General Assembly – Response to Council letter

Dear Wellingtonians,

This afternoon, Occupy Wellington received a letter (Council Letter) from the Wellington City Council requesting a definite date of departure.

We would like to warmly invite you to a General Assembly at 6pm tomorrow evening in Civic Square to discuss the best way to respond to the Council’s request. It would be great to get as much input from other members of the public as possible, so please bring anyone you think might be interested!

To give some more background on the motivations and goals of Occupy Wellington, please visit https://occupywellington.wordpress.com/about/vision to read our Vision Statement.

If you can’t make it down, any letters, phone calls, or emails of support to the Council would be very much appreciated (emails to mayor@wcc.govt.nz).

In case of wet weather, we will meet in Civic Square then move the Assembly to an alternate location. Please check www.occupywellington.org for updates.

Thank you for your support!

Occupy Wellington

***

Letter to the Wellington City Council:

Dear Mr Poole,

Thank you for your letter.

The Occupy Wellington General Assembly would like to thank you for taking a constructive approach, and maintaining an open and non-confrontational line of communication. The response to your letter was to call a public meeting on the evening of Wednesday November 16th to discuss your concerns and how they might best be addressed. This reply reports the outcome of that public discussion.

Illegal occupation

You state that the Wellington City Council does not support the illegal occupation of public spaces. The legality of the Occupy sites around the country is a contentious issue. While the presence of Occupy Wellington may have changed the traditional use of the public space in Civic Square, we understand that the right to peaceful protest is protected under the Bill of Rights Act, and that this protection cannot be removed by a Council bylaw.

We understand that Council bylaws must be consistent with the rights protected by the Bill of Rights Act, and can only limit those rights in ways that are demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. Legal experts and members of the New Zealand Police have made it clear that this is not currently the case.

The Bill of Rights Act also protects freedom of expression; in the context of the global Occupy movement, this expression takes the form of an ongoing demonstration that is dependent on tents.

We have maintained a positive relationship with the Wellington Police over the last five weeks, and it is our understanding that they have received no complaints related to Occupy Wellington.

Exclusive use of public space

You state that  the Council will not tolerate the “exclusive use of public space by a few people on an ongoing basis.” It is surprising that Occupy Wellington is referred to as an “exclusive occupation”, when openness and inclusivity are at the core of the global Occupy movement. From the outset, Occupy Wellington has been operating as an open community-based forum for public discussion. Great lengths have been taken to ensure this inclusivity, with a 24/7 rotating staff to actively welcome any passersby to participate.

In addition, every effort has been made to minimise the impact of Occupy Wellington on other members of the public using this area. Occupy Wellington have maintained open communication with other groups using the area, and have been extremely flexible in our approach to sharing the space. We have worked hard to ensure that Occupy Wellington activities have not interfered with other events held in Civic Square, moving tents to accommodate Capital E’s Big Halloween celebration and the All Blacks victory parade. We have experienced no conflict with any other group using the area, and have received only positive feedback from these interactions.

Occupy Wellington has organized numerous educational events, all of which have been advertised as absolutely open, free of charge, and accessible to anyone. In the Free University initiative, academics, community experts, church groups, and professionals have donated their time to provide tertiary-level lectures directly to the community. In addition, regular workshops are held, and free meals are regularly provided to the public.

Rather than interfering with the use and enjoyment of this space, we feel that Occupy Wellington’s initiatives have enhanced the enjoyment and use of Civic Square for the wider public, of which we are a part.

If we have failed to adequately communicate the open public nature of Occupy Wellington, we invite any suggestions you might have to extend our welcoming message.

Complaints from some members of the public

We understand that the Council has received a small number of complaints from some members of the public, and a number of messages of support for Occupy Wellington. On site, and online, Occupy Wellington has been inundated with support. If you can provide more specific details of any complaints, we will work to address any issues raised. We welcome any members of the public to come and speak at Occupy Wellington, and can guarantee that they receive a respectful hearing. Occupy Wellington supporters comprise a broad cross-section of society, including academics, students, professionals, businesspeople, and community groups.

Unoccupied tents, on-site washing, toileting, cooking and feeding of pigeons

We appreciate your concerns about these specific issues, and are actively seeking to address them. Because Civic Square is a public space, the Occupy Wellington General Assembly is clearly unable to enforce any regulations on members of the public, but clear guidelines are in place to maintain hygiene standards and care of the site.

A policy has been implemented to remove tents that are not in use or occupied to minimise the impact on the land, with on-site staff in charge of allocating tent space to newcomers.

Meals are cooked offsite at private residences, and washing and toileting on-site are actively discouraged.

In addition, the site is explicitly a drug and alcohol free zone 24/7, and anti-social behaviors are addressed in our Kaupapa and Safe Spaces Agreement.

In response to your concerns, an ‘onsite etiquette’ document will be posted at the camp entrance to ensure this message is clearly conveyed to all newcomers.

Definite date of departure

As an all-inclusive public platform rather than a defined group of individuals, it was agreed by General Assembly consensus that Occupy Wellington is unable to provide a definite date of departure. Members of the public present at the General Assembly felt that it would be irresponsible to close the public forum provided by Occupy Wellington until there is clear progress towards resolving the pressing issues identified in the Occupy Wellington Vision Statement, attached.

We wish to maintain an open dialogue with the Wellington City Council, and hope that you are satisfied with the measures we are taking to address your concerns.

In the spirit of the inclusiveness that characterises the global Occupy movement, we warmly invite you to contact us to arrange a Special Assembly to discuss any further concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Occupy Wellington General Assembly

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