Occupy Raleigh finds new spot for campsite

Group hopes to refocus protest

mgarfield@newsobserver.comNovember 29, 2011 

— Occupy Raleigh demonstrators are settling into new digs downtown - a tent village with a library, kitchen, social area and portable toilet.

This isn't luxury living, group members said Monday as a steady rain began to turn the ground soggy. But it sure beats sleeping on the sidewalk.

Since opening on Thanksgiving, the encampment just off Hillsborough Street has served as a place to eat, sleep and organize while demonstrators continue their daily protests in front of the state Capitol four blocks east.

The best part, organizers say, is that the property owner gave permission for the tent village, meaning occupiers did not have to win approval from city government to use public land.

"Now that we have a place, we can focus our efforts on the actual movement instead of just holding onto a sidewalk," said Jeremy Gilchrist, 34, a regular participant since the protests began in October.

"We don't have to worry about being evicted by police."

But the new site could still face legal obstacles. Raleigh officials are reviewing city zoning rules to determine whether an encampment is allowed on the triangular lot where Hillsborough, Edenton and West streets come together.

"Just because it is an undeveloped parcel doesn't mean anybody can do anything on it," City Manager Russell Allen said Monday.

The Occupy Raleigh demonstrations are among many nationwide held in sympathy with Occupy Wall Street, where people began gathering in September to protest the uneven distribution of wealth and power in the country.

Following a series of arrests in front of the Capitol, organizers sought permission for an encampment outside Raleigh City Hall. But their request stirred opposition from neighboring apartment dwellers and city officials concerned over liability.

With a home base established, members say they can host workshops, guest lectures and other activities to generate support. Last weekend, Occupy Raleigh hosted an informational booth at the flea market on the state fairgrounds.

Property owner Rob Baumgart, a Raleigh businessman, said he offered his land after reading about the group's plight in The News & Observer. Baumgart said he agrees with Occupy's embrace of small business - but does not consider himself a supporter.

"I had a supply, they had a demand," Baumgart said. "That's capitalism. That's the way the U.S. works."

The group is paying monthly rent of $400 for the spot. An anonymous donor offered to cover the cost.

Garfield: 919-836-4952

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