Occupy Greensboro, a set on Flickr.
Two weeks of organizing manifested in the Occupy Wall Street landing in the Triad yesterday as hundreds marched from Governmental Plaza up Elm Street past the International Civil Rights Center and Museum and Bank of America – chanting, “We got sold out; the banks got bailed out” along the way – and gathered at Festival Park.
Occupy Greensboro has a permit to gather at Festival Park for yesterday and today, and protesters camped last night in the adjacent parking lot with permission from the YWCA. When the crowd arrived at its destination yesterday the two main orders of business were determining the logistics of sustaining the gathering through consensus, and people getting to know one another one on one and finding out what they might share in common.
“We’re getting ready to have the most democratic weekend that Greensboro has ever seen,” longtime community activist Ed Whitfield said from the stage. “Getting together, deciding together and acting together – that is democracy.”
Organizers estimated the crowd size at upwards of 600 and Organize Greensboro’s Facebook page lists 596 as attending, but Lt. Jeff Lowdermilk with the Greensboro Police Department placed its size at about 300. Signs read, “People over profit,” “Enough is enough,” “The rich get wealthy off the backs of the poor” and “End the fed.”
“These kids have more organizational ability than my generation ever fathomed,” said Billy Jones, who participated in planning. “We met with the police department. They bent over backwards for us. I think they knew this is as much for them as us.”
Assistant City Manager Michael Speedling, who has responsibility for public safety for the city, reciprocated the goodwill, declaring himself “real proud of this group.”
Many of those gathered – a racially diverse group of academics, clergy, entrepreneurs, working and unemployed – said they were happy to demonstrating with others who share their frustrations about wealth inequality and who yearn for change.
“Something is definitely not working in America,” said Mary Coyne Wessling, who is employed in the guardian ad litem program by the NC Administrative Office of the Courts. “A friend asked me: What’s the issue that people are protesting? It’s the erosion of a well-earned lifestyle that’s being taken away from people. Many different issues have contributed. We’re getting further into debt. People are losing their homes to foreclosure. People are losing their jobs. American people have worked very hard for their way of life,” Wessling continued. “We aren’t lazy people. I’m willing to make sacrifices, but I won’t if there’s a group of people at the top that are sitting back and laughing as they collect beyond what they need.”
“In my job I see the result of budget cuts, which is children being abused and neglected,” Wessling added. “It’s getting worse.”
Carri Davis, a licensed massage therapist from Kernersville masseuse who is a member of Occupy Winston-Salem, said she got goose bumps when she watched a YouTube video of a march down Wall Street that showed statements echoing from the front to the back of the procession as demonstrators repeated slogans to compensate for the group not having a permit for amplification.
“If you think about it in medical terms,” she said, “you have a blemish on the skin. That’s only a symptom of something that’s going on with the organ. We’re trying to look deeper into the root of the diseased tree. I personally don’t want to see anarchy. We have a good system with our Constitution. We’ve taken our needs and wants to our elected officials. But they’re getting bought by corporate interests through campaign contributions. Their vote is already cast.”
People broke up into groups of 15 to get to know each other better at the instigation of an unidentified facilitator after consensus was reached by vote of the assembly through the customary thumbs-up, thumbs-down, thumbs-sideways process that has become institutionalized as a form of decision making in the movement.
A small business owner said was there because her bank stopped working with her after the economy hit the skids. A woman with a purple Mohawk said, “I can’t afford a doctor ever, every, and I have many health problems. We have the technology, but healthcare isn’t available to us. There’s something wrong with that.” A UNCG sophomore majoring in social work said she was there to speak for her father, who was fired from a construction job after refusing to sign a non-compete agreement.
“End the war,” another young woman said. “We need free college.” A woman who teaches women’s and gender studies at UNCG complained about the corporatization of the university and strains on students who are working full time to support themselves which pursuing their studies. A Greensboro resident who teaches classics at UNC-Charlotte said, “I have tenure, so I can cause a fair amount of trouble with a fair amount of impunity.”
Barrett Riddleberger, a member of Conservatives for Guilford County who has been active in the tea party movement, brought his son to conduct interviews.
“They don’t know what their message is,” he said. “That’s not me speaking; that’s them. And I got it on video.
Riddleberger dismissed the notion that Occupy Wall Street and the tea party movement were similar manifestations of discontent from opposite ends of the political spectrum. In contrast to the Occupy movement, Riddleberger said the tea party’s message was well defined: smaller government, lower taxes, personal responsibility and addressing the nation’s immigration laws.
“All of the tea party folks rose up in their individual parts of the country, and the message was the same,” he said.
During the first day’s general assembly, the group made some decisions through consensus.
They opted that smokers should demonstrate courtesy rather than setting up a designated smoking area. An process called “open space” where any person can introduce a topic of discussion or action would take place Sunday. One of those would likely include planning for “actions” to demonstrate the group’s message. An agreement was reached that someone would take notes from future general assemblies and post them online so that those who have to work can stay abreast of events.
A man passed around a white pail inscribed in black magic marker as “The people’s bank” to collect donations. Whitfield explained that the funds would pay for portable toilets, food-related expenses, and rent to the city of Greensboro for the use of the park. A woman suggested that a list of needs be posted so that people could contribute particular resources. A general sentiment was shared that the less the gathering relied on financing and the more it operated through sharing of resources, the better.
A young woman and a young man from the food committee announced that they could commit to providing three hot meals per day. They requested that people bring their own bowls and utensils, if possible, to minimize environmental impact. They requested that people wash their own dishes. A repository for compost had not been identified, and they asked for volunteers to accept it. They would be preparing vegetarian food, considering that they did not have refrigeration.
“We’ll accept all donations of food,” the man said. “If you make something from your heart, set it out to share.”