by Jeff Woods
“We’re going to stand our ground,” says Lance Gomez, one of the dozen or so protesters who were milling around on the Plaza in the drizzly rain this morning.
The demonstrators say they were given an ultimatum last night by the state government: Leave by 8 p.m. Thursday or go to jail. State officials are meeting now about this and promising some kind of statement soon. They are said to be tired of dealing with clashes between the protesters and homeless people, who occupy Nashville permanently and who have been using the state-owned Plaza as their own encampment off-and-on for years.
There have been fights, including one relatively vicious slugfest involving brass knuckles, and this week state troopers were dispatched to deal with reports of “public urination and of two individuals committing a sexual act in public,” Safety Department spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals says. The sex act reportedly was taking place beneath a magnolia tree in full view of a state legislator’s office window. No arrests were made.
Gomez, a 21-year-old college dropout and drifter from Kansas, concedes things may have gotten a little out of control, but he says that’s the way of forward-thinking movements. Dealing with the “stressed out” homeless has hamstrung Occupy Nashville, which started on Oct. 7, and prevented the protesters from gaining much traction in publicizing their grievances against greedy Wall Street and cash-happy politics, he says.
“Unfortunately we’ve been a bit beleaguered by local public issues and trying to find a way to help to alleviate some of those issues, namely the homeless and drug problems, and to cohabitate with the people who have been here before. We’ve been preoccupied with that.”
He says the protesters have tried “group bonding exercises” and “relationship building” but the street people aren’t playing along. As for the public indecency, that’s the fault of certain riff-raff mooching off Occupy Nashville, Gomez says.
“The fact of the matter is we are an open public group so anyone and everyone can come down and participate,” he says. “We’re in a living experiment. There’s a lot of re-learning how to cooperate and cohabitate that we have to do here, that a lot of people are going to have to do if we’re going to have a stronger, healthier democracy.”
TV news is loving this story today, with one reporter breathlessly predicting “a showdown with state troopers.” The start of Occupy Nashville drew some 400 people. Only a few dozen regulars have stuck with it, but this publicity is likely to draw a crowd to Legislative Plaza tonight. Protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement have been pepper-sprayed, beaten and arrested around the country since this all began in Manhattan on Sept. 17. Nashville could become the next ugly scene.