Members of Occupy Providence announced their willingness to transition from lawful demonstration to civil disobedience yesterday. In response to demands that they vacate Burnside Park, members of the movement told Mayor Angel Taveras they plan on staying put.
A little more than a week after first setting up tents in Burnside Park, Occupiers convened Monday afternoon to deliver a letter to the mayor's office stating that they have no immediate plans to leave the park.
"We respectfully restate our intention to remain in Burnside Park for however long it takes to build a society by, for and of the people," the letter states.
City officials' calls for the protesters to disperse have mounted over the last few days. Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare asked Occupiers Thursday to notify the city of an end date to the encampment. David Ortiz, the mayor's spokesman, announced yesterday that the city would seek a legal injunction to remove the protesters. Occupiers have been camping in the park — which they renamed People's Park — without a permit since Oct. 15.
"We are so excited and grateful for the community that is developing here and for everybody who is here to support us and learn more about what we're doing," Annie Rose London '11.5 told the crowd that gathered Monday afternoon by the memorial statue in Burnside Park to witness the letter's delivery to the mayor's office.
London, one of a handful of Brown students heavily involved in the movement, opened the press conference to cheers from the crowd of the roughly 100 Occupiers. Using a strategy known as "the human microphone," the crowd repeated and amplified each of her lines.
London called the encampment "a safe space where people can come, have conversations and learn from each other." She added the park has been kept clean and recycling and composting programs have been instituted.
"This is a place of free speech," she said. "Every day there have been workshops, teach-ins, conversation ideas and community developing."
Four Occupiers read the letter aloud, pausing after each line to allow the crowd to repeat their words. Ian Turnbull, 23, who is originally from New Jersey and works at an information table in the park, said the letter was crafted collaboratively last week at a meeting of the Occupy Providence General Assembly, which convenes almost every evening.
When the letter was read, the crowd cheered and marched across Kennedy Plaza toward City Hall.
"On behalf of Occupy Providence, we'd like to submit a letter to the mayor," an Occupier announced once the group reached the building's second floor. The crowd marched out of the building down the middle of Westminster Street to Memorial Boulevard, shouting, "Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!" and "Hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed just has to go!"
As the crowd passed the Bank of Rhode Island and Citizens Bank, they chanted, "We got sold out! Banks got bailed out!"
Occupiers told The Herald they were optimistic about the movement's impact and hopeful about the outcome of their letter.
Wendy Holmes, 70, an East Side resident, said government officials have been very understanding. Though she is not camping out in the park, she supports those who are and thinks they should be allowed to stay indefinitely. "If money is speech, Occupation should be speech too," she said.
Woonsocket native Kristian Vario, 25, said the police in particular have been very cooperative. "They're totally on our side," she said. She is unsure of what the effects of the letter will be but hopes the mayor will consider how protesters have taken care of the park and allow them to stay, she said.
Cranston resident David Gilbert, 40, said he came to the park's press conference to get a better sense of the movement. While he is uncertain of the movement's goals, he said he supports its presence in Burnside Park. "I believe the march is about exercising rights," he added.
For London, a response from the mayor is only a secondary goal of the press conference and delivery of the letter. She said she is more focused on drumming up excitement about the movement within the community.
Brown students in particular should become involved, she said. "We're doing amazing work here. This is a space to apply the engaged scholarship Brown always talks about."