Tuesday, October 11, 2011

OccupyNewJersey Decides On JSQ As Home Base

After First General Assembly, Occupy New Jersey Decides to Launch Occupy Jersey City at Journal Square
By Adam Robb
Oct 11th, 2011

Monday’s first Occupy New Jersey general assembly at the Grove Street PATH plaza was more subdued and more productive than last week’s attempt at an occupation of the Goldman Sachs building at 30 Hudson Street, which brought out hundreds of police, private security, protestors, and media, and ended the same day with a brief march on City Hall. Yesterday’s gathering attracted none of the media and less than a dozen Jersey City and Port Authority police officers, who observed the 40 protesters from an area cordoned off between the PATH station entrance and farmers’ market.

There were no public statements, no orchestrated sign waving or proclamations from racing scooters. Instead it was an opportunity for the protestors to turn inward – but with total transparency in the public eye – and work out the logistics of implementing their agenda, the who, what, when, where and how; the why could wait.

In many ways it was a success.

The crowd expanded rather than contracted, benefiting from curious passersby waiting for a bus or exiting the train station. Charles O’Keefe, Sherry Johnson, and John Turlington ascended from the PATH on their return from Zuccotti Park, home of the Occupy Wall Street protest, shouting their support for the protesters and receiving applause in return as they crossed the plaza. The three Scotch Plains postal workers used their work holiday to lend their voice to the union workers at the park.

“I’m glad to see people coming out in droves like they are,” O’Keefe, a resident of South Plainfield, told us. “We didn’t support the bailout of Wall Street, but then all of a sudden Congress gave them all this money, and they’re up to the same old crap.”

“They want to privatize us,” O’Keefe said, listing his fears for the future of the postal service. “Cutting out Saturday service will hurt a lot of jobs. They want a part-time workforce with no benefits, to pay them minimum wage,” he added, describing the direction in which he already sees the postal service moving.

They shared their feelings with Alexander Waight as well. Waight, who created the @OccupyNJ Twitter feed which ultimately led to the Goldman Sachs protest, ran from his gathering as the postal workers passed by, engaging them in discussion, as the Cinnamon Snail truck attempted to back up past them, into the farmers’ market, and through the fleet of police patrol cars and trucks flanking the north side of Christopher Columbus, filling the bus stop and lining the sidewalk from Grove Street to Marin Boulevard.

Shortly after parking he tweeted his support to the protesters, offering them free organic fair trade coffee while they were gathered there.

Another observer, a retired local resident, stopping to lean on the gate as he listened to the gathering, supported their actions though admitted he was too old to protest.

“I save my fight for my disability check,” he said. He told us he couldn’t understand why the protesters chose to occupy Goldman Sachs or Grove Street. “They should be down in Journal Square where no one has a dollar in their pocket.”

A common theme among occupations around the country is how protesters see themselves as the 99% making their voices heard to the 1% who have the most wealth in the country. As the main goal of Monday’s meeting was to determine a meeting place, a majority of the debate focused on where the voice of the Occupy New Jersey protest could make the greatest impact.

“One of the advantages of Journal Square is that people there aren’t doing well economically,” one protester said. “There are cities without a 1%, where people have never met a one percenter in their life, but they are still occupying those cities.” Another noted how it offered greater potential for growing the movement fast and strong as they wouldn’t experience the apathy they faced Downtown at Grove Street and Exchange Place.

The debate, which shifted between occupying outside an army recruiting station to using Grove Street as a base of operations and protesting daily at different locations throughout town, ended with Kat Odenthal, a protester who led much of Monday’s meeting, taking a headcount. Twenty-six votes, the majority, raised their hands for a continuous occupation of Journal Square. Four votes went to Grove Street.

It was a decision that had the vocal support of Erik-Anders Nilsson, the founder of the Jersey City Peace Movement, who saw Journal Square as their best bet for a place to use the restroom at 3 am and which had accessible electric outlets for charging phones and laptops.

Then it was only a matter of when they would occupy.

The first suggestion was October 15, a day scheduled for a planned International Call to Action, but Odenthal disagreed.

“Personally, we should occupy as soon as we possibly can, and have a strong showing on the 15th, rather than occupy then and have people wandering by asking if this is the same occupation that didn’t work last time,” she said.

Another protester suggested they don’t wait any longer to act on their enthusiasm. “Let’s not waste the opportunity, let’s go to Journal Square after the meeting.”

The group then voted again, this time agreeing to hold their general assembly tonight, Tuesday at 7pm, at the Freedom Fountain at Journal Square. Then, after discussing the division of responsibilities, from media outreach to kitchen duty, and to create a new Facebook page specifically for the occupation of Jersey City, more than two dozen protestors decamped for Journal Square.

Waight set up the Occupy Jersey City Facebook group last night, and produced a video to explain the new direction deeper into town.

In the video, Waight revealed a particular drama from earlier in the afternoon that appeared in stark contrast to the majority vote the group easily made for a move to Journal Square.

“I had a person come up to me today saying that at the farmers’ market area, a lot of businesses that have the tents felt they didn’t want us there because of the cops being there, and they’re afraid it’s going to deter customers from wanting to step in that area because they think something bad is going to happen,” Waight spoke into the camera.

Unconvinced of this, he asked for signatures from the vendors indicating that sentiment, concerned it may have been one person’s tactic to get them to vacate what could have been an ideal occupation area. Only then did he add: “we did a consensus that people wanted to occupy Journal Square so that’s why we picked it.”

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