In trying to capitalize on their oversized influence with politicians at City Hall, those corporate bigwigs are proving the main point behind the various “Occupy” protests taking place across the nation — that people with money have far more clout in our political system than those who don’t.
To be sure, the issue here is a little more complicated than some Fat Cats seeking special favor, but not by much.
Emulating the protest that began last month in Zuccotti Park on Wall Street in Manhattan, the local version began Oct. 8 with a march of roughly 1,200 people through downtown and Over-the-Rhine, culminating in an all-night rally at Fountain Square. Shortly thereafter, protestors moved a few blocks north and set up camp at Piatt Park on Garfield Place. Ever since that time, a few hardy souls have remained at the park around-the-clock in tents, hoping to raise awareness about the gross inequities in the U.S. political and financial systems. (For more information, read the article, “Assembling a Movement,” here.)
But the park has a posted closing time of 10 p.m. As a result, police have issued trespassing citations for the campers on almost every night since the protest began. Each ticket entails a $105 fine and, as of Oct. 18, more than 200 citations have been issued — totaling $21,000.
(If nothing else, the protest is proving to be a windfall for the financially strapped city.)
The only night that police didn’t issue citations was Oct. 13. After four consecutive nights of handing out tickets, suddenly officers refrained. Sources at City Hall said that’s because police had heard rumors that protesters planned on refusing to sign the citations that evening, which would’ve resulted in arrests. Instead of possibly enflaming the situation, cops were ordered by Police Chief James Craig to look the other way.
Since then, the citations have resumed.
Perhaps one factor in the Police Department’s decision to temporarily stop the citations was an unexpected visit by Mayor Mark Mallory to the park just after midnight on Oct. 12. Hizzoner generally was supportive of the movement.
“Well, my reason for being here is just to listen,” Mallory told WCPO-TV (Channel 9) at the scene.
“I don’t think there’s been a centralized message that’s been developed. There just are a lot of issues that people are concerned about and people are coming together, gathering, talking about those issues. They want public attention. They’re getting that, and that’s sort of the basis of our democracy and I’m happy to see it happen.”
Mallory added, “They’re concerned about what’s happening in corporate America and how that affects the rest of the country. They’re concerned about the accumulation of wealth in the top 1 percent and obviously they’re concerned about jobs and opportunities for the rest of the country. Some of these messages are consistent. Some are very regional. It’s just sort of all over the map right now.”
So far, there’s been no violence at the local protest, unlike incidents that have occurred on the Brooklyn Bridge and in Boston and Rome, along with a few other places.
Alas, the goodwill seems to be coming to an end.
A small group of people who own buildings along Garfield Place met with Mallory and City Solicitor John Curp on Oct. 17. They alleged the protestors have urinated and defecated in the park overnight and harassed some passersby.
The group included Arn Bortz, an ex-mayor who co-owns Towne Properties and is the uncle of current City Councilman Chris Bortz. Other attendees were Gary Wachs, owner of Garfield Suites hotel; David Ginsburg, president of Downtown Cincinnati Inc.; and a person from the firm that manages the adjacent Cincinnati Club building.
Protestors vehemently deny the allegations. Tellingly, police haven’t issued any tickets for such offenses.
In fact, most protestors are trying to be good neighbors. Several small business owners near the park told CityBeat they haven’t had any problems due to the protest, although some reported a slight uptick in sales. Last time I checked, that’s a good thing.
As CityBeat writer David Sorcher has noted, protestors cooperated with with a nearby reception hall, as well as directly with a bride and groom who held a wedding reception there Oct. 15. Tents and structures that would’ve been in the way for guests and wedding photos where moved for the night so that the bride’s day would not be ruined. “The newlyweds showed their appreciation for the consideration by sending over a tray of lasagna to the occupation kitchen at the end of the wedding,” Sorcher wrote.
That doesn’t sound like harassment to me.
Piatt Park is located one block from my office, and I can see a large portion of it from the window by my desk. During the past 11 days, I’ve walked though the park several times and have never seen any disorder or disturbance. If anything, the protestors’ presence probably makes it slightly safer after dark although, really, the place isn’t unsafe at all for an urban locale.
Frankly, the complaints appear overblown and exaggerated, if not totally fabricated. Wachs, for example, is the person who testified before a City Council committee several years ago to complain about aggressive panhandling. In his testimony, Wachs said an elderly, female hotel guest felt threatened in the park once and compelled to give money to a homeless person. Upon questioning, however, Wachs revealed the man never asked the woman for any money.
It sounds like a scene from a sitcom, but sadly it’s not. People like Wachs and the hotel guest simply don’t like having to see or interact with people that don’t look like themselves or conform to their narrow worldview.
So, technically, the protestors are breaking the law. But as anyone who’s been to Piatt Park can tell you, it’s not really a park at all. It’s a small plaza, all of which is clearly visible from the streets that run along either side of it. There’s no compelling reason to have the closing time for the area.
As long as the protestors don’t bother anyone, Mallory and City Council should instruct the city manager and police chief to waive the restriction and allow the camps to remain.
Piatt Park is named after the Piatt family, who donated the land for the park in 1817. In the post-Civil War era, two of the Piatts — brothers Abram and Donn — published Belford’s Magazine, which had a decidedly populist bent. Despite their posh background, the Piatts used their position to rally opposition against corrupt Wall Street executives and politicians including President Ulysses S. Grant.
If they were alive today, I’m certain the Piatts would want the protestors to stay put, too.
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