Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Occupy Nashville Kitchen Is Open Again

I wrote yesterday that Occupy Nashville had been visited by an inspector from the city health department and had been issued a citation advising them to close their kitchen because they were serving the homeless population that has always come around the plaza and not just those people who are part of the occupation.  The visit occurred in the morning and there followed many hours in which Occupy Nashville representatives would attempt to discern just exactly what the citation meant in terms of their being able to feed themselves.  In the interim, the citation would be displayed online and there was report of much conversation back and forth between Occupy Nashville and the city of Nashville that made it clear to Occupy Nashville representatives they needed to come up with a plan for how they could satisfy this new guideline not previously presented to them and still feed their members.  There was lengthy discussion of what constituted "catering," talk of allegedly "required" food safety courses, and even if would still be ok to eat a pizza if delivered to the plaza by a supporter of the movement.

At 7 pm last night, there would be a two-hour discussion in General Assembly of what needed to happen and nothing from the kitchen was served except single-serve portions of food brought on site packaged, so as to avoid any potential legal problems before a good system to identify those who could be fed and those who couldn't be fed was developed and implemented.  That's what Occupy Nashville had been told they could get away with feeding to anybody who wanted to eat.  It had even been explained that if an occupant was determined to have given food that didn't fit that description to someone not part of the group (read, homeless person), they could be arrested and subject to up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine.  Legal advisers drafted a proposal to present at GA in order to address the logistics of being able to prepare and serve food on the plaza based on the information available to them after hours of talking that had gone on during the day.

So, you might just imagine everyone's surprise to see this story in the Tennessean when they arose this morning.  According to Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County's Health Department spokesperson Brian Todd, Occupy Nashville can feed anybody they want to, as long as they aren't selling food.  He denied that the kitchen had been shut down and compared it all to tailgating for the Titans and said the only issue was whether or not the food was being sold.  Since food has never been sold by Occupy Nashville, there should be no problem, right?

Except, Occupy Nashville still has the problem of the official citation, the one with the box checked that reads, "Your permit to operate a food establishment in Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County is suspended effective this date," so today Occupy Nashville representatives tried once again to determine what it all meant and what they could do and not do in order to avoid more citations or even arrests or eviction of the entire occupation.  By the end of the day, a curious story would emerge from Metro's Director of Public Food Safety, Todd Crozier.

It seems there should never have been a citation issued in the first place.  According to the explanation given to Occupy Nashville today, "somebody, possibly the state of Tennessee," filed a complaint and requested an inspection.  The inspector sent was new on the job and wrote the citation based on standing regulations, unaware that Occupy Nashville has been granted an exception to the requirement that they only feed members of their own group.

How did this happen?  Representatives of Occupy Nashville were tied up all day and into the night addressing what is now being called essentially a big mistake.  A lot of concern and stress was experienced on the plaza as a result of it all as well.  This is food we've been talking about and people have to eat, after all.  Is it just a coincidence, or is it more hassle from Haslam?  I know where my money would be on that one.

State of Tennessee Governor Bill "We Don't Need No Stinkin' First Amendment" Haslam has left a trail of tricks in the short time the plaza has been occupied as he's maneuvered for eviction.  Today, as we recover from yesterday, we see this article, also in The Tennessean, in which there's confirmation of what we already knew...that the state sat on requests for portable toilets for days before attempting to evict the occupation on the basis of unsanitary conditions.  Now, this week, the occupation has had to devote two days' energy in trying to understand and comply with what is now alleged to have been a mistake made under mysterious circumstances.  Is that the plan?  To evacuate by wearing the occupiers out? 

In the meantime, plans are underway for a festive day at the plaza for Thanksgiving and it now appears there will be no problem with having and sharing food.  There is a page on Facebook where you can arrange to bring something to donate or to come down and share the meal and day with good company.  Assertions from some corners aside, the plaza is a family friendly place to visit and Occupy Nashville would love to have her supporters come to celebrate our common cause and break bread together. 

Family on plaza for recent Occupy Nashville event.  Join us, won't you?