by Jeff Woods
A delegation from Occupy Nashville went to the state Capitol this morning to deliver a letter—what the four protesters called “a gesture of good will”—to Gov. Bill Haslam, the guy who just had them hauled off to jail. With TV cameras in tow, they walked into the governor’s office and read the letter aloud to one of Haslam's assistants, who then accepted it for him. At which point, they said thank you and walked out to meet with the media in the marble hallway.
Two of the protesters—Megan Riggs and Tristan Call—told reporters about their hopes for a Porta-Potty, for help with security, and for a little better understanding from Haslam regarding their right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Is that too much to ask?
"We just want to draw attention to the corruption currently in the government, and we’d like to change it," said the soft-spoken Riggs, 25.
In the Commercial Appeal, Rick Locker points out:
In contrast to how the protesters have been depicted by Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney, the four members of the delegation were professionally or casually attired. Devaney issued a statement Monday calling the protesters “loiterers who would’ve serve their cause better by simply occupying a restroom.”
Devaney also blasted three Democratic leaders who defended the protesters’ rights, saying that if “Democrats want to associate with this bunch, more power to them. Maybe on top of the pizzas they’ve offered to purchase, they might also offer to pay for the decontamination crew.”
Pinned to Bill Howell's chest like a badge of honor was the number 23 scribbled on a piece of paper. It was the number that state troopers slapped on Howell's back when he was arrested along with 28 others on the first night of Haslam's crackdown. Howell has given the scrap of paper a plastic sheath to protect it from the weather.
"I'm No. 23 of the 29," Howell explained. "We're embracing the number. They are trying to dehumanize us."
The protesters said they will welcome young Republicans from Vanderbilt who plan to stage a counter-protest tonight at the Plaza. Here are excerpts from their little press conference:
Riggs: We just delivered an open letter to Governor Haslam on behalf of all of us at Occupy Nashville. It was just a gesture of good will, just to communicate to him and his entire administration and team that we want to be good neighbors, that we are not looking for trouble. We just want to draw attention to the corruption currently in the government, and we’d like to change it.
Q: Why is it important to present this letter today?
Riggs: It’s important to present this letter today to let the governor know right off the bat that we are not here to cause trouble. We are here to educate and to inform.
Q: What do you want? What will make Occupy Nashville go away?
Riggs: Our core values, what ties us all together in Occupy Nashville. We have three of them. One is to remove corporate money from politics. The other is end corporate personhood, and the third is to support the Occupy Wall Street in New York.
Q: Is a Porta-Potty coming?
Call: For those interested in the sanitation issues, our team has been working on that. There may be one here as early as today, though we don’t have the final details. The rain may change a few things. There’s two attempts that have been made. One is to try to get sanitation facilities out of the state or the Metro government. Those negotiations are ongoing. In the absence of that, we have some individual donors who have been willing to cover the cost, at least until that’s possible.
Q: What about security?
Riggs: We have a vibes patrol. It’s just our nicer way to say security. It’s people who are deeply committed to the cause who have volunteered their time and their sleep to stay awake and make sure that outsiders of the group are not causing any trouble on the Plaza.
Call: When we arrived at the Plaza, there were nightly state troopers on patrol there. There’s always incidents in a public space in downtown Nashville. Some of us had not experienced that before. Now we know what it’s like for those at the bottom 1 percent in terms of income, what they deal with on a daily basis. So that’s been a little bit of a surprise for us. … We’re interested in having that continued presence so state government can assist in security. But we also recognize that having more people on the Plaza, we also share some of that burden of security, helping patrol ourselves and make sure that everybody’s safe. We have nightly patrols that do that.
Q: What to you have to say about the college Republicans coming tonight from Vanderbilt?
Call: I’m a Vanderbilt student in the anthropology department there. … Our plan is to welcome them to join our general assembly, to allow them to be a part of that process and to experience this alternative legislative atmosphere. But also we will remind them that as of a few days ago, their protest would have been considered an unlawful assembly and they too would have been arrested. We want them to recognize the effort that’s gone into protecting their ability to do this as well.
Q: Why do you say you want to start anew?
Riggs: When we started the occupation, we really didn’t have any sort of relationship with the governor or the state at all. That’s why the letter starts ‘can we start anew?’ We haven’t been introduced properly. We’ve had no talks at all.
Call: We came to the public square anticipating the right to assembly but not really having any direct conversations with our chief executive for the state of Tennessee. We were sort of left alone for a while, and then we got word that the governor’s office wanted us gone. They made that very, very clear by physically coming and restraining and hauling us off. With that sort of escalation on the governor’s side, we thought all right, we understand where they’re coming from. Now with this 21-day injunction to allow us to have the right to assembly for the next three weeks, we thought it’s time for us to come and give the governor a chance to not do that again, to not declare a no free speech zone, to not declare a no First Amendment zone in this area where we’re having a sustained public assembly.