Letter From an Occupier
by Chris Phillips
My name is Chris Phillips. I have been occupying Buffalo’s Niagara Square in front of City Hall since October 8 of this year. I am writing for a number of reasons.
October 8 was the day of Occupy Buffalo’s second General Assembly. Approximately 400 people attended, a historic number considering the square’s largely dormant history. No one had, as of that night, slept through one night in a group to formally “occupy” the space. Five of us decided after the meeting to sleep in a group and occupy the space. We had one blanket, a couple sleeping bags, some granola bars, a guitar, and a dream.
It just so happened that local media vans would pull into the square in the wee hours of the morning. And it just so happened that they put the pieces together that morning. So they got out of their van at about 4:30am and walked up to us, who had not slept a wink the entire night. Luke Moretti, Channel 4 News, was all dressed up in a gray suit. And said, “Hey, guys, can we ask you some questions? Can we go live in 30?” Everyone but two of us had passed out and the girl I was talking to didn’t want to do it, so I did. I told them that I had spent the night in the park to protest the corporate control of politics in America. I told them we would be accepting donations to feed and clothe anyone who would come take a stand on major issues affecting their communities. The interview concluded, and an hour later the Buffalo News van rolled up and the driver hung out his open door smiled and said, “You guys made the paper,” and handed us a stack of freshly printed newspapers.
In the “City & Region” section of the Buffalo News on October 9, Occupy Buffalo made its presence known with a story and picture from the General Assembly the day before. Later that day donations and volunteers appeared before our very eyes. And that was it. We were off and running. We decided not to pitch our tents for a few days and just sleep on the ground. On the third day one of our new volunteers, Marco, decided to pitch his tent. We had two other volunteers, a union member and a veteran of the Army who slept in front of his pitched tent. This process continued for a few days. A few more people pitched their tents.
About four days into the occupation, two sheriffs strolled into the square on horseback and asked, “How are you guys? Everything safe and secure?” After a short, stunned silence, we responded, “Um, yes, officers we’re good, no problems.” They smiled and said, “we just wanted to make sure people are treating you with respect.” We thanked them and I asked the main officer if his horse could dance. He said that it could so I proceeded to grab a drum and drum a rhythm while he made his horse do the cha-cha and we all laughed. Thinking back, it was a beautiful moment. A victory, really, that has ushered in countless more after it.
Currently Occupy Buffalo enjoys the full support of the Buffalo Police Department and other major social services. We know by the honks we hear late into the night and so early in the morning, every day. We now hold General Assemblies every day, staggering the hours for convenience: during the week at 5pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. We urge all people in the community to engage our forum for the exploration of democratic ideas and principles. We have about 40 tents up now on two of the four quadrants in the Square. We march on large banks with a presence in the city, we march on local military recruiters offices, we march to other major squares in the city. We march in solidarity with Verizon workers currently on strike for salary issues with their company. New to our forum is the debate over the donation of a $22,000 dome to help us survive the winter. No vote has yet been taken on this donation, and whether there will be one remains to be seen. It is a substantial donation and, in the vein of this new movement’s principles (i.e. no soft money in politics), we urge transparency on this issue. The presence of a 20-by-20-foot dome could jeopardize our position in the movement as a whole and in the community as well. We invite you to come out to our site and ask questions.
Also, we want to invite you to attend our upcoming Police Appreciation Day, on Monday, November 14, with subsequent marches to different police departments in downtown Buffalo. We are very grateful to the Buffalo Police Department for helping us to keep the peace. We are honored to work with them in the protection and improvement of Buffalo, Western New York, and America as a whole. We believe, in terms of police relationships and outbreaks of violence elsewhere, the relationship with our police force is very relevant to the nation.
We want to once again express our solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement for the inspiration to begin what we are enjoying today. Their vision is changing the world for the better and elevating dialogue across all planes on major issues, and without that there would be little hope for the future.
> Chris Phillips, Niagara Square
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