Occupy Little Rock, An Exploration of the City’s Responsibility

The social nature of Occupy Wall Street really made me think about my postionality in relation to the movement. I am a part of the 99%, but I do not connect with the movement. It is not that I disagree with their points, but as a government major my view is skewed. Protests are the best way for social change, but I do not believe that tent camps are the best option. I think that the camps are causing the movement to lose ground because the camps face conflicts with the city due to ordinance violations. The movement’s interactions with police and city officials are causing unnecessary obstacles to their ultimate goals. The movement’s goals have a much larger implications than city governments. Their issues are not within the realm of the cities to address. The actions that the movement want taken involve state and federal government issues, not city government. But by camping out, the protesters make themselves a issue for city government, not the national and international structures that they are protesting.

Last summer, I worked for the City Manager of the City of Little Rock, Arkansas, where I researched the feasibility of many city projects and was exposed to the operations of every city department. In Little Rock, the protesters have been continuously allowed to camp out since October 17th. City officials and police required them to relocate their camp from in front of the Clinton School of Public Service and the Clinton Library to city owned property adjacent to the main post office a couple of blocks away. Little Rock operates a system of a City Manager and Board of 10 members that represent different sections of the city. Several years ago, the citizens elected to switch from a part-time to a full-time mayoral position. The Mayor remains mostly a figurehead of the city. The City Manager is not elected, yet he is responsible for the all decisions made about the operation and allocation of city resources. I delve into the structure here because the majority of Little Rock residents do not understand how the city operates. I do not believe that an individual can adequately critique or protest a system that the individual does not understand.

The Little Rock Police Department issued the first ticket to an Occupy protester during the May 1st protests for obstructing a public passageway. The City has been very lineate with the protesters, but the city is now requiring the protesters to leave their camp on city property by May 16th.  The protesters are outraged at the notice of eviction, and they are trying to bargain with the City for a new location. A representative of the Occupy Little Rock movement, Adam Lanksy, was quoted in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette as saying, “We paid for the creation of this land.” “We pay your salary, Mr. Mayor.” I do not enjoy blanket comments like this from individuals. I have not checked the public record, but it is commonplace for land to be deeded over to the city, especially small easements and difficult to use land. Also, the residents of Little Rock voted of their own democratic process to pay the Mayor a higher salary, yet he still only earns about half of the amount that City Manager Bruce Moore does. The protesters on May 1st were quoted as they approached City Hall of repetitively chanting “Who Sucks? Bruce Moore. Who Sucks? Bruce Moore?” In September, the residents of Little Rock voted to raise city sales tax by one cent. The campaign to raise the sales tax was led by City Manager Bruce Moore. He has used the tax to create 2,000 new jobs in the City. Most of the jobs receive full-benefits from the City. With the tax, he has built community centers and police stations in poverty stricken areas. The wards of the city with the lowest income brackets are receiving a larger portion of the tax increase than the high- income bracket wards. I believe that the issues that City Manager Bruce Moore is championing coincide very well with the complaints of the Occupiers.  City Manger Bruce Moore along with Chief of Police Stuart Thomas have been more than accommodating to the Occupiers, yet at some point they are duty bound to uphold the code and laws of the City. The only problem that the City of Little Rock maintains with the Occupy Wall Street movement is their desire to camp out.  The City has expressed no concerns about their continued protest. This case is reflected around the country as City governments are forced to address the movements desire to camp. The Cities and the city-employed police force are catching the most public attention and implying the most obstacles to the movement.

My previous employment for Bruce Moore and the City of Little Rock leaves me as more sensitive to the issues faced the City. Also, I have received an offer for one of the 2,000 jobs with benefits created by the sales tax. I also do not live in the part of town that is being protested, so I am personally indifferent to their desire to camp. However, I have read arguments across the country from various city officials that the camps are interfering with their cities tourism dollars, and as a resident this is concerning. I also understand that I am less likely to protest because of the personal impact that it could have on my future employment. Even though the City of Little Rock has been kind to the protesters to personally join the encampment would complicate my job offer or possible future desires to work for other politicians. I am a part of the 99%, but as an individual who lies above the 90 percentile, I guess that I simply do not feel wronged enough by the system to take to the streets. I also do not feel that being above the 90% allows me to realistically relate to the much more serious economic difficulties faced by others. This position leaves me feeling uncomfortable and disenfranchised from the Occupy movement. The economic status has brought social and political power, leading me to believe that the officials that represent me hear my voice and concerns. While this leaves me feeling overtones of elitism emerging, I would like to once again state that I agree with Occupy Wall Street that the issues that they are raising are important worthwhile. The issues that they are forcing onto the global media stage have profound social effects nationally and internationally, and they have selected some of the issues that I believe to be most important for social change. However, I am slightly disappointed to say that I would like to take my voice and opinion to Capitol Hill and work for change from within the current political system.

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St. Lawrence University