[UPDATE, Friday, 10/21: Protest on the Capitol grounds? A day later, the N.C. Department of Administration says no — because regardless what the #OccupyRaleigh people may think the First Amendment means when it says “the right of the people peaceably to assemble (and) petition the Government for a redress of grievances” cannot be abridged, it doesn’t mean peaceably assemble on your Capitol grounds. Why? Well, uh, because we say so. For more, there’s a good writeup on the DOA’s unresponsive response at N.C. Policy Watch’s Progressive Pulse blog.
[Below yesterday’s post, I’ve added more about some of the folks I met at the Capitol and what they said that #OccupyRaleigh is about. Wait, lest they be arrested for peaceably assembling in the wrong place, I should be clear I chatted with them on the sidewalk next to the Capitol.]
This is the original post from Thursday, 10/20:
. Occupy Raleigh forces fired on the Capitol today — fired off a letter, that is. Using the strongest weapons at their disposal, including a knowledge of history and some lawyers, they delivered their volley in the form of a request that they be allowed to stand on the Capitol grounds for nine days beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday, October 22 and ending at 8 p.m. Sunday, October 30.
Since Saturday night, they’ve been pushed back to the sidewalk below the Capitol. Still, they keep coming. Reinforcements are showing up daily. (Hint: This is how it works — you show up for an hour, a few hours, whatever you’ve got. Meanwhile, the main rebel force at #OccupyWallStreet keeps the bankers pinned down.)
In their letter, lawyers for Occupy Raleigh cite the Bonus March of 1932, a veterans movement, and the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 as precedents for social protest occupations in Washington, DC. In Raleigh, hunger strikers from the NC Dream Team were permitted to occupy state property last summer.
The Occupy Raleigh request is not to occupy all of the Capitol grounds, merely a sliver at the southwest corner (Salisbury and Morgan streets). Nor is it for an encampment. The OR troops, who were about 20 strong at mid-day today, aren’t threatening to put up tents. They do want to put up a canopy cover to keep their stuff out of the weather. Their letter is here and worth a read:
The letter was signed by some veteran freedom fighters, which seemed to send of shiver of fear up the spine of Republican gubernatorial aspirant Pat McCrory. McCrory raised the spectre of a government overthrow in Raleigh perhaps leading to the fall of — OMG — Charlotte.
There was no sign of panic from inside the Capitol, though word on the street — well, actually, it was in the mainstream media — was that Gov. Bev Perdue has fled to China for what is officially termed “a trade mission.”
Oh, sure. That’s why she retreated in face of the #OccupyRaleigh brigades.
I tried to get an official response to the permit application from the state Department of Administration, which handles such things. No answer yet. War counsels are underway there, apparently.
Meanwhile, an extremely dangerous figure arrived to reinforce the OccupyRaleigh troops today. World War II veteran Harris Skinner, a grizzled fighter who battled in North Africa and lived to tell the tale, arrived from Pinehurst armed with a sign (“WWII Vets for Integrity”), his cane, and wearing a “Reagan” cap and a sweater bearing the official US Open golf tournament insignia. He came with a grandson, whom Skinner described darkly as “an activist.” (Also, “a geneticist.”)
Skinner’s potentially lethal combination of combat experience, Republican sympathies and harsh demand that the richest 1% shape up and start acting with integrity toward the other 99% of us may well explain why McCrory was so rattled.
More on who the invaders are tomorrow.
So, picking up from there, who else did I meet on the sidewalk yesterday?
Austin Moss, a Raleigh barrista with a calm, collected presence, joined the protest for the first time late Wednesday, when it was pouring rain. No problem, he said. There were lots of tarps on hand and everybody coped.
“This is something I want to be part of,” Moss said. “We’re the 99% who don’t have 42% of the wealth in this country.”
So what are his demands? Only that government “be a joint thing.” The people need to inform the government, and the government needs to act in the best interests of the people. Simple. “And that’s the prevailing opinion I’m hearing here,” Moss said.
So the point isn’t to lay out an agenda. Rather, it’s to reclaim the peoples’ voice in their own futures and get to talking with each other again — without the 1% dominating or preventing the discourse. “We’re trying to start and establish a culture of awareness and openness to being willing to discuss things again,” Moss said.
I also met Sean Garvey, Harris Skinner’s grandson. He is indeed a Ph.D geneticist with some post-doctoral university work under his belt and a four-month stint recently working as a hired hand at an “excellent” organic farm in the Northern Kingdom of Vermont. Garvey is a completely upbeat personality. He’s into health, food issues and the movement toward locally grown, sustainable crops. But he also “appreciates” that industrial food production is necessary to feed the planet, and for that reason industrial food corporations must change and reform.
“I absolutely support local food,” Garvey said. “But we can’t become isolationist and pull away from our neighboring states or neighboring countries. So, it’s a very complicated subject (how to feed the world), and it’s going to demand solutions and inputs from so many parts of society.”
Which is where the OccupyWallStreet movement comes in, Garvey says. Corporations have been getting away with a “beautiful head fake,” he says. They do things that are wrong, but they fake people into being angry, not at them, but at government. So it’s great that OccupyRaleigh is at the state Capitol, Garvey thinks, but even better that OccupyWallStreet didn’t go for the fake and is protesting in the place most representative of corporate malfeasance.
All of this was said with the greatest optimism written all over his face. It dimmed only slightly as his grandfather pointed to the sign they’d brought: “May You Have Enough,” it said.
“It’s a prayer that’s often been prayed for me,” Garvey said. “And I’d love to send it to that top 1%, ‘May you have enough — and not much more.’ And if you do, find a way to give it back or pay it forward.”
And if they don’t?
“Eventually, I hope people get that we have so much power in the way we spend money, as individuals, as citizens,” he answered. “Every time we spend a dollar, that’s a vote for a way of doing business and a vote for the people behind a business.”
It isn’t just buying local, although decent local businesses are certainly part of it, he went on. Corporations can be better, too. Or worse. “I would challenge all of us,” Garvey said, “to keep a journal of how you spend your money, and where every dollar went for just one day — and how many of those dollars do you even know where they’re going?”
Then I met Pearl Clutcher, who rephrased my opening question for me. “What would it take to drag a 43-year old mother of two out to the sidewalk holding this ridiculous sign?” Clutcher said. Her sign: “This land was made for you & me.” She was making his first visit to OccupyRaleigh.
Clutcher, like the others, was more about the discourse we’re missing in America than any specific policy demands. She’s read an Occupy manifesto or two, she said, and reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act sounds like a good idea. “But if you’re looking for answers from me, you are barking up the wrong tree,” Clutcher said.
But if she’s short on policy prescriptions, Clutcher was emphatic about the kind of social change that’s needed. She likened it to the way attitudes in this country have changed about drunk driving over the last 30 years. “What did it take? A little bit of activism and a small amount of legislation,” she said. “But mostly people just changed their way of thinking. And I would really like to see a society where it is obscene to take more than your share.”
Clutcher saw a news clip recently in which Raleigh’s Art Pope denied “buying influence” in state politics with his multi-million dollar contributions to right-wing groups, candidates and campaigns. “He puts a local face on a national problem,” she said. “I would love to ask him, Mr. Pope, you don’t look like somebody who just throws his money away, so if you are not buying influence, what are you doing with your cash?”
There’s a word in Swedish for what she wants, Clutcher said. The Swedes are very proud of the fact that no other language has a word with quite the same meaning. “Lagom,” she said, emphasis on the first syllable. “The idea is that everybody takes their share and no one takes too much. And I would very much like to see some lagom around here.”
I’ve met about a dozen OccupyRaleigh participants in three visits to the Capitol recently. Most are there not due to some personal distress but rather because they perceive the country veering wildly off-course — or rather, they perceive that it’s been dragged off its constitutional foundation by multinational corporations and super-rich Americans, the 1% whose interests lie elsewhere than in the well-being of the other 99% of the nation. They want to talk about that with the wealthy and their lobbyists out of the room.
Garner’s Kelly Maes, though, is angry because of what’s happened to her family. Born in Belgium, “my papers say I’m Belgian, but I’m an American at heart,” Maes says. Her stepfather is American. He raised her, with her mother. Maes, now 27, has worked since was 17, she said, in Belgium and then in the U.S. She made similar amounts of money in both countries, paid about the same in taxes, but here’s the big difference: In Belgium, as in most of Europe, college education is free or cheap, and health care coverage is free or cheap. Whereas, in this country, both are expensive to the point of being out of reach for the working class. So she couldn’t afford college and, since she was laid off from her last job five months ago, she has no health insurance.
She’s looking for another job. Does she have any savings? “No,” she answered lightly, treating the question as a little silly.
But it’s not her personal circumstances that cause Maes to be angry. Rather, it’s the fact that her father, who worked in construction, lost his job too, and she suspects it’s because her little sister had a brain aneurysm and nearly died. (She’s fine now.)
Maes doesn’t know it for a fact, but she thinks that because her father’s company’s health insurer was hit with the charges, it was his job or higher insurance rates. “My stepfather worked his whole life. My mother worked her who life. Now they have nothing,” Maes said.
And as she looks around, she notices that friends from high school who did go to college are out of work, losing their houses if they’d managed to buy one, and are moving back in with parents who, in a lot of cases, are also facing hard times. This in a country that is rife with “corporate greed, and some people who are so ridiculously wealthy.”
Listening to Clutcher and I talk, Maes didn’t know who Art Pope was. She doesn’t follow politics in the sense of personalities or parties, she said. But that’s because, she said, in the U.S. politics is little more than a popularity contest between two parties “on a teeter-totter,” each of them going up and down but neither one forward in a way that would help people who aren’t rich.
In Belgium, by contrast, a half-dozen or more parties compete for votes and take seats in the parliament, Maes said, based on their ability to stand for something and adapt national policies to the needs of people. “I do follow ethics, and morality and what’s right.”
Maes first heard about the OccupyWallStreet movement about two hours before the first OccupyRaleigh meeting was to begin three weeks ago in Moore Square. She jumped out of bed and raced downtown, she said, and she’s been in the thick of it ever since. When we talked, it was after she’d put in an all-nighter at the Capitol, and she was exhausted.
She’s not a socialist, Maes said, but you can call her that if you want, or a communist, or — she looked for a word —”call it panda-ism, it does’t matter.” What matters, she’s convinced, is that a properly functioning government makes sure the “staples of society” — she listed food, clothing, shelter, and civil services, including education — are provided in adequate portions to everyone.
“When the staples start to crumble, and meanwhile the top gets top-heavy, call it whatever you want to call it, that’s just plain wrong.”