Occupy Tampa still on sidewalk; have given up park for now

10/24/11 Seán Kinane & Josh Holton
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Since the group began demonstrating more than four weeks ago, Occupy Tampa has been in search of a place to permanently camp. For fifteen nights now the group has occupied a roadside sidewalk near Curtis Hixon Park. On Saturday night some members of the group occupied part of that park. It happened a few minutes after 10 p.m., when the park closed. There were no arrests. But Monday morning after some Occupy Tampa members slept just inside concrete barriers that mark the edge of the park, they moved back to the sidewalk because police said they couldn’t stay there during the day. Sunday morning St. Pete for Peace’s Chris Ernesto declared victory for risking arrest and holding the park.

Tom Johnson is a lawyer and is part of the Occupy Tampa legal workgroup. More than 120 people participated in a General Assembly meeting that began after 7 p.m. Saturday. In that meeting Johnson said one plan the legal team is considering is to ask Tampa City Council to change the city’s codes so the first amendment rights of protesters will no longer be violated.

During the same general assembly, Occupy Tampa agreed to use most of its funds to bail people out of jail if they were arrested for breaking city code and occupying a park that night. Consensus was reached that 75% of Occupy Tampa's funds would be used to bail them out. That comes to a little over $2000.

In that general assembly, criminal defense attorney Linda Moreno agreed to represent Occupy Tampa members if they are arrested. Moreno is best known in the Tampa Bay area for defending Sami Al-Arian.

Even though a group of about 30 did occupy small grassy area of Curtis Hixon Park between palm trees Saturday night, there have been no arrests since Friday. That’s when 6 Occupy Tampa protesters were arrested while they were laying or sitting on part of a public sidewalk. A much larger group remains on the sidewalk outside the park, where police have told them they can stay as long as they maintain a wide area of sidewalk clear for pedestrians and are up by 6 a.m. But many protesters still want a park, in part because of the dangers of camping along North Ashley Drive. Saturday night Meg Savage, who is pregnant, was hit by a beer can thrown from a moving car.

Edgar Santiago and 10 other people slept on the park side of the barriers again Sunday night. He said sleeping there was less of an act of civil disobedience, and more of an act of civil intelligence.

Sunday night protester Chris Cope set up a tent on the sidewalk and slept overnight. But when police arrived at 6:45 Monday morning, they told Cope that he had five minutes to pack up his tent, or risk arrest. He packed up, and others inside the park returned to protesting on the sidewalk.

Marc Wolfson is a US Marine, and is now also a military contractor. He lives in one of the high rise residential buildings downtown. Although a few residents have complained about noise, Wolfson said he supports the protesters.

Occupy Tampa holds a general assembly every day at 7 p.m. in the amphitheater along the Hillsborough River behind Kiley Gardens and next to Curtis Hixon Park.

Here is our full Occupy Tampa coverage.

Video of consensus for bail money:

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