On Tuesday, Nov. 15, the Tucson City Council discussed a proposal by council member Regina Romero to waive fees and forgive citations against the Occupy Tucson protesters who have been camping out around-the-clock in Veinte de Agosto park downtown.
Her proposal was supported by council members Richard Fimbres and Karin Uhlich. Romero remarked that she believed the protest could be helpful to Tucson, citing the need to address foreclosures, job shortages and growing poverty "in our own backyard."
In a memo to fellow council members she stated: "The steps I have described will allow the community an opportunity and a space to make their voices heard."
In Tuesday's call to the audience, almost all the voices were in support of Romero's proposal. The few who spoke against it felt it was unfair to waive fees for the Occupiers.
Our feeling, however, is that fees should be waived for all groups engaged in legitimate, peaceful protest.
And what could be more legitimate than protesting that 99 percent of our citizenry - reds and blues alike - are not being represented?
Nearly everyone who spoke in support of Occupy Tucson expressed their gratitude for our Constitution and its democratic guarantees of free speech and assembly, but as one man put it, "We just haven't been exercising these rights."
In classrooms across the country, it's a message that social studies teachers (George, included) work to communicate every day: That voting and participating are the keys to real change; that just reading about history and listening to the news is no substitute for being part of history in the making.
The Occupy movement seems to us like a giant classroom in participatory democracy. At a time when our politicians seem unable to address the pressing issues, the Occupy movement has given people the hope that together we can create a healthier, happier, more productive and secure nation.
With lifetimes of engagement in citizen and official politics, we know firsthand the importance of participation.
We also know that it's not a good sign when only 41 percent of the registered voters in the city (not counting those eligible but unregistered) voted in the last election. How can we have a strong democracy when 59 percent of those who are registered don't vote at all?
Finally, a group of citizens is demonstrating displeasure and frustration with politics as usual, and with the lawmakers who focus on meeting the demands of the wealthiest 1 percent, while ignoring the middle class and the 14 million unemployed or underemployed Americans.
That is why Americans all across the country have embraced the Occupy movement, and why the demonstration in Viente de Agosto park is important for our community.
With poverty in Tucson now hovering at around 23 percent, and more foreclosures and fewer jobs on the horizon, we think it's vital not to block the profoundly democratic expression that is going on in downtown Tucson. That is why we strongly support council member Romero's proposal:
• Declare a moratorium on ticketing and fining protesters in Viente de Agosto park.
• Work with the Occupy participants to assure that all other park activities are respected.
• Explore moving certain public funds into local credit unions or banks that support and strengthen our local community.
We urge the entire the mayor and council to support this proposal, which we believe is not just a legitimate and constructive action, but a moral imperative to uphold the First Amendment in no uncertain terms.
George Miller is the former mayor of Tucson. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Molly McKasson is a former Tucson council member. Email her at email@example.com