In the staring contest between the Occupy Wall Street protesters and New York City, Mayor Bloomberg blinked first, deciding that the occupiers didn't represent the kind of safety crisis Brookfield Office Properties, the owners of protest epicenter Zucotti Park, described in its letter to the NYC police commissioner. The protesters can now stay, much as Bloomberg first promised days before.
That's nice. But other protests nationwide end up organizing under the shadow of eviction for the same reasons: public safety, cleanliness, and so forth. In Raleigh, for example, a protest organized for October 15 is allowed on the State Capitol grounds for only four hours because the state, after laying off half its capitol police force, says it cannot guarantee protestors' safety.
The problem with that claim is it doesn't hold up under simple analysis. It's a question, after all, of infrastructure.
A protest group is like a city, and it has basic needs. Some of are already provided by the nature of the city itself; some of them emerge. A protest encampment requires no paving, for example, and no other transportation needs. And communications? The protesters
bring that in their pockets. Food and water are as close as the nearest store. Stormwater takes care of itself through the city's curb-and-gutter system, and power comes in batteries. As for things with rechargeable batteries, keeping them running is easy. In Tahrir Square, protesters jacked into a streetlamp to recharge cellphones, andOccupy Wall Street is doing it with generators. Plus, doing without easy power -- like sleeping on the ground -- is something protesters can be expected to be willing to endure.
The only legitimate concerns a city ought to have regarding long-term protests, then, are sanitation, trash collection, and public safety. None of those represents an issue that can't be solved in a ten-minute standup meeting.
Start with public safety. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2.5 full-time officers per thousand people will get the job done. Call the New York protest about 5,000 people, since estimates, though all over the map, exceed that only on weekends and during special actions.
Trash pickup? Brookfield complained about the trash barrels on Zucotti park needing extra attention, which is true -- but an average weekly trash-truck route in my town can cover 850 houses in five hours. Since each household is about 2.26 people and each person generates about 4.6 pounds per day, that means those protesters generate 23,000 pounds of waste per day. That the weekly trash pickup hauls away 61,856 pounds of trash from those 850 houses, which means it ought to take a single trash truck crew just under two hours to take care of that problem.
The only other significant problem the protesters present is sanitary needs -- Brookfield mentioned it, and certainly local restaurants are complaining. But an entire portapotty industry exists to solve problems like this. If, as the Associated Press estimated, only a couple hundred people are sleeping in the park, you can treat the crowd as a daily crowd and estimate the number of potties needed on any number of portapotty websites, like this interactive calculator and this grid estimator. Turns out you can solve that problem cleanly -- no kidding -- with 50 portapotties or so. Throw in a couple of hand-sanitizer stations because that's just polite.
So, then, let's see -- for the 5,000 people we estimate to be hanging around in Zucotti Park on an average day, the problems they pose, at least physically, can be solved by an extra two-hour run of a single garbage truck; 13 cops; and 50 portable toilets. For the thousand folks or so the city of Raleigh expects October 15? Say three extra police officers, ten toilets, and a half-hour of trash pickup.
That all sounds like the kind of problem the average city ought to be able to solve in its sleep. You can file that under "City life -- you never know what to expect," not under, "Sanitation crisis! Release the hounds!" Plus, you'd need to clean up after those hounds anyway.
And if you're concerned that protester and other law-breaking types are likely to ignore decency and convention regarding cleanliness, remember -- the OWS protesters are cleaning up as they can and have even started a greywater system for the water they use to wash dishes.
So. Hard to find a good reason to kick anybody out of anywhere in all that. There may be good reasons to chase protesters away from the site of a long-term occupation. But the reasons don't lie in sanitation, cleanliness, or infrastructure.