Occupy Richmond protesters have an open invitation to move their nomadic encampment to the expansive lawn of the mayor's neighbor.
Raymond H. Boone, editor and publisher of the weekly Richmond Free Press, offered his lawn in an editorial Thursday with the headline “Welcome, Occupy Richmond.” He said in an interview that the protesters are free to use his lawn if Mayor Dwight C. Jones refuses to allow them to protest on his property, as they have considered doing. The protesters said they feel betrayed by the mayor, who once expressed sympathy for them.
“If the mayor does not receive them or welcome them, then they simply can come over to our side of the property and they can demonstrate their First Amendment rights,” Boone said in an interview on Friday.
Representatives of Occupy Richmond, who have been seeking a home for their movement since they were cleared from a downtown plaza on Oct. 31, said they would meet with Boone on his offer, then meet among themselves later Friday to discuss it.
“We are delighted with his offer,” said Bobbie Richards, 34, a waitress who is with Occupy's “legal working group.”
“We have been trying to operate within the legalities. All options have been closed to us,” she said.
As a veteran of the civil rights movement, the mayor had said he was sympathetic to Occupy's cause. He met with protesters who occupied a plaza in the city's financial district, but days later they were ousted by police in a predawn sweep. Nine people were charged, and a bulldozer cleared makeshift bookshelves and furniture. Dozens of others left voluntarily.
Occupy protesters said they felt betrayed. “We felt he was very apathetic and was only there for a photo op,” Richards said of Jones.
Asked to comment on the Free Press invitation, a spokesman for Jones responded by email with one word: “No.”
Police referred questions about a possible Occupy protest at the mayor's residence to the city attorney's office, which referred the call to the mayor's office.
Boone described his relationship with Jones as cordial. “We have an understanding,” he said. “He's the politician; I'm the newspaper man, the newspaper editor.”
Boone said the invitation is consistent with mission of the newspaper, which is aimed primarily at black readers. It has a circulation of 36,000 and a readership of 136,000, he said.
“We have been stressing economic justice since I founded this paper 20 years ago,” Boone said. “We need to show the same kind of passion for economic justice as we showed for winning the vote, for voting rights. If you do not have economic power, you cannot have political power.”
Boone said a driveway separates his four acres from the mayor's three acres on the city's south side. Since the editorial ran, he said, his neighborhood civic organization has offered to bring food and drink if the Occupy group comes.
Boone said a city police cruiser has been parked outside the mayor's residence in anticipation of a protest.
A Richmond police spokesman, Gene Lepley, declined to discuss the mayor's security detail.
Since Occupy Richmond activists were cleared from the downtown plaza, two others were arrested on Wednesday in Monroe Park on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. Six Occupy Norfolk protesters have also been charged with obstruction. They are among a half-dozen demonstrations in Virginia inspired by the anti-Wall Street protests.
Richards said Occupy Richmond activists were also turned away from another possible encampment within blocks of City Hall. “We are actually looking for a place to occupy,” she said, adding they hope to do so within the law.
As for Boone, he said: “I am willing to do this and suffer the consequences.”