Is 'Occupy' Protest Free Speech?

How long will “Occupy Colorado Springs” protesters stay at the corner of Tejon and Bijou? They say they’re not moving till they see change.

The protest’s organizers say they are in talks with the City Council to ask for a revision of an ordinance that says they can’t stay in the park overnight.

Councilman Herpin, however, says he doesn’t know about any such conversations and would not support the change. He told 11 News that at Monday's city council meeting he requested that all the ordinances be equally and fairly enforced on all persons.

Residents in downtown agreed, saying if the homeless have been thrown out of the park, the protesters should be too.

The ordinances in question are 4.2.102, which details that park hours are from 5:00 a.m. through 11:00 p.m. from May through October; 9.6.110, which prohibits camping on public property; and 9.9.404 which also prohibits camping on any park property. Camping is defined as use of the public area for:

1. Sleeping or making preparations to sleep, including the lying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping.
2. Occupying a shelter out of doors. "Shelter" shall mean any cover or protection from the elements other than clothing, such as a tent, shack, sleeping bag, or other structure or material.
3. The presence or use of a campfire, camp stove or other heating source or cooking device.
4. Keeping or storing personal property.

Protesters told KKTV 11 News Tuesday they are not “camping.” Instead, they said they’re “occupying,” and they consider that to be an exercise of their first amendment rights.

They met with police Tuesday to discuss the issue.

An audio recording of the meeting was released by the police department, and an officer is heard to say that the City disagrees. "The City Attorney that we dealt with, we ran the whole scenario by him. They do not, in their opinion, differentiate between an expression of your first amendment rights in order to, basically, occupy that area any different than somebody just going down there - a homeless person - and camping in the park. They do not make that distinction... What their recommendation is to us is that we equally enforce the law to all people. And, if it's a camping issue, it's a camping issue. If it's a park hour issue, it's a park hour issue."

"That's a shame, because it's going to cause call kinds of problems for you guys, for the city. And it's going to put peaceful people in jail," one of the protesters can be heard to say.

Later, a different officer says they "can and will" enforce the ordinances.

Occupy prostesters and police recording via cspd by KKTV11News

Despite the ordinances, protesters are calling their “occupation” permanent. They say they’re not moving from Acacia Park until they see change. Tents and even a makeshift food pantry serve as visual proof of their plans.

Some people in the community have even shown support for their determination, by donating money and food.

Occupy spokesperson Jason Warf says they’re in this for the long haul. "You and I cannot sit down and agree on the solutions. What we need to do is stop the problems first,” he said. “Once we stop the problems then we can work together. And I truly believe even the far right and far left are not really that far off on most issues.”

So far, no protesters have been arrested for violation of the ordinances.

Officers say they’ll only make arrests when necessary. They also tell 11 News they have a team that would typically deal with this type of ordinance violation, but they are currently out of town, and will be until Monday. For now, police say there aren't enough complaints to make this a top priority.

Either way, the protesters say they’re ready for anything. One even showed 11 News that he had the name and number of an attorney and bail bondsman written on his forearm.

From educated conversations to heated debates, people in the community are speaking out about the continuing protests.

Some passersby are honking in support, and others have had face-to-face confrontations. Either way, it seems this protest is doing exactly what it set out to do, make people talk.

"Do you know what their platform is? It's for the destruction of our capitalist system plus they thoroughly believe that the government should take care of them 100 percent,” said Paul Huska, who doesn’t agree with the protest. He told 11 News their actions and beliefs are hurting the country.

Many think they should be kicked out of the park. Others think it's a peaceful protest that should stay put.

"Makes you proud that people can unite and stand up for what they believe in,” said Nique Wilcox, who is in support of the display.

Others said they don’t understand precisely what the group is protesting against, and wishes they had more of a focus. They tell 11 News they feel the protesters are trying to change a country they don't fully understand.

"I think it's a bunch of kids who don't really know what they are talking about and what they are doing and they are just out spending a nice day doing something they don't understand,” said Jim Mundt.

Business owners across the street say the protest signs are not good for business. Some even say they’ve had enough and are considering taking action.

The demonstration began to take shape on Friday, and so far the biggest turnout has been around 100 people. The group remained stationed at the park through the freezing weather over the weekend because they say it is important for people in the Springs to address the issues facing the country together.

Meanwhile, a tent village has also sprung up over the past four days at a park across the street from the Colorado Capitol, with dozens of people.