Speakers expressed solidarity with Occupy Charlottesville by wearing red.
Occupy Charlottesville has been going on in Lee Park since October.
With its seats filled and with huddled masses of humanity lining the aisles and anterooms, City Council Chambers had never in recent memory appeared so crowded. But in the end, the literally dozens of pro-Occupy Charlottesville speakers didn't get exactly what they wanted, which was unlimited permission to remain ensconced in Lee Park after their current permit expires on Thanksgiving Day.
Occupy campers and their supporters– one as young as twelve years old– thronged Charlottesville's governing body for four hours during Council's November 21 meeting. When it was over, the mayor said he had no plans to oust the protestors– who have peacefully inveighed against American economic disparity. But Mayor Dave Norris also said he wanted them to relocate, as some North Downtowners have grown tired of the round-the-clock spectacle of porta-potties and about 50 tents in the one-acre park.
However, at least one City Councilor, Kristin Szakos, expressed firm solidarity, even offering an impassioned First Amendment defense of the effort which began in October with a few placards and which now includes scores of people and a nightly campfire.
"For me," said Szakos, "the occupation is speech. Free speech doesn't end af 11 o'clock, and it doesn't end after Thanksgiving."
That's the kind of support that kept the faithful– most wearing some bit of red fabric as a sign of solidarity– under Council's fluorescent lights when they might otherwise be tending their fire under the watchful eye of General Robert E. Lee astride his trusty Traveller, the statue at the park's center.
"This park, this space, has been political space ever since that equestrian statue was put in," said UVA architectural professor Daniel Bluestone. "If you remove the right, the intensity of this community, to exercise their political speech, then I have a suggestion: Let's remove Lee."
Bluestone's speech was one of three that brought a standing ovation, the same number that mentioned Jesus. Only three speakers asked for the removal of the encampment.
One was Elizabeth Breeden, a board member of interfaith shelter group PACEM, who posited a theory that the alcoholics and mentally troubled homeless men who appear to have glommed on to the movement are missing care they need in professionally managed shelters.
"We're being asked to equate free speech with a campground in Lee Park," said Breeden.
Another critic was Mark Kavit, who said he has been hearing from fellow residents including an unnamed board member of the North Downtown Residents Association who laments an alleged influx of "undesirable people who urinate on lawns, sleep in bushes, and are sometimes aggressive." Kavit's unnamed correspondent noted that while some are jobless workers in a bad economy, "Some are simply drunken bums."
That kind of talk moved another North Downtowner to pipe up that he saw no problem with the occupation.
It was also a night for theatrics. One woman who graduated from UVA two years ago with a women's studies degree pulled her speech out of a big red cardboard heart.
"We have a right to be there with or without your permit," the woman said. "It's about valuing personal relationships over material gain. It's all about love."
The morning after the marathon hearing (which pushed the end of the Council meeting well past midnight), Mayor Norris told a reporter that there will be no forced eviction but that the City plans to take advantage of an offer by human rights lawyer John Whitehead to work out an ongoing solution to find a new venue.
"We're not going to go in and remove them," said Norris. "But we're very mindful of the fact that the neighborhood has been very patient and very tolerant."