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Is Wisconsin about to be 'occupied?'

By   /   October 3, 2011  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Attention Occupy Madison: The Madison Police Department wants to hear from you. They want to know what you’ve got planned.

Wisconsin Facebook traffic buzzed Monday with talk of a sustained demonstration, a solidarity movement called Occupy Wisconsin sympathetic to the protest movement that took over Wall Street last month.

Protests against New York City’s Wall Street and what demonstrators see as corporate greed and class warfare have spread across the country in places like Boston, Chicago and Columbus, Ohio.

Now the wave appears to be hitting the Badger State.

Occupy Wisconsin, according to social networks, plans rallies in Appleton, Madison and Milwaukee in the coming weeks.

Occupy Madison is set to launch midnight Friday at Reynolds Park here, near Lake Mendota, according to the group’s Facebook page. Organizers plan to remain at the park through 3 a.m. Jan. 31, although the significance of the timeline wasn’t clear. Nor is it clear how many demonstrators were expected, although the page has more than 2,000 “likes.”

Brel Nnaemeka Hutton-Okpalaeke appears to be one of the organizers of the Madison movement. Wisconsin Reporter attempted to reach him, but his phone number is unlisted. A family member, Sueanne Okpalaeke-Hutton, said Brel’s cell phone was out of service.

Jeremy Ryan, known around the Capitol protest circuit as “Segway Guy,” told Wisconsin Reporter, he’ll have to miss Friday’s start to the protest campaign here. He said he was in Washington, D.C., Monday, participating in a similar demonstration on K Street. Ryan said he plans to be at an “occupation” of D.C.’s Freedom Plaza for a mass protest Thursday.

Many of his friends, like Miles Kristan, plan to be in place for the start of the Madison demonstration, Ryan said.

“It’s supposed to be a sustained occupation. That’s the only plan,” he said.

Kristan, 26, whose last known address was in Racine, faces misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct for dumping a beer on state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, at a Capital Square bar in September.

Camp protest

If the group is planning a “sustained occupation,” it will need a permit from the city.

Kelli Lamberty, Madison's community events coordinator, told Wisconsin Reporter that no permits had been requested for Reynolds Park as of late Monday. She said the group wouldn’t need a permit unless members plan to camp out, much like the demonstrators in their so-called “Walkerville” camps at the Capitol earlier this year.

Reynolds Park isn’t far from the Capitol, which was “occupied” by tens of thousands of demonstrators, many furious over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill and the limits it placed on collective bargaining.

Those demonstrations, some Republican lawmakers say, moved from tense to violent, with some claiming protesters shadowed them and, occasionally, threatened them. Members of the anti-Walker movement countered that some of their ranks were threatened by Walker supporters.

Madison police are curious about the demonstration at Reynolds Park. Public information officer Joel DeSpain told Wisconsin Reporter that the department is aware of postings from Occupy Madison.

“But we have yet to be contacted by anyone from this group to find out what their intentions might be,” he said. “We’d like to talk to them to see what they’re planning. They are welcome to call the police department, because as this point all we have are the postings.”

In other cities, the protests have attracted handfuls to hundreds since the campaign began on Sept. 17, when a few dozen protesters tried to pitch tents near the New York Stock Exchange.

Chicago police Monday said demonstrators occupying the city’s financial district have been peaceful, and there were no arrests. But hundreds have been arrested, and some pepper-sprayed in New York. Police on Saturday arrested some 700 people on multiple offenses, including disorderly conduct, as demonstrators tried to march over the Brooklyn Bridge on the traffic lane instead of the upper pedestrian walkway.

Wisconsin Reporter's Kirsten Adshead contributed to this story.