BY MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
There is a measure of uncertainty over what will happen Saturday afternoon at Santa Rosa City Hall — as organizers of the local Occupy movement prepare to erect an illegal tent city even as police officials warn that they will take the necessary steps to stop them.
The possible showdown in Santa Rosa comes at a time when key Occupy movements around the country are entering new ground, becoming increasingly confrontational, particularly in Oakland, where police in riot gear used tear gas and other non-lethal munitions against occupy demonstrators.
Few are expecting that level of confrontation to take place in Santa Rosa, where for the most part demonstrators have worked cooperatively with police and city officials. But Occupy organizers said they are ready for a different tactic, partly because their movement has begun to flounder.
“We are prepared to be arrested,” said Will Kelly, an Occupy organizer who has had meetings with city officials, including the city manager and police officials.
“They don’t know what to expect and we don’t know what to expect,” he said, regarding the planned action.
City Manager Kathy Millison said Friday that the city respects local demonstrators right to free speech and that she personally understands what is motivating the global protests. But she said that the police have a mission to maintain law and order.
“We have an obligation to the community as a whole,” she said, adding that the Occupy participants are “one part of the community, but we have an obligation to maintain law and order for the entire community as a whole.”
Occupy organizers began handing out fliers this week announcing that they intended to set up pitch tents and that they wanted more people to participate. Kelly said it’s been a struggle to get more people involved in the movement.
On Friday afternoon, Joanna Cedar of Sebastopol stopped by the Occupy site on her way to the DMV office. Cedar, a former Santa Rosa High School teacher, asked Kelly what she could do to help.
Cedar, who is not currently working because she cares for her elderly father and two children, said that while she supports the Occupy movement, she does not have the free time to physically attend the rallies.
“I’m supportive of them because they’re doing something that I cannot do at this point in my life,” she said.
Occupy organizers said they hope today’s turnout will be significant, despite the kickoff today of an occupy rally in Petaluma. Local residents there have been meeting regularly to plan their Occupy Petaluma.
The rally is set to begin at noon in Penry Park, across from Bank of America. Protesters said they want Bank of America and other large financial institutions to stop home foreclosures and to give people the opportunity to modify their loans.
Protesters plan on picketing around the bank today.
In Santa Rosa, police officials said they plan to enforce no camping rules at City Hall.
But he said that he was “cautiously optimistic” that there will not be a serious confrontation today.