The protests known as Occupy Wall Street has come to Baltimore, spawning a movement known as OccupyBaltimore. In recent days, Occupy Wall Street has begun to take off across the country. It has grown to the point where the movement is increasingly becoming known as Occupy Together or simply Occupy, reflecting the way it has spilled over the borders of New York City. OccupyBaltimore is the latest to crop up. The movement gained traction after videos of allegedly peaceful female protesters were apparently pepper sprayed without provocation and 700 protesters were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1st.
Meetings were held this week at St. John’s United Methodist Church, which also occasionally hosts rock concerts. The protesters in Baltimore considered the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon, a large column standing in the middle of the city, and the Baltimore Development Corporation as sites for the protest. However, they ultimately settled on McKeldin Square, the harbor’s designated Free Speech Zone. The Square, located in the Inner Harbor in Baltimore’s downtown, sits at the corner of Pratt and Light. The Harbor was the site of a revitalization project in the eighties and is one of Baltimore’s biggest tourist attractions, where the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center are located.
OccupyBaltimore is also drawn to the Inner Harbor due to the area’s abysmal record on free speech. Several recent incidents have caused the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the city. The city police tried to eject protesters holding “Peace is Patriotic” signs from McKeldin Square in 2009, threatened to arrest a schoolteacher handing out leaflets on vegetarianism in May, and arrested an artist trying to sell his work last month.
OccupyBaltimore suffers from the same criticisms as the rest of the Occupy movements–largely that they are unorganized, and that what they stand for is unclear. They have released lists of demands, but they vary widely and range from open borders, free education, and the banning of credit reporting agencies to a list of government reforms that include removing personhood status from corporations, re-establishing fair taxation laws, and prosecution for those they see as Wall Street criminals.
Baltimore differs wildly from New York City. It is a city that has struggled with deep poverty and inequity for years, even before the recession. OccupyBaltimore begins today. Whether the protests will focus on the same nationwide issues or whether the protesters will focus on the issues at play in the city remains to be seen.