Occupy Phoenix takes to Metro Light Rail

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The Occupy Phoenix movement will be taking to the Metro Light Rail Thursday.

Protesters boarded Light Rail trains at various locations throughout the Valley and asked morning commuters to share their stories of foreclosure, student debt and lack of health-care coverage.

The goal, according to a news release, was to "to wake up residents who've been lulled/coerced into indifference."

The larger Occupy movement, which began two months ago in New York and then spread throughout the country, is a protest of corporate greed and widespread economic inequality. While much of the protests have been peaceful, there have been significant clashes with police.

This week, protesters' camps in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park were dismantled and a judge upheld a ban on camping in the park. While protesters said the removal of their camps violated their First Amendment rights, the judge rules that free speech does not include pitching a tent and camping in public areas for months at a time.

Similar crackdowns have been happening in cities throughout the country, include right here in Arizona.

During the first Occupy protesters in both Phoenix and Tucson, dozens of people were arrested for trespassing.

"I think it was a huge waste of taxpayers' money to pay 200 riot cops to arrest nearly 50 people sitting peaceful in a park," said protester Cody Hunt, 20, when he was in court on Oct. 27.

"We were exercising our First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and speak our piece. That trumps city code, so we want to fight it all the way," said Beth Payne, who also spent the night in jail after being arrested for trespassing.

"The 99 percent is no longer willing to have our First Amendment right to assemble violated by the enforcement of arcane laws that result in the arrest of Occupiers for falling asleep in a public park," read a news release that also said the movement is meant to resist, reclaim and recreate.

Occupy protesters said they would gather at the Light Rail stations at Sycamore and Main Street, Washington Street and Central Avenue, and Montebello and 19th avenues to board the trains.

Those gatherings were supposed to begin at 7 a.m., but there appeared to be virtually no Occupy activity at the Washington Street and Central Avenue station when 3TV's Javier Soto checked in live just before 8:05 a.m. Soto said one protester told him Occupy members opted not to gather at that station, fearing potential confrontations with police.

About two dozen Occupiers reportedly were on the Light Rail trains Thursday morning, talking to commuters and sharing storys of the so-called 99 percent.

"Our intention was never to disrupt the commuters and never to disrupt the Light Rail," explained Exra Kaplan of Occupy Phoenix. "Really, this was simply just to create a space to have a dialogue."

A midday flash mob was also planned the entertainment district of Downtown Phoenix. Later in the evening a "teach-in" at César Chávez Plaza will focus on nonviolent civil disobedience, economic and social injustice, and First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.

On "Free Speech Friday," protesters plan nonviolent gathering they've dubbed "Put Your March Where Your Money Is," followed by a rally for economic justice.

It's not clear how many people will be part of Thursday's and Friday's actions.