Occupy Denver v. Occupy Boulder: Is the difference in tactics or police response?

Categories: Activism

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If Occupy Boulder and Occupy Denver weren't fully supportive sister occupations located roughly an hour from each other, it would occasionally be tough to tell that they're even struggling against the same system. Comparisons between the two movements often end at opposite sides of the activism spectrum. Case in point: At Occupy Denver's last big altercation, protesters set the camp on fire. At Occupy Boulder's, they went home.

But which strategy is the most successful? In recent weeks, Occupy Boulder has attracted much of the local attention usually allotted to its larger counterpart, despite the fact that its tactics so far have verged closer to political negotiations than outright altercations. But its attempts at an all-hours occupation have been spotty: On January 7, as Occupy Boulder prepared for eviction as a result of the city's new park curfew, their protest lasted only an hour past curfew before protesters cleared the area around 12:15 a.m.

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Kelsey Whipple
On December 20, Occupy Denver protesters started a bonfire in the center of the park and set fire to pieces of their temporary shelters.
At the end of the protest -- a sometimes shirtless dance party involving both Occupy groups -- only one protester was later found on-site: Peter John Jentsch, the owner of Occupy Denver's dog leader Shelby. Released from the Boulder County Jail on a third-degree trespassing charge last week, he is currently prohibited from entering the park because of a restraining order.

Jentsch was the only arrest made in a night that de-escalated without altercation. Contrast this to Occupy Denver, which has, three and a half months in, been evicted from state and city property five times and faced more than ninety arrests.

"The difference between here and Denver is the police force," says Audrey Campbell, an Occupy Boulder protester. "There are less high-tension situations because we're not being brutalized and the police still seem to be more open to us. We don't want that to happen here, but I also know that people are really mad."

Although the two occupations are working closely together, they have faced vastly different responses from city officials: During the day, Occupy Boulder still has tents, and its members attend city political meetings on a regular basis. (Granted, the new park curfew ruling equalized that aspect of the two groups' camping opportunities.) At the city council meeting to discuss the possibility of a park curfew, Boulder officials mentioned a wish not to earn the same media attention as Denver, where they cited photos of Civic Center Park on fire.

The concern there is less aimed at consistent, overnight, 24-7 occupation than the same group in Denver, where the ability to physically live in the park it occupies has provided much of the fodder for interactions between the city and the occupation. Earlier this month, the two even experienced a minor tiff about the placement of the group's Port-A-Potty.

When Westword spoke to Jentsch about Occupy Boulder's possible eviction, he suggested the philosophical differences stem from a different view on relationships with their cities. "We haven't had all the police history that they have, and it feels healthier and more possible to accomplish our goals here right now.

"We still have different opinions and some people are more aggressive than others, but I feel like we haven't yet burst that police bubble yet," Jentsch told Westword.

The night after his arrest, his answer was a little different: "There's a little bit less of a healthy relationship right now, because the town seems to be taking a harder stance now after this park closure rule."

Take, for instance, the process. The thwarted police visit ended with Boulder police confiscating protesters' property (left abandoned when they left), but it will be cataloged and available for pick-up -- unlike Occupy Denver's property, which is largely disposed of in Public Works trucks. In the meantime, Occupy Boulder's focus is firmly away from the camping issue, and protesters are staging daytime events in Sister Cities Plaza.

"We don't have the resources to continue getting arrested, and we don't have the man power to stand up against the police," Campbell says. "We're in the regrouping stages, but we're definitely going to do something. There will be action soon."

Continue to the next page for more information and a copy of Occupy Boulder's recently proposed vision statement.

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