Midnight Drug Warning Sparks Soul-Searching

A cop mustered the camping occupiers to ask: Could you please stop smoking that stuff? That prompted protesters on the Green to ask each other: What are we really doing here?

The impromptu hours-long midnight bull session began around 12:10 a.m. Wednesday, the fourth night that a growing band of anti-corporate demonstrators aligned with the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement have spent camped out on the upper Green.

It all started when police officers called the occupiers hanging around 43 tents on the upper Green to a big tree in the middle of the encampment.

As the crowd of 40 or so gathered around, hushed, Officer Leonardo Soto shined his light on a cardboard sign lying against one of the tents. The sign read: “1 day CEO worth one year my labor? My ass.”

“It’s kind of true,” Soto said in reference to the sign and chuckled, prompting relieved laughter from his audience.

Then he got serious. “I walk around this tent, and it reeks like a grow field,” the officer said. “The drugs have got to stop. ... You definitely don’t want what happened in New York to happen here.”

Soto was referring to the near-eviction of protesters at the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City’s Zuccotti Park that, while postponed, led to several struggles with police and arrests last Friday.

His audience immediately agreed with him: No more smoking pot, or anything else, around the camp.

“Thank you, officer!” someone yelled in response, and the crowd repeated after him in the human amplification method typical of the Occupy movement.

As soon as the cop left, a few people lit up again, drawing looks of consternation from fellow occupiers.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Chris Kiley, an organizer who’s been spending nights on the Green then going to work in the morning.

“That’s a laziness factor,” an occupier calling himself Tommy Doomsday, noting the pot-smokers could just find another place to do so, as the cops had suggested.

“No, that’s a defiance factor,” Kiley responded.

The group brainstormed about what to do.

Call the cops? No, because then the smokers would get in trouble and be associated with the movement. Cover the smell with incense? No, that would enable the activity.

Eventually a small group of occupiers including Kiley and Doomsday convinced the misanthropes to find another spot to smoke. Then they sat down in a cluster of lawn chairs around 12:45 a.m. to draft a proposal for the New Haven Occupation’s General Assembly meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening.

Their main goals: Start talking more about the movement’s message and less about the logistics of the actual protest. And: come up with a statement endorsing a drug and alcohol-free occupation on the Green.

We need to ask ourselves if we’re here to party or to send a message,” said Kiley. “We have a lot of stake right now. Why are we here? What are we doing?”

The 50 to 60 people sleeping on the Green since the occupation started Saturday have mostly been handing out food (a few hundred meals a day are served, brought in mostly by donations), displaying signs, shouting protest slogans to passing cars, and enjoying each others’ company.

Tuesday night, Kiley and other demonstrators said it is time for a change.

A mission statement Kiley had initially brought up with the General Assembly hadn’t been well-received. What about an open letter? Should they simply oppose corporate corruption or call for more specific actions, like a constitutional convention or the formation of another political party?

Just minutes later the meeting was interrupted again.

“It’s coming to my attention that hard drugs are being done in that tent,” said Eric Nash, who patrolled the area all night as a member of the Security Committee. He pointed to a tent a few yards away from where Kiley and the others had been talking.

It was time for an emergency assembly to decide what to do.

“We need to go over there and exercise our right to remove them from our movement,” Nash said to a crowd of about 30 who gathered around him. “Who wants to go over and do some talking with me?” About half the people raised their hands.

The group slowly approached the tent in the middle of the encampment. Nash did his best to knock on the outside. It took several minutes for a man in a red sweatshirt to stumble out.

“We’ve got to ask you all to vacate the tent,” Nash told the man calmly. About 20 minutes later, the group of 15 remained standing around the tent as all three individuals who had been sleeping there finally left.

Ben Aubin, who created New Haven’s Free Store with an outpost on Wall Street and initially met with city cops and officials to get their OK on an occupation of the upper Green, said the movement’s been experiencing “a lot of disorganization and a lot of miscommunication” between two main groups: Those who are actually living on the Green and the hundreds more who are helping out with the movement in other ways.

“When you’ve been out there for three days straight and the fourth day is nothing but rain, time ticks slow,” Aubin said. “The feeling is magnified that nothing is being done, and nothing is being discussed.”

Aubin said he made a deliberate choice not to spend any nights on the Green because “I’ve been basically cited as an influential person, and I want to keep my influence out of one of the strongest communities in the Occupy New Haven movement.”

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, he circulated a Google Document among around 10 Occupy organizers to help draft a position paper addressing some of the protocol matters surrounding the demonstrations and occupation, as well as to discuss the message of the movement.

At 11:30 a.m., an excerpt of the document read: “Perhaps if [the movement’s] participants would spend the same energy they are using to protest against something on instead creating something, they would move themselves from a position of submission to a position of power.”

By 2:30 p.m. that was eliminated and an excerpt read: “We acknowledge that when one is focused on where their next meal is coming from, they will have a harder time coming to the discussion table. We are discussing the creation of a self-sustaining local economy, which encourages job-creation, so that as the general comfort of New Haven rises, so too will the population of our General Assembly. “

I Just Want This Mess To End”

In the early pre-dawn hours Wednesday, Jess Bachinski reflected on the drug encounters. She said she’s waiting for her friend Amber Oestreich, a student at St. John’s University who helped organize the protests in New York, to come up to New Haven this weekend with some fellow Wall Street occupiers and share their wisdom.

“Today I called Amber and I said, ‘You need to get here now,’” said Bachinski. “I just want this mess to end.”

Despite the tensions that arose on Tuesday night, visitor Ollie Stevens, a waiter in Hamden, said things were still better here than in New York.

“They’re roughing it compared to here,” said Stevens, who was at the Wall Street protests before he came to the Green on Tuesday. “That was all crowded, and there’s people living in tarps.” Many of the tents on the upper Green are sturdy and spacious, fitting at least three people. And the police here are far more friendly with the protesters, encouraging them to demonstrate on street corners and even buying them coffee.

To be sure, “there was a lot more group activity” in New York, said Stevens, including meditation and drum groups. Still, he said, “This is way more fun than that was.”

For those who occupy the Green 24/7, the days pass quickly with the amount of sign-making and protesting the group does.

“The demonstrations during the day kind of take it out of you,” said Rachel Marcotte, a 22-year-old from Norwich. She gets plenty of fuel from donations, too. On Tuesday for dinner alone, people dropped off a wedding cake, boxes of pizza and Popeye’s chicken, fruit salad, and other goodies. Marcotte even got an offer from a passerby to use the shower in his downtown home if she needs to.

Given the ruckus on Tuesday night, the campers got less sleep than usual. Kiley was still going strong at 3 a.m. explaining the ins and outs of derivatives to seven shivering fellow occupiers.

He was livid over the latest news about Bank of America’s transfer of derivatives from Merrill Lynch to a “subsidiary flush with insured deposits,” a story written by Bloomberg News that was circulated among various Occupy Wall Street-related web sites.

Kiley was discussing the finer points of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 when this reporter went to bed in Tent #12 around 3:15 a.m.

Previous Occupy Wall Street/ New Haven coverage:

Emergency Session Poses Democracy Test
The Password (The Password) ... Is (Is) ...
1,000 Launch New Haven’s “Occupation”
Klein: Occupation Needs To Confront Power
Whoops! Movement Loses $100K
New Haven’s “Occupation” Takes Shape
Occupy Branford: Wall Street Edition
Anti-Bankers’ Dilemma: How To Process $$
Labor, Occupiers March To Same Beat
Protests’ Demand: A “World We Want To See”
Protesters To Occupy Green Starting Oct. 15
Wall Street Occupiers Page Verizon
New Haven Exports “Free”-dom To Occupiers

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posted by: Bill Saunders on October 19, 2011  4:04pm

In the world of microcosms within macrocosms, the Green is far from being “drug and alcohol free” on any given day.

I am sure the protestors are relieved that they are being treated to a different standard than the addicted downtrodden who regularly use the Green for such purposes.

Who is going to be the first person in New Haven to receive a decriminalized citation for possessing marijuana for ‘personal use’?

My best advice—Next time, bake some brownies….

posted by: roger huzendubel on October 19, 2011  4:08pm

I walk by zuccotti park every day and every day it smells like pot, I dont see why new haven would be different. That is very cool of the cops to give a warning, most would be arrested. I was really worried they would be getting stoned and attacking the snack food aisle. I dont think this OCCUPY NEW HAVEN is going so well.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 19, 2011  4:39pm

Maybe a better title for this article would have been:


posted by: Mike S on October 19, 2011  4:48pm

I wonder if they’ll settle on a purpose before the Occupy Movement collides with a New England Winter…

It is a time-warn formula to do battle in spring and summer and strategize during winter. I hope organizers organize, build a supply network, and return with a focused purpose in the spring.

“There’s nothing more powerful than an idea who’s time has come.” Voltare (quoted from memory)

posted by: Recovering on October 19, 2011  5:02pm

No cigarettes either, I say!
Nicotine and Cocaine are very chemically similar.
We essentially have a nation of crackheads.
(those who compulsively smoke 20 cigarettes a day).

posted by: walt on October 19, 2011  5:27pm

Like a bad version of “animal farm”

posted by: Occupier on October 19, 2011  6:07pm

Neena, it is a shame to see that in your quest to increase readership that you threw objectiveness, accuracy and journalistic integrity right out the window. You and I both know that last night’s events unfolded dramatically differently than the way you describe in this wildly inaccurate piece.

posted by: L on October 19, 2011  7:15pm

Pretty stupid, if you ask me to light up after the cop was cool and gave you a little warning. The protest is about Wall St., not about legalization. I agree - bake brownies next time.

posted by: Uncle Egg on October 19, 2011  7:49pm

Bill has a point, of course, but there’s a larger issue to consider than the double-standard. If the occupation looks to the outside like a bunch of hippies sitting in the center of a cloud of pot smoke, it will lose any credibility it ever had.

Some of these folks don’t seem to realize that public perception is *everything* as far as the health of the movement is concerned. Right now it seems like the cops really want to play nice and cooperate with the occupiers. But open drug use will inevitably force their hand—they simply can’t ignore flagrant violations of the law. They’re cops, after all.

If they wind up sweeping the camp and making arrests for drug use, it will completely undermine the protestors’ message while confirming in the public mind Fox News’ attempts to smear the movement.

posted by: Joe in West Haven on October 19, 2011  9:33pm

I’ve just returned from a General Assembly meeting.  I’m very impressed with the young people who coordinated and moderated the meeting.  Drug use and abuse is a nationwide issue—one rarely dealt with well.  I applaud the group for their efforts to deal with it while simultaneously living outdoors with few amenities and still moving their agenda forward against the most powerful interests in the world.  Wow. 

So, yeah, as a supporter of this worldwide cause, it’s frustrating to hear about and read about anything negative happening in my backyard, but a long term movement is bound to have growing pains.  Keep growing, guys.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 19, 2011  9:36pm

Uncle Egg,

That’s for extrapolating the point for me.

My prediction for this Movement is that it will ultimately be undermined by the action’s of a few knuckleheads and used in a effort to distract everybody from a heavy news day. 

And who knows, some of those knuckleheads may really be plants.
(no pun intended)

posted by: Hotkafka on October 19, 2011  11:12pm

As a reader and observer of this movement, I will have to admit to feeling highly disappointing with the angle of approach leveraged in this article, especially one coming from such a self-styled liberal publication as The Independent.  Whether conscious or not, it seems clear this is yet another example of the popular reframe that’s been glommed onto by media mainstream; a hit and run repackaging job that aims to discredit the movement as an add hock assemblage of low life’s, trust funder’s and malcontents.  Perhaps I am naive, but I expected a higher standard of journalism from the Independent, and find it especially unsettling when I find evidence of the meta-process of Manufactured Consent trickling down into our community rags.  It’s sad because an article like this only exposes the simple lack of journalistic integrity and outright laziness of its staff.  The fundamental lack of awareness at work in this journalist reflects just that as anyone who has spent time on the Green can site dozens of examples of productive process, public services and outreach that’s being created daily through the efforts of the ONH movement - choosing to mingle amongst the Occupier’s and then hang your hat on a single isolated event, one which curiously plays to the mainstream’s cheap, bloated and inaccurate stereotype certainly exposes where the loyalties of this publication lie to a great degree.  Unfortunately such ignorance and sensationalism when published comes with a cost. I for one think the people of ONH are up to the task however, and hope they will use this to gain further insight into the top down bias that has now saturating the media marketplace, eventually using it as motivating force.

posted by: Che Buffett on October 20, 2011  1:15am

So that ... Ben Aubin brokered a deal with the city for the people he was representing to camp on the most secluded and obscured portion of the New Haven green, again, just to reiterate, because the protesters tent spikes would interfere with underground water pipes unlike the festival of arts and ideas completely different tent spikes that are used every year on the lower green, and that microphones and loudspeakers could/would not be used even though numerous church groups occupy the lower green every Saturday blasting Jesus-related rhetoric through public address systems, and that the protest marches would be on the sidewalk unlike when a couple cops were lawfully laid off and the police spent tax payer money shutting down church st in uniform and driving cruisers completely illegally on the job and without repercussion and that he’ll give Sweeney a call a half hour in advance to OK any demonstration with her? So in exchange for all of those ridiculous concessions that pretty much kill this actually being an effective protest the police don’t send the drug dogs in and make narcotics busts? What a trade off, Aubin! FAIL.

posted by: High Times on October 20, 2011  7:16am

Nice article. It proves the point that 99% of the people that protest are really there for the communal aspect of it and the partying aspect. Getting high? Is this what we want for our future leaders? Our country is in trouble. Smoking pot, when its accepted, will decrease our natural human instinct to strive to better ourselves. We are going to have a genertion of lazy content citizens. Any drug that alters your state of mind is bad. Very sad.

posted by: Bill on October 20, 2011  7:28am

This movement never had any credibility ...

posted by: Great article on October 20, 2011  8:55am

... I’m glad i don’t have to pay to read this propaganda that’s being used to generate readers.  keep trying independent.

posted by: Josh Smith on October 20, 2011  9:16am

Great job on crafting the Occupy New Haven Good Neighbor Policy yesterday!  I’m glad it passed through the General Assembly and we actually have a solid statement that prohibits drug and alcohol use on-site as well as other bad things we wouldn’t want as part of ONH (although the resolution really doesn’t have any teeth, so to speak, so enforcement is questionable, but I hope to see everyone abiding by the rules voluntarily).  Let’s make sure that we’re following the policy to the letter and being respectful of one another.  Let’s stay positive and grow the movement in support of all the other Occupations around the world.

posted by: The99pct. on October 20, 2011  9:23am

We at Occupy New Haven have shown the world what a self-sustaining commune looks like (as long as we keep getting free food).  And while the officious dousing of our blunts is a serious bummer, the upside is that I can now find my own way to the porto-potty so I don’t have to crap outside of my tent anymore.

Woe be to you who doubt our resolve! They can’t stop this revolution any longer, comrades!  We protest the greedy capitalist haters who say we are not organized! Not organized you say? Is it not organized to form a circle and sing loud songs with ukuleles?  And while we may be few in number and we may have no coherent message and no leadership, they cannot stop us!  The police have their batons but we have our yoga chants!  Sing loudly and they’ll sit down and join us!  Eventually we will hippie dance and bongo beat our way into the hearts of all Americans! And it is only a matter tof time before we find a leader of the caliber of Chavez, Che, Castro, or Mao to rise up and give us guidance! 

But we cannot rest because the capitalists are demonic! Did you know that some of the richest 400 Americans gave us Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Ebay, Yahoo, and Facebook? We at ONH will end this TYRANNY! 

We will not be stopped, comrades.  We ain’t leaving!. The upper Green is our new home…we are doing our new job…and we’ll probably retire here someday.

We haven’t produced any set of demands but you will soon see the product of our labor!  A draft constitution will absolutely have the following principles:

1)  Tax millionaires and billionaires so they will be forced to create jobs for us! 

2)  Abolish capitalism

3)  Free universal college tuition including Free Thursday night pizza and keggers

4)  Refuse to participate in the U.S. electoral system.  Just say “NO” to voting!

We warned you that our occupation was the beginning of a revolution!  Who among you can now cast doubt?

posted by: Joe on October 20, 2011  9:47am

@ high times: Your point is exactly why the group’s responsible leaders made an effort to eradicate the drug use.  Any group must deal with negative issues.  Theirs is a city upon a hill, and everyone can see what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong.  I think this article shows them dealing with a problem in a responsible way.

The police likewise did an excellent job.  Their goal was to stop the drug use, and they gave the Occupants an opportunity to do it first.  Sounds to me like they did it.

Self-regulation sometimes works.  When it’s people and communities.  Banks, on the other hand cannot self regulate.  They are not people.  Their conscience cannot be appealed to.

Which is worse? Robo-Signing and taking homes or joint rolling?  No matter how much I may disapprove of the pot smoking, it does not change the facts of why this movement exists.

posted by: seenthisbefore on October 20, 2011  9:58am

I hate to put this out there like this, but lets be real. If that were a group of black and latinos, would there have been a ‘warning’ for the occupants to stop smoking? Or would there have been a bunch of cops there locking people up?

posted by: nhteaparty on October 20, 2011  12:51pm

I like the sign “create the difference”. More like blaze up and complain and hope someone else makes the difference. 

The problem is that any liberal movement will be undermined by these kinds of people.  There are basically three types of people who are liberal; lazy people, altruistic people who know that they don’t have a chance to succeed or are just naive, and nutjobs like anti-conventional-medicine people/moral vegans/etc…  Any sane motivated individual who has liberal ideals will eventually become more conservative as they work hard and advance their careers and can see the potheads et al hanging back essentially saying “Oh yeah, man. You go up ahead and get that stuff done and then we’ll come enjoy it when you’re finished”.

The same infrastructure that put the top 1% in posesssion of 40% of this countries wealth could easily be retooled to take that wealth back and redistribute it; there is no need to reinvent the wheel as many of these people are attempting to do.  Parallel systems could be created which instead of concentrating profit in the hands of a few could continuously redistribute those profits; think a credit union expanded to ever aspect of the business world.  Secular “churches” to tend to the emotional, psychological, and community needs could help undermine the conservative machine that preys on the vulnerable parts of our society who are seeking these items.  The problem is that any liberal who has the faculties to orchestrate these kinds of things will eventually look around at the potheads on one side and the lunatics on the other and abandon ship for a job with a nice salary working for “the man”.

The organizers of the people in all of these demonstrations that aren’t lifer-hippies/hipsters (think people who will squat) are just building their resume.  They’ll be campaign consultants or community organizers taking a nice salary working for the same people you are all complaining about right now in short order.

posted by: Joe in West Haven on October 20, 2011  1:31pm


Thanks for providing some cogent conservative reaction to this.  Your characterization of three kinds of liberals is pretty inaccurate, though.  I no longer paint all Tea Partiers with the “racist” brush for the same reason that you Tea Partiers should not paint this movement with the “Lazy Hippie” brush.  Niether is true—it is only true of the fringe elements of the movement.

Nor do liberals become conservatives as they age.  That is a fallacy.  I’m a homeowner, a Christian, and a parent.  Friends of mine in my demographic have made the same argument, but it is bunk.  I mean, do staunch conservatives become right wing ultranationalists as they mature?  Hardly.  I might concede a move toward *moderation* as one ages.  On both sides of the aisle.

I believe in the democratic ideals of this movement.  I am asking this rag-tag bunch that is able to stay out to represent me.  I showed up to the Assembly to add my moderate voice to the fray.  There are people there that I DEFINITELY don’t agree with.  But that’s democracy.  I plan on standing on Sunday and speaking against the anarchic element that, as you noted, is undermining what I see as a worthwhile cause.

I also think there is an anarchistic element to the Tea Party and modern conservatism.  Shrinking Government so that it’s small enough to drown in the bathtub?  Don’t sell our republic out to the giant corporations that will take (or have already taken) over in the power vaccuum that will result.  That is a more ominous form of anarchy than some hippies in a tent.  Fix, do not destroy, the system.

It is a cause that the Tea Party agrees with.  I think some moderates on both sides might be able to forge a coalition.  Even Fox News is pointing out that much of that OWS is pushing for is taken from the 2009 platform of the TP’ers.

I’d rather say it is “shared with” than “stolen from,” the Tea Party.  News commentary today seems to be coming around to this idea.  A coalition of the middle—of the 99% would be revolutionary.  Let’s stop letting powerful interests drive wedge issues down our throats while they laugh all the way to the bank.

I’m there.  I’m not blazing up.  Well, I had a beer at home that evening after work to relax, so compare me as you will to the stoners.  But there are many, many responsible people like me and my family who see this movement as a democratic expression WITHIN the system, and will do what we can to maintain its relevance as such.

We all know that something is broken here.  Let’s fix it together.

Without calling names.  :)

posted by: GMG on October 20, 2011  1:37pm

Why is drug use in public being tolerated in New Haven? As other posters have pointed out, this is a terrible double standard. The cops are being nice to white middle-class college students playing the 2011 version of Hippie, is that it? It isn’t fair to everybody else in this city who isn’t respectably white and middle class but are doing their personal drugs anyway. If people are engaging in illegal behavior in public, arrest ‘em just like you would anybody else. Make ‘em an example, please, and wake these kids up. And obviously if some of them have the money to spend on drugs, they can use their money for food, instead of taking donations. There are lots of people who need food and can use donations to their local food pantries.

posted by: P-O'd on October 20, 2011  6:08pm

WHAT is up with this Nostalgic trip back to the 1960’s - those protesters were bums too, remember, those are the people who whined about going to Vietnam, became the disco “Studio 54” crowd in the 70’s full of pot and acid - became the Gordon Gecko’s of the 1980’s pounding down cocaine like it was out of style, and are now the very CEO’s that you protest against.  How do you OWS, ONH, OHTFD crew intend to enforce your new rules on compensation.  How do you intend to take someones wealth and earnings - and who’s do you decide to take?  Who decides who it goes to?  At what point do you say ENOUGH with the stealing from others to make yourself feel better - and yes, a guy who is in charge of a multi-national corporation who employs hundreds of thousands of people - who’s business sends dividends into hundreds of thousands of 401K’s salary is worth 1000 times of the laborer.  If you want to see why, crack a book and look at what Lee Iacocca did for Chrysler back in the 80’s.  It SAVED that company and THOUSANDS of employees jobs!  He earned ALL his pay - what gives you the right to go and take what he earned!

posted by: Joe in West Haven on October 21, 2011  11:05am

PO’d, your image of the progression and dissipation of 1960’s idealism is so simplistic that it is it’s own refutation.  Movements have the potential to peter out and lose direction.

So when do the 1% decide that THEY have had enough of stealing OUR money and drowning out OUR political voices? 

Taxation and regulation are constitutional.  Your description of taxation as “stealing” is radical enough to make this rag tag bunch look centrist.

And I’m sitting here at work on my lunch break in a Brooks Brothers necktie.  And I’m with them. 

I know how to share and play nice.  The *predatory robo-signing k-street ultra-capitalists* you’re defending didn’t learn about that in Kindergarten.  Bongos and Tents sure seem to have at least gotten this nation—and you—talking.  Awesome.

“K-Street Capitalists”  has a nice ring to it….