Weeks ago, I began a tour of occupations to help bring FDL’s Occupy Supply fund to occupations on the Northeast coast. I also was there to report on each of the individual occupations I visited. Here is a report on my visit to Occupy New Haven.
I arrive in New Haven just before noon and go down to the occupation around 2 pm on Saturday, November 12. I had just come from Occupy Wall Street, as I spent Friday marking Veterans Day with Occupy Wall Street in Foley Square. Legendary folk singer Joan Baez played a three-song set for occupiers that included “Joe Hill.” Joseph Arthur sang “We Stand as One,” a song he wrote for Occupy Wall Street. It was a revitalizing experience to be with others listening to conscientious music and Friday would be the last day that I visited the Occupy Wall Street camp before it was raided.
The weather is not too cold. The sun is out. I walk on to the New Haven Green, where the occupation is located. There are at least 20-30 tents. Some of the tents on the Green were bigger structures, like the food tent. I search for someone I can talk to about the state of the occupation and am directed to talk to Drew, who is skateboarding on a stretch of sidewalk roped off with caution tape.
Drew tells me that about 60 people are in the camp every night. There are more on weekends. The camp started on October 15. Occupy Wall Street had called for a global day of action and a thousand people marched in New Haven. The group decided to launch a camp and there were many people at the first General Assembly meeting. That meeting was significant, Drew said, because rules of the camp began to be established.
I am informed the city and police have been mostly helpful. There have been a few problems, but the occupation has a permit to be on the Green. The permit is technically indefinite. It was supposed to be for someone else but was modified and given to the occupation instead. They are on the upper part of the Green and not the lower. The difference between the two is the lower probably gets more foot traffic. They were not allowed to set up on the lower Green. The only issue that has occurred was when a fire marshal took the occupation’s kerosene heater.
Drew describes how the occupation is planning to “open up communication and trade” between other occupations in the area like Occupy Hartford, Occupy Boston and Occupy Wall Street. Occupy New Haven has supplies that can be transferred to Occupy Wall Street and they can also help bring occupiers on Wall Street to New Haven because the space they have is huge. (This is before Bloomberg’s raid on the occupation on November 15. In the aftermath, a number of Occupy Wall Street participants do relocate to New Haven.)
Occupy New Haven has held a major jobs march and also a march to Bank of America on Bank Transfer Day. They are taking up labor fights, especially struggles related to Yale University, which is just down the street from the Green. They are planning to take on Yale because, Drew says, “they’re the facilitators that grow the 1 percent in a lot of ways. They are a corporate school. They have a huge hedge fund and invest in things that aren’t really what I consider moral and they have no accountability for it.”
I ask Drew for a tour of the camp and he shows me occupiers that are winterizing the camp and laying down pallets to keep occupiers dry when snow comes. He shows me the food tent, where supplies are housed. He points out a spiritual tent donated by Rev. John Gage of the United Church of Christ just off the Green, who is also permitting the occupiers to use the church’ for General Assembly meetings when it rains. He takes me to the comfort tent, where bedding and clothing donations coming from the community are kept. The police donated twelve bags of bedding that included pillows.
The camp is well-resourced. There is a “socialist” church that is basically giving them a lot of what they need. They hope to get off donations and become more self-sufficient and have a warehouse where they plan to grow their own food.
A lot of the people in the camp are homeless, as they were here on the Green before the occupation began. Many do drugs. The occupation has tried to deal with that and adopted a “Good Neighbor” policy like Occupy Wall Street’s that includes zero tolerance for alcohol or drug use in the camp.
“The rule is just don’t do it here,” explains Drew. “This is a place for all of us.” Some incidents have occurred. The security team has been dealing with a lot of stress. Many of the homeless smoke crack. Ambulances have had to be called for the homeless.
Occupy New Haven is not aiding homeless drug dealing or drug use, but it is boldly working to help those who have drug habits.
The tour ends and I wish Drew good luck with the occupation. The occupation has recreation-feel to it. There are political signs but I could have been at a campground because when I am there nobody is talking about making Wall Street banks pay or standing along the street with signs against the 1%. Instead, there is skateboarding with people jumping ramps, which I have not seen at any occupation yet.
[Note: I do not offer to make any Occupy Supply donations because the camp has most of what it needs.]
I came down to the occupation with Ed Anderson, who lives in New Haven. He shared with me some background on the New Haven Green. Essentially, five people own the Green. The five people make up the Committee of the Proprietors of the Common and Undivided Lands. They are a body that goes back to the days of the Puritans in the 1600s.
Anderson shows me a New York Times article from 2003 on the owners of the Green, which indicates:
In 1638, when the city’s central square was set apart for the grazing of animals and common use, every shareholder of land was deemed a proprietor with a vote about the use of the common land. By 1805, at which time it had become unwieldy to convene all of the proprietors, a committee of five was officially established to represent the entire group. That arrangement was confirmed by the State Legislature in 1810 and has been that way since.
The proprietary group rarely approves erecting permanent structures on the Green; for example, statues.
The proprietors struggle regularly between protecting the green as a place of quiet and repose while, at the same time, allowing it to be a center of activity for the public.
”I’ve never had a group like this in other cities where I’ve been,” Mr. Levine said. ”But they are the glue that holds that green together. They ensure that the green is used as it was originally intended.”
The group elects successors to deceased members. The members include Janet Bond-Arterton of the US District Court, Anne Calabresi, Robert B. Dannies, Jr, Drew S Days III of Yale University, and Julia McNamara, President of Albertus Magnus College. Two of them do not even live in New Haven.
In May of this year, the group had a historic stage where Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, The Temptations and Mavis Staples had once played dismantled. It was considered unsafe by the proprietors and had been there for 34 years. They didn’t make plans to renovate the stage. The five proprietors made the decision to tear it down and it was removed. The community had little to no input on the decision to get rid of the stage.
Anderson wanted to go down there and start a “Take Back the Green” campaign with Occupy New Haven. It certainly seems like such a campaign would be a good one for the 99% to get behind.
While the proprietors are the ones allowing Occupy New Haven to be on the Green, the idea that an aristocratic body making the decisions about a major public square in a city should be unacceptable to residents especially in this day and age. And, if Occupy is about more than economic issues—about democracy and restoring the commons to the public, the New Haven Green proprietors deserve to be targeted.
Interview/tour with Drew of Occupy New Haven