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Occupy Phoenix Engages City, Light Rail

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An assemblage of police officers gather at the light rail station at Sycamore and Main streets in Mesa Thursday.
Supporters Of Local Movement Address Phoenix City Council, Talk To Light Rail Commuters, Plan Direct Action Friday

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By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 17, 2011 — Occupy Phoenix has initiated new approaches to spread their message this week, as numerous occupiers addressed the Phoenix City Council Wednesday, a handful of groups started conversations on the Valley’s light-rail line Thursday morning and announced a non-violent direct action by willing occupiers against the urban camping law Friday night.

The light rail activity began at 7 a.m. and was most active through the commuter rush. At the Sycamore and Main St. station in Mesa, five police officers stood guard until about 7:45 a.m. An additional 10, or so, officers remained in their vehicles. There were reports from Occupy Phoenix that police were also present at other stations.

The large police turnout was probably due to mistaken reports that Occupy Phoenix were going to attempt to “take over” the light rail in some manner. Occupy Phoenix denies that and said the activity was intended to help aid in starting conversations between those in the movement and non-engaged members of “the 99%.”

Wednesday night, Occupy Phoenix communicated their thoughts on the occupation and why they are participating to the Phoenix City Council. About 20 supporters attended the regularly scheduled meeting, and approximately 10 spoke to the council during the public comment period. Unfortunately for the Occupy Phoenix crowd, public comments are at the very end of the meeting and only Vice Mayor Thelda Williams, Councilman Michael Johnson, and Councilman Tom Simplot stayed to listen to their concerns. Councilmen Claude Mattox, Jim Waring, Sal Diciccio, Bill Gates and Michael Nowakowski left before the occupiers could speak. Nowakowski did offer an apology that he had a prior commitment.

Outgoing Mayor Phil Gordon did not attend. City Manager David Cavazos, who Gordon said was responsible for supporting arrests at Margaret T. Hance Park Oct. 15, listened to some of the speakers but did leave for several minutes before returning as the meeting ended. After most of occupiers addressed the council, Vice-Mayor Williams directed Cavazos to discuss their concerns with him but it is not known when he will do so.

Occupy Phoenix supporter and city resident Kyle Dukeshier said the city’s approach to applying the “urban camping” law to the protesters is misguided.

“As a member of Occupy Phoenix I would like to express my appreciation to the City Council and all city departments, including the police for cooperating with our occupation thus far. Unfortunately, it is becoming apparent that this cooperation is becoming more difficult. A loose interpretation of the urban camping ordinance has led to some confusion. Residents of the city involved with Occupy Phoenix are confused,” Dukeshier said. “It is also clear that the very police officers enforcing these loose interpretations are confused as well. There is a growing perception that the resulting interactions are an attempt to suppress our First Amendment right to freely express ourselves and assemble peacefully.”

He also said the city council should work with Occupy Phoenix to make sure free-speech rights are not violated.

“Our hope is to open a productive dialog with you all and work together to develop an agenda item that may resolve some our concerns. We are all residents of this great city. Let’s be great together,” Dukeshier said.

Amanda Million, another Occupy Phoenix supporter, directly told the council that by not allowing sleeping at Cesar Chavez plaza, the city is infringing on the First Amendment rights of the protesters.

“We ask you to recognize our camping as an expression of our First Amendment right. By occupying, we express our steadfast commitment to demand the corruption of our government stops, and that we strengthen our bonds as a community to work toward that end,” Million said. “I personally have a home. It would be easier for me to be at home but I and many others in the movement are willing to relinquish that luxury to prove our point. People from all classes, including the homeless, have been working diligently to bring awareness, discuss solutions to the issues, clean up after each ourselves, feed each other and occupy 24 hours a day.”

Later today, Occupy Phoenix will be hosting teach-ins at Cesar Chavez Plaza. Beginning at 6 p.m., the topics for the teach-ins will include non-violent civil disobedience, economic and social justice and the First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly.

Occupy Phoenix activities for “Free Speech Friday #N18” includes a “Put Your March Where Your Money Is,” nonviolent action in Cesar Chavez plaza at 4 p.m. followed by a rally. Later that night, it is expected willing participants will partake in a non-violent, direct action against the urban camping law.

For more information, visit the group's webpage at http://occupyphoenix.net/, the #OccupyPhoenix Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/occupyphoenix, the group’s Twitter page at http://twitter.com/#!/occupyphoenix or catch the livestream at http://www.livestream.com/occupyphoenix.

John Guzzon is editor of Modern Times Magazine.
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