Today concludes the first week without substantial police interaction for Occupy Denver in recent memory.
While the previous week marked five hospitalizations, one arrest inside an igloo, one arrest inside a tent and 21 arrests during that Saturday's riot, the past seven days ended this weekend with a peaceful if smaller than usual rally of around 1,200 people on a day we've been warned to remember: the fifth of November.
Guy Fawkes masks graced an abundance of anonymous faces at this weekend's march, which began at Skyline Park after a decision to give respect and space to veterans staging their own event at the group's usual home of Civic Center Park. Because the march took place in conjunction with Bank Transfer Day, many of those marching divided from the group to close their accounts at banks along the 16th Street Mall. According to The Colorado Independent, the state has seen 14,000 new credit union accounts in the past four weeks and more than $100 million in deposits removed from other banking sources.
Perhaps most notable, however, was the lack of police presence: Zero arrests were made, and the weekend included only the typical instances of police interaction -- park curfew checks, monitoring during the rally, etc. Saturday's march was marked with mini-dance parties at different stops along its route, and while the decision of several protesters to dance on top of an American flag created tension within the group, it was addressed -- albeit still tensely -- at last night's general assembly.
"As a veteran, I pledged to protect the United States and its flag, and I completely support your decision to dance on top of it," protester Rob Piper told dance party members at the 7 p.m. GA. However, sections of the group took offense to the action, in large part for fear of negative press, which sparked debate about the dancing and its connection to the Denver Anarchist Black Cross.
"That's the kind of freedom I pledged to fight for," Piper added. "That's freedom of expression."
All in all, it was a markedly peaceful week for an occupation that has faced its share of the opposite.
The group's current political climate is reflected in its development of a nonviolence committee, the most recent addition to its roster. The goal: to prevent violent situations and better address any that still occur. Last week, the group released a set of guidelines (below) dedicated to de-escalating such happenings both on its website and via print flyers on Saturday, and the release was accompanied by an extensive statement from the nonviolence committee online.
In recent weeks, the group has become increasingly concerned with agent provocateurs inside its ranks, and the guidelines call for reaction "especially if someone near you is trying to cause trouble." The issue of identifying and restricting provocateurs has come up at several GAs, including a discussion last night about whether to amend the St. Paul Principles the group currently upholds to clarify its support of a "diversity of tactics." One worry is that the phrase could support even violent tactics.
The St. Paul Principles read as follows:
1. Our solidarity will be based on respect for a diversity of tactics and the plans of other groups. 2. The actions and tactics used will be organized to maintain a separation of time or space. 3. Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events. 4. We oppose any state repression of dissent, including surveillance, infiltration, disruption and violence. We agree not to assist law enforcement actions against activists and others.
Filmmaker Michael Moore even went so far as to warn against the trend in his visit to the occupation last week. "Please be mindful of provocateurs," he told a crowd of approximately 600 people. "They want to ignite something to get a reason to behave violently against you. Those in power are scared shitless, and they will try to find a way to turn this into something it isn't."
New approaches to increased peace focus on both squashing infighting and internal division and creating strategies to ward off unnecessary outward tension with government officials. The guidelines above denote a strategy of linking arms in a seated position while shushing violent response nearby. (It's important to note that many arrests have occurred when protesters linked arms in defense of an area inside the camp.)
"We're focusing on a more peaceful future here, and that means both keeping our own people from inciting violence and becoming more active in preventing it from occurring with the police," says longtime occupier Patricia Hughes. "We have to be aware of what creates it and try to stop it from happening."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver elects a new leader: Shelby, a Border Collie mix."