Occupy Shifts Focus, Faces Threat

For Phillip Greene, a homeless man raised in Claremont, the city’s Occupy movement was more than a few tents in front of City Hall. It was a place where he could receive shelter and food, and a community of which he was an integral part until he died on Jan. 24.       

Claremont community member Mark Vinson-Haller said Greene’s death signaled the need to address homelessness in the city and inspired the members of Occupy Claremont to reassess the general goals of their demonstration.    

But a City Council ordinance forcing the demonstrators to move out of City Hall by Feb. 24 means that the activists’ new plans may not come to fruition.    

Organizer Emma French PZ ’13 said that the Occupy members are planning to meet with the city manager to discuss the possibility of an exemption from the ordinance or an alternate location for the protest. French said that there is a legal basis for an exemption because the ordinance is targeting a specific group of people, which is illegal.        

In December, City Council members and the mayor told TSL they supported Occupy Claremont.                 

“[The City Council is] still very supportive, but there’s a group called the Claremont Taxpayers for Common Sense, and they are the ones who are most perturbed by our occupation,” French said. “Because it’s a small town, they are a large enough group that the City Council’s vote may be swayed by this group.”       

French said that the response from Claremont residents has been mixed. 

“People can be so generous and supportive,” she said, adding that some residents regularly bring them food and coffee. “But then there are also groups who say that we’re a threat and won’t let their children walk by City Hall because we’re there.”       

Occupy Claremont was started in November by several Pitzer students and a larger number of community numbers. The organizers of the movement said that Occupy Claremont is in solidarity with the nationwide movement, but also aims to bring about local change.                   

The movement has begun to focus on foreclosures in Claremont, and the members are planning to protest the treatment of Apple’s workers in China, who are reportedly committing suicide due to stress. Plans are also underway for a vigil in honor of Greene. 

“He was a friend of the movement,” Vinson-Haller said.       

Because of community involvement, Occupy Claremont maintained a presence while students were on winter break.          

French credits Andrew Mohr, a pastoral assistant at Claremont United Methodist Church, for keeping the tents up over break. French said that the students wanted to take the tents down during winter break, but Mohr was “adamant” that the tents should stay.       

Although Pitzer students started the occupation, student support has been waning, French said.       

“I don’t see a lot of students involved and they are here on a minimal basis,” said community member Anthony Ortega, a member of Occupy Claremont and civil rights historian. “Most of the student body at the 5Cs comes from affluent backgrounds, so I don’t see affluence challenging the status quo.”     

Angela Donnelly, a current Claremont resident and a former Oakland resident who attended Occupy Oakland, said that she appreciated the work that is being done and tries to help out whenever she can.       

“I feel as an older person that this movement is very, very important because it reflects the care that I have for my own children and for young people today,” she said. “We need to change to be more compassionate and caring about one another, and I’m happy to help in whatever ways I can.”

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