Press Release from Occupy Nashville, Jan. 31, 2012:
Open Letter from Occupy Nashville: Which Side Are You On?
Dear Governor Bill Haslam, Tennessee General Assembly, and Tennessee Highway Patrol,
As you know, HB 2638/SB 2508 not only stands to criminalize Occupy Nashville, but it has far-reaching ramifications that would further criminalize all of Tennessee’s economically disenfranchised, un-housed citizens. This bill is not only unconstitutional—it is morally unacceptable. If this bill is signed into law, we should warn you that there will be consequences and you will feel the power of the people rising up once again.
If you want to shut Occupy Nashville down and criminalize our un-housed neighbors, then say it. But don’t say you are shutting us down because we aren’t welcoming of other groups. Don’t say we’re a threat to public health. The influence of corporations in our political system is the real threat to public health—the public health of our democracy. And when you stand on the side of corporations, when you stand on the side of the 1%, when you criminalize your fellow citizens, you threaten the public health of our democracy.
You know that Occupy Nashville welcomes all people from all walks of life to exercise their First Amendment rights on the plaza. We seek to create a hospitable environment that makes other groups feel welcome, safe, and empowered. You know that we operate under a Code of Conduct that discourages substance use and inappropriate and violent behavior on Legislative Plaza. You know that we have worked with the Metro Public Health Department in the past to address health concerns. You also know that it has never been possible to control the behavior of everyone who comes onto the plaza, though we take it upon ourselves to clean up after those who leave trash and encourage everyone to follow the Code of Conduct.
Despite knowing these things, you have continued to be hostile toward us. In the early morning hours of October 28th and 29th, you declared war against the rights of your fellow citizens—those whom you claim to represent. Although you evicted Occupy Nashville twice, we immediately regained the plaza—the People’s Plaza. You were overruled and reprimanded for infringing on our First Amendment rights. We have prevailed in court and have held the People’s Plaza since then.
Since October 8, we have accomplished much. We have raised the consciousness of a generation and opened the public’s eyes to a system that perpetuates greed, injustice, inequality, and oppression. The people of Tennessee and the world cried out against your attempts to evict us and we successfully filed an injunction barring your continued harassment. We have remained non-violent, we have launched a successful campaign to halt the foreclosure of our fellow Nashvillians’ homes, we have taken to the streets countless times to protest against corruption and injustice, and we reclaimed an abandoned, derelict public building so that it could once again be used for public good. Three months from our last eviction you are once again attempting to pass a law that is unjust and will bring harm to those you claim to represent.
You know that public property should be used for public good, but HB 2638/SB 2508 makes it clear that you are not concerned about the good of those who protest or are economically disenfranchised. The visibility of un-housed people and the protests of Occupy Nashville in public spaces are evidence that all is not well. Through HB 2638/SB 2508, you are trying to control, constrain, and manipulate public space to conceal the failure and inequity of the system you perpetuate. But the system isn’t working when 25.7% of children in Tennessee live below the poverty level (Census 2010). The system isn’t working when vacant units of housing (24,479 in Davidson County in 2010) vastly outnumber the people who lack affordable housing (approximately 4,000 in Davidson County). You can’t turn a blind eye to these realities. You can’t sweep human suffering under the rug with legislation. You can’t lock people away in jail and declare success. You can’t restrict and over-regulate the use of public property—property which rightfully belongs to the public and should be used for public good.
We stand in solidarity with our un-housed neighbors and other occupiers across the world who have been jailed, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and beaten by police batons. We have proven that when you pass unjust regulations and use force, not only do we grow, but we get stronger. If you pass this bill to evict Occupy Nashville and criminalize our un-housed friends, then you have chosen to escalate the conversation. If you pass this bill, we will prevail in the courts and on the streets. If you pass this bill, you may expect actions like this:
- We will occupy the State Capitol
- We will occupy public property (abandoned and in-use)
- We will take back foreclosed homes, and
- We will occupy the restrooms of all Pilot Travel Centers.
We will take these actions not in a spirit of hatred or hostility but in a spirit of love for our fellow citizens and un-housed friends. We hope you will choose to respect Occupy Nashville’s First Amendment rights on Legislative Plaza, the rights of Tennessee’s un-housed citizens, and the use of public property for public good. We stand in solidarity with all occupations from New York to Nigeria, Murfreesboro to Memphis, Oakland to D.C. We stand beside our un-housed sisters and brothers. We stand for the rights of the people. We stand for democracy. Which side are you on?