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Occupy Wall Street Negotiations With Downtown Residents Failing

By DNAinfo Staff on October 18, 2011 6:57am  | Updated on October 18, 2011 6:59am

By Julie Shapiro and Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Staff

LOWER MANHATTAN — Negotiations between Occupy Wall Street and Downtown residents are going nowhere — and the community is getting fed up.

After hosting a meeting between protesters and residents Friday afternoon, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin said she is losing faith that the protesters will be able to address residents' concerns about noise, garbage and safety in Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street has been camped out for the past month.

"Despite seven meetings with the community board, a 'Good Neighbor Policy' and a meeting with [Occupy Wall Street] to discuss the enforcement of that policy, nothing has changed in Zuccotti Park," Chin said in a statement to DNAinfo Monday.

"The residents in the area are overwhelmed, and rightfully so," Chin continued. "At this point, I have to conclude that OWS is unable, or unwilling, to address the concerns expressed by the community. We have tried to work with the protesters and to support them, but that support is waning.”

Part of the problem is that Occupy Wall Street prides itself on being a leaderless movement, with a horizontal governance structure in which committees tackle issues independently and then report back to the consensus-based General Assembly.

That structure makes it difficult for any one representative to negotiate an agreement on behalf of the whole, and there are often conflicts between what one representative of the group says at one meeting and what another says the following day.

Ro Sheffe, chairman of Community Board 1's Financial District Committee, who has met with the protesters many times, said he is starting to believe that negotiating with them is futile.

"At every one of these meetings, we sit down with people who seem reasonable and very responsive to our concerns," said Sheffe, who lives on Liberty Street, one block from the Zuccotti Park protest.

"They agree to work with us to address the issues, and then they go away," Sheffe continued. "And nothing at all changes. It just appears that there's nothing they can all agree to that can be enforced."

Last Thursday, Borough President Scott Stringer announced that Occupy Wall Street had agreed to a Good Neighbor Policy to address community concerns, with rules banning drugs, alcohol and violence, calls for respect for sanitary regulations and limiting drumming to just two hours a day, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

But immediately after Stringer finished speaking, an Occupy Wall Street representative took the microphone and said the group had not been able to reach an agreement on the drumming, which is one of the most persistent community complaints.

At a meeting led by Chin the following day, different Occupy Wall Street representatives said the group had approved the Good Neighbor Policy. But they could not promise to enforce it, which left attendees frustrated, two people who were at the meeting said.

And over the weekend, the drumming continued unabated, despite the agreement, two residents said, though a third resident said the drumming quieted after she complained.

Stringer's office did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Justin Wedes, an Occupy Wall Street protester who has represented the group at several community meetings, said the protesters are in the process of figuring out how to disseminate the Good Neighbor rules and enforce them.

"There were a couple of communication gaps that led to a couple of premature decisions...particularly with the drummers," said Naomi Less, of Brooklyn, after facilitating a community relations team meeting on Monday night that addressed the rules.

She said that that the drummers wanted two two-hour blocks of daily drumming during the already noisy lunch and dinner hours, not just one block of two hours a day. The protesters wanted to arrange a mediation involving a representative of the drummers and representatives from the community board, Less said.
"We don't want a few angry people to get in the way of what we're trying to do," she said. "It's a problem because if they don't comply it discredits us [as representatives]."

At a few locations in Zuccotti Park, printed stacks of the Good Neighbor Policy sat in piles Monday afternoon, but protesters working at the press and outreach tables had not heard of it.

"We're just trying to be good neighbors — there's nothing specific," a woman working at the press table said when asked about the policies.

Less reminded people at Monday night's General Assembly to read the Good Neighbor Policy.

"Do not pee or poop in public doorways," Less told them. "I cannot overemphasize how emergent and urgent this situation is. We are under major attack by City Council people and the community boards. It's going to take everybody to watch noise and sanitation."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed sympathy for the residents' concerns on Monday, telling reporters that there was a fine line between giving people the right to protest and preventing others from being taken hostage by those demonstrations.

“I’m 1,000 percent in favor of giving people rights to say things,” Bloomberg said, but he added that the city also has to enforce the rights of those who don’t want to protest.

“You can’t have a place where only one point of view is allowed," he said. “You have a right to be silent as well.”

Bloomberg also reiterated that he has not taken any part in the negotiations between Brookfield and protesters to broker a solution to the protest and its sanitation issues.

“I have not had any contact with [Brookfield] since I talked to them back when they were going to clean and then changed their mind," Bloomberg said.

“They had said to me then they had wanted to have a few days to negotiate. It’s not clear that they could figure out who to negotiate with and what would be something acceptable."

Brookfield Properties did not respond to requests for comment about steps they've taken since deciding not to force protesters from sections of Zuccotti Park on Friday.

Bloomberg was also asked Monday whether he and his girlfriend, Diana Taylor, who is on the board of Brookfield Properties, had discussed the matter at home.

"I'll tell you that pillow talk in our house is not about Brookfield or Occupy Wall Street," Bloomberg said. "The answer to your question is, 'No.'"

While many Downtown residents have quality-of-life concerns related to Occupy Wall Street, a vast majority of New Yorkers, including Republicans, support the protest, a new poll found this week.   

According to a Quinnipiac poll released Monday, 67 percent of New York City voters agreed with the protesters’ views, while an overwhelming 87 percent, including nearly three quarters of Republicans, said that it was "okay that they’re protesting."

And as long as Occupy Wall Street obeys the law, more than 70 percent of New York City voters — and nearly 80 percent in Manhattan — said the protesters should be allowed to stay as long as they wish.

Michael Riley, 44, who participated in Monday's communications team meeting, said he dedicated himself to addressing the drumming issue after speaking with frustrated residents.

"I lived in Lower Manhattan for over a decade. I care about the residents," said Riley, who has been at Zuccotti Park since Day three.

He sympathized with the neighbors' annoyance over the drummers. "They drive me crazy sometimes and I'm a drummer," he said.

With additional reporting by Olivia Scheck