Saturday, January 14, 2012

Occupying New Paltz

Like most New Paltz residents, I haven't visited Occupy New Paltz in Hasbrouck Park, nor do I think there's anything wrong with that.  They're the ones hanging out in tents in the cold; I tend to agree with Jason West that it's their job to reach out and explain to me why.

West is reportedly disappointed with that lack of outreach (but given that the same reporter claimed there was only one protester left, which has been denied by Amanda Sisenstein, the group's informal liaison, at a recent village board meeting, I wonder if that reporter even shows up for the things he writes about).

At that same meeting, former trustee Robert Feldman complained about the protest.  That's great.  Feldman couldn't be bothered showing up to finish out his term as a trustee - twice - but he finds the time to show up and whine.  Does anyone listen to this guy anymore?

I wasn't able to attend that meeting, so I spoke to a trustee who does show up to do her job - Sally Rhoads.  Sally is also one of a minority of trustees who still take my calls; apparently in the politics of the village the idea is to be responsive until you're elected, and then to become much too busy to talk to voters and taxpayers.

Sally and I discussed various rumors and conjecturing going on about the local Occupy protest.  Are they stealing resources?  Making a mess?  Causing problems?  She told me that these were the kinds of questions the board had, as well.

  • Electricity is being used by the protesters, taken from an outlet in the gazebo.  Apparently that outlet was once locked, but not in my memory.  Sally wasn't aware that park users regularly plug in cell phones and other devices to that outlet until I told her.  The board feels that paying for the electricity is appropriate.
  • Fire safety is a concern, given that electric and/or kerosene heaters are being used around nylon tents.  Firemen are nervous and the board wants the heaters to go.
  • Noise complaints were talked about, as well; apparently loud music has been heard in the early morning hours.  It's not clear if the police were ever called about that.
  • Sexual assault of one or more Occupiers hit the news early on; according to Rhoads, the perp never identified himself as part of the movement, and was effectively stalking them.  As noted in a letter to the New Paltz Times, the Occupiers turned him in.
  • The gazebo has been taken over, which was not part of the original plan, and it concerns the board.  In the above-referenced article West mentions that people feel like it's an intrusion to visit, so it's safe to assume that those few people who might want to enjoy the gazebo at this time of year don't feel welcome in their own park.
  • Trash isn't being picked up timely, and my sense is that if sanitation doesn't improve the board will have to act.
  • Being in the park after dark is now, pardon the pun, a grey area.  The board is allowing Occupy to stay there, but according to Rhoads if someone else were to hang out in the park or pitch a tent for the night, it wouldn't be okay.  I haven't spoken to the police about their approach to this yet.
  • Drunk and disorderly people in the park have apparently been our usual locals, who aren't used to their gazebo being Occupied.
So the movement continues, but it's not clear exactly what it is that's being moved.  Many progressive people I have spoken to, including explicit supporters of the Occupy movement, are puzzled by Occupy New Paltz.  Given the questions asked by the village board, even the members who claim to have visited, our governing body has nary a clue what they're doing in the park and are simply reacting to complaints and rumors by asking village resident Amanda Sisenstein to get answers.

So like most things in New Paltz, we have gone off half-cocked on this protest.  Maybe it's a good thing, but even our elected officials can't provide any specific reasons why.  There are many complaints, but those complaining are equally ignorant.  Maybe the idea of having a nationally-known protest visit our park gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling of radicalism, but thus far the only thing it's accomplished is the creation of rumors and the Occupation of the village board's agenda.

1 comment:

MaryAnn said...

I'm just curious as to the difference between a "protester" and a homeless person setting up his tent in a public park.

If no one from "the movement" is "reaching out" to the community they are occupying, how is that a protest?

Yes, there are first amendment rights - but what are they saying? Apparently nothing.