State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Occupy Harrisburg staying put, cites good relationship with local police

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 29, 2011 10:31 PM

Capitol Police say they laid down the law early – back on that first night when protesters gathered at the base of the state Capitol steps, on commonwealth property.


“I was there at midnight on October the 15th,” said Troy Thompson, spokesman for the Department of General Services, which manages the Capitol Police.  “When we went out, we let them know what the ground rules are.”


One Occupy Harrisburg protester listed the rules as he knows them: No alcohol.  No drugs.  No fighting.


No coming up onto the Capitol steps between 8pm and 6am, when the Capitol is closed.


No flaps along the sides of a tent frame surrounding the protest infrastructure of signs and flags and flyers – although a ceiling flap is permitted.


“Basically, we pick up after ourselves,” said Ed Roberts, who’s been coming to the protest site regularly for about a month.  “There’s no trash lying around, that kind of stuff.  We don’t drink alcohol here, we don’t have fires here.  We do have, you can see there, a kerosene heater, but they said that was OK as long as it keeps us warm, and we’re not building like an open flame.”


A more permanent encampment was tried and foiled in mid-November.  Tents along the Susquehanna River were confiscated by Harrisburg City Police in mid-November.


Any hard feelings seem to have evaporated.  Two protesters say Harrisburg City Police brought dinner to those on Occupy duty for Thanksgiving Day. 


Three people paced at the Occupy site on Thursday, the 76th day of the protest outside the Capitol.


The city of Philadelphia evicted protesters from an Occupy encampment next to City Hall at the end of November, arresting more than 50 people in the process.  In Pittsburgh, the Occupy protesters have been sued by BNY Mellon, whose property they were occupying.  Occupy Lancaster protesters plan to decamp on New Year’s Day, when their permit expires.  They and the city’s police force and mayor cite a good working relationship.


Thompson said there’s no talk within the Capitol Police of trying to end Occupy Harrisburg.  


Dave, a protester who didn’t give his last name outside the Capitol on Thursday, said the group won’t leave any time soon. 


“We’ll make it through the winter,” he said.  “There’s no deadline on it.”


At the beginning of the protest, when dozens of people gathered at the base of the Capitol complex, they would call out to passing drivers to honk, in support.  I asked Dave how long one would have to stand there now to get a passing driver to honk. 


“Oh, watch!” he said, pivoting to face oncoming traffic. 


Not a minute later, three cars honked, in succession.


As they passed, Dave threw up his arms and waved an American flag.  A sign hung around his neck read, “Human needs, not corporate greed.”


A few steps away, further inside Occupy Harrisburg’s open-air forward operating base, stood two other protesters. 


Said Dave, “We’re a rugged breed.”


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