expires. But even without the park, he promises the activists will continue. Several small working groups have been formed to plan future protests. One such group clashed with police earlier this year in a demonstration outside of Chase Bank. It was the only time Occupy activities have led to arrests or physical confrontations with police.
At the camp, there wasn’t talk of resisting the eviction.
“Right now our primary concern is to make sure we come up with adequate shelter for the members of the encampment who are active members of Occupy Louisville going forward,” says Karl Zollner, who was sitting with several other demonstrators in Founder’s Square shortly after the permit request was denied.
“On one level [the park] is a visible public protest against the reign of economic injustice. [Second,] it is a place for people who have been impacted negatively by the recession of the last several years to empower themselves. Third, it is a place for people to come by and show their support,” he says. “The loss of the park means that even if we could find accommodation for some of the people, it would not be all. It would be on private lands and it would not provide a public meeting place the way the park has.”
Occupy has found private space. Demonstrators now have access to an office in the Braden Center in west Louisville.
“That gives us an opportunity for a place to have computers and Internet, a printer, and be much more organized going forward, because we’ve had serious problems basically maintaining a media presence from within the park,” says Zollner.
In other cities, violence has erupted when protesters have been evicted from their encampments. The mayor’s office will help homeless protesters find space in shelters, but spokesman Chris Poynter will not say if the city will force demonstrators from the park if they don’t leave voluntarily.
“We’ll come to that when we come to it,” he says.