by Garret Ean
Nov 4 2011
Occupy New Hampshire survived four complete nights as an intentional community. The first two in Victory and the final two-plus in Veterans Park had such a spurious air about them. The environment created by the occupation was that of a foreign presence upon a national ground. A presence foreign in that it was a horizontally organized competitor to the established order in Manchester. And while the occupiers were claiming no ground but that which they’d camped upon (and demonstrated a willingness to shuffle between parks to accommodate previously scheduled events), it still seemed so apparent, and would be confirmed through arrests, that there was something fundamentally challenging to the status quo by people camping out in a park that they are forced to pay for.
I spent two long periods of time at the occupation during its roughly 108 hour lifespan, which ran from noon Saturday, October 15 until almost midnight on the morning of Thursday, October 20. On Monday afternoon, I first arrived at the encampment in Victory Park moments before a scheduled march was to begin. Planning on chalking at some point along the route, I decided I had already made myself just as much a participant as a journalistic observer. With a friend, I traded chalk for a black flag, which was an easier prop to juggle alongside a camera than the less durable Crayola boxes.
I did not participate in chants, the primary reason being so as not to muddle the audio. Chants are strong indicators of a group’s ideological orientation, to the extent that one exists. Along the course of the march route, the use of chants would divide some of the occupiers until new, less controversial chants were selected. See an occupier object to pro-tax chanting in the embedded video at 3:50.
On Tuesday evening, the night before the crackdown, I occupied Veterans Park until a few hours before dawn with about a dozen other people. There were more (I was told near twenty) who were asleep in tents while the security provided by the vertical occupation kept their eyes open in the dark cold. All the while that the occupation occurred, there was food available, and often a server present for heated items.
Between 11:00pm and 7:00am, the hours of the curfew, an added level of security was necessary. At any moment, it was possible that the police could have staged an eviction. In addition to protecting those sleeping from being vulnerable to common criminals, a vertical overnight occupation was necessary to curb any possible actions by police, seizing an opportunity to claim the territory whilst their opponents slept. Cameras, along with the presence of peaceful observers, tend to have a chilling effect upon abusive policing. In the late night calm, I walked the perimeter of Veterans Park with my tripod mounted on my shoulder. It gave additionally deeper significance to the adage, ‘the camera is the new gun’. To those present, we occupied the ground with no decided issue as of then but the universally acknowledged right to be there, to gather and exist. There seems to me nothing that could be less offensive than one’s mere presence. Curfew laws are a mala prohibitum of the most baseless form, the decree that you are not allowed to be present at one time over another. The reasons are not logistical, in the interest of sharing space, but simply a prohibition on one’s ability to be active at night. The upcoming legal cases of the many cited for the curfew violation will give New Hampshire courts’ a question to consider: Whether the right of people to peacefully assemble extends into the emptiest hours of the night.