Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Occupy movement returns to Piatt Park

Activist and ex-boy band star Justin Jeffre listens to a speaker at the general assembly.  Justin Jeffre and Phoenix Richards celebrate as they stand in the park legal after the clock passes 10pm.
Justin Jeffre and Phoenix Richards celebrate as they stand in the park legal after the clock passes 10pm.
Activist and ex-98 Degrees singer Justin Jeffre gives and interview to Alise Jesse of WLBT Channel 5 News.
Activist and ex-98 Degrees singer Justin Jeffre gives and interview to Alise Jesse of WLBT Channel 5 News.

DOWNTOWN — Six men stood around the Garfield Monument and two lay against it at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday – stalwarts of the Occupy Cincinnati movement.
A few stayed all night in the city’s newly designated free speech space, agreed upon by the city in its legal settlement with the Occupy group. One man arrived at 4 a.m. to support those who pulled an all-nighter.
The group talked softly under the red glow of the Garfield Suites Hotel sign across the street. One of two propped up signs displayed the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world a better place.”
Justin Jeffre, former 98 Degrees band member, left for a few hours overnight, but returned in the early morning to express his right to free speech, he said.
He reveled in the events the night before, when roughly 40 people showed up in small Downtown Piatt Park, across from the Main Library, to support Occupy Cincinnati and celebrate creation of the “open area,” as the city calls it.
The group said they didn’t have trouble with the police overnight, only once – around 11 p.m. – did an officer stop by to tell them to keep the noise down. They must obey all park rules, including a ban on tents.
Monday night, in a symbolic gesture, four demonstrators hoisted a tent overhead, bearing a sign with the play on words: “Still ‘in-tents’ about fixing the system.”
“We’re baaaack!” protester Jim Luken of Over-the-Rhine exclaimed as he and other protesters paraded the tent overhead around the park, drawing cheers from fellow demonstrators.
Despite only a few dozen people showing up at the 6:45 p.m. general assembly meeting, the mood was upbeat.
As part of the Cincinnati agreement, city leaders agreed to drop more than 300 criminal charges against protesters who refused to leave the park at closing time last fall.
In return, Occupy Cincinnati dropped a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and approved the rule that bars camping or building any other structures in the area, about 100 square feet around the Garfield Monument.
When asked Monday evening why they were drawn to the Occupy movement, what they hoped to accomplish and what they would consider a victory, protesters gave wide-ranging answers. But in a news release, the group summed up its mission this way: “Occupy Cincinnati is dedicated to transforming the corporate/military dominated culture system which has ravaged lives, communities and ecologies in an unbridled lust for money for the few, and the systematic discouragement of voters from the democratic process.”
Reginald Hill, 45, of Over-the-Rhine, sat next to a cardboard sign Monday evening that read, “Occupy – Still Here.” He made the sign because “a lot of people have thought that Occupy is dead,” he said.
Lisa Thorpe, 42, of Covington, also joined the group at the park Monday. She said the group had already accomplished a lot just by drawing attention and creating awareness. People drive past the protesters and wonder, “What are those people doing out there?,” she said. Those conversations plant the seeds of change, she said.
Paddock Hills resident Martha Stephens said she was celebrating her 75th birthday on Monday and joined Occupy last fall because she sees “mass movement, many people in the streets” as the only way to get attention from “all the politicians, all the big people.”
On Tuesday morning, hours before sunrise, Jeffre wasn’t sure whether another wave of protesters would show up in the morning.
“That’s the thing with a group like this,” Jeffre said. “You just never know who is going to come by.”
At about 4:30 a.m. this morning, Justin Jeffre, left, talks to the handful of Occupy Cincinnati members who stayed in the city’s newly designated “open area” in Piatt Park overnight. Individuals are permitted to protest there 24-7 for the next year as part of the legal settlement between the city and Occupy Cincinnati.