DENVER-After winning two victories in less than a year, supporters of the Denver homeless community turned their efforts to the Tattered Cover Bookstore in recent weeks for the company’s membership in the Downtown Denver Partnership-DDP. The DDP openly contributed to the language of the May 2012-implemented Urban Camping Ban which criminalizes sleeping outside with any covering such as a blanket, tarp, or even newspapers and also persuaded Denver city council at public meetings to vote for the ban. DDP members Snooze Eateries and The Palm Restaurants did as well until after weekly protests at the businesses apparently established a working relationship between the former adversaries. Both establishments have since reversed their initial positions, Snooze Eateries in April of 2013 and The Palm Restaurants withdrew six months later.
Since the ban took effect, advocates of the homeless community first focused protests against the Snooze Eatery holding signs outside of the restaurant every Sunday morning until founder Jon Schlegel confirmed on April 5, 2013 the reverse position, “We’re excited to continue to hire and train those from Urban Peak and other service providers, we’re going to continue to volunteer at the Denver Rescue Mission monthly, and we will continue our support of fundraising for nonprofits related to this and other concerns of our world.” Urban Peak and the Denver Rescue Mission provide basic and emergency services to those in the Denver Community who are in need. The weekly protests moved a few blocks down to the international chain The Palm Restaurants in response to the testimony of sales manager Wendy Klein’s urging Denver city council to support the ban. However, when Palm founder Bruce Bozzi was contacted days before a protester-orchestrated international boycott, he came out publicly against the ban in an October 18, 2013 letter to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
Supporters of those without a home want the Tattered Cover to change their previous position on the ban. Groups stand outside the bookstore every Friday evening holding signs that say,
HOW MANY FAMILIES DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE A BILLIONAIRE?
IF YOU WANT TO CRIMINALIZE POVERTY, JAIL THE RICH.
This Friday, about 25 people stood outside of the store chanting, playing drums, and raising their voices to the store and chanted, “No more excuses for human rights abuses. Shame Tattered Cover, Shame!”
Eric Verlo drove from Colorado Springs to support the boycott, “[I’m in support with Occupy here. It’s a matter of trying to convince the businesses, the downtown businesses to sign a letter asking the city to repeal the Urban Camping Ban. So it’s just a matter of, we need as many people here as possible to convince these businesses. Now we expect that the Tattered Cover is going to want to do the right thing.
[My] position is that [the Urban Camping Ban] has to be repealed. It’s something that’s inhumane. It makes it illegal just to be. It makes it illegal to satisfy a human need. Sleep is a human need. It’s not even a human right. The shelter is a human right. It’s a human right guaranteed by international law. So the idea that municipalities think that they can strip those rights away in effect just contributes to the penal system, to the criminal system and it gives them further excuses to oppress people who are in no position to fight back.”
Fred Henrich participated in both the Boycott the Snooze and Boycott the Palm movements, “We come out every Friday night to the Tattered Cover here and we’re doing two things. First of all we have free food for the poor and second of all we’re protesting the Tattered Cover’s support of the Urban Camping Ban, the law that has made it essentially illegal to be homeless in Denver.”
How do you know that they’ve supported that?
“We have had several meetings with them, discussion groups with the owner since the law was passed and they do not deny that they are part of the Downtown Denver Partnership, the organization which engineered the passing of the Urban Camping Ban . They claim to be neutral, but if you are a member of the founding organization, I do not see how you can be neutral. “
It was in December 2013 that owner of the lower downtown Tattered Cover Joyce Meskis stepped outside of her store to answer the protesters; questioning her previous claim to only take a stand on censorship,
“You are absolutely correct and in fact we took a position. We have been in a lot of court cases regarding censorship. [The protest] is absolutely a censorship issue. It is a privacy issue which is part of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
To which a protester countered,
“So we’re not concerned about human rights, we’re only concerned about constitutional rights. I would just like to say that last year, I bought some Christmas presents from Tattered Cover for my family and this year I will boycott Tattered Cover until they either A: remove themselves from the Downtown Denver Business Partnership or B: take a stance on the ban. You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
Meskis responded, “That is your choice to make and the choice of anyone else of course. I suggest to you that it is an act of censorship to do that.”
But another protester responded, “I think it’s awesome that she at least was willing to come out and support our position and face this mob and so she gets my respect for doing that even though I will support the boycott because I really wish that you would come out against this camping ban and I think with a little more pressure I think you’ll see the light.”
At this evening’s protest, David Hughes said that he has joined the protest four times in the past couple of months, “I’m really disappointed in the Tattered Cover because I’ve patronized it specifically so I don’t have to patronize something like Amazon. If they don’t have a book I need, I’ve always asked them to order it. When I knew I was going to be coming out here, well [I wanted] to see how much I’ve spent over the last say ten years. So I printed [the receipt] out and it turned out it was like $2000. And I brought it to the owner when we were out here and she was unphased. She has the idea that somehow she has to maintain a neutral forum for free expression of ideas.” I asked him if she believed that owner Joyce Meskis was maintaining a neutral position to which Hughes responded, “She’s surely expressing her own idea through her twisted logic by not coming out against the Urban Camping Ban, she is remaining neutral so that when people come through her doors they will have this illusion that everything is neutral and unbiased as far as Tattered Cover’s concerned. But if you’re a member of an organization that essentially hoodwinked city council into passing the Urban Camping Ban and you’re not speaking out against it, then you’re taking a stand in favor of it.
Just in the last couple of weeks, Tattered Cover has hosted two authors that my wife and I would have gone to see and I would have come and I would have bought a couple of books but I can’t do that in good conscience when there’s this boycott on and I support the boycott.”
Janet Matzen has organized the protests against Denver Business Partnership members since the initial boycott against Snooze Eateries -sometimes standing alone and was quick to answer the question if she thought the protest would show results soon, “Oh, my gosh yes! I don’t know about soon. But we will win!”
Refufia Gaintan/The Nation Report