OCCUPY ACROSS THE U.S.: Protesters, police in Lincoln maintain cordial relationship

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 | 3:00 p.m. CST; updated 5:31 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Editor's note: Missourian reporters visiting their homes during the week of Thanksgiving caught up with Occupy movements in those cities. This is one of six dispatches from the Occupy movement across the country.

LINCOLN, Neb. — The bright-colored camping equipment and vivid, painted signs of the Occupy Lincoln camp stand in stark contrast with the gray office buildings that surround it.

People have protested in Lincoln individually since the beginning of the Occupy movement in mid-September. Independent protestors solidified into Occupy Lincoln in response to the Oct. 15 Day of Protest.

The Occupy Lincoln camp sits on Centennial Mall, one block north of the state Capitol. It has a communal area with tents for cooking, storing food and medical aid, as well as an information desk that handles donations. There are about 20 residential tents and as many protestors who live full time on the property.

The most noticeable feature of the camp is a 18-foot-diameter native American teepee, owned by Bill Hawkins, a local organic farmer. The teepee is furnished with couches, chairs and blankets. It serves as a warm gathering place.

Hawkins said the Lincoln Police Department wants to remove the teepee on the grounds that it is a permanent building and structurally unsound.  

Hawkins disagrees.

"I've brought this teepee down to nature demonstrations, six state fairs," Hawkins said. He estimated several hundred thousand people had been in the tent, and he was once invited to set it up on the lawn of the state Capitol for Nebraska's 125th anniversary of statehood.

Despite recent efforts to have the teepee removed, Occupy Lincoln has had a cordial relationship with the police. Kathryn Lewandowski, an Occupy protestor and student at Southeast Community College, said police officers have been helpful and polite.

"But I’m not going to thank them for not pepper spraying us," Lewandowksi said.

Lewandowski is one of four protestors who were arrested on Nov. 5 for occupying the lobby of a Wells Fargo branch. Tyler McIntosh was arrested as part of the sit-in.

McIntosh said that the Occupy protestors planned and researched before attempting the sit-in and attended civil disobedience workshops.

Lewandowkski, McIntosh and the others were arrested at the branch and ticketed with trespassing and failure to disperse. McIntosh said throughout the process officers were respectful and courteous.

"They gave us like 12 chances to leave," he said. "I don’t think they want to stir up trouble."

Now Occupy Lincoln is preparing for winter and the difficulties of outdoor survival in the cold months. Protestors are stockpiling cold-weather supplies such as tarps, blankets, jackets and scarves, as well as collecting food and coffee donations.

Lewandowski said the best case scenario for Occupy Lincoln is to continue its occupation through winter and into spring, when they begin work on community projects such as gardens.

For now, though, Lewandowski said Occupy Lincoln has been successful in its cause.

"Little actions have added up," Lewandowski said. "It's allowed people to encourage dialogue about the corruption in our government."

McIntosh also said the protests have effectively raised awareness about the economic disparities the Occupy movement seeks to right and brought the issue home for Lincoln.

"It’s pretty obvious," he said, "that this is more than just some hippies."

Next: Occupy Minneapolis

Previous: Occupy Denver

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