'Occupy' Organizers Reassure Downtown SP Merchants
Occupy Moore organizers are working with downtown Southern Pines merchants to reassure them that next month’s one-day demonstration will not adversely affect the critical holiday shopping season.
Originally dubbed Occupy Broad Street, the demonstration is modeled after the protests in New York and is scheduled to be held Saturday, Dec. 10, in the downtown park.
“One of the organizers came up with that name because of the way it plays off of Occupy Wall Street,” said Kevin A. Smith, who signed the permit application submitted by event organizers. “Upon further reflection, though, Wall Street symbolizes something that Broad Street does not. Moore County, on the other hand, is a pretty good symbol for the disparity of wealth and access to power that the movement is about.”
Smith added that Broad Street should not be construed as a target.
“I want it abundantly clear that the downtown park is simply a location for us,” he said. “We’re not there to make a scene. We don’t want this to be a bad thing. We just want to present a point of view, and there’s been a good deal of interest.”
Smith spoke Monday with Lee Riggsbee, president of the Southern Pines Business Association (SPBA), to address concerns by its members about downtown parking and traffic flow.
“We encouraged him to tell his participants to park away from the core downtown area where parking is at a premium, especially at a time of year when merchants are relying on holiday sales to carry their business into the New Year,” Riggsbee said. “There are plenty of parking spaces on the side streets.”
Riggsbee added that the Southern Pines Police Department has assured the SPBA that officers will “do their best” to manage the traffic flow around the event.
“They’re going to work with us to make sure that traffic is not impeded on that day,” he said.
Smith, a freelance writer who contributes a column to The Pilot every two weeks, said organizers will encourage participants to park “around the block and not on Broad Street.”
“We want to be good citizens,” he says.
Smith emphasizes in a commentary on Page B2 in today’s edition of The Pilot that the group wants to assemble peacefully and exercise its freedom of speech.
“One of the reasons that it is an all-day event is to allow as many people as possible to participate,” he wrote. “Nobody is camping out. I’ll be surprised (and gratified) if more than a handful of people stay all day.”
Smith said momentum for the nonpartisan event started gathering last month after someone wrote the following sentence on his Facebook page: “Occupy Broad Street?”
A group of 10 people held an initial meeting shortly thereafter, followed by a second meeting earlier this month.
“Our first meeting was at a restaurant on Broad Street,” Smith said. “We want local small businesses to be successful. The last thing we want to do is hurt them. We want to be respectful of merchants during the event, and maybe we will bring a few people to them.”
Town Manager Reagan Parsons said the town “has no reason” to deny the outdoor special event permit.
“It’s in the process of being approved,” Parsons said. “We will require them to follow the rules and regulations of the park, as well as the town in general.”
Parsons called the request “pretty straightforward” because the event will be contained to the park.
“They’re not asking for roadblocks or anything like that, which you might have with an event like a parade,” he said.
Tony Grausso, an organizer of the Broad Street Merchant Community, said he has no problem with the event.
“If these folks are following the rules, I don’t see why they should be denied that opportunity,” he said. “I support and applaud their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. I really don’t see a conflict.”
Occupy Wall Street began Sept. 17 in the financial district of New York City. That protest inspired demonstrations in more than 1,600 cities.
Participants are mainly protesting social and economic inequality, corporate greed and corruption.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at email@example.com.
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