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“Cleveland's Persistent Public Square Protester has No Plans to Stop” by Michael K. McIntyre, cleveland.com
Submitted by Satinder P S Puri on Tue, 09/27/2016 - 21:24.
"Cleveland's Persistent Public Square Protester has No Plans to Stop” by Michael K. McIntyre, cleveland.com, September 10, 2016
“Perennial Protester is still Fighting City Hall” by Michael K. McIntyre, The Plain Dealer, September 11, 2016 , Page A6, Metro Section
Link to Article on cleveland.com:
Text of Article by Michael K. McIntyre, Credit: Michael K. McIntyre, cleveland.com
He walks for miles, stands for hours, blogs until it seems the Internet will finally run out of space. He takes countless photographs, displays limitless energy, and he's never at a loss for words.
Satinder P.S. Puri, 74, might be Cleveland's Diogenes, or maybe its Don Quixote. He is a protester, a defender of righteousness, a defier of conventional wisdom.
He is often solitary, and always persistent.
Perhaps you've seen him, his burgundy-colored turban (he's an Indian-born Sikh) above a modified Cavaliers ball cap which itself covers a Chief Wahoo knit hat.
His signs, which he ordered on the Internet, are both colorful and cryptic. "Welcome Jimmy Dimora Public Square," reads the one he carries around most these days.
Is he trying to honor Jimmy Dimora? Or to smear the square with the name of the felonious former county commissioner?
Get close enough and he'll tell you.
Wading through a throng of bicyclists mustering for a Frdiay-evening ride through downtown, he chanted, "Happy Friday! Welcome Jimmy Dimora Public Square, Mired in corruption!"
Corruption? Public Square's $50 million makeover drew nearly universal praise.
Civic leaders, downtown workers and the growing number of residents in the city's core love it.
Children frolic in the fountain.
Diners enjoy light lunch fare at a new café.
Pedestrians rest on the gleaming new concrete benches or the grass hillside.
Puri, a retired structural engineer, sees wasteful spending.
He recalls the grass, benches and fountains that graced the old square.
"There was nothing wrong with the historic public square that was destroyed. People have very short memories, they forget what was there. And that survived 218 years," he said. "It just needed a little renovation."
His main issue is his belief that the park unfairly burdens poor and middle-class citizens because its redesign interrupted the flow of buses for the Regional Transit Authority, and continues to do so.
A plan to re-open Superior Avenue for bus-only traffic has been delayed and may be scrapped. RTA, already facing budget woes and raising fares, has estimated that the longer trips around the square, rather than through it, will cost millions.
That, Puri argues, is the corruption: "Compensate them and I have no objections. Do whatever you want to Public Square."
Puri is a regular RTA patron. He does not own a car and does not drive.
When he protests, though, he is not joined by other aggrieved riders, nor by government spending watchdogs, nor by RTA brass who are quick to complain in Columbus about inadequate state funding.
He estimates that he's spent nearly 800 hours walking about 2,200 miles carrying his signs around Cleveland.
He walks alone. And he's fine with that. "It takes only one finger to stir the pot," he says.
On Labor Day, he was at Luke Easter Park on the city's East Side for the 11th Congressional District Caucus parade and celebration. All the big pols were there, including Mayor Frank Jackson, whom Puri faults most for the Public Square project. Jackson, said Puri, saw his "Jimmy Dimora Public Square" sign and shook his hand. But he didn't engage in conversation. And he won't budge.
Puri would prefer the mayor right the injustice he sees in Public Square. At the very least, he wants to re-open Superior Avenue to bus traffic, as the plan envisions. Closing it, traffic consultants say, could cost RTA $1.6 million per year, on top of $1 million per year for the closure of Ontario Street and a $3.5 million loss during construction.
When he began his protest, he pleaded to "Leave Public Square Alone."
He's also carried other signs meant to garner attention from event goers, such as "Go Browns" and "Welcome Republicans."
In the two years since his Public Square protest began, he has staged a ten-day hunger strike, showed up at meetings, called in to radio talk shows and written emails and blogs and Facebook posts as if it's a paying gig.
But he has mostly been ignored by the media and his complaints to public officials often go unanswered.
"I probably wouldn't comment on his protests other than obviously he has the right to voice his opinion," said Joe Marinucci, president of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, which is a big advocate of the new Public Square. Marinucci said he agreed with Puri that a DCA ambassador was wrong last month when he threatened to call police if Puri kept taking pictures at a public event on the square. He said the organization has "made adjustments" so that it doesn't happen again.
"I stood my ground. I told him to go call the police," said Puri.
Jeremy Paris, who oversaw the Public Square remake, said he notices when Puri is protesting the square. And he said he has spoken with Puri about another of his causes, his opposition to a proposed pedestrian bridge to the lakefront on the grounds that it wasn't needed. That project has been delayed.
Paris, executive director of the city's Group Plan Commission, disagrees with Puri, but said Puri's persistence has won his respect. "To his credit, he shows up. And if Public Square stands for anything, it stands for the proposition of coming and speaking your mind," said Paris. "I think he's dead wrong about Public Square. I will take issue with the idea that there was corruption. We did this in a transparent way. It's of the community. But he cares deeply about what is happening in the city."
Puri came to Cleveland from New York in 2000 with his wife to be close to her family. Today he is a widower. There is something else he cares deeply about: The education of young people. He can hear them on the playground in Jefferson Park just outside his front door. He can see them shooting hoops. "Future Cavs," he calls them. And, if he has his way, future scientists, too. Puri this summer started spending his non-protesting time in places like Jefferson Park, performing science experiments for groups of awed kids. He made up one of his signs for that, too:
"Teaching Young Scientists in Cleveland's Parks."
He spent years volunteering to teach science at Riverside School, and decided it was time to bring his playful experience to the places where kids play.
They most love his "tornado in a bottle," which employs a plastic nozzle and a pair of two-liter pop bottles. Water flows from one to the other, creating a cyclone.
He rolls his cart, filled with everyday household goods that he uses for his demonstrations, down the sidewalk and to the playground when it's science time.
"They love it. Look at them, they love this stuff," he said as kids bolted from the sliding board to see how the plastic tube he was spinning made an eerie outer space sound.
"My passion is teaching," Puri says. He sees his protests as a way of teaching, too. But the public doesn't appear as eager as the children to listen to his lesson.
Back in 2012, before Public Square became his focus, Puri protested the demolition of John Marshall High School in his West Side neighborhood. There was nothing wrong with that building, he contends. He carried signs, and staged a hunger strike. The Plain Dealer wrote about his cause. The building was torn down and rebuilt anyway.
He opposed the 2014 Sin Tax extension to fund sports venues. It passed overwhelmingly.
And he protested the 2015 Sin Tax renewal, the proceeds of which fund the arts. It passed even more convincingly.
He protested against the Cleveland Metropolitan School District levy in 2012 (symbolically, he said, because of John Marshall. He supports the renewal this year.) It passed.
He opposed the remake of Public Square. Still, it was remade. "Change is very slow," he says. "It takes time to educate the public."
PHOTOGRAPHS WITH CAPTIONS ON CLEVELAND.COM
Note: I (Satinder P. S. Puri) took the photographs or had someone take them for me except where noted.
1. Puri is a frequent customer of the online sign maker, "Signs on the Cheap."
2. Satinder P.S. Puri wins allies outside Browns games with a "Go Browns" sign, but his real message is his belief that Public Square is harming the poor and middle class.
3. Satinder P.S. Puri loves to pose his signs in various spots, then take picture for his blog. Here, barrels block access to Public Square, where buses were supposed to be rolling by now..
4. Puri describes himself as a "far left liberal." But Republican visitors offered fresh eyes and ears for his cause.
5. Puri took this photo to counter the argument that Public Square is heavily used. Its backers say it has become a well-used Downtown asset.
6. Puri says if the idea was green space, there's too much pavement. And not enough people.
7. Puri pushes his science cart to the playground at Jefferson Park. (Credit: Mike McIntyre/PD)
8. In Jefferson Park near his home, Puri conducts a "Tornado in a Bottle" science demonstration. (Credit: Mike McIntyre/PD)
9. Puri finds interesting places to display his signs. During the RNC, he actually had fellow protesters, even if they weren't protesting the same thing he was.
10. Some of Puri's signs are more wordy than others.
11. Puri's main argument against Public Square is that its construction disrupted bus service and will cost public transit riders.