Occupy Denver at six months: Ten unintended consequences of the movement
Today, on Occupy Denver's six-month anniversary, the organization is separated from its long-time home in Civic Center Park. Regardless of whether you expected the movement to make it this long, the past half a year brought no shortage of eye-opening events and preparation for the future. In order to contextualize the hundreds of stories that have come out of Occupy Denver's tenure downtown, Westword looked back at ten consequences of occupation that weren't part of the plan.
10. Crime rates In November, two months into the occupation, the frequency of late-night crimes occurring in the surrounding Capitol Hill area had increased by 30 percent. Although police told Westword the hike in incidents was not related to the amount of department resources allocated to Occupy Denver, the coincidence is worth considering. In recent months, however, mass mobilizations in the park (now closed to the public) have significantly decreased, drawing fewer officers away from other events on a regular basis.
9. Media harassment This entry might earn us some of our own in the comments section, but it's important to remember that the occupation did bring us the phrase " bad nut-tap joke gone wrong ." Accused of groping a television news journalist, protester Corey Donahue coined the summary when he told Westword the event never happened. In recent weeks, the most noticeable case comes from Fox 31: Earlier this month, television reporter Eli Stokols earned the ire of protesters (and dispensed it right back) when they interrupted his live broadcast with signs reading "Fuck the Police." Several F-bombs were dropped that day.
8. The Family of Love In addition to actual love, Occupy Denver created an entire offshoot community devoted to it. Launched on the side of the street opposite of the occupation proper, Fort Love became the temporary home to between twenty and thirty protesters dedicated more to peace and philosophical discussion than to direct political action. Although the group's streetside resort has since been demolished several times, its members continue to live together outside of the park and have since developed a distinct organization of their own. In the future, look for more events from the Family of Love.
Occupy Denver protesters hold a candlelight vigil for the death of an unknown homeless woman.
7. Rumor control With great political power comes a great desire to talk about it -- a lot. Because of Occupy Denver's constantly shifting roster of issues, agendas and personalities, it occasionally becomes difficult to decode what is a rumor and what is reality, what's just a Twitter feud and what is an immediate action. The most notable example of the trend toward exaggeration came in December, when occupier Nicole Sisneros led a candlelight vigil downtown for her own death. Clearly, she is still alive, but rumors that she had frozen overnight during the frigid month swelled so extensively that even after she appeared in the park, the death was attributed to another Nicole, a homeless woman who also did not die (and might not have existed at all). For a more recent example, see the unsubstantiated claims that the downtown "Fuck the Police" rally included urine bombs.
6. Dog jokes One dog to rule them all -- and in the park, tents bind them. Occupy Denver's elected leader, four-year old Border collie mix Shelby, might spend most of her time at her home in Boulder these days, but her position created national controversy -- and terrible jokes. Those at the general assembly where she announced her candidacy probably had no idea the mild-mannered pooch would make it on NPR, Rachel Maddow and hundreds of other outlets before eventually appearing in TIME magazine's list of Top 10 Oddball News Stories in 2011. Because her position is mostly symbolic, we guess this means her bark is worse than her bite. (The opposite is true on Twitter, though, where a fake account in Shelby's name raised more than a few hackles.)
Page down to read the top five unintended consequences of Occupy Denver on its six-month anniversary.
5. Hundreds of thousands of city dollars Although more recent estimates are still forthcoming, Occupy Denver allegedly had cost its hometown more than $300,000 in police and state patrol resources in October alone. The next month, the Department of Safety asked City Council for a $7 million budget raise from the city's 2011 contingency reservoir, citing Occupy Denver as one of the unplanned drains on its funds. Early protests included upwards of 200 police officers, all suited in riot gear, in addition to vehicles, medical services and other efforts. Since then, the area has incurred numerous other costs, including visits from Public Works to clean up graffiti. Six months later, how much higher is that estimate?
Protester Caryn Sodaro is arrested last week on investigation for robbery.
4. More than 100 arrests When the Colorado chapter of the National Lawyers Guild agreed to take on all of the occupation's legal representation more than five months ago, there was no telling how many cases that would include or how long that obligation would last. Half a year into the movement, the toll is at more than 100 arrests, the majority of which are covered pro bono by members of the Guild rather than inflicting costs on the city's cadre of public defenders. However, with each case comes hours of court time along with additional expenses for discoveries, court costs, time away from work, etc. And there's not an easy end in sight: "It wouldn't surprise me if some of these Occupy cases lasted until late fall," says Faisal Salahuddin, an attorney with Killmer, Lane & Newman who is overseeing five Occupy Denver cases. "In some of these cases, they just handed over a big haystack and said, 'Hey, go through this.'"
3. An Occupy Denver documentary In January, Occupy Denver launched an official Film and Video Committee, tasked with digitally documenting all of the movement's significant outings -- and some surprise events. But even before this, protesters maintained extensive photo and video coverage of riots, their injuries, their goals and their stories. All of this adds up to days of footage that the committee is working to turn into a documentary on the organization, much like several devoted to Occupy Wall Street and other geographic offshoots that are already making their way across the Internet. Rooting through all the coverage is the easy part. From there, they have only to know when to end it. Six months in, Occupy Denver's story has yet to come to a close.
Michael Hancock at his election party.
2. Apathy For those who identify with the occupation, this might be the most surprising entry on the list -- but the past six months have come with hundreds of incredibly public hurdles. With early media attention documenting every action and most outlets continuing to cover any that include arrests, the residents of Denver have become accustomed to Occupy Denver's public image. It's tough to tell how large a faction has stopped caring, but the point is that there is a significant one. Mayor Michael Hancock pointed this out to Westword when he said the movement has become irrelevant, citing the group's protest at a homeless vigil and its fire-fueled December raid as evidence that the public is turning against the group.
1. Fear of Civic Center Park In light of the park closing to the public this Tuesday, this entry is not the most currently relevant, but it has been one of the longest running. When state troopers evicted the organization from its first home in Lincoln Park in October, protesters spent the next five months across the street, where the park housed the group, its protests and the occasional fire and scabies scare. Across that span, many Denver residents commented (some of them even in the Latest Word's comment section) that they no longer felt comfortable visiting the park. When asked about the long-term effects, Civic Center Conservancy president Lindy Eichenbaum Lent told Westword: "We have to be protective of the public's investment.... The city has repeatedly acted against the creation of a homeless encampment in the public sphere, just a free city like the one they're trying to create now."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver at six months: How relations between police and protesters soured."
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