For the past few days Occupy Baltimore has been scrambling to prepare for what many regard as an inevitable police raid to evict the protestors from McKeldin Square, where between 20 and 50 people have been camping as part of a six-week-old protest against the inequities of modern capitalism.
On the group’s Google discussion board, chatter has focused on emergency communication, provisions for a new meetup space (the Washington Monument is one of several leading contenders), and such esoteric concerns as whether to take down both of the big tents the group bought a few weeks back, or leave one up in order to get video of the police demolishing it. On Monday, Nov. 21, a call went up to print and laminate the group’s park permit application and post it prominently in the square.
Since police evicted protestors from Occupy Oakland and from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan last week, encampments across the country have felt renewed pressure from civil authorities. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was quoted in the Sun as saying she would deal with the local protestors “at a time of our choosing.” The occupiers say they’ve seen police in SWAT uniforms painting markers on the streets around the encampment, and have been hearing ominous rumblings from trade-union friends who talk to the administration. Monday they resolved to counter the expected reasons for the expected eviction by cleaning up the park and recruiting supporters to call the mayor’s office.
“We’ve been in touch with the mayor’s office and one of their concerns was if we could maintain the sanitation of this area . . . it wouldn’t be a problem,” says Tim McClary, who offered a tour of the encampment while carrying a broom and pushing trash and debris to the edge of the square, where he said city workers would pick it up.
Leo Zimmerman says he called the mayor’s office a little after nine this morning and left his name and number with one of her staff. “I think serving food to people is one of the more important things we do here,” he says. “We’re planning on doing for Thanksgiving, and I hope the city allows us to do that.”
Zimmerman was speaking just outside the food tent in a steady rain shortly after 10 a.m. on Nov. 22. Two city trucks were parked on site, one of then hitched to a big generator, and earlier there had been other equipment on the brick pavement in the square. Zimmerman and others said the Department of Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and other city workers were friendly, and had been using the space to park equipment for some time. A Fire Department ambulance arrived, lights flashing, having been called by an occupier to aid a man who had complained of chest pain.
Zimmerman says the city fire marshal visits regularly and has not found violations at the campsite, but said the Office of Emergency Management has told the occupation it is in violation. The city has said camping is not allowed on the square, but has tolerated it so far.
McClary says he grew up in Baltimore, served seven years in the military, and has held jobs as a security guard and in retail. He says he’s a third-year carpenter’s apprentice and volunteers at Beans and Bread and Our Daily Bread, working with people who have been incarcerated to help them get straight jobs and stable lives.
A couple calling themselves Flip and Lisa showed their tarp-covered feather bed under one of the bridges in the fountain. They have been living there for three weeks, they said, part of the influx of homeless people McClary says has come to Occupy.
McClary makes sure a reporter gets a picture of the inside of the portable toilet on the site, which is clean, before he sweeps a few stray leaves out of it. Walking up the stairs over the fountain he points out the fact that there is no smell of urine, even though people—Occupy campers and not—regularly piss there. He says he and others clean the walls with bleach.
At the top of the stairs, where a bridge connects Light Street to the Harbor Promenade, McClary makes a plea to those who have watched the Occupy protests–and to those who would shut them down. “Become aware of the issues,” he says. “That’s all we’re trying to do down here.”
(Link at right is a three-minute audio file)