Occupy Atlanta Blasted for Perceived Snub of Rep. John Lewis
Congressman wanted to speak, but said he wasn't offended that group decided to stick to its agenda
The Twitter world has been abuzz all weekend over what some feel is a slap in the face to John Lewis, the Civil Rights Movement icon and Democratic congressman from Georgia.
Lewis, no stranger to protests, came to Woodruff Park Friday evening as a show of support to Occupy Atlanta — an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, the growing national movement protesting the what they say is corporate greed and government corruption.
When he asked to speak to address the crowd of some 200 people who had assembled, a discussion ensued about whether he should be allowed since he wasn't on the planned agenda.
Some in the crowd supported breaking from the agenda and letting Lewis, 71, speak. But others said the group should stick to the agenda, which was to address various subcommittee reports and core goals.
After several minutes of discussions and people in the crowd voicing their opinions, the group decided to stick to the original agenda.
As a compromise, the group said he could speak later at some point but it wasn't clear when that would be. But by then, the congressman said he would have to leave because he had another commitment at 7 p.m.
That he left without speaking didn't sit well with some in the crowd who felt the congressman was disrespected. Some left in protest.
And numerous Tweets and retweets have gone out calling the protesters either ignorant about Lewis' history of advocacy, or racist for voting against letting him speak. This Tweet was typical: "RACIST -- Occupy Atlanta Mob Refuses To Allow Civil Rights Hero John Lewis To Speak."
As he left Friday evening, Lewis told reporters he wasn't upset and didn't feel dissed. Lewis said what happened was similar to his days as a youth in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the quest for black civil rights.
"In another period and when I was very young, and head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, we participated in a similar process," Lewis said. "We'd discuss, we'debate and we reached consensus, so this nothing strange or out of the ordinary for me."
Asked if he was disappointed at not being able to speak, Lewis replied: "No, not at all."
Occupy Wall Street, which launched Sept. 17, is not even a month old, which Lewis alluded to in answering another question about the process for decision making among its membership.
"Well, it will work out," Lewis said. "It will grow and mature, and it will come of age."
Occupy Atlanta's organizing meeting on Friday lasted at least 5 hours. The group agreed to occupy Woodruff Park, which has a recent history of being home to large numbers of homeless people.
On Sunday, a few dozen tents were pitched on park grounds. There were few police officers present.