Occupy Atlanta says it will go on

Even as their organizers were jailed and the park they occupied was barricaded, Occupy Atlanta protesters said their movement will go on and that they believe more people will join them.

"It's only going to make it stronger," said John Reynolds, 25, a freelance photographer from North Druid Hills. "People who did not come out before will now see our First Amendment rights being trampled."

But the movement that had occupied Woodruff Park since Oct. 7 was clearly on its heels Wednesday after police swept protesters from the site in the dead of night. A plan to reoccupy the park Wednesday morning never materialized. Instead, a few dozen of the protesters gathered in the afternoon outside the Atlanta jail to chant and cheer the 53 protesters who had been arrested and released on misdemeanor charges.

Mayor Kasim Reed told Channel 2 Action News Wednesday that anyone attempting to stay in the park after-hours will be arrested.

Before and after police cleared the park, protesters were weighing all manner of possible strategies: retaking the park, establishing an encampment elsewhere, staging mobile occupations, something else entirely.

"The movement is not just about occupying a space," said Brittany Gondolfi, a women's studies student at Georgia State University. "I don't think the loss of Woodruff Park is the end of this fight."

The larger question is whether the group will continue or disappear, said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor. After the blow by the city, and considering that cold weather is coming soon, the group could start to break down, he said.

"It's a turning point," Bullock said, adding that which way it turns may depend on the quality of the group's leadership.

On Wednesday, it emerged that one of the top organizers, Tim Franzen, who has often spoken on behalf of the group, has a criminal record. Franzen, 34, of Atlanta, pled guilty on burglary charges in Cobb County in 1996.

"It's not hidden information," Franzen said of his record when asked about it at the group's post-release news conference. He said he has turned his life around since then, but he also reacted with name-calling when a reporter from Channel 2 Action News pressed him on the issue.

Meanwhile, Occupy Atlanta's Facebook page and Twitter feeds were filled Wednesday with expressions of support and calls for more action.

And those who had taken part in the protests proclaimed the message that the group has earned its stripes for civil disobedience.

"It's going to give us credibility," said Oliver Beinlich, 29, a veteran of the Iraq war who joined the protest. "We stood up for what they believe, and that resonates with people," he said. "We're going to win that day in court."

Fresh from jail, Malcolm McKenzie, 23, an Atlanta computer technician, said the experience brought the group closer together. When police put them on a bus, they started chanting: "Whose park? Our park." And once in jail they chanted and whistled the Star Spangled Banner, he said.

"We're stronger than ever," McKenzie said.

Still, he acknowledged, "I was scared. This was my first time in jail."

By day's end,  Occupy Atlanta was showing some signs of moving forward, issuing a press release and pledging to participate in several imminent events, such as a anti-war vigil and a march to support a local homeless shelter.

It was unclear whether the group would try to reopen a dialogue with Reed following the tense confrontations that led to the clearing of the park.

"The wounds will take a short while to heal," Beinlich said. "There's always going to be a little resentment."

As the group ponders its next moves, it can turn for advice to some of Atlanta's civil rights veterans. Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta who worked with Martin Luther King Jr., had visited the protesters before the park was cleared, and says he hopes to talk with them again.

Young said he does not expect the group to disappear and that it should consider defining its anti-Wall Street agenda more sharply.

"I was trying to get them to be more specific about what they want," he said.

Moreover, Young suggested they work with the city, not against it, to resolve their issues. Atlanta has a tradition of working that way, he said.

"I was encouraging them to work out their problems with the city," Young said. "I think they wanted confrontation."

Staff writers Bo Emerson, Alexis Stevens and Marcus K. Garner contributed to this report.