DETROIT, Mich. — Occupy Detroit is about to driven into exile by SpongeBob SquarePants and Elmo.
The anti-capitalist movement’s month-long shantytown occupation of Detroit’s Grand Circus Park will lose its municipal blessing at midnight when a 30-day camping permit expires. And with the city’s nationally televised annual Thanksgiving Day parade looming — complete with marching bands and giant inflatable cartoon balloon floats – it has become increasingly evident that the city wants the Obamaville gone before the crowds and TV cameras show up.
The parade’s route, along famed Woodward Avenue, runs through the center of the park, and some locations for the $45-per-seat bleachers are withing view of the “occupiers” and their current encampment. With several hundred thousand people attending in person and millions more watching on television, the coterie of radicals doesn’t fit in with Detroit’s plans.
So on Nov. 10, city workers began installing metal signs in the park, warning that it closes at 10:00 p.m. nightly. The temporary tubular steel barricades that fenced off the park were removed that same day.
The camp’s medical tent was emptied over the weekend and its supplies mothballed. Its rattletrap kitchen area was broken down on Sunday, its large stores of donated food and beverages moved offsite.
At its height the camp was home to more than 80 tents, although it is unknown how many protesters actually slept in them. Supporters and critics have both attested to the fact that most of the tents have been empty during overnight hours. On average, between 50 and 75 people are regularly active participants in the protest, out of a metro population of four million.
Those few see the writing on the wall, but they’re not budging yet.
“If people want to leave, it will be on their own terms,” said Jerry Goldberg, 61, an attorney who was manning a literature table on Sunday afternoon for the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party. The communists have been present in small numbers since Occupy Detroit set up its first tents on Oct. 14.
“If there’s violence, it’s going to be from the other side,” said Goldberg, clad in a red Che Guevara baseball cap.
Should they stay or should they go?
On Monday organizers plan to seek a two-week extension to stay in the park. Mayor Dave Bing’s office has told reporters that the camping permit ends at midnight on the dot, even though violators might first be only be ticketed for staying. Eventually, however, police will clear the park in time for Turkey Day.
The occupiers have been debating for days, holding lengthy “emergency” general assemblies — the interminable soviets that can take a half-hour or more just to reach consensus on the agenda itself — about whether to stay and resist eviction, or to “declare victory and move into winter quarters.”
Park denizens appear to be split, with many growing cold, tired and fearful of the homeless who for decades have used the park as a hangout, toilet, bar and drug den. Theft is rampant — cameras, computers and even a car have gone missing. Confrontations with homeless under the influence of drugs and alcohol are commonplace.
Residents who live in the apartment buildings towering over the park have angrily confronted Occupy Detroit, begging the collective to cease its midnight drum circles — and to stop urinating and defecating in the park. Some neighbors who express solidarity with the movement’s vast litany of progressive causes have begun to complain about a cloud of marijuana smoke, and covert attempts to sell Adderall and other drugs to passersby.
If law enforcement attempts to clear the park this week, the result is far from certain. Planning inside the camp is only now just beginning, as protesters teach each other how to non-violently resist police and assert their legal rights. Few of the campers have any experience to draw on.
During Sunday’s general assembly, one dissenter noted that Occupy Detroit had a city permit, and that the law on camping in a public park was clear. Any resistance, he said, would be counterproductive.
“The law is not unjust in this case, so this will not be lawful disobedience,” the lone contrarian said. His attempt to block further discussion of staying past tonight’s midnight deadline failed.
Blame for any violence that may occur already is being pinned by some camp organizers on “agent provocateurs.” One assembly speaker said it was important to avoid condemning anyone who chooses to embrace violence as a form of protest.
No one countered her logic, but other speakers reminded the crowd that their movement was founded on peaceful protest.
Media interest revived
The early police presence around the park has shrunk to almost nothing.
Local media coverage, largely driven by curiosity about the encampment’s novelty, had also diminished to the point of near-invisibility. It picked up in recent days, however, with coverage of the camp’s imminent collapse.
The campers have bared fangs at reporters who report anything less than fawning praise
On their official Facebook page, Detroit’s left-wing occupiers have singled out WJBK-Fox television reporter Charlie LeDuff, a former New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner who returned home to work in his native Detroit. One writer carped, “That fake Cajun jerk is a provocateur, he wants ‘good’ TV, not the truth.”