(The following was submitted by Shawn Cassiman – a member of Occupy Dayton since its inception. She is involved in the education working group, the process and facilitation group, and others as the need arises and time allows.)
Reading Mayor Leitzell’s perspective on Occupy Dayton illustrates the nature of truth as partial (i.e. there are many truths) and contextual. My version of the truth bears some similarity to Mayor Leitzell’s, but not much. However, before I address the content, I would like to address the tone.
The Mayor begins his missive by describing “truths, half truths, and outright lies” associated with the events that lead to Occupy Dayton leaving Dave Hall Plaza, and then declares his narrative the truth. He goes on to discuss his efforts to “educate” Occupy Dayton on local government and permitting processes, while referring to the “mostly” young people of the movement. In fact, as he may have noticed at the General Assembly meeting he attended, the average age of our members is probably somewhere in the mid-thirties. There are retired people, working professionals, students, working–class and under and unemployed people that identify with Occupy Dayton. Some of the youngest members of our group might be the “campers” that were arrested after not being given a chance to leave their location-despite claims otherwise. It is unsurprising that campers would be young, since frequently young people are more willing and able to endure the physical conditions required by the camp experience. It is also unsurprising that many young people would be attracted to the Occupy movement, since we, as a society, have gone busily about the business of criminalizing youth. There are few safe spaces for young people to gather without drawing suspicion. It is no wonder that young people seek a space that offers them a sense of community and equal participation in decision-making when they have few other places to turn. However, to dismiss the movement as “mostly young people” serves distinct discursive purposes; it trivializes the experiences and contributions of young people, while continuing to perpetuate the stereotype of young people as dangerous.
It is true that Occupy Dayton did not apply for a permit. Perhaps Mayor Leitzell is unaware of the symbolism associated with this occupation movement? By eschewing the permit application in the process of occupation the movement draws attention to some of the very problems identified in the Occupy Wall Street Declaration such as the erosion of our rights, for instance, the right to peaceably assemble. The occupation also draws attention to the continued privatization of public space-the relationship between corporation and government. This is why many chants you might overhear at Occupy events include phrases such as, “Whose streets? Our streets!” Ours. The people’s. Not the corporation’s.
The Mayor also condescendingly suggests that Occupy Dayton’s “complaint is with the federal government”. While I certainly agree that there is much to complain about in relation to the federal government, our local government must not attempt to absolve itself of responsibility to its citizens. Some of the same practices we might identify at the federal level certainly occur locally. In fact, after the campers voted to move to Dave Hall Plaza (at the suggestion of the DDP, City and County) in order to ease the minds of the public and not interfere with the “Grand Illumination”, they were then served, simultaneously, with two documents; 1) a ‘reminder’ of city park rules, and 2) a notice that the county was in the process of changing the ordinance on Courthouse Square in order to ban any activity between the hours of midnight and six am. The ACLU has registered a complaint as a result and had a representative in attendance at the second meeting of the County Commission dealing with this topic. Despite many people speaking out against the new regulations of Court House Square the vote passed unanimously in less than a minute. The erosion of rights is not only a federal problem. Occupy Dayton did not have an opportunity to move back to Courthouse Square. Perhaps you’ll pardon me for thinking that was the plan all along. As for “understanding the system”, I believe this sort of practice contributes all to well to our understanding of the system.