Occupy protesters strike a deal

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

After striking a deal with the city, Occupy Providence announced the end of its full-time protest in Burnside Park Monday. Claiming victory after over 100 days, the Occupy members have agreed to leave the park at night in exchange for a day center for the city’s homeless. Protestors will remain in the park during the day.

 The agreement represents one of the first times an Occupy protest has ended with a tangible government concession. Other cities like New York, Oakland, Calif. and London ended their respective Occupy movements by force.

The city and Occupy Providence turned to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence to organize the day center. The Diocese offered space in Emmanuel House, a South Providence organization that serves as a homeless shelter at night. The building could be open to the city’s homeless as soon as today, according to Miriam Weizenbaum, a lawyer for Occupy Providence. The center has been approved for three months of operation.

The center will serve as a hub for the homeless to connect with “agencies in the state that are equipped to help people find permanent housing, receive disability coverage … and find jobs,” Weizenbaum said. Approximately 4,400 individuals were homeless in 2010, according to the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless.

Thirty people gathered at Burnside Park yesterday afternoon to march to City Hall for a press conference announcing the agreement with the city. The speeches at the conference portrayed the deal as a victory for the movement.

 “We are proud to announce the victory of opening a day center for people who would otherwise be up against the elements in the harsh New England winter,” said Robert Malin, an unofficial spokesman for the group, at the press conference.  

Despite the outward enthusiasm for the deal, some members of Occupy Providence expressed doubt over whether the group should have given up their best bargaining chip — their commitment to occupying a public park — so readily. “I’m definitely opposed to it,” said Amanda Magee, an organizer for Occupy Providence. “There’s a lot that needs to change. We don’t have enough to give up what we’re doing.”

Occupy Providence has recently become a vocal opponent of the University’s tax-exempt status. The group marched on City Hall last week to lend support to city legislators voting on the issue.  

Occupy Providence’s decision to vacate Burnside Park at night, voted on by Occupy Providence’s general assembly, passed by only two votes.  

The agreement with the city requires the group to remove all tents and sleeping materials. But, they are free to maintain the information booths that make the park the center of their movement. Occupy Providence moved into Burnside Park Oct. 15.