A hearing this morning at the Earle Cabell could have been a First Amendment showdown over Occupy Dallas's right to remain in Pioneer Park in downtown. Instead, it became a simple formality after protesters came to a late-night agreement to move to a plot of city-owned land at Akard and Canton, behind City Hall, per a request from the city.
Lawyers from both sides complimented each other's willingness to compromise in a conversation that sounded very much like a hug feels.
The two sides are working together to file a settlement that would allow protesters to keep the movement going in accordance with requests from the city. They hope to outline an agreement as early as this afternoon, though it may come as late as Monday, after which Team Occupy will dismiss the case.
"I appreciate the fact that you've worked together with this group," Judge Jane Boyle said to attorneys for the city.
Porta-Johns and the city's sprinkler systems came up in casual chatter between attorneys after the hearing, and quality of life issues will be addressed in the agreement -- though it's doubtful the city will bend on its rule against washing clothing in the fountain on City Hall Plaza. No one wants to see that.
As it stands now, protesters will move their camp from Pioneer Park to the new location on Sunday, lawyers told Unfair park after this morning's hearing. No formal agreement's in place yet, as there are myriad issues to work out, such as: Where will the protesters go to use the bathroom? (Not City Hall, as it won't be allowed, but the library and downtown farmers market will be available, and Occupy Dallas is said to be working with a private land owner downtown to set up portable restrooms.) And: The city will have to change when it turns on the automatic sprinklers that water the grass surrounding the horseshoe-shaped lot behind City Hall. (Right now, they go off in early-morning hours, per the city's own watering regulations.)
An agreement will be sent to the court some time between now and this weekend, say city attorneys, who will fax it to Judge Boyle's court. If they comply with the agreement, the protesters can stay at the new location for up to 60 days, an offering Jonathan Winocour, pro bono lawyer for Occupy Dallas, calls "gracious."
"A sustained whisper is going to be more powerful than a brief shout," he said, though he added that gaining consensus from the protesters to work with the city and change locations was "not easy."
That's the difficulty of working with a grassroots group. "There really is no top-down structure," he said, so majority consensus is necessary for everything.
"I had to exercise my powers of persuasion, [and] if I can't hold that consensus for the next 36 hours, I don't know what kind of shape we're in," Winocour said. He said he stressed to the group that this does not have to be a "zero sum game."
"Things progress through compromise," he said. "This is about the confrontation with corporate America," not with the city or the police.
"They feel like the American Dream is gone," added Cameron Gray, who also represents Occupy Dallas.
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But everybody's been so nice. How long can this last? Is this usual?
"I think it's unusual for everybody involved," Winocour said.
Attorneys for the city nodded along with most of what Winocour said. "The city is a proud supporter" of First Amendment rights and of giving people the freedom to express their views, said First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers. "We are striving to work with [Occupy Dallas]. ... They appear to have been more reasonable than their counterparts in other cities."
"Remarkably, I don't feel like I even need to rebut," Winocour said when Bowers finished speaking.