Asked to leave at night, Occupy SLO campers say they're staying put

The county has asked members of the Occupy SLO movement, who have been camping in front of the county courthouse in downtown San Luis Obispo for nearly two weeks, to clear out at night, but protesters say they aren’t going anyplace.

“There will be more people here tonight,” said John Jefferson, one of a handful of people present at midday Monday to protest the inequality of wealth distribution in the U.S.

The local movement was in its 12th day Monday. It is tied to a nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement in which protest revolves around what it calls the outsized 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.

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

The local protesters have been a constant presence for nearly two weeks, holding up signs, talking to people, and handing out literature as motorists passing by honk support.

But there have been problems.

Some people have drifted in to the courthouse plaza who are not politically motivated. Organizers have considered them disruptive and a distraction from their message of fighting for economic equality.

Occupy SLO leaders have met repeatedly, including Sunday afternoon, trying to figure out how to handle those persons.

Jay Salter, a county civil service commissioner and former labor organizer, says the apparent rift in the organization shows “the difficulty in trying to put together any kind of movement” and striving for cohesion among the disparate personalities that get involved. Salter has been an informal adviser to Occupy SLO.

Meanwhile, county Administrator Jim Grant has told protesters they are welcome to demonstrate between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., but must stop camping between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

In a notice to the protesters, Grant also told them to stop urinating and defecating on the grounds, discharging waste and using electricity and water from county buildings.

Camping, he wrote, is an “inherently unsuitable” activity downtown because there are no 24-hour restrooms nearby.

As to whose job it is to maintain order at the courthouse, Grant said the county and the city of San Luis Obispo have an understanding clarifying the general areas of responsibility for each agency.

“Basically, the (San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office) maintains the primary jurisdiction for the internal office space, and (the San Luis Obispo Police Department) is responsible for the government-center complex (including the grounds) at all times when the facilities are closed,” Grant wrote in an email to The Tribune.

“Of course, when there is an emergency (the) staff calls 911 and (San Luis Obispo police are) responsible for responding. In the case of the campers, the county and city meet to discuss how to share the responsibilities,” he wrote.

Grant said the county has received “a few complaints that we should not be allowing campers to spend the night on the lawn.”