Last night I attended the Asheville City Council meeting where the highly charged "camping ordinance" was to be discussed. There were many arguments for and against the ordinance. City Council listened patiently while an impassioned audience expressed their views, which did not always fit the discussion at hand. The audience listened restlessly as an ordinance that is so clearly going to effect them was surely going to be put off to another meeting at another time.
The camping ordinance does have far-reaching effects way beyond the "occupy" movement. As one City Council member pointed out, it could affect the homeless and even people camping out on city property to buy advance concert tickets. Council did a fairly good job of balancing the concerns of those present to stop the ordinance and truly consider the actual "safety and sanitation" issues involved.
What I feel was not addressed, however, was the elephant in the room: where are these ordinances coming from? If you are following the Occupy movement, it is easy to assume that these ordinances are coming from centralized government efforts to contain and eliminate the movement. Nationwide and almost simultaneously these ordinances are springing up and giving the local police a reason to detain and arrest protesters, sometimes with freedom-shaking methods. This ordinance is about more than safety and I think everyone in the room, including Council, knows that.
This is a polarized issue. What Council must ask itself is, “do we support the Occupy message or even the right of freedom of expression at a critical time in our history?” If so, perhaps you can find a happy medium that will allow protesters to continue their plight and not use the cover of safety issues to disband a dedicated group expressing their First Amendment rights.
— Tom Whittington