Protesters don't want to interfere with business
In response to concerns from residents and business owners, Occupy Gresham has changed the route of its Black Friday march to go around the downtown business district instead of through it.
'Because we stand with our community first and foremost,' wrote chief organizer Chris Cozzetto on the group's website, 'we wanted to best demonstrate this by changing our plans to address the concerns of our local neighbors.'
Approximately 25 people braved cold temperatures to turn out Saturday, Nov. 19, for Occupy Gresham's first general assembly meeting in the Center for the Arts Plaza. Cozzetto, who is a Gresham resident, noted a few curious spectators and hecklers circling the streets but was pleased with the turnout.
Participants agreed to change the route of a planned Shop Local March, which was planned to pass through Gresham's Historic Main Avenue on Friday, Nov. 25. Merchants and Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis feared protesters would clog sidewalks and possibly scare off shoppers instead of reminding residents to support local stores when possible.
Such concerns lead the group 'to believe that our march might be counter-productive,' Cozzetto wrote. 'While we fully believe in First Amendment rights, we strive to remain respectful and responsible when expressing them. As such, we do not feel that it is necessary to disrupt traffic or business access for this event. This was never our intent. Our march will be a sidewalk-only march, and will circle around the business district, not through it.'
The march begins at 10 a.m. at Main City Park.
Occupy Gresham members also firmed up plans for upcoming general assembly meetings at 2 p.m. the next two Saturdays, Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, at the Center for the Arts Plaza, 401 N.E. Second St., in downtown Gresham.
Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger described Saturday's meeting as 'peaceful with no problems,' adding that officers will monitor the Black Friday march. 'However, I believe it will be peaceful and lawful,' he said.
Cozzetto said Occupy Gresham organizers are committed to the message of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but want to demonstrate it differently than those in the Occupy Portland movement chose to.
Those in the Occupy Gresham movement want a lower profile, to work with the community and to avoid alienating the community, he said, adding that while they believe in their First Amendment rights, it isn't necessary to express one's First Amendment rights to the fullest extent possible.
'We feel that the Portland movement was distracted and bogged down by camping and what their First Amendment rights are,' Cozzetto said. 'They're forgetting that they're alienating the very same people they purport to represent.'
Inspired by protesters who converged on Wall Street, local occupy movements have popped up across the country, in protest to wealth inequity, government corruption and business interests trumping those of workers.
After five weeks of Occupy Portland protests in downtown Portland, Portland Mayor Sam Adams cited public safety and health concerns and directed police to remove encampments at Chapman and Lownsdale squares Sunday, Nov. 13.
Although the effort started in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, Portland protesters allegedly vandalized police cars and threw a Molotov cocktail at the World Trade Center in the days before Adams ordered the encampments removed.
Cozzetto said Occupy Gresham is not interested in setting up encampments or breaking any laws. 'Illegal substances, alcohol consumption, camping, aggression, property damage - these things are not productive to our goals,' Cozzetto said. 'We hope that the community will see that.'
Over time, as residents see that Occupy Gresham is different than the Occupy Portland movement, Cozzetto hopes that the initial negative reaction to it will turn, or at the very least people will take a neutral stance.
'We're not a threat,' he said. 'We're not looking for conflict. We would rather occupy people's minds than people's parks.'
Once residents recognize that, 'I think we have the potential to win this city over,' he added.