Occupiers Erect Barricades; Homeless Pack Up

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAs the sand drained from the hourglass, protesters fortified the ramparts of their new central compound, while Occupy New Haven’s homeless population quietly packed up and moved on.

That was the scene on the upper Green Tuesday some 24 hours before the city’s deadline for Occupy’s departure. The city has named Wednesday at high noon as the time by which all members of the encampment should vacate the premises.

Occupy New Haven has held its ground on the upper Green since Oct. 15, 2011, when it was established with the cooperation of the city. It has outlasted most other offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement that inspired encampments across the nation last fall. According to one list, New Haven’s is now the last standing in New England.

The cooperation with the city has fallen apart completely in recent weeks, and devolved into direct conflict. The city Monday delivered the notice to leave by Wednesday. At a press conference later that day, two members of occupy ripped up the notice and wiped his butt with it, respectively.

Following a Monday night meeting where a dozen occupier volunteered to be arrested if need be, the camp was abuzz with activity Tuesday morning.

Josh Heltke wielded a hammer, creating walls out of plywood structures previously used as tent platforms.

Occupiers hoisted other panels into place around the entrance to a cul-de-sac tent compound in the center of the camp, as Tommy Doomsday cheered, wearing an American flag cape, Guy Fawkes mask, and sheepskin gauntlets.

Spraypaint flew freely as occupiers put up defiant slogans and symbols.

Meanwhile, staff from Columbus House and Marrakech—two social service agencies—helped pack up homeless people. Social worker Kenneth Driffin said he and others are helping find housing and transport belongings.

“People just need support to the next level,” Driffin said.

“I’m coming back in an hour, you want lunch?” he said to three guys he’s helping move.

Mike Dirienzo, the leader of a group of homeless people tented on the south side of the occupation, already had lunch. He was cooking up chicken with rice and mushrooms with honey mustard and rye bread. He said he’s packing up. He has no interest in getting arrested he said.

“A lot of people are panicking today,” said Sara Ferah, who’s homeless. “They don’t know where they’re going to go.”

Ferah said he doesn’t know where he’s going to go either, but it won’t be back to a shelter. Ferah was part of a group who had been working on last minute negotiations on moving the camp, with city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts. Those talks failed because there’s no time to have the aldermanic discussion that would be necessary to find a new camp site, Ferah said.

12 Hands Went Up

After police Monday night delivered a second round of notices to vacate the New Haven Green, a dozen occupiers volunteered to get arrested on Wednesday.

On Monday night, occupiers held a General Assembly (GA) meeting to discuss the imminent demise of their camp and plan nonviolent civil disobedience.

The meeting began shortly after a 7 p.m, visit by Lt. Luiz Casanova and several other cops, along with workers from the city’s parks and public works departments. The police handed out more copies of the city’s notice to vacate, which was also hand delivered Monday morning to the campers on the Green.

The public works staffer duct taped the notice to tents, and to the flagpole at the center of the camp, where a defiant black flag was flying.

Lt. Casanova (pictured) said police were trying to ensure that everyone got the message.

As a General Assembly of 30 people got underway, Occupier Chris Garaffa promptly ripped up a copy of the notice, as occupiers had done earlier at a press conference at City Hall.

Occupier Ben Aubin said the city is “escalating” the situation. He said Occupy has not changed its behavior at all and “now they’re acting aggressive.”

He asked who would be willing to “resist” on Wednesday to the point where they might be arrested. A dozen people raised their hands. He asked them what they were willing to do.

Remain as peaceful as possible, said one.

“An old-fashioned sit-in,” said another.

John Gage, occupier and pastor of the United Church on the Green, asked for more specificity about what non-violent resistance might look like on Wednesday.

Linking arms, someone replied. Ben Weidner volunteered to lay in front of a bulldozer.

Gage asked people to talk to each other over the next day and make sure everyone in the camp is committed to nonviolence.

“This is a peaceful movement,” said Don Montano. “People who react with violence are not welcome here.”

“It’s the system that is violent to us,” said Garaffa. He warned that occupiers should not expect that “the other side” will be non-violent on Wednesday.

The occupiers planned some logistics for closing time: The remaining food stores will be given to a soup kitchen. Occupiers should remove all valuables from their tents.

People will be coming in on Tuesday from Occupy movements in Boston, New York and Delaware, someone announced.

After eviction, occupiers should meet at the “Broadway Loop” for a GA, Garaffa said. He offered walking directions to Broadway. “Elm Street is that street right there.”

On Thursday at 6 p.m., Occupy will hold another GA, he said. “This isn’t over. We’re going to keep going.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 13, 2012  7:42am

Were are the polticians of the Two Party System to help them.

posted by: acumen on March 13, 2012  11:30am

When I walk through that area, I see how devastated it becomes. The grass is gone; the main camp looks mostly empty at night with more and more tents on periphery occupied by homeless people.
This grass roots movement has destroyed the roots of the grass in the park. It seems like the real 99% would have to pay plenty for this experiment.
It is time to get out. I agree with some of your demands and disagree with others. But there probably remain avenues of discourse that are less devastating to the common property.

posted by: Billy on March 13, 2012  12:23pm

What a difference between the images of this story and the iconic images of the American Civil Rights Movement and Gandhi’s movement for Indian sovereignty.  The images here betray the very reasons why the general public - the 99% - has not gone to bat for Occupy New Haven.  Building barricades with middle fingers on them just doesn’t resonate with anyone.  This has degenerated into a last stand for a few campers, and has completely lost any semblance of a class struggle.  This has become about them and their egos - the three or four people who have been in most of the photos.  As someone who really supports radical changes in wealth distribution in this country (and has attended some of Occupy’s GAs and events), I am thoroughly disappointed in the local leaders of this so called leaderless movement.  The discipline of message and action demonstrated by Dr. King, Gandhi, and others should have served as template.  Those who steered Occupy New Haven should cease citing those people as their forebears.  It’s totally disingenuous.

posted by: robn on March 13, 2012  1:06pm

It looks like ONH is safely ensconced; unless, of course, the NHPD research division can devise a way to penetrate the duct tape reinforcing the wall of shipping pallets.

posted by: 99%R on March 13, 2012  2:10pm

Acumen’s empathy for the grass is touching.
No mention of the homeless or the devastation inflicted on innocent people by the greed on Wall St or the power of corporations in the political process.
I am proud of the Occupy movement and the people who have put their bodies on the line to make people stop and take notice that America has changed, and not for the better.
The “haves” have spent millions and years in protecting their self interest at the expense of the diminished middle class.
To quote a famous American, “At long last, have you no shame?”

posted by: Proud New Havener on March 13, 2012  2:13pm

Well said, Billy

posted by: OhHum on March 13, 2012  2:59pm

“At a press conference later that day, two members of occupy ripped up the notice and wiped his butt with it, respectively.” Nice touch. When words fail you, resort to something completely adolescent. ONH is done. Several will be arrested and become as irrelevant as the above action. They won’t be missed.