Public works staffers hauled off Occupy New Haven’s wooden pallet barricades and fire marshals ordered plywood signs removed, as Occupy infighting smear campaigns erupted on Facebook and Twitter and three key organizers decamped to an undisclosed location.
On the other hand, Quinnipiac Tribe Grand Sachem Iron Thunderhorse offered to guide occupiers on the path to becoming “true human beings”—from prison.
Those were the latest developments at Occupy New Haven, the embattled encampment on the Green, the last remaining New England outpost of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Occupy is reeling under the pressure of imminent removal by the city, said occupier Sara Ferah. He said signs of stress are beginning to emerge at the camp, which has held a portion of the upper Green for over five months, as the protesters await a federal court ruling on whether they have to dismantle their tents altogether.
The latest bummer arrived Monday morning in the form of two fire marshals, Inspectors Robert Doyle and Jim Hynek, who ordered occupiers to dismantle the barricades of wooden shipping pallets they’d erected over the last several weeks. Doyle and Hynek returned Monday afternoon along with workers from the public works department, who blocked off College Street as they hauled away pallets by the truckload.
The camp was left denuded, having lost the protective barrier that occupiers put up last month in the face of removal threats from the city. Occupy New Haven was spared removal March 14 after a federal court restraining order that enjoined the city from dismantling the protest camp. The order has been extended to April 9. A ruling on the fate of Occupy is expected before that date from U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz.
In the meantime, the Occupy camp seems to have begun disintegrating on its own. A divisive figure from the camp’s early history returned recently, and discord arrived close behind. And an online smear campaign has led several key organizers to leave the camp to focus on building a new New Haven social movement from headquarters at an unnamed site elsewhere.
Meanwhile, an imprisoned Quinnipiac chief said in a letter to the Independent that he’s looking to create a “Sacred Bond of the Covenant” with the occupiers. “As the Long-Water-Land Gechannawitank, we hope to guide [Occupy New Haven] through this difficulty and share with them what it means to be a rennawawk,” Grand Sachem Iron Thunderhorse wrote, using an Algonquin term for a “true human being.”
Fire marshals showed up around 11 a.m. Monday. They instructed occupiers that all pallets not being used as the foundations for tents would have to be removed. By Monday afternoon, DPW workers under the supervision of Lynwood Dorsey were loading pallets into a payloader to be hauled away to the fire academy, where they’ll be used for training.
As other occupiers shuttled pallets to the curb, Doyle and Hynek conferred with Danielle DiGirolamo about what had to go next. No wooden signs, they said. Wire and paper lawn signs are fine, but the plywood placards ringing the camps central compound would have to go.
“Anything that’s wood and combustible has to go,” Doyle said. Pallets under tents can stay, but everything else is a safety hazard, Doyle said.
Doyle and Hynek said they’ve been hearing complaints about flammable material for some time. Asked about the timing of their actions Monday, Hynek said it had “gotten to the point where it became a life safety issue.” He said occupiers have been cooperative.
DiGirolamo agreed that occupiers would make a pile of all combustible stuff so that it could be hauled away the next day.
“Guys! Can anyone help?” DiGirolamo called out to her fellow occupiers.
J-Lo Is Done
Jennifer Lopez (pictured), a former occupier who recently returned to the camp, said it was no coincidence that the fire inspectors showed up Monday.
“Yesterday I called the fire chief,” she said. She told Chief Michael Grant that she was concerned that the kitchen tent was full of flammable material and that occupiers might even be planning to use it as a deadly booby trap in the event of a police raid.
(Hynek said the inspection was not a result of Lopez’s phone call.)
The call to the chief was just the latest move against the camp by Lopez. On Friday she sent an open letter to city officials condemning the occupation.
She wrote that she was one of the original members of Occupy New Haven and had high hopes for the movement. But she was driven out by a by a “small group of immature occupiers” who “ranted and threw tantrums.” (Several occupiers said Lopez was asked to leave after becoming physically threatening and getting into fights with people.)
“I stand strong with the city of New Haven in their efforts to reclaim the land that should be used by the community of New Haven,” her letter concludes.
Lopez returned to the camp in March; she was soon asked to leave again. She said she was the victim of slander and lies.
She said on Friday that she and an occupier and named plaintiff in the Occupy suit against the city, Alex Suarez, had moved just outside of the camp, for their own safety.
“I’m done with occupy,” Lopez said on Monday. Against her wishes, an occupier filmed her comments with a cell phone as she spoke. “I feel bad that this movement didn’t go in the direction it was intended to,” she said.
Nick Wyllie, a 22-year-old former Marine from Philadelphia, said Lopez had become a “nasty” and threatening figure in camp and that she was asked to leave.
“They’re working together to destroy Occupy,” DiGirolamo said of Lopez and Suarez. She said she thinks they’re being paid by “the 1 percent” to take down the movement.
Other developments have rattled the camp and sent ripples of anxiety to other cities’ Occupy protests, he said. On Friday, someone set up a fake Occupy New Haven Twitter account and started tweeting to other Occupy movements nationwide that New Haven’s camp was being raided by the cops.
“Occupy Wall Street was about to send people up to help us out,” Wyllie said.
The fake Twitter account also slandered Occupy New Haven organizer Ben Aubin by tweeting an invented report that cops had detained him “on suspicion of child porn.”
On Monday afternoon, someone with administrative access to the Occupy New Haven Facebook page posted that Aubin “is really a confidential informant” along with Tommy Doomsday and Josh Heltke, two other Occupy mainstays.
“They established a hierarchy at our camp just to sew seeds of Chaos and Destruction and bring it down from the inside. These people are dangerous, avoid contact at all costs,” the post read. It was quickly removed, but questions about who posted it prompted a soul-searching comment stream.
“It’s been a tough week,” said occupier Ferah. He said the “constant threat of eviction” by the city is “making it hard to be a movement under this much stress.”
“The stress of the eviction is scaring a lot of people,” he said. “We’re trying to cope with that.”
Some occupiers are done coping. Aubin, Doomsday, and Heltke have already decamped and begun “phase two” of the movement.
Speaking by phone, Aubin said he is working with the “appleseed affinity group,” a smaller group of people dedicated to organizing people in New Haven for social change: “Through our autonomy we have shed ourselves of Occupy so that we can focus exclusively on the larger issues.”
Aubin said the encampment was a useful first phase that allowed people to meet each other and find connections. But now it’s time to work more efficiently in smaller groups, he said.
“We have used Occupy New Haven to meet and create,” he said. But the camp was never more than a tactic, not the ultimate goal, he said. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
Aubin said he left partly because half the camp had started to believe he was a “confidential informant.”
“Occupy itself was phase one of what could be called a post-left anarchist movement,” Aubin said. “We’re now moving toward what phase two could look like on a large scale. You’re going to see smaller groups getting together” with “hyper-focus” on particular goals.
Aubin, Doomsday, and Heltke have moved to a new location that they declined to disclose.
The Wonnux Has Our Wejammoke
Also on Monday, Iron Thunderhorse responded to questions sent to him last week by the Independent. He said he has a solution to Occupy’s problems, if the protestors will allow the tribe to guide them.
The Quinnipiac Grand Sachem is currently in Texas prison on kidnapping, rape, and robbery charges, charges that Quinnipiac medicine man Fox Running has labeled a bogus government attempt to neutralize the Quinnipiac leader.
The Quinnipiac tribe entered the Occupy discussion last week when occupiers sought the tribe’s assistance in its quest to retain its spot on the Green. Thunderhorse’s Monday letter cites millennia of history to argue that Quinnipiac could still lay “Aboriginal title” to the Green.
“Not only is the New Haven Green right in the center of our original wejammoke (homeland) we were also guaranteed certain rights to hunting/fishing/trapping and access to sacred sites and burial grounds for religious purposes,” he writes.
“You must also know and realize that the Wonnux (white man’s tribe) and the Quinnipiac have completely different world-views (ethos) as well as traditions relating to land tenure,” the letter goes on. “The Wonnux has pieces of paper known as fee simple titles, which they claim give them the right to EXCLUSIVE use of the land. On the other hand—the Quinnipiac have what is known as Aboriginal title to land through intimate use patterns since time immemorial. Our title pre-dated the birth of the Republic by at least 500 years and as much as 10,000.”
Thunderhorse said the Quinnipiac and occupiers might join up on litigation to fight for the Green, but first the tribe needs to clear up an open case against the state of Connecticut.
“Bottom line, [Occupy New Haven] will not prevail if they go this alone,” Thunderhorse wrote.
On the Occupy Wall Street movement in general, the Grand Sachem wrote: “Well they have good ideas but no focus or guidance.” He said the Quinnipiac can guide them and show them how to be “a rennewawk,” or “true human being who lives in harmony with all our relations (species) and to live as responsible people who care for the land instead of destroying it.”
Thunderhorse said he has a plan that will allow the occupiers to remain on the Green. “NH can even appoint Quinnipiac to mediate a solution. But again it will work best and ultimately if [Occupy New Haven] enters a formal alliance with us and agrees to let Quinnipiac use its wisdom and experience to guide them through this.”