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San Luis Obispo's Occupy movement breaks up its encampment

On March 4, members of Occupy SLO decided to pack up camp after a nearly 140-day presence in front of the San Luis Obispo County Superior Courthouse.

- UNOCCUPIED:  After 140 days in front of the San Luis Obispo County Superior Courthouse, the members of Occupy SLO removed their canopy. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • UNOCCUPIED: After 140 days in front of the San Luis Obispo County Superior Courthouse, the members of Occupy SLO removed their canopy.

News of the canopy’s removal was delivered during an Occupy general assembly meeting about a week later. The reason for their departure: Several occupiers present for the disbanding said that SLOPD had begun to issue citations for overnight camping.

The loss of the tent was felt by several of the 19 occupiers present at the general assembly.

Bob and Ruth Montano, retired teachers and Arroyo Grande locals, said the encampment had been effective in drumming up support for the movement.

“The canopy really worked,” Bob said. “It was a very visible point of the occupation. Now it’s not so visible.”

Montano said the police presence had been influential in the removal of the camp, but that perhaps the Occupy movement faced issues on a more global scale.

“I think there was this nation-wide attitude of, ‘Let’s get rid of the tents everywhere,’” Bob explained. “It’s a shame.”

Capt. Chris Staley said the police had responded to several incidents of alleged assault and drug activity at the canopy and that the city had issued at least two citations for overnight camping.

“We had a number of incidents in that Occupy tent in the late hours of the evening and in the early hours of the morning,” he said. “We had several arrests for assault, and there was garbage strewn everywhere. It looked like it had turned into more of a homeless encampment.”

- A BRIEF HISTORY:  Oct. 19: Occupy SLO establishes a permanent camp.  - Oct. 28: San Luis Obispo County asks Occupy protesters to limit their presence to normal business hours. - Nov. 18: County sends second notice with threats of using police. - March 4: Occupy SLO takes down its canopy. -
  • A BRIEF HISTORY: Oct. 19: Occupy SLO establishes a permanent camp.

    Oct. 28: San Luis Obispo County asks Occupy protesters to limit their presence to normal business hours.

    Nov. 18: County sends second notice with threats of using police.

    March 4: Occupy SLO takes down its canopy.

Staley said he noticed a tone shift after the first group of occupiers left the courthouse lawn.

“Initially the people there were truly committed to the movement,” he said.

Then homeless people began to move into the camp and police were contacted by several Occupy members who wanted to separate themselves from the movement.

“A few individuals contacted us and told us, ‘All of us are leaving, anybody that’s left isn’t part of the occupy movement, because we’re out of there,’” he said.

Staley says the citations began when courthouse staffers asked police to begin cracking down on the overnight camping.

Several occupiers stated that police had also begun to warn them about the use of sidewalk chalk around the encampment. According to the occupiers, police had warned of impending graffiti citations if the group continued to use the chalk.

Staley said he hadn’t heard of any of such warnings.

Occupier Barbara Hirahara said a majority of the troubles facing the movement come from how it’s framed by the media.

“They are having the usual problems that face new organizations,” she said. “We have all this negative reporting, which suggests that we’re not allowed to have our growing pains. It sort of suggests that we should be perfect from the beginning.”

Hirahara said the Occupy movement has been singled out as frayed and disorganized.

“This is a nonpolitical movement. There are lots of volunteer groups in this county that have rifts, why single us out?” she asked.

In spite of the inoccupation, the group remains motivated to tackle several issues in solidarity with the national movement.

Among the items discussed at the general assembly were plans to celebrate the six-month anniversary of the national occupation, a non-violence training seminar, the creation of a phone tree, protests of House Resolution 347 (which criminalizes protest in several locations in the United States), and plans for an art installation in the now vacant tent spot.

According to several occupiers, the art installation would feature a combined effort on the part of occupiers to bring back the visual aspect of their movement.

The 19 occupiers present at the meeting also said they plan to continue their general assemblies and their silent protests through Farmer’s Market in downtown SLO.

One agenda item included a vote to approve the group press release. In the end they decided to approve the following comment: “We consider the occupation a success. The canopy’s gone, but we are not gone. This has made us stronger than ever.”

Contributor Maeva Considine can be reached via News Editor Colin Rigley at crigley@newtimesslo.com.

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