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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 19.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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Occupy Madison assembles at Reynolds Park, organizes via social media and in person
Citizens have launched their own "Occupy" actions in cities across the nation.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

The "delegates" at the Sunday night general assembly of Occupy Madison waved their arms in the air to show pleasant approval of the meeting's agenda list.

One item held immediate consequences for the group: What had resulted from the negotiations between activists and Madison Police Department earlier that day? Would the contingent that had been sleeping overnight in Reynolds Park since Friday be allowed to extend its stay into the week?

Although the question was slated third on the agenda, Bill Fetty, one of the negotiators, let the answer slip early.

"Do we want to tell them about the park now?" Fetty, standing in front of the crowd, asked the assembly's facilitator with his hand over the microphone. After an exchange of nods, Fetty again addressed the delegates, "We do not have to leave the park tonight."

The crowd of some 100 Occupy Madison participants cheered and applauded the news. The group was given a one-day extension. Instead of being directed to evacuate the park that night, they would have until Monday night to tear down and pack up the site, which consisted of a few information tables, food and craft booths, a two-speaker public address system, and a media station partially powered by solar panel.

Following the lead of Occupy Wall Street in New York City, which launched in September, Occupy Madison has joined with dozens of other groups across the country with their own occupation-style protests. Movement participants have raised numerous political issues, but are connected by one overarching idea: Power in America is increasingly concentrated in the richest 1% of citizens, whose influence through lobbying and money in elections stymie the political voice of the other 99%.

MPD Captain Tom Snyder said Sunday night that he has not heard any complaints from neighborhood residents since MPD began monitoring the park Friday. The department's decision to allow the protestors to stay one more day is very reasonable, he said.

"They haven't been loud and they've never been obnoxious," Snyder continued.

Had the extension not been granted, Snyder said protestors who did not leave the park when it closed at 10 p.m. could have faced citations. No one would have been forcibly removed, Snyder continued, because MPD was not going to carry out peaceful protestors.

MPD officers monitored Occupy Madison from the back parking lot of the old Don Miller dealership, across East Mifflin St. from Reynolds Park. On Sunday afternoon, there were at least six vehicles present, including the RV-like Dane County Emergency Command Center, which had a tower-mounted video camera trained on the encampment, panning back-and-forth across the park.

The actions of police officers on September 17 at the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan's Financial District brought the first broad wave of media attention to the movement. Subsequently, citizens have launched their own "Occupy" actions in cities across the nation.

Although attendance at Madison's event was far lower than the heights of the massive protests against Gov. Scott Walker in February and March, the operation is more sophisticated and organized, said Lance Gosnell, a participant at Reynolds Park.

Gosnell said public sector unions coordinated much of what went on at the Capitol protests, using union resources and workers. Occupy Madison does not yet have union backing, though, and has had to come up with its own solutions.

Gosnell excitedly pointed to the group's busy media table were volunteers were updating the group's Twitter feed @OccupyMadison99, with more than 400 followers, and its Facebook page, liked by over 5,500 people. A donated webcam connected to a donated laptop streamed the event online using wireless Internet donated by neighbors. An info tent also provides paper copies of Occupy Madison rules, rights, and services (PDF).

People were dialoging in real time. One man read online that the Occupy Madison group needed to switch from a generator to a quieter power supply. He brought a solar energy panel to the park, which, supplemented with a car battery, did the trick. Thirty minutes after the message for help went out, the protesters had power again.

"We don't have union public relations, but now we don't need them," Gosnell said.

The media hub was part of the press and media work group, one of 13 work groups organized by participants to serve the needs of the occupation. There is a work group that coordinates food distribution. Another one communicates with occupation movements in Milwaukee and Chicago. Another is responsible for articulating the Madison group's six demands.

The decision to create work groups reflects a maturing of the organizing abilities of the activist community that came alive during the Capitol projects, said Christian Hansen, a participant with Occupy Madison.

"We are succeeding in a major way," Hansen said. "This is like cross training for democracy."

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