Occupy Salt Lake movement continues after a peaceful eviction

by Tricia Oliphant

Isaac Hoppe, who first became homeless about eight years ago, was on her last limb. She felt she had done everything possible to find work but did not see any results. She was ready to quit.

Last October, Hoppe saw a flier on a light post that gave her new hope. This flier advertised participation in the local Occupy Salt Lake movement that would commence the following day.

“I was pretty close to the end. On October 5, had I not read the declaration on a light pole, I think I would have given up on life completely,” Hoppe said.

Hoppe is one of several protesters who joined the Occupy Salt Lake movement in harmony with the Occupy Wall Street movement on Oct. 6, 2011. Salt Lake City has become one of hundreds of cities worldwide where demonstrators have congregated and camped in an effort to make their voices heard. Among other motives, the demonstrators feel 99 percent of the population is not fairly represented by the government; instead, only the voice of the wealthy 1 percent of the population is heard. This cause compelled people like Hoppe to join the Occupy movement.

“It’s not about blame; it’s understanding that we have all had a hand in getting the world where it is,” Hoppe said.

For more than a month, Salt Lake City protesters gathered in Pioneer Park downtown, living out of tents and sharing donated food.

The protest was challenged on Nov. 11, 2011 when participant Michael Manhard died in his tent.  Consequently, Salt Lake police officers evicted all Occupy protesters from Pioneer Park the next day.

Memories of Manhard’s death, the subsequent eviction, and how police handled both continue to upset Occupy participants.

Soon after the discovery of Manhard’s body, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank held a press conference where he announced that all demonstrators must evacuate the park within 36 hours due to Manhard’s death and sanitation issues.

“We felt it would have been better to have a private meeting [with Chief Burbank],” Hoppe said. “I think it was a breach of trust that he made a public event of the death of one of our participants.”

Burbank gave the protesters too little time to evacuate and remove their belongings and, as a result, many lost their belongings, said protester and cook Raphael Cordray.

Cordray said that two dump trucks and a front loader were used to remove all unclaimed belongings on the night of the evacuation. “It was pretty awful,” she said. “Some people weren’t prepared to leave.”

Although several participants were upset by the short eviction notice, they still offered Burbank and the Salt Lake City police some praise for the otherwise peaceful eviction.

“Burbank does a lot better than some folk,” Cordray said.

Upon evicting the group, the police did not dress in riot gear and did not use pepper spray or other harmful force, as was the case in Oakland, Calif. Instead, they spoke with protesters and stated their options: leave peacefully, receive a citation, or stay and be arrested.

“Pepper spray is a use of force. There are other ways to deal with it,” Burbank said. “When you have a relationship, it works a lot better.”

Nineteen protesters were arrested, Cordray said.

Since the eviction from Pioneer Park in November, some of the participants relocated to where they currently camp at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

At present, only a dozen protesters camp full-time at the Gallivan Center.  This reduction of campers is due to smaller space, as well as a requirement to follow strict regulations.

The no drugs/violence/alcohol policy is now enforced more thoroughly than it was at Pioneer Park, Hoppe said. She has remained among the last camping protesters.

Tougher regulations at Gallivan mean participants can no longer cook food at their campsites or give food away.  These regulations are a result of the poor sanitation concerns at Pioneer Park.

Consequently, participants are in partnership with One World Café, where they eat their meals as well as volunteer their time.

Occupy Salt Lake will be allowed to stay at the Gallivan Center until May, Hoppe said. At that point, the city’s summer activities at the site will start, forcing another relocation for the demonstrators.

Several protesters who are not actively camping at the Gallivan Center meet with other protesters at the Salt Lake City Public Library at bi-weekly meetings to discuss current issues and to make plans.

“We want to work with the city,” Hoppe said.