Lafayette Park next to the state Capitol was never literally occupied on Friday, but the “Occupy Albany” movement attracted a crowd of about 200 for its general assembly in the early evening.
Beginning around noon, dozens of people began filing into the Washington Avenue side of the park for an occupation that is planned to go on indefinitely. Modeled after the “Occupy Wall Street” protests that began in New York City more than a month ago, this was on a smaller scale. Signs were displayed attacking corporate greed and failures of government, the crowd was diverse, the messages were plentiful, the atmosphere was inclusive and a minuscule police presence was taking it all in during the day.
Protesters set up dozens of tents in nearby Academy Park late Friday night, under the watchful eyes of police, who made no attempt to disrupt either the protests or late night campout.
Ron Deutsch, of Greenfield, brought three of his children to the protests on a day off from school for a learning experience.
“They need to see what democracy looks like and this is what democracy looks like,” he said, echoing the theme from a chant voiced during the day. But he was also there to support his kids’ mother, who is a teacher, and they marched around with a comically misspelled sign highlighting the need to pay for education. “We feel like we’re part of the 99 percent and wanted to lend some support,” Deutsch said.
He hoped more people would become emboldened by the “Occupy” protests that are popping up all over the country. He was encouraged by the crowd, which he said was “a great start.”
The start on Friday was slow, with the crowd peaking early during lunch hour as nearby workers came by to assess the much-ballyhooed event. A Department of Environmental Conservation worker taking things in during a work break and who did not want to be identified said he sympathized with the cause.
What that cause was, though, was still not clear, and some of the protesters think that is part of their strength.
“This movement can’t be controlled,” said Eyad Alkurabi, 20, of Clifton Park. “If it has one grievance it can be easily controlled.”
That lack of control went both ways, as he had problems rallying the protesters during a lull in the early afternoon and said desperately, “Come on guys, you need to chant.”
His own reasons for getting involved revolved around social and economic injustices. Alkurabi argued that a lot of people were fed up with the status quo and suggested that the movement had given people an outlet for their feelings. “It rose from angry intelligence,” he said.
Jude Camillo, 18, of Schenectady, was concerned with income disparity, an evaporating middle class and a war-driven economy. The message scrolled across his naked chest was simply, “people not profits.”
Most of the day consisted of free time for the protesters, who encouraged passing cars to honk for their cause, socialized among themselves and took turns being interviewed by reporters floating through the park.
The organized part of the day happened at 5 p.m., when the general assembly was called to order. This was the slow-moving and highly participatory body that governs the Occupy movements. Like its versions across the country, the meeting in Albany was slightly confusing, extremely democratic and capable of accomplishing things at a snail’s pace.
Mike Rancourt, of Troy, started the meeting by trying to teach people about the hand signals that the crowd could communicate with, to avoid interruptions. The crowd tried to take it all in, but still people chimed in and violated the assembly’s structured rules.
After a while, the speakers began addressing the crowd using their “human microphone” method. This required the small crowd to echo sentences from one speaker so that everyone could hear, in what became very challenging with some long-winded speakers.
The only controversy heading into the night was what would happen at 11 p.m. when a city curfew for the park could disrupt the plans for protesters sleeping over. A small percentage said they were interested in sleeping over and fewer still were keen on getting arrested.
In Lafayette Park, which is operated by the state, Trooper William Sprague made it clear that it was “very likely” the curfew would be enforced. Adding, “It’s going to be 40 degrees tonight. Come back in the morning.”
As for the attached Academy Park, south of Lafayette and run by the city, Albany Police spokesman Jim Miller said they had not decided whether they would enforce the curfew as of Friday evening. “There might not be a need if everything is peaceful,” he said.
One of the subgroups of the general assembly, a legal division, had been preparing people for what to do if they were arrested and were going to offer legal help.
The next general assembly is scheduled for today at 5:30 p.m. in Lafayette Park.
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Categories: Schenectady County