NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Dust and the smell of pine wafted up from splintering wood pallets as Public Works Department bulldozers cleared out what remained of Occupy New Haven’s encampment on April 18. After more than six months, the occupation of the northern section of the Upper Green in New Haven, Conn., was the longest-running outpost of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New England.
While the city initially tolerated the occupation — with Mayor John DeStefano inviting Occupiers to camp out starting Oct. 15 — city officials asked Occupiers to depart by “mid-March” in a written notice issued March 11.
Members of Occupy New Haven (ONH) took their struggle to continue the encampment to the courts. Their first two attempts resulted in last-minute rulings in favor of ONH; the decisions cited questions related to free speech and to who actually had the authority to evict the Occupiers, since the Green is privately owned but managed by the city. However, a day before the removal, a federal judge denied another stay for ONH, ruling that, while the encampment was a form of free speech, the Occupiers were violating city regulations.
“The past month has been an edgy time,” said Ray Neal, who has been involved with the comfort crew and speaking to the media on behalf of ONH during the occupation. “When you’re faced with eviction over and over again from your home, it’s a little bit wearing.”
The morning of the eviction, 10 Occupiers engaged in civil disobedience, locking arms around a tent decorated with a banner that read: “You can’t evict an idea.” Police removed them one by one, arresting a total of 13 people. The Occupiers arrested were charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with police.
“The city wanted the Occupy New Haven protesters to leave and we came down and made that happen,” New Haven police sergeant Chris Rubino said that day. He described the relationship between ONH and the police as positive — “But everything has to come to an end, and it was time for this to end.”
In the weeks leading up to the eviction, members of ONH met with city officials to discuss an alternate plan that still required the Occupiers to leave the Green and remove all structures. Members of ONH responded with a list of conditions for vacating the Green, including limiting the salaries of the mayor and police chief to $35,950, the average income for a New Haven family.
“The only response we got to any of our demands was an eviction letter,” said Ben Aubin, who had been sleeping out on the Green since the beginning of the occupation and served as ONH’s de facto leader. “Our opinion is that we’re coming in on Yale’s territory… The Yale graduation is coming up.”
Tom Conroy, deputy director of the Office of Public Affairs at Yale, said in an e-mail that Yale had no position on ONH or the city’s eviction.
“Yale never brought the matter of Occupy New Haven to the city, either in support or in opposition,” he wrote.
Participants and supporters organized a variety of protests during the encampment, including demonstrations against Bank of America, the American Legislative Exchange Council and a Morgan Stanley recruiting event at Yale, but ONH’s main focus was on creating a community governed by direct democracy. Occupiers also frequently participated in local actions against police brutality and reached out to the city’s homeless population.
General Assemblies are still held on the Green three times a week.
Josh Smith, who was involved with ONH’s media working group, thinks that the loss of the encampment won’t hurt the efforts of ONH.
“The fact that we no longer have a physical encampment merely changes the dynamic of the protest. We don’t need the camp to press on in our quest for social and economic justice. We’ve educated a lot of people and made our point as to what we want. Now, all we have to do is go and push for it,” Smith said.
17 Occupy Encampments Still Standing
When Adbusters put out the call for 20,000 people to set up camp in lower Manhattan on Sept. 17, few people imagined the people who began living in Zuccotti Park would spark similar occupations in more than 650 cities and towns across the United States. Since then, local governments around the country have moved aggressively to dislodge these protest encampments. Seven months later only 17 occupations remain standing. They are located in:
Huntington Beach, Calif.
Little Rock, Ark.
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
* Received eviction notice for April 30.