Peaceful Protest 

Occupy Memphis protesters avoid conflicts with police.

Number of Occupy movement members arrested in Nashville: 50, including three people visiting from Memphis. Austin: 38. Denver: 15. Oakland: 75, plus one protester, an Iraq war veteran, hospitalized after last week's violent clash with police.

Number of Occupy Memphis members arrested here: zero.

So far, the local encampment of about 20 tents on Civic Center Plaza has avoided problems with police.

"The police here are more understanding," said Occupy Memphis member Jack Armstrong, who has been sleeping at the local camp each night since the occupation began on October 15th. "We're also protesting police pay cuts, so they understand our plight. We've even had policemen donate food and clothing to us."

Memphis Police director Toney Armstrong stopped by the encampment on October 17th. He informed the protesters they'd need a permit if more than 25 people participated. But he said he respects their right to free speech.

"I was advised [by an Occupy Memphis member] that this protest would be peaceful and that they had every intent to follow all laws," Armstrong said in an email to the Flyer.

Mayor A C Wharton's office is allowing the protesters to remain on the plaza, and although there was a minor squabble when the campers were caught plugging their electronics into city light poles, that issue has been resolved, and they're now using large batteries to power computers and cell phones.

"From the beginning, the city has recognized that Occupy Memphis is exercising their right to assemble," said city spokesperson Mary Cashiola. "As long as they are peaceful and don't interfere with pedestrian or vehicular traffic, we don't think their presence is an issue."

The Occupy movement began in New York with Occupy Wall Street protesters speaking out against corporate greed and economic inequality. As encampments have sprung up in cities across the country, each has formed their own list of demands. In Memphis, the "99 Percenters," as they call themselves, are seeking answers to the city's homeless problem and asking the city to end its recent 4.6 percent pay cut for city employees, including police.

On Saturday, members of the Memphis Police Association and four other unions talked about local labor issues on a live KWAM 990 radio broadcast from the Occupy Memphis site.

"There's a great amount of solidarity between city workers and the Occupy Memphis folks. When we talk about the 99 percent, police officers are a part of that," said Jacob Flowers, executive director of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center.

In Oakland, the police clash was partly brought on by allegations of litter, public urination, and drug use at the campsite. But Occupy Memphis members are going out of their way to keep the site lawful and clean. As for bathroom use, campers use public toilets or a bathroom in the nearby apartment of an Occupy supporter.

"You read about California and all these charges against them, but look around here and see the order, the peace," said Occupy protester Talut Elamin. "We are concerned about the environment. We are concerned about the types of people who visit us."

At a recent general assembly meeting, where members discuss and vote on proposals, a disagreement over how to handle the group's finances was resolved peacefully. Rather than argue, members used hand signals to show approval or disapproval.

Such negotiating tactics are taught at the outset of each meeting. Members have also been trained in nonviolent conflict resolution from representatives of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center.

So long as no major problems arise, Armstrong said police have no intention of breaking up the Occupy Memphis protests. Campers say they'll stay at the site until some progress is made on their demands.

"We're basically duplicating the same issues as other Occupy movements, but our methodology is to be an occupation that is law-abiding," Elamin said. "Nobody is anxious to cause a disturbance or go to jail."

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