Rowdy behavior leads to schism in Occupy SLO movement

Umbrella group distances itself from campers because of ‘poor public face’

bcuddy@thetribunenews.comOctober 26, 2011 

Leaders of an umbrella group that spawned the Occupy SLO movement have withdrawn formal support for the splinter group that has been occupying the county courthouse lawn in downtown San Luis Obispo for a week, citing a compendium of bad behavior by people who joined the protests after they began.

“We have officially pulled up stakes,” Pete Evans of Occupy SLO said Wednesday. “Anyone down there (at the courthouse) does not represent” the organization.

Both Evans and Evan Sylvester said some people who latched onto the protest after it began last week “put a poor public face” on the larger movement with such behavior as drug and alcohol use, public urination and fights.

“It’s been a frigging nightmare,” Sylvester said.

But the protest continues in front of the courthouse, where undaunted participants said Wednesday afternoon that the problems were exaggerated and have been handled.

They say focusing on them, as Sylvester and Evans have, is a distraction, as is highlighting the inevitable differences of opinion in what they call a “leaderless movement.”

“When people come together, there are going to be differences,” Maggie Lightfoot said. “We have a bigger message here. We’re not here to fight each other. Let’s not waste our energy.”

Added Lightfoot: “Some people just want to be in charge. That’s not what it’s about. It’s not their group.” As Lightfoot and others spoke on a crisp afternoon in front of the courthouse, cars slid by and drivers honked their horns in support.

Half a dozen tents remained on the greenery, as did tables holding pamphlets. Upbeat participants stood curbside waving signs with such messages as “Who Owns Your Congressman?”

Occupy SLO will meet at 5 p.m. today at Mitchell Park for a general assembly and will try to regroup and reorganize the movement. The public is invited to participate.

The alleged troubling behavior of what Sylvester called a “rogue” group has deflected attention from the larger aims of the national Occupy Wall Street movement, he said.

Those goals are multifaceted, but revolve around the influence of large corporations and their money on governments at all levels. Some protesters nationwide call themselves the “99 percenters” — a reference to their contention that most of the nation’s wealth and its attendant political and economic power are in the hands of 1 percent of its wealthiest citizens.

As a result, public policy makers are out of alignment with what the larger public wants, Sylvester said. It’s hard to spell out these and similarly complex points for the larger public when you have to worry about the anti-social behavior of some hangers-on, Evans and Sylvester said.

Both men were quick to blunt their criticisms of the people who have shown up at the protests and behaved inappropriately. They are, generally, young and homeless.

Sylvester also said he thought that, despite the problems, local protesters have succeeded in raising consciousness in the past week. The movement is going forward, people are becoming aware of the issues, and the response has been “phenomenal,” he said.

Protester Lacey Fortman of Atascadero, who was in front of the courthouse Wednesday afternoon, shared those sentiments.

“We want to be on board with the entire community,” Fortman said.

Others handed out literature explaining “the occupation movement.” The first assertion on the list: “The politics of our government should be shaped by the people and not by corporations.”

They also are fighting outsourcing of jobs overseas, and hiding money in offshore accounts, as well as the legal designation of corporations as “persons.” They want a bipartisan Congress and a closer look at the two-party system.

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