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City OKs Occupy Phoenix, But Bans Sleep

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City Hall Allows Protesters 24/7 Access To Cesar Chavez Plaza, Tells Group They Might Eventually Lift Sleeping Ban

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By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine

Oct. 20, 2011 — In a startling and befuddling change of policy, Occupy Phoenix was given permission by the city of Phoenix early Wednesday evening to occupy Cesar Chavez Plaza indefinitely if they want — provided that no one sleeps.

“We are allowed to occupy and set up canopies, tarps, and tables and stay there indefinitely but we CAN NOT sleep. You will have to find somewhere to sleep, but we can be there indefinitely. The city said if we can manage ourselves with this, then they can see about letting us sleep and stay. It is a step in the right direction, a big one... now.. let's celebrate with a party on Saturday at Cesar Chavez Plaza!” according to a post on the group’s official Facebook page Wednesday night.

Several of the nameless who have occupied the plaza for most of the past four days said Wednesday night that the rumor is that the city was partially motivated to open the plaza to Occupy Phoenix because of safety concerns. Since protesters had not given in to intimidation nor sought to confront police violently, they were forced to keep the protest alive on four feet of sidewalk between the plaza and Washington Ave. on the south side and city hall and the Wells Fargo building on the north side.

The only police presence in Cesar Chavez plaza Wednesday night — in contrast to 10 to 20 officers Saturday through Tuesday — were two officers sitting on motorcycles.

City officials did not immediately make themselves available for comment, however, the city's public information director did respond to a late-night e-mail that she would inquire about the city's about-face during business hours Thursday.

Editor's note: Sgt. Steve Martos, a public information officer for Phoenix police, told Modern Times Magazine Thursday that the change in policy was due to a city legal staff review of the classification of Cesar Chavez Plaza and safety concerns. According to Martos, the plaza is not technically a park, so Occupy Phoenix will be allowed to 'occupy' there indefinitely. Martos also said the sleeping contingency was due to city ordinance 23-30 which prohibits camping, "in any park or preserve, or in any building, facility, or parking lot or structure." This ordinance, adopted in 2004, was passed to give law enforcement more tools to remove homeless people from parks. Martos said anyone found violating the sleeping rule will be dealt with on a one-on-one basis and that Occupy Phoenix will not be removed from the park if people end up falling asleep. He also said sanitation and health concerns will also be dealt with in the same manner.

The first night-time general assembly in Cesar Chavez plaza began after dark and continued to nearly 10 p.m. Since the group will now be occupying full-time, a market, food and water station and media center have been set up. The general assembly was then tasked with creating committees to manage the occupation — such as sanitation and first-aid — as has been done at Occupy Wall Street.

Facilitators have been trained in the “rules” that have been established at Occupy Wall Street and that are being emulated in Phoenix, such as the “mic check” method for speaking and being recognized by the facilitator. The first night’s assembly at Cesar Chavez was as unruly and contentious as virtually every other Occupy group during the early stages. Other locations, however, have grown through those difficulties as more people got involved and become comfortable with the format.

“This is painful and every occupation in the world shares our pain,” said one facilitator Wednesday night as the 40 or so who gathered for the general assembly struggled to find easy consensus. “I propose we appoint a point-person for sanitation and then we go have fun.”

Earlier in the day, Occupy Phoenix had launched a petition drive to suspend or waive city of Phoenix ordinances on trespassing that apply to city parks for those engaged in non-criminal, freedom of speech activities.

The announcement of the posting of the petition was made at approximately 2 p.m. By midnight, nearly 700 people had signed on.

A call for a massive reoccupation of Cesar Chavez Plaza had also been announced for 11 a.m. Saturday and due to the city opening the plaza, another Facebook post announced that backers were planning for a party.

“We extend our invitation to our ONE WEEK birthday party at Cesar Chavez plaza this Saturday, as we will listen to live music, and interact and socialize as well as a mass participation in the GA. We are asking for donations of cake, soda, and other party items! Make sure to bring NO ALCOHOL, it is against our code of conduct, and confetti is discouraged as we do not want to create a mess at the park. We'll see you all there Saturday, and come join in the party :)” according to a post on the group’s Facebook page.

For more information, visit the #OccupyPhoenix Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/occupyphoenix and the group’s Twitter page at http://twitter.com/#!/occupyphoenix.

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