Occupy protesters take council to task

Protester Derwin Smith (standing, right) shouts his message at Dunedin city councillors yesterday, while fellow protesters (from left) Kieren Trass, Mark McPherson, Feather Shaw and Burt Holmes (standing) look on. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Protester Derwin Smith (standing, right) shouts his message at Dunedin city councillors yesterday, while fellow protesters (from left) Kieren Trass, Mark McPherson, Feather Shaw and Burt Holmes (standing) look on. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Representatives of the Occupy Dunedin protesters had their 10 minutes in front of the Dunedin City Council yesterday, with their message veering from international to local issues during moments of theatre.

While four of the protesters read from a document developed in the United States to explain their concerns, socialist activist Derwin Smith brought up Dunedin's stadium and the city's sewerage and drainage systems..

About 10 of the protesters crossed the road from the Octagon, where up to 100 at various times have camped out in a local reproduction of a global phenomenon opposing corporate greed, social inequality, free-market economics and environmental issues.

They turned up at a council public forum in the Municipal Chambers, along with two children and a dog, and began by reading from a "Declaration of the Occupation of New York City", which raised issues of corporate forces taking homes through "an illegal foreclosure process", bailouts from taxpayers, perpetuated inequality and discrimination, and a poisoned food supply.

Mr Smith then began shouting at councillors, saying there was a "flood of discontent" in Dunedin, with the council spending millions of dollars on the Forsyth Barr Stadium when, he said, drainage and sewerage systems did not work.

"Most of you live on the hill," he told councillors.

Protesters, though, lived in areas like North or South Dunedin, where he claimed infrastructure did not work.

The dog brought in by one protester responded to his speech by barking in support.

Burt Holmes then told the meeting the forum was "inadequate" for responding to any questions councillors may have, before the group began chanting and left the meeting.

Committee chairman Cr Lee Vandervis described the decision to leave before the usual question time as "a shame".

"I certainly had one or two questions."

One of those was how long the protesters wanted to "monopolise" the space he said was for all residents of Dunedin.

Cr Andrew Noone said he was concerned about the comments about city drainage, and wondered if Mr Smith was aware of the council's phone number for notifying it of any problems.

Mr Holmes said after the meeting the group's meeting later in the day would be a better forum for questions, as not all the protesters could attend the council forum, and the collective assembly of the Octagon group had decided last night "that would be better".

Asked if the event had affected how councillors viewed the group, Mr Cull said it may have put some off.

Asked his opinion of yesterday's meeting, Mr Cull said: "I think there are some very sincere and deeply-held opinions being expressed." "But I expect some people there are a bit angry."

There had been an informal discussion after the meeting about how long the protesters should be allowed to stay, but no decision had been made, and there was no timetable for a decision.

The council would "listen respectfully" to protesters, but had to consider the issue on behalf of all the people of the city.

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

 

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