While attention was focused on the GOP primary debate in Michigan Wednesday night, rumors circulated on social media that Occupy Detroit protesters, stationed just 30 miles south of the debate site, would be evicted from their encampment at Grand Circus Park at 10 p.m. that evening.
Detroit city signs reading "PARK CLOSES AT 10:00 PM DAILY" were put up in the park on Wednesday, sparking confusion about what would happen to camping protesters that evening.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Detroit Police encouraged Occupy campers to sleep elsewhere Wednesday night, citing safety concerns over high winds.
Calls to the city Department of Recreation were not answered Thursday morning because of a city-wide furlough day.
Occupy Detroit's Facebook page called for an emergency meeting Wednesday night, but an update shortly thereafter revealed that occupiers had been granted a permit allowing them stay overnight in Grand Circus Park, valid through Nov. 14. Their original request of a permit for 45 days was denied by the Recreation Department, which instead issued a 30-day permit dated Nov. 8 effective retroactively from Oct. 14, the first day of the encampment.
John Royal, a member of the Detroit and Michigan branches of the National Lawyers Guild who has been assisting Occupy Detroit with legal questions, told those gathered Wednesday night that most cities have not allowed Occupy protesters to camp in city parks.
While securing the permit should have been a cause for celebration, the nighttime emergency meeting of more than 70 people, also streamed on the Occupy Detroit website, was tense and focused on strategy going forward.
"I can guarantee you that no effort will be made by the police to clear the park [before the 14th]," Royal said.
Yet many attendees expressed distrust that the police would abide by the permit.
Wayne Acciacca, 40, has camped out for a week after riding on freight trains across the country.
"There was a lot of rumors flying. It feels like it's a transitional time, a pivotal time," Acciacca said Thursday morning. "We don't want to feel like we're caving into the city. It's not surprising, now that we're going to have an expired permit, that they're going to enforce it."
"The police have left us alone. They have been very polite," Acciacca added.
The most contested issue at Wednesday night's meeting was what action to take after the permit expires. Some occupiers wanted to request a new permit, some wanted to wait and see what steps the city will take and others suggested that Occupy Detroit move to a new location. Some campers wanted to move their protest indoors, citing concerns about safety and weather.
Kamaray Page, 27 years old, spent his first night at Grand Circus Park on Wednesday. He has mixed feelings about whether he should stay.
"I see the situation from both sides," Page said. "We can't back down when people are suffering."
The question of future plans was left unresolved on Wednesday night, postponed until consensus could be reached at a Thursday evening meeting to discuss winter camping.
Matt Sledge contributed to this report.
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