Officials at the University of New Mexico have reversed course in their ongoing dealings with (Un)Occupy Albuquerque and late this afternoon issued the group a new permit that is good until the end of the upcoming weekend.
The new permit was apparently issued after the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union intervened on behalf of (Un)Occupy Albuquerque and negotiated with UNM. In a statement, the ACLU said they were involved in facilitating an agreement between UNM and (Un)Occupy Albuquerque that will once again allow the group to hold their protests at Yale Park, where the group had been encamped before being kicked off university property last week. The eviction last Tuesday night of (Un)Occupy Albuquerque by UNM Pres. David Schmidly led to a tense face-off with local police that resulted in the arrests of more than two dozen protestors, including many UNM students.
(Un)Occupy Albuquerque then asked the ACLU to help them get back on UNM property and over the weekend held a "funeral procession" for the First Amendment because they felt their Constitutional rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom to protest were being violated by the university.
The ACLU did get involved and had considered filing for an injunction in court against the university, but that move was averted through negotiations. "We are pleased the university and (Un)Occupy Albuquerque have reached an agreement that upholds the people's First Amendment rights to use public space to assemble and protest the government," wrote ACLU Managing Attorney for New Mexico Laura Schauer Ives, in the statement released this afternoon. "The ACLU will continue to closely monitor the situation and ensure these rights remain intact," Schauer Ives continued.
UNM Senior Communications Representative Karen Wentworth said the new permit was issued by the university's Student Activities Center, which is made up of a committee of senior administration officials. When asked if UNM President David Schmidly issued the new permit, Wentworth responded, "Dr. Schmidly does not get involved with permits." However, up to now, most news media outlets have reported that it was Schmidly who had both issued the previous permits and denied the permit extension last week to (Un)Occupy Albuquerque.
Regardless of who issued the permits, today's developments mean (Un)Occupy Albuquerque can once again hold their public protests at the small grassy area known as Yale Park, which straddles Central Avenue, the busiest street in the city of Albuquerque. The new permit comes with more restrictions than the previous ones, however. Under the conditions of the new permit, (Un)Occupy Albuquerque can hold their protests on UNM property from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. between tonight and Friday and between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday. After Sunday, (Un)Occupy Albuquerque will have to re-apply for an extension, Wentworth said.
Wentworth also defended the university's stance on defending the First Amendment rights of citizens. "We have always supported the rights of free speech," she said. As of this writing, Digital Journal was unable to reach members of (Un)Occupy Albuquerque for comment, but we will post reaction from the group as soon as they can be reached.
Meanwhile, 60 miles to the north, in New Mexico's capital city of Santa Fe, the Occupy Santa Fe movement has set up an encampment at a city park near the city's Railyard district. Santa Fe Mayor David Coss said he did not issue the group a permit, but instead is allowing them to hold their camp and protest at the Railyard as long as there are no problems. "They said they were doing it as an act of civil disobedience so I felt they did not need a permit," Coss said.
"We found a balance for right now between their Constitutional rights and a mayor's job of taking care of the city," Coss continued. "They've comported themselves very well. So far, so good."
The mayor said he believes there are around 50 people camping at the park with Occupy Santa Fe. He said he visited the camp several days ago to check on them and there did not appear to be any problems. He said the city is providing portable toilets for the protestors in order to promote sanitary conditions and he said the protestors have been cooperating with Santa Fe police in making sure there is no criminal behavior. With a population of about 80,000, Santa Fe is considered a relatively tolerant and progressive city.