Occupy Ann Arbor — a faction of the national movement striving for economic reform — held it’s third general assembly in Liberty Plaza last night, in which a crowd of about 40 to 50 protestors sprawled out on wet park benches and ladled soup into red Solo cups.
A few participants, braving the wind and cold, had been there since last week, sleeping with donated blankets and sleeping bags and cooking with kitchenware and food provided by the community. The conditions within the encampment, part of the Occupy Ann Arbor movement but not directly organized by it, reflected the successes and challenges for the local movement since it held its first meeting on the Diag on Oct. 6.
At yesterday’s event, the assembly formalized its decision-making procedures, organized a new committee for scheduling and discussed local issues. However, concerns remained, including the movement’s future strength, the safety of the plaza and the ability of the camp to withstand the harsh Michigan winter.
University alum Clare Levijoki, a member of Occupy Ann Arbor’s press committee, said the movement’s coordination has improved since the group’s first meeting. She said the movement pooled its resources and now communicates more efficiently. As a result, the camp attracted donations including food, tarps, sleeping bags, banners and camping gear.
“The first week was really chaotic, but we’re really getting our organization together and getting a lot of resources together,” Levijoki said.
Still, Levijoki said she thinks the protest is “not as organized as it could be.” Though the encampment has received plenty of food — even enough to donate a portion to Occupy Detroit and Occupy Lansing — other supplies are limited due to a lack of coordination among movement leaders.
To prevent future logistical issues, the assembly formed a scheduling committee to plan events and communicate information to the public. The assembly members also discussed a proposal to set up a workshop for protesters to learn about outreach, rights, non-violent protests and methods for writing effective letters to politicians — initiatives that movement participants hope will further the scope of Occupy Ann Arbor.
Several protesters who were invited to speak in front of the crowd urged participants to foster solidarity between local, regional and global Occupy movements. Whitney Miller, a recent University alum who started Occupy Ann Arbor through a Facebook page, stressed the importance of relationships between the movements.
“The direct action committee has been working very actively to research, gather resources, check legality, secure safety and plan an effective occupation,” Miller said.
Miller added that the movement is only two weeks old and has much potential to grow, become more unified and gain more support. An encouraging sign, Miller said, is the Ann Arbor Education Association’s — a citywide teachers union — endorsement of the Occupy movements.
Despite the speaker’s positivity, several protesters raised concerns including the feasibility of an occupation in Liberty Plaza as winter nears. Several participants also discussed the safety of the plaza.
Jeff Fulkerson, a junior at Washtenaw Community College and a participant at last night’s gathering, said the square is notorious for drug and alcohol problems, which have been apparent during the encampment.
Fulkerson said a homeless man unaffiliated with the movement threatened the protesters camping in the plaza and used drugs in the area. The situation made some protesters, including students, flee the plaza out of fear, he said. Fulkerson added that he’d like to see the movement moved to another park — a proposition other protesters supported.
“Most of the students have either left or fled the scene because they are afraid of the person,” Fulkerson said. “These scenes need to be addressed.”