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Occupy Wall Street Gets A Vote Of Approval, And A Warning, From Community Board 1

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OCCUPY WALL STREET DRUMMERS
Matt Sledge

NEW YORK -- The community board that represents the area surrounding Zuccotti Park voted resoundingly in favor of Occupy Wall Street's right to free assembly on Monday night, subduing concerns that quality of life issues like drumming would turn residents against protesters.

But even as Community Board 1 passed its symbolic resolution supporting "Occupy Wall Street's ... First Amendment right to protest" and opposing "the use of excessive and unnecessary force by the City of New York" against the protesters, members of the board hinted that there were limits to their patience about the movement's enforcement of its own "good neighbor policy."

"There's never a timeline on the right to protest," the community board chair, Julie Menin, told HuffPost before the vote.

"At the same time," Menin added, "our resolution recognizes that there are people and small businesses that live and work right next to the site."

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and City Council Member Margaret Chin immediately released a joint statement hailing the resolution as laying out a "clear path" to solving the contentious sanitary and noise issues the camp in the park has created.

"It's our role to take this framework and make it a reality, quickly," Squadron told HuffPost.

Menin said it wasn't just protesters who were causing headaches -- it was also the police, who have deployed barricades all over Lower Manhattan. The New York City Police Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

Menin also criticized Mayor Bloomberg and the owner of Zuccotti Park, Brookfield Office Properties, for not attending the community board's meetings.

"The city and Brookfield have both been absent, and in my opinion that's no way to have a dialogue," she said.

At a press conference on Monday, Bloomberg said he believed Occupy Wall Street was "deliberately designed" to operate without leadership, "so in terms of negotiating with somebody, there is nobody that speaks for the protesters."

Before the community board's overwhelming 33 -3 vote, several members of the public made pointed comments about the protesters' impact on their daily lives, their businesses and their property values.

Brian Copp, a 56-year-old who lives in the Frank Gehry-designed residential tower on Spruce Street, told the board that the resolution was "shocking" and "misguided." By passing it, he argued, the board was "really encouraging this neighborhood back to its marginal status that it had after 9/11."

He and others who spoke noted that the constant marches, seemingly incessant drumming, and lack of sanitary facilities in Zuccotti Park have conspired to make daily life for those who live or work nearby more difficult.

One skeptical board member quipped that the never-ending construction site that is the World Trade Center is annoying, but "even jackhammers stop occasionally."

Jason O'Brien, the owner of the Trinity Place Bar and Restaurant facing the park, said he was "not against what these people are about," but said, "I'm kind of the sacrificial lamb, I feel, along with the other small business owners." Business was down 30 percent, he said, and to add insult to injury, protesters were using his bathrooms to fill their pots and pans.

Almost every member of the community board or public who spoke said they were sympathetic to the protesters' aims, if not always their tactics. Several of the board members noted that in their younger days they had marched against the Vietnam War.

Susan Jennings, a 47-year-old mother of a second grader who bicycles past the park on her way to drop off her child, said the park had been "an extraordinary experience for her and for me," a place to learn about civil disobedience and civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks.

Jennifer Rajkumar, the recently-elected Democratic district leader for the area, said she lived nearby Zuccotti Park and welcomed "our new neighbors, the protesters."

Daniel Zetah, a 35-year-old member of Occupy Wall Street's community relations group, tried to return the welcome, and acknowledge complaints about the drummers.

"I empathize with you," he said. "I live in the park, and the noise is a lot louder there."

But whether Occupy Wall Street as a whole will be able to address quality of life concerns is an open question. The loosely organized protesters are in the middle of fierce debates over the effectiveness their decision-making authority, the General Assembly.

On Monday night the literary magazine n+1 posted a direly worded but anonymously sourced letter from a protester claiming that "OWS is over after Tuesday," the day of the community board meeting, because of "near continuous" drumming in the park.

That grim prediction didn't come true. But the truculent stance taken by one self-identified drummer who attended the community board meeting, Elijah Moses, showed just how great the chasm is between drummers and the larger community of protesters who would like to make peace with the neighbors.

"I see that there has been some problems with you guys trying to control the drummers," Moses said.

The General Assembly's good neighbor policy states that it will limit drummers to two hours of playing a day, but on Monday night the General Assembly and the Pulse working group, which represents most of the drummers, came to a consensus to restrict the rhythm to four hours a day.

That decision frustrated the quality of life committee chair, Pat Moore, who voted against the community board resolution even though she helped craft it.

"We had an agreement for two hours of drumming, now I'm hearing about four hours of drumming," Moore said.

But even four hours was not enough cowbell for Moses, who thought Pulse had already conceded too much.

"If you continue to ask for two hours," Moses said, "I am not here to cater and negotiate. I'm not here to play tit for tat. What I am here for is to make change, and what I am doing is meant to be playing all the time."

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