LITTLE ROCK — Members of the Occupy Little Rock group began taking down their tents and gathering what could be salvaged of their equipment Tuesday as the city refused to budge on a deadline for the protesters to clear out of a downtown parking lot.
The group has to be clear of its site by 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Occupy activist Mac Miller, who has camped at the city-owned parking lot next to the post office for seven months, said some members plan to submit to arrest Wednesday morning.
"The city decided parking buses was more important than the First Amendment and Section 4 of the Arkansas Constitution," Miller said. "The city, county and state are totally unwilling to negotiate on a public space," Miller said.
The city is preparing for its annual Arkansas Riverfest on Memorial Day weekend, and uses the parking lot for overflow bus parking. It also uses the site for parking during other summer events in the River Market entertainment district.
Occupy Little Rock initially made camp at the Clinton Presidential Center just east of downtown in October. As a compromise to get protesters to leave that site, Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas produced a permit for the group to stay at the parking lot. The site can be seen from Interstate 30, giving the group a high-visibility location for its protests against banks, war, aspects of government and other issues.
Last month, the city amended the permit to include an end date.
Little Rock police spokesman Lt. Terry Hastings wouldn’t discuss police plans for Wednesday morning, other than to say the deadline remains 7 a.m.
Mayor Mark Stodola has said that the group has made its point and it’s time for members to move on. He said the city doesn’t allow overnight camping in parks and other public spaces and that the ordinance will be enforced.
Organizers tried to convince the city to give them a few extra days to improve the chances of finding an alternate site. The group has been trying to get space from a private organization.
On Tuesday, the site was being broken down, with only about a half-dozen tents still standing. The tarp covering what was the kitchen tent was down and members dismantled its frame and organized the removal of food and cooking supplies.
A pile of wooden pallets stood near the south end of the camp. The pallets had been placed under tents to help the tent floors stay dry.
The 54-year-old Miller, a disabled veteran who served 12 years in the Army, said he remained annoyed that the group was tagged as a bunch of hippies.
"We don’t have a drum out here," he said.
He said the tremendous amount of gear that had to be removed was evidence that the group has plenty of support.
"Everything you see here was donated — churches, unions, individuals," Miller said.
Occupy Little Rock is among groups gathering signatures for a proposed ballot item that would essentially end lobbyist gifts to politicians and would double a one-year period that a legislator has to wait before becoming a lobbyist.
The group has also actively opposed housing development in the Lake Maumelle Watershed, an issue that is pending before the Pulaski County Quorum Court.