If City Hall has its way, Occupy New Haven may soon leave its home on the New Haven Green.
Two meetings were held at City Hall on Feb. 8 and Feb. 15 to discuss the future of Occupy New Haven, the anti-economic inequality protest that has been encamped on the Green since mid-October. Members of the municipal government have argued that the presence of the protesters on the Green is limiting others’ right to use the public place and has offered several proposals it finds acceptable to both parties. But leaders of Occupy New Haven have said the group will decline the city’s offer and that the protest will not leave the Green until major social and political changes are brought about.
At the first of the two meetings — attended by representatives of Occupy New Haven, the Yale Police Department, the New Haven Police Department, the city’s parks department and the Chief Administrator’s Office — the city invited the protesters to move the camp to another location, City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said. The Occupy New Haven encampment is one of the few nationwide protests to maintain much of its strength in the same position through the winter.
“We didn’t come to into the meeting with any specific plan or end date,” Benton said. “But we did state our concern that there can’t be a permanent encampment on the Green.”
The Green is supposed to be available for a variety of public uses, Benton said, including events like the International Arts and Ideas Festival and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, as well as impromptu events such as frisbee games or dog walks. Having a permanent encampment on the upper part of the Green, she said, means other people are not able to use the Green in the way it was intended.
Some of the proposals floated by city officials included having Occupy New Haven relocate to another space or only occupy the Green for a certain part of the day. But following the first City Hall meeting, at their weekly assembly on Feb. 12, the Occupy protesters decided not to relocate their encampment, regardless of the potential alternative locations offered by the City.
“The camp is part of our political statement,” said Ina Staklo, a member of Occupy New Haven. “We are not going to dissemble it, for now.”
The protesters on the Green also expressed their desire to collaborate with the city and make accommodations for future city events and festivals, Staklo said.
“There is a misconception that Occupy New Haven is detached from the rest of the New Haven population, but that’s not true,” she said. “We support the people and want to collaborate to everything that is for the people.”
A second meeting was held last Wednesday, in which Drew Days LAW ’66, a law school professor and head proprietor of the Green — which is owned by a trust of prominent Elm City citizens — expressed his concern that there needed to be a specific date at which the protesters’ presence on the Green would terminate.
Staklo said that Days’ presence caused Wednesday’s meeting to get “pretty heated.” Still, Benton said she believes the two meetings between city officials and protesters were promising.
“I think there has been a dialogue and I think that dialogue is going to continue,” she said.
Staklo said that if the protesters were to depart from their current location, it would be only in the interest of expanding the movement. Occupy New Haven’s current objective, she added, is to expand and strengthen its ties with other Occupy movements in New England.
Chris Garaffa, a member of Occupy New Haven, said that the city’s offer to accommodate the protest in another location is motivated by political purposes.
“We made no agreement yet, but it’s clear that the City wants Occupy off the Green,” Garaffa said. “They want to squash our movement.”
He added that he believes Yale’s Commencement ceremony in May is a factor in the city’s desire to relocate the encampment.
“They just don’t want the camp in the background for Commencement,” he said.
Benton responded that the University had nothing to do with the city’s request, and University Secretary Linda Lorimer said the secretary’s office, which plans Commencement, has had “no involvement with any suggestion that Occupy New Haven move at all.”
At the end of the second meeting, city officials and Occupy protesters decided that the city would develop a specific plan to be proposed to protesters at the next meeting, Benton said. She added that the groups did not set a time frame to meet again, but that it would likely be very soon.
While fewer and fewer Occupy protests have maintained their physical presence, members of New Haven’s contingent said they were determined to maintain a strong presence on the Green.
“People in Occupy New Haven want to stay here and are willing to defend the camp,” Garaffa said.
Unlike many other Occupy protests across the nation, Occupy New Haven has had a cordial relationship with the city since its inception. City and police officials have said since the protest began on Oct. 15 that safety was their primary concern about the encampment, and have repeatedly said since then that they had no plans to evict the protesters as other cities have done.
The New Haven Green was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1970.