How one political misstep left Nashville firmly Occupied

Sunday, December 25, 2011 at 8:05pm
By Steven Hale

Not to be left out of the would-be American Spring — one that began in New York before sweeping the nation — the discontented members of Nashville’s 99 percent announced their presence with a rally on Oct. 6.

On that Thursday afternoon, the crowd on the plaza in the Capitol’s shadow — which, it turns out, is not technically called Legislative Plaza — swelled to more than 300 people. They may well have been inspired by the reports of a 20,000 strong march on Wall Street in New York the night before.

But the members of the newly formed Occupy Nashville group stayed put, claiming the plaza with promises of a continued presence, underscored by repeated chants — “Whose plaza?” one would shout, calling for the crowd’s response, “Our plaza!” Throughout the afternoon, various members of the group stepped forward to address the crowd, making use of of the “human microphone,” a technique by which a speaker’s words are repeated, and thus amplified, by the rest of the crowd.

The short speeches served as a vehicle for the airing of personal grievances and the refining of the group’s main thesis — that corporate personhood and corporate involvement in politics further enriches the few at the expense of the many — an argument encapsulated in their now ubiquitous slogan, “We are the 99 percent.”

Two days later, at a meeting in Centennial Park, they reached the conclusion that it was time to begin their occupation. And so, that night, they annexed the plaza, setting up tents, establishing a makeshift kitchen and even drafting a code of conduct. They held nightly General Assemblies and broke into various working groups focused on more specific goals — a media team to get the word out, a direct-action group to plan smaller, targeted protests, and a security team to keep the peace.

As the temperatures dropped, though, and the group’s resources diminished, their numbers began to wane. At meetings, the remaining occupiers discussed strategies for sustaining the movement through the winter, a prospect that was looking increasingly dim.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, rejuvenation came in the form of a permit requirement and an overnight curfew on the plaza, announced by the state’s Department of General Services on Oct. 27. The policy, which cited alleged criminal activity and deteriorating sanitary conditions as its impetus, served as a siren-call to Occupy sympathizers, local media and suddenly interested citizens. Even those who had boisterously opposed the protesters’ message — most notably, perhaps, former communications director for the Tennessee Republican Party, Bill Hobbs — were drawn to the plaza to defend their right to declare that message.

As the curfew went into effect at 10 p.m., the group announced their intention to defy what they saw as an attack on free speech. As midnight passed, it appeared they might have called the state’s bluff. But at around 3 a.m., after the protesters’ ranks had thinned and the media presence had lessened, 75 troopers from the Tennessee Highway Patrol moved in and, after giving the group a 10-minute warning, arrested 29 protesters who refused to leave.

The following night, the episode repeated, when 26 more people were arrested, including Jonathan Meador of the Nashville Scene and Malina Shannon, a student photojournalist on a class assignment.

That Monday, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger, responding to an ACLU-brought lawsuit against Haslam and other state officials, issued a temporary restraining order, barring any further arrests. The order reinforced the rulings of Metro Night Court Magistrate Tom Nelson, who twice denied warrants for the protesters’ arrests and asserted that the state had no authority to authorize the curfew. Eventually, the state asked that all charges against those arrested be dropped.

Emails later released by the THP and other state agencies would show that troopers had gone undercover among the protesters, reporting on their numbers and keeping tabs on the media’s presence. Additionally, they revealed a concern among some officials, that the force required for the evictions could lead to more fatalities on the roads, as troopers were pulled off duty to compensate for time spent on the plaza. They also included claims of criminal activity and “orgies” occurring on and around the plaza, charges Occupy Nashville members have vehemently denied.

In the months since, the group has remained, though they have returned to the status of an occasional blip on the local radar. They have continued to carry out direct actions, including a controversial demonstration at Corrections Corporation of America and, more recently, a bit of volunteering at the Second Harvest Food Bank. Despite the indefinite restraining order, they have occasionally found new ways to attract the attention of law enforcement, though arrests have been few. 

While Occupy factions around the country have continued to face harsh crackdowns, the Nashville encampment has endured. Having declared multiple victories over the state, their claim on the so-called “People’s Plaza” remains intact. And for the time being, Nashville remains occupied.






Other top city stories from 2011

MCC: Even though the Music City Center has been in the works for the past several years, 2011 is when the 1.2 million-square-foot facility got real. What started out as a large protrusion on Eighth Avenue in January developed into a physical sketch of the massive convention center by year’s end.

MCC (2): A jury found that the Metropolitan Housing and Development Authority undervalued a key parcel of Music City Center land owned by Tower Investments. The court decision determined that the Tower parking lot was worth $30 million, more than twice what MDHA offered for it. 

Gaile Owens: A Former death row inmate Owens was released on parole from Tennessee Women’s Prison in Nashville on Oct. 7 after more than 25 years behind bars. She was originally sentenced to death for hiring a man to kill her husband, Ron, in 1985.

TSU: A year that began with a warning from creditors ended in jubilation for Tennessee State University. TSU interim president Portia Shields’ decision to slash six academic programs and consolidate others was criticized by a “Save TSU” coalition. But good news came in December as TSU was re-accredited for the next 10 years.

WRVU: Vanderbilt-based radio station WRVU entered into a contract to be sold to Nashville Public Radio in June, amid clamoring from the station’s longtime fans who mourned the loss of independent music’s only outlet on Music City airwaves. The purchase is not finalized, though — the FCC still needs to approve the sale in 2012.

—Pierce Greenberg


16 Comments on this post:

By: Moonglow1 on 12/26/11 at 8:14

Moonglow1: I am thrilled that these brave occupiers continue on. Now they need national media exposure. And they are correct in protesting for profit prisons which are financed by taxpayers while
revenue goes into the pockets of dumb CEOs.

By: JohnGalt on 12/26/11 at 8:16

Still waiting for someone in government to grow guts enough to kick these squatters out.

By: BenDover on 12/26/11 at 10:33

Yeah... go though the War Memorial today. It's like a damn Shanty-town of homeless people. It's a demonstration alright... a demonstration of what happens when the rule of law is ignored in favor of kids getting the encouragement from their crazy instructors and liberal parents who want to try re-live the 60's vicariously through their children... though this time with not an inkling of the purpose or even Bob Dylan for that matter.

Sickening. Thank God it's not in the tourist district.

By: JohnGalt on 12/26/11 at 10:51

Great tape on Channel 5 of a couple of female squatters in a hair-pulling, punch-throwing beatdown yesterday.

By: sidneyames on 12/26/11 at 12:06

Moonglow, "brave" is what it takes to be a soldier, a law enforcement officer, a fireman, doctor, missionary, nurse or teacher in our culture. These squatters are not brave; they are so far from brave that it is scarey. And now they are fighting amongst each other. Please do not try to redefine the word brave with these squatters. GET A JOB and then maybe with some planning and dedication they can be one of the 1%. If they have not tried it yet, how would they know?

By: BenDover on 12/26/11 at 12:38

Female bum-fights? Now that's a new one.

I thought the big-haired black guy making all the noise was Al Sharpton but maybe it was Don King.

Someone should donate a kiddie pool and a case or two of jello in light of this turn of events. Would probably give TPAC across the way a run for its money. "Oh that's OK Honey... you go on and watch Wicked... the boys and I are heading up to the plaza to take in a little social unrest".

By: Redbarron06 on 12/27/11 at 6:16

Those idiots are still down there?

Bitterly clinging to my bible, my guns, and my Constitution.

By: Left-of-Local on 12/27/11 at 10:44

More power to them. I dropped off some hand warmers for them on Christmas night. Hope to see them continue to do this vital work of opposition to greed, and exercising of one of the most important freedoms we have.

By: yucchhii on 12/27/11 at 12:26

Peter O To the IDIOT called BEN DOVER: Whass a matter U? Mommy not give you enough attention as a kid? So you have to make remarks that CLEARLY show YOUR LACK OF RESEARCH regarding this matter? Are you just trying to get your 15 minutes of fame? There's a saying, "it is better to be thought of as a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!! Also as some people put a foot in their mouths, you put BOTH feet in your mouth!! You SHOULD "KNOW" what your talking about before putting the words out there!! Is that why you don't have your real name out there? Go ahead, I DARE you to mention something else to demonstrate how much of an IDIOT you are!! I DARE YA!!

By: BenDover on 12/27/11 at 12:56

Look yucchi... I've been up there so you can't bullsh*t me. Over in one corner there's a bunch of idealistic useful idiots with signs and the idea of changing the world with their up-twinkling and such (change for the worse, btw, being ignorant of what the populist revolutions of the past have done for countries and liberty in the past, but I digress).

The event has become a beacon, though, for the homeless who are co-opting the whole thing and are strewn across War Memorial like toilet paper mischief on Halloween except the toilet paper is soiled, if you know what I mean.

I encourage everyone to visit this little Obamaville, that was once a fantastic public mall and tourist site for Nashville, and judge for yourself.

By: JohnGalt on 12/27/11 at 1:48

yucchhii attacks BD for his "lack of research" conveniently failing to cite any specific examples. Obviously his/her research consists only of trying to interpret the old tie-dyed shirts the beat generation wannabe squatters are wearing.

Post facts or go away.

By: Loner on 12/27/11 at 2:26

Looks like there's no fresh "Up For Debate" board this fine Tuesday...I see that my old friend Ben Dover is reporting on his first hand experience at the Occupy Nashville site.

And Galt, the internet sniper, chimes in with a tale that stirs the prurient interests. Sounds like female agents provocateur on catfight's a dirty job....somebody's gotta do it.

"Shanty town"? A mindless demonstration co-opted by "bums"? Well, Benjamin Dover, we must never forget that the word, "demonstration", begins with the word, "demon". And the Occupy Movement has its own peculiar demons.

As a bona fide Holyman, preaching the Gospel of rugged individualism, free enterprise, free markets and such, Ben Dover, you ought to look at this as an opportunity to make converts out of these spoiled pagan babies. They have been misled.

You could pass out leaflets....carry your own little sign....speak into a megaphone....speak to the assembled rabble....disabuse them of their leftist myths....reach the Disciples did....spread the good news of unfettered capitalism.

It might help if you play an acoustic guitar, while spreading the word, Brother Ben....that or work with a guitar-playing partner, while you man the mic.....or the more "green" alternative - the megaphone.... Nashville IS Music City....use the muse.

Good luck, Ben.

By: Loner on 12/27/11 at 2:45

Yucchhii has a chip on his shoulder? hominem....all that and a little preaching about removing doubts about one's foolishness. Sub-sophomoric rantings, IMO.

I see what you mean, Ben. Lots of light....other than being a beacon, as you say, for the homeless who are "co-opting the whole thing". Jesus loved the homeless..I think that he was himself homeless.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for the lone one to come down there and live on the cheap...if only my beloved and venerable DJ-5 Postal Jeep was out of the shop....I'd head South for the Winter....Nashville sounds pretty Southern to me....Spring comes early there.

Now, if I could put my tent on a platform, run some TVA-generated electricity out to it and be allowed to have a campfire in my Coleman brand campfire "device"....for nightly drum circles and to warm the drummers and dancers....then, under those circumstances, I might occupy Music City myself.....for the Winter.

By: BenDover on 12/27/11 at 2:50

C'mon down my friend. I'll buy you a brew or three.

By: localboy on 12/28/11 at 2:31

On point, BenD.

By: Bellecat on 12/28/11 at 7:48

I am behind anyone who can bring attention to the problems with our corporate bought political structure, and the injustices it brings. We should all be behind the people willing to speak out and stand up for all of us.