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Adapt and keep fighting, Occupy Iowa City

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Occupy Iowa City may be getting booted from College Green Park, but the members can still make a difference in the community, doing their part to strengthen the image of a what could be a powerful movement.

Since the inception of Iowa City's Occupy chapter in early October, only two men have stayed in College Green Park for the duration of the protest.

One of the men, who goes by only Tibbs, says his biggest concern is where everyone will end up.

"Over 50 percent of the camp is homeless, and we provide a safe place to stay," he said. "I don't know where people like him will go," pointing with a cigarette to a diabetic homeless man making what looked like bracelets to sell to whoever would buy them. 

Now that Iowa City has denied the group's permit renewal, the people in the camp don't know where they will go next — physically, at least. Ideologically, they have expressed interest in shifting focus to bettering the much-maligned Southeast Side of Iowa City. Such a shift is consistent with the ideals of the movement and will silence critics clamoring for results.

But that's not the only area in which the movement can effect positive change. In fact, the members are immediately obligated to another cause. Though the denial of the permit comes with no shock and is the best thing for the community, some apparent members of Occupy Iowa City will again be without shelter.

According to the city of Iowa City's official statement in denying the permit, the "continued presence of Occupy Iowa City will unreasonably interfere with the public's use and enjoyment of the park and is not compatible with the normal public activity at the park."

Of course, the Occupy movement is a protest, and civil disobedience always comes with a certain price to the status quo. The reaction from the city is in line with Occupy Iowa City's view of the public's apathetic stance toward the poorest of the poor.

But there does come a point when the words and phrases such as "protest" and "lawful assembly" are pegged to groups who are merely looking for a place to fight the cold rather than fight the man.

In the statement signed by City Manager Tom Markus, the Occupy group was depicted as unorganized and unsanitary. Furthermore, the group failed "to routinely move tents … and the failure to remove trash and debris in a timely manner."

The only obvious thing for the city to do was to deny the permit, since the occupation turned into merely a campsite, not a hotbed for protest. College Green being a public park, the community has a right to enjoy it just as much as the protesters, and the protesters' infringement upon that right needed to be addressed.

There is too much damage to the park now for anyone to enjoy it in the near future — the grass will need to be reseeded, and many of the public fixtures will need repair — it is time for the protesters to find a new place.

But the movement should not stop the service it provides the community. It gives many of the homeless a place to live and safely sleep.

"It is not safe on the streets," Tibbs said, describing the three times he had gotten assaulted near the camp by apparent college-age kids. "Here, we trust each other and are safe together." 

Chris, the other original member of the Occupy movement, was hesitant to give his last name, citing the media's unfair interviewing tactics when it came to Occupy Iowa City. He claimed many reporters badgered the mentally handicapped in the group, painting the movement as nothing more than a nuisance to society.

"People don't understand why we are here," he said. "We are here to provide a voice and place for those who have neither."

The movement in Iowa City has striven to do just that, and in many ways, it has succeeded.

Libris Fidelis, a member of the Johnson County Local Homeless Coordinating Board, wrote in a guest opinion toThe Daily Iowan that the group was an advocate of social change. He wrote, that many members of the board "were very impressed with Occupy Iowa City due to some high-quality presentations," and the board was aided by the Occupy movement to find shelter for some of the homeless in its camp.

The movement still has a place in Iowa City, and it should continue its work but with a more centralized base of operations and a clearer message to the community. People should know about the kinds of people inside the camp and what they can do to aid the homeless inside.

But for now, only the Occupiers know where they will go. 

"The group will move quietly and cooperate," Tibbs said. "And we would like to thank the city for giving us the original four-month permit."

If the members of Occupy Iowa City make a strong effort to benefit the local community in the coming months, the city will thank them. 


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