Even though it’s been nearly a year since they’ve been removed from Legislative Plaza, the Occupy Nashville protesters are not going away quietly, reports the City Paper. More than a dozen Occupy Nashville protesters, including 13 that were arrested, filed a lawsuit against the state in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee on Wednesday. The lawsuit names Gov. Bill Haslam, Department of General Services Commissioner Steven Cates, Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and the Tennessee Highway Patrol officers who carried out the dispersion of protesters on War Memorial Plaza last year.
Occupy Nashville took up camp on the plaza on Oct. 6, 2011, building off the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. The lawsuit specifically takes aim at a set of new rules that were enforced to oust the protesters from the plaza. The protesters are requesting a federal judge to permanently prohibit the enforcement of the new rules.
“These New Rules unconstitutionally limit access by the public to a forum universally accepted to be an area protected for the speech of the governed,” the lawsuit said.
The suit also claims the defendants are guilty of First Amendment violations, due process violations, unlawful search and seizure and unlawful arrest.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state is seeking comment from the public on proposed rules regarding the use of the War Memorial Plaza across from the state Capitol.
The Department of General Services held a hearing on Monday to discuss the rules. The hearing follows the signing of a new law by Gov. Bill Haslam that aims to keep Occupy Nashville protesters from staying overnight on the plaza.
The law prohibits camping on state property that is not specifically designated for it.
Thad Watkins is general counsel for the General Services Department. He said all written and verbal comments will be reviewed before the rules are adopted. He said they will then be reviewed and approved by the state attorney general and sent to the secretary of state’s office where they will be on file for at least 90 days before taking effect.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Several people, including college students, are breaking camp in front of the state Capitol after spending the night there in defiance of a new state law.
WSMV-TV (http://bit.ly/HNDWOj_ reported about 30 people brought sleeping bags to Legislative Plaza and spent the night, saying the new statute criminalizes homelessness.
Protester Jeremiah Carter said the law perpetuates a system in which homeless people are constantly going through the judicial system.
A sign posted at the protest read “sleeping is not a crime.”
Despite the statute, police made no arrests.
While the Legislature is likely to complete its work on a bill that would prohibit camping on the Legislative Plaza Monday night, the enactment of rules with the same objective – launched by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration — is progressing more slowly.
Formal notice of the proposed rules for use of the plaza area – called War Memorial Plaza in the rules – was filed on Friday. The notice and proposed rules may be found here: LINK.
The rules are fairly detailed, running seven pages. There is a prohibition on “camping or sleeping overnight,” the focus of the Legislature’s proposed new law, but the rules go far beyond to address an array of other activities.
The Haslam administration began the rulemaking process after dozens of Occupy Nashville protesters were arrested in October, only to be freed after judge noted there appeared to be no law or rule on the books that they violated.
Following publication of the rules with notice, there’s now a period during which comments can be offered and some other formalities before they can be put into effect.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An attempt to move the Occupy Nashville protest from the state Capitol to the city’s Public Square was short-lived.
One tent was set up on the lawn of the city government headquarters Monday night. Early Tuesday, a Metro Nashville police officer told tent dweller Matt Hammill a local ordinance barred camping there. Hammill packed up his tent and left, according to WTVF-TV (http://bit.ly/yhg6zb).
The station reported the movement might try to get a permit from the mayor’s office to resume camping on the square.
Protesters have been camped at Legislative Plaza since Oct. 7, but legislators are considering a statute that would prohibit it.
State troopers arrested protesters in October, but a Nashville judge ordered them released.
As state lawmakers prepare to move forward this week with plans to evict Occupy Nashville from Legislative Plaza, the Tennessean reports that protesters are considering the idea of temporarily shutting down the encampment on their own as a possible next step. “I think being out here during the winter months is risking people’s health,” said D.J. Hudson, 23, one of the Occupy Nashville protesters arrested during the state’s first ouster attempt in October. “I think we should plan for the spring, keep ourselves rested and return later stronger than when we left.”
Hudson, a student at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, was one of about 30 protesters who attended Occupy Nashville’s “next steps” meeting on Saturday. She said she came up with the idea for the group to strategically withdraw from its Legislative Plaza encampment while discussing the Occupy movement late last year with civil rights activist James Lawson.
The idea was one of four main options discussed at the meeting. Others are staying on state-owned land at Legislative Plaza, the Capitol or another building; relocating to a Metro-owned property; or dropping the government angle altogether in favor of occupying privately owned land, said protester Lindsey Krinks, also a Vanderbilt divinity student.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Workers have installed a new floor-to-ceiling photo collage of Tennessee vistas and landmarks in a hallway between the Legislative Plaza and War Memorial buildings in Nashville.
The collage was commissioned by House Speaker Beth Harwell following her election to the chamber’s top post last year.
The Nashville Republican cleared out the vending machines previously located on the landing between the two buildings to making way for the collage featuring images captured by state photographers that include the gates of Graceland, the windows of the Ryman Auditorium and the exterior of the state Capitol.
The colorful display contrasts with the traditional decorations in the halls of the legislative office complex that are largely made up of faded composites of the members of long-ago General Assemblies.
A federal judge has signed an order indefinitely barring the state from enforcing a curfew on Legislative Plaza, in the War Memorial courtyards and around the Capitol, reports The Tennessean. David Briley, one of three attorneys representing Occupy Nashville, called Thursday’s action a victory for the protesters. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger converts a temporary, 21-day injunction to an injunction that will be in place until the court can fully decide whether the state’s actions violate protesters’ constitutional rights to assemble and exercise free speech.
“Everything we’ve filed makes it very clear that we believe what they were doing was clearly unconstitutional,” Briley said.
The state has stopped arresting protesters, after two nights in October when Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers swept up 49 people. All charges have been dropped, with the blessing of Gov. Bill Haslam.
The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, which is representing Haslam and the state in the suit, declined to comment.
See also Jeff Woods, who also looks back at emails to note that the Haslam administration was providing talking points about the arrests of protesters before the arrests were made.
The AP story on the judge’s order is below.
Chas Sisk, with the help of Sen. Douglas Henry, gets the names straightened out on plazas in the state capitol complex:
State Sen. Douglas Henry, a man who knows far more about Tennessee history than 95 percent of the population, left a message over the weekend to say that we’ve got it all wrong: That vast expanse next to the state Capitol and the War Memorial Building. It’s not Legislative Plaza. It’s “War Memorial Plaza.”
In Session did a little checking into this, and of course Henry is right. The name Legislative Plaza refers to the office building beneath the public square. That building opened in 1975, and the name Legislative Plaza quickly became attached to its roof as well.
But before there was Legislative Plaza, there was Victory Park, a public park that opened in 1925. That park was also known as War Memorial Park, as shown in this postcard that appeared in the recent American Civil Liberties Union’s suit filed on behalf of Occupy Nashville protesters. (The suit, by the way, also uses the name “Legislative Plaza.”)
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee General Services Commissioner Steven Cates said Friday that Occupy Nashville protesters on the Legislative Plaza near the state Capitol has cost the state thousands of dollars, but he didn’t give a specific figure.
Cates spoke to reporters following a budget hearing for his department. He said there are areas of the plaza that have required pressure washing because of a lack of sanitation facilities.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said unsanitary conditions were part of the reason he implemented a curfew and protesters were arrested. A federal judge has since temporarily struck down the curfew. At least two donated portable toilets have been placed near the plaza.
Cates didn’t address the arrests because of litigation. He said the protesters’ occupancy of the plaza for nearly a month has been costly.
“It’s very, very expensive to pressure wash and use solutions that don’t totally damage the surface,” Cates said.
He said there’s also costs associated with protesters running long cords from inside state buildings to power their laptops, as well as safety concerns if “plugs … don’t have the right rating.”