Views From Occupy Tucson

The protesters at Armory Park want the citations to stop

TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor delivered Occupy Tucson a message in person: Stay in the park past 10:30 p.m., and get a citation.

By Monday night, Oct. 17, the Tucson Police Department had issued more than 100 citations to Occupy Tucson demonstrators.

The protesters took over the park on Saturday, Oct. 15, as part of a national movement inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York City.

During an Occupy Tucson general-assembly meeting on Oct. 17, the group decided that in order for them to continue, the city needs to stop issuing citations for criminal trespassing—which can mean up to a $1,000 fine for each ticket issued. The demonstrators agreed to take Occupy Tucson to city hall to explain that issuing citations impedes on their right to peacefully assemble.

The first citations were issued on Saturday. Tucson Police Department Chief Roberto Villaseñor personally showed up to tell demonstrators what the police planned to do: They'd ask everyone to line up peacefully and give police their names while being videotaped.

About 18 uniformed police officers were present to ticket any demonstrators who stayed at the park after its 10:30 p.m. closing time. Before citations were issued, one demonstrator shouted out, "Thank you, Tucson Police Department, for not pepper-spraying us," referring to what took place earlier that night in Phoenix, where more than 50 police—dressed in full riot gear—arrested about 40 demonstrators at Cesar Chavez Plaza. One demonstrator was reportedly pepper-sprayed.

Craig Barber, one of the original organizers of Occupy Tucson, told demonstrators during the Monday, Oct. 17, general-assembly meeting that according to city code, the city manager has the legal authority to allow Occupy Tucson protesters to stay at Armory Park or any other park without being issued a citation.

That code says: "The control, supervision, and operations of all parks is vested in the director of parks and recreation. The director or his deputy may make such reasonable rules and regulations as are necessary to manage, control, supervise, operate, use, preserve and govern park property and activities, and may designate hours of operation and opening and closing times of the various parks which may be different as to individual parks."

Parks and recreation director Fred Gray told the Tucson Weekly last week that some non-park properties are available for use by Occupy Tucson. During the general assembly, Barber explained that one such space, at Sixth Street and Toole Avenue, is a gravel lot without shade, grass, trash or bathrooms. Another space offered is a paved lot—again, with no water, trash, shade or bathrooms.

"We (did reconnaissance at) these lots," Barber said. "It's a joke."

Barber told the Weekly that demonstrators want to stay at Armory Park. There was discussion of moving to Veinte de Agosto Park, where the Pancho Villa statute is located, but that park closes at dusk, so the issue of citations would still need to be resolved, he said.

While police continue to keep watch and issue citations, demonstrators often mentioned how peaceful the weekend was, and how good the police have been to work with. "They are the 99 percent, too. We communicate with them every day, and people are being polite," Alex Maldonado said.

The member of Veterans for Peace is head of the peacekeeping working group, which includes volunteers who wear orange vests and work on self-policing the occupation. The first day was a long day of peacekeeping for Maldonado; the crowd slowly grew to more than 350 demonstrators on Saturday.

As promised by Villaseñor, the police presence was at a minimum, with only a few uniformed officers walking through the park or hanging out on the corners—and just as promised to authorities, Occupy Tucson policed itself.

At one point, a man walked through the park shouting profanities and the phrase, "Get a job!" while holding his cell phone as if he was videotaping everyone. Peacekeepers quietly walked over and asked him leave. He did, and that was that.

During the first general assembly, Maldonado walked up to the park stage and told everyone through the bullhorn, "We are here to protect you ... but today, to some extent, everyone is a peacekeeper."

Once the first general-assembly meeting ended, the first march began, and Maldonado and his crew of peacekeepers sprinted to keep up with each leg of the march. The group, carrying signs and banners, stayed on the sidewalk, meandering into Tucson's financial district and stopping in front of the Bank of America building at Stone Avenue and Pennington Street. They made another stop at the Superior Court steps, where foreclosure sales take place.

While the police followed, the demonstrators listened to Maldonado's instructions and stayed on the sidewalk. During the march, Maldonado said, the response from people around them was mostly positive, even when demonstrators stopped and turned north toward the downtown library and shouted at Tucson Meet Yourself attendees, "You are the 99 percent!" Most people stood and watched, while a few smiled and waved.

As Maldonado reflected on the march, he said the walk back to Armory Park was his favorite part. As the demonstrators got closer to the St. Augustine Cathedral, the chanting stopped, because there was a special event during which mariachis were performing in the church plaza. Every demonstrator quietly walked by—and were offered cookies by a group of teenagers lined up in front of the church.

"Wasn't that nice?" Maldonado asked, beaming.

Maldonado is one of 30 volunteers who showed up at two planning meetings and decided they could offer something. There are now seven working groups that meet each day to discuss donations, food, first aid, public relations and technology issues. For example, a computer station for laptops and other electrical needs is run on two gas-powered generators.

Working groups present agenda items during the general-assembly meetings, and decisions are made through a consensus process that some have complained can be long and tedious.

Maldonado said it's a new system of decision-making, and it's the way that the "kids want to do it now. It's a whole new system I haven't heard about. ... I figure our generation has run this country into the ground, so it's time for us to support these kids and help them turn it around."

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