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Wednesday, December 14,2011

Time to occupy someplace else

by Kyle Melinn

(Clarification: Occupy Lansing movement members disagree with information used in this column that says the Occupy Lansing meeting at the Capital Area District Library on Dec. 1 was off the record. The information was based on an eyewitness report.)

Occupy Lansing has rolled up the sleeping bags. They 've vowed to sleep somewhere other than frigid Reutter Park this winter so nobody freezes to death. Hopefully, their message won 't meet the same fate.

And, yet, as another day passes on the drip, drip dismantling of the Occupy camp, that is what 's at risk. The extended sleepovers have captured the public 's attention, but now what?

What does Occupy want to tell us? Does getting us off the teat of Wall Street, ginormous banks and the 1 percent mean walking away from our mortgage and living in a tent? Money under the mattress? A return to a barter system?

Should government be keeping families in their homes? Or is working around the traditional political system in order?

I know. The whole charm of "Occupy" is its nebulousness. It has no leader and no stable message outside of lambasting corporate creed and its incestuous relationship with politicians.

But at some point, Occupy needs to mature, enter a next phase, avoid vanishing like the sign-holding man off the freeway. Reducing their Reutter Park residency to part-time status until the snow melts doesn 't get the movement there.

It 's almost guaranteed to turn public opinion against them.

It 's because standing in same location with the same "99 percent" sign and the same tents poking through the same swath of public property raises the question of who the 1 percent might be. 

Can my neighbors and I throw up our tents on a public park of our choosing indefinitely? Will we get our fees be waived? Porta-johns and garbage buckets dropped off?

Or do we need to be pumping a political message that Virg Bernero or some other local leader empathizes with? A message he or she sees getting them political pop.

Overextending Bernero 's hospitality raises valid questions over whether the Occupy movement is benefiting from the same type of political coziness that it is alleging at the root of the 99 percent 's downfall.

Who now becomes the politically well connected? That open-ended permits are issued? That the rules don 't apply to them? 

Sure, there 's a difference between Fat Cat CEO getting special kazillion-dollar bailout love from Congress and Joe The Squatter not getting tossed into the street for popping a tent, but the concept is the same. You can 't advocate for a government that represents "all of the people" by resting your existence on a special exemption that only helps those advocating your political beliefs.

Occupy has successfully raised the specter of homelessness —Exhibit A of corporations putting profits over people. The subject is particularly relevant since our Supreme Court ruled that a corporate computer system, as opposed to a live human being, can boot families from their homes.

But is being the annoying uncle who overstays his welcome an effective homelessness message? Is turning one of the few pieces of downtown public green spaces into a campground the city 's answer? That 's not sanitary. Even the DNR 's rustic campsites have a pit toilet, running water and a fire pit.

That is why Occupy movements across the state and the country are moving away from overnight stays. It 's not because they 're not tough enough to stick it through 10-degree nights. It 's because indefinitely stinking up an entire block is bound to turn public opinion against you. 

If the Occupy people think Virg is going to risk his re-election or his political future by turning Reutter Park into Occupy Park, they will be sadly disappointed.

The movement went in the wrong direction last week by holding an off-the-record meeting in the Lansing public library. These folks need to decide what this is going to be — an exclusive club making decisions behind closed tent flaps or a true representation of the people where all are welcome, including the press.

The group shared some quality going-forward ideas last week — canvassing neighborhoods, circulating petitions. Moving to different public greenspaces so a different universe of drivers can see their tents is a great idea. Even the 99 percent vs. 1 percent volleyball game is a creative gimmick that 'll draw attention.

Also, let 's educate. What steps can we take? The rest of us don 't like the fact that 1 percent of our population controls 42 percent of the country 's wealth. What are their suggestions? Being out front on these issues makes "Occupy" a de facto leader. Without guidance, the 99 percent wont change their money-management or voting habits.

Whatever their advice, my advice is this: Occupy needs to finish its Reutter Park chapter so it can control how its book ends. Staying on the same path means the endgame will be scripted by someone else, likely with a cop's boot in their behind.

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