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Occupy Wall Street protest to begin in RI

By Erika Niedowski
Associated Press / October 14, 2011

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—The group Occupy Providence says it is set to begin its occupation of a city park on Saturday in an effort to "give voice" to Rhode Islanders it says have been disenfranchised as corporate interests have become more powerful.

The group said in a mission statement released earlier this week that it intends to gather in Burnside Park, not far from City Hall, for as long as it takes "to build a society by, for and of the people."

"The `occupation' of Burnside Park is an act of free speech which we feel compelled to resort to in order to have our voice heard," the statement says.

A core group of organizers has been meeting for nearly two weeks to plan the occupation, inspired by protests on Wall Street. A march is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m., followed by an encampment at the park.

Two Occupy Providence activists met with Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare and other officials Thursday to discuss the event. According to activist Ray Hagerty, who attended, the meeting was "cordial" and "very productive." He said Pare offered to waive the permit fees and application process and "accommodate" the protest, meaning the protesters could camp overnight in tents and use propane grills.

"Essentially we have the city's support," Hagerty told an Occupy Providence General Assembly meeting Thursday night. "There's no reason for any antagonism."

But some activists were skeptical, saying elected officials in other cities where Occupy movements have sprung up had suggested support, but then encampments were later broken down by police.

About 140 people were arrested in Boston early Tuesday morning after they refused to move from a park downtown when police ordered them to leave. The city had granted Occupy Boston protesters permission to use another nearby park where they still are encamped, but some wanted to expand their camp to the second park.

Pare said Friday the activists he met with on Thursday have since told him they are no longer involved with the movement. He said another person associated with the protest, Michael McCarthy, has introduced himself as a contact for the group. Pare planned to attend a 5 p.m. meeting on Friday organized by the activists.

"Our mission is the same - to allow a peaceful conversation and discussion without having to arrest anyone," said Pare.

He added he's been informed the protesters expect to stay at Burnside for 24 to 48 hours before moving to another site. The group is not pulling a permit to set up in the park and expects no more than 200 people to camp out, Pare said.

McCarthy said no one has left the movement, but some have recused themselves or taken time off. He added the group did not approve plans to move from Burnside Park before fulfilling its mission or agree on a backup plan if the encampment does not work out.

Jennifer Smith, site manager for the Roger Williams National Memorial Park in Providence, said a representative from Occupy Providence has also been in touch with her. She said the activists would need a permit to camp out at the park and that no logistical details have been hammered out.

"It's very much, from my perspective, conceptual," she said.

Jared Paul, who is part of Occupy Providence's "Direct Action" team, says he's moving to the park come Saturday; he has even sublet his apartment.

Speaking at Thursday's general assembly meeting, at which activists hold discussions, Paul said participants need to be "ready for whatever happens when they try to sweep us on night 3 or 4."

Pare said he will communicate with the protesters if their occupation lasts longer than predicted.

"We've allowed them to use the public park and that has to come to an end eventually," he said.

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Associated Press Writer Laura Crimaldi contributed to this report.