UPDATE: According to eyewitnesses, a police lieutenant at the scene called one of his superiors around 3 a.m. and got permission to let the Occupy Charleston protesters stay in Marion Square for the night. No arrests were made. A detachment of Occupy members will attend the City Council meeting Tuesday night to try to work out an agreement with the city.
UPDATE: Police arrived at Marion Square around 2 a.m. saying the park was closed and asking the protesters to leave. Most complied when officers told them they could occupy the sidewalk (as long as they did not impede pedestrian traffic), but Occupy member Tay McNabb says three protesters stayed in the park.
Over the phone, Occupy Charleston member Jessica Dugan says the three people staying in the park are being told they will be arrested. “The cops said they are going to arrest them if they do not move, and we expressed that it is our First Amendment right to gather peacefully,” she says. Protesters can be heard chanting in the background.
About 30 Occupy Charleston protesters hunkered down in Marion Square Monday night, bracing themselves for the fallout of an unsuccessful meeting with Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. earlier in the day. Organizers say Riley had warned them not to be in the park after 11 p.m., when the park supposedly closed, but as of 12:25 a.m. on Tuesday, there had not been a police response.
“We’re willing to put ourselves on the line to protect our rights,” said Brandon Fish, sitting upright in a mummy-style sleeping bag on the King Street side of the downtown park. Occupiers started trickling into the downtown green space around 5 p.m. after a 3:30 meeting in the mayor’s office to discuss their intentions. While some protesters made light of the idea that sitting in a park could constitute an illegal act, the group had not reached a consensus on what they would do in the event of a run-in with police. Some members stood on lookout duty at the perimeter of the park, signaling every time a police car or news reporter approached.
Tay McNabb, a DJ who goes by the handle Party Dad, got involved with Occupy Charleston when organizers asked him to play a set at the 99-hour occupation of Brittlebank Park last month. He said he spent some time wrestling with the idea of whether the Occupy movement was something he could hang his proverbial hat on, and that while he had resolved to camp out with the group Monday night, he would leave if it came down to arrests. His reason? He has a daughter.
A few people in the crowd covered their faces with bandanas, and Fish explained that those people feared retribution if their employers found out they were participating in the protests. One woman said she had recently started a job with the federal government and signed an agreement that she would not strike against the federal government. She wasn’t certain if the protest would violate that agreement, so she wore a bandana just in case.
Matt Rabon, a political science student at College of Charleston, said he had not yet decided what he would do if faced with arrest. “I’m still thinking about it, man,” he said. On Nov. 7, Rabon signed his name at the bottom of the group’s memorandum to the mayor’s office that indicated their intention to occupy Marion Square indefinitely. He said that in the meeting Monday, which was also attended by representatives from the police department, Mayor Riley said the city would not allow an ongoing occupation of the park. Rabon said he offered to move the group to other sites, and even told the mayor that they would migrate from one park to another at the city’s request, but those ideas failed to win the mayor over.
“Riley laid down the law,” Rabon said. He said the mood in the meeting was cordial and non-confrontational.
At night in the park, protesters sat huddled in circles on blankets and on the grass, snacking on soft pretzels and talking about perceived geopolitical, economic, and spiritual ailments. There were screeds against neoconservatism, breathless proclamations about Gandhi, and talks of war for oil. “I think everyone’s here to be the change they wish to see,” said Jessica Dugan, an employee at Earth Fare in West Ashley.
All was quiet until around 12:10 a.m., when a group of college-age girls passed by on the sidewalk. “Go occupy a job, you fucking socialists!” one of the girls shouted.
The Occupy crowd responded gently: “We love you too!” “Occupy your heart!” “I work two jobs!”
“We’re Southerners just like anybody else in this city, and we’re polite,” Fish said.