Occupy Charlotte: the first four weeks in photos (and words)
Posted on 26 Oct 2011 by Grant Baldwin
Nearly 4 weeks ago, a local business owner named Tom Shope created a Facebook event to catalyze local involvement in the Occupy movement. Their first gathering on Oct 1 in Marshall Park saw the creation of an organizing committee and a march that afternoon of about 115 people to Bank of America Corporate Center.
Much has happened in the short time since the birth of Occupy Charlotte. One week later, on Oct. 8th, a second march saw a swell of 500 people. As nighttime fell, 30 protesters lingered setting up tents and getting to know one another at Old City Hall. It was this night that the same unified around-the-clock voice resounding across our planet first became audible in Charlotte, NC.
Five committee members, whose names were chosen out of a hat as agreed upon at the Oct 1 gathering (11 were originally chosen, however 6 graciously declined within a few days of the committee drawing), worked hard brainstorming, planning, and organizing as best they could at such an early stage. As they did, the 2.5 dozen Occupiers moved headlong into a steep learning curve.
Camera lights blinded them hours before the morning sun, and less-than-professional media outlets unzipped tents of sleeping Occupiers in order to ask for interviews in the dead of night. This culminated with one of Occupy Charlottes first unified actions: during an evening Occupational Assembly it was proposed, voted, and approved by those present to cease their meeting and sit silently until the 3 local television stations who were filming the Occupational Assembly left.
This was not the only turbulence the young movement would see in its first few weeks. During the media silence protest, the creator of the Facebook page, and organizer of the first gathering in Marshall Park, Tom Shope, gave an interview to the media outlets present, against the occupiers unified decision. This was one of several incidents where discord arose between those occupying and Mr. Shope. By Oct 19 it was decided by the General Assembly to officially expel Tom Shope from the Occupy Charlotte movement. Shortly thereafter it was decided by consensus to dissolve the committee formed in Marshall Park as well.
Occupy Charlotte, particularly the most public segment currently occupying the Old City Hall property, has faced a myriad of challenges in its first 3 weeks: learning to live with media, balancing their own socioeconomic and personality differences, an internal rift resulting in the expulsion of the most public face for Occupy Charlotte, chilly rain soaked nights, creating a functional and useful camp, and of course, the nearest restrooms beings 3 blocks away. The list goes on. While these issues have slowed the Occupiers from some of their initial momentum, they have by no means been choked out.
The days leading up to the fourth and most recent march on Sat, Oct 22 saw a shift in energy among those braving the chilly fall nights. The shared experience of perseverance has resulted in a newfound cohesiveness.
The week leading up to the 22nd saw more working groups being defined, and within the groups already defined, more planning and organization of tasks. From this new growth, the decision was made to hold a free community dinner after Saturday’s march in order to foster connectedness and constructive conversation with anyone who wanted to know more about the Occupy Charlotte and Occupy Together movements.
Saturday’s march drew about 160 people and marked two significant firsts for Occupy Charlotte. A permit for a public address system to be placed in front of the Bank of America Corporate Center was obtained and used to great effect. Motivating words were shared and towards the end of the protest, the mic was opened up so that anyone who wished could step up, state their name, where they were from, and that they stood with the 99%.
The march was also the first to see arrests when two young men who had not marched with the group were crossing Tryon St. in order to get closer look. Police told them not to cross against the signal, but when the men ignored them, they were arrested and charged with impeding traffic. No violence or disorder occurred during the arrest process.
Back at Old City Hall, a portion of the occupiers had been working diligently since early that morning preparing food for the community dinner. On the menu was pasta with tomato sauce, sautéed fresh vegetables, a hearty soup with grains and greens, salad, and bread. Gluten-free and vegan portions were available to those with stricter diets. Food supplies and equipment were provided through donations given by individuals and local businesses.
All together, every one of the 160 people who came were fed. For hours following the meal, people sat around, discussing their personal views on the state of the world and what the Occupy movement should and should not be. This time of honest and fruitful problem solving is perhaps Occupy Charlotte’s biggest success so far. Without the shared experiences of the challenges faced, without the processes of direct democracy, and without the cooperation of all those involved, from Occupiers to donors, the tangible connections would never have been possible.
The operational structure of Occupy Charlotte is still evolving, but so far there are a few key groups. Though I’ve mentioned these before, they could stand to be explained in further detail.
First and foremost, the General Assembly. These are the larger meetings with are usually held when the greatest number of participants are present, ie after a march, in which decisions are made concerning the positions, objectives, actions and goals of the Occupy Charlotte movement as a whole are defined and refined. These meetings are run using Direct Democracy procedures and carry the most impact on Occupy Charlotte making participation by as many as possible vital to their effectiveness.
Then there is the Occupational Assembly. This is a twice daily meeting in which all those staying on Old City Hall property gather to discuss the needs and issues of the day that pertain to those occupying Old City Hall. These primarily address immediate issues facing them and logistical decision making for the camp. These meetings are run using Direct Democracy procedures.
And finally, there are the Working Groups. These are groups of volunteers who have committed themselves to addressing, solving, or otherwise handling a task to be accomplished, or goal to be achieved through analysis, planning, and then do-ing. Some examples are the Internet Working Group, Logistics Working Group, and Media Working Group. All Working Groups report their progress at each General Assembly, and ask the General Assembly to make any decisions that need to be made by the Occupy Charlotte movement as a whole.
The numbers attending the official marches have dropped from 500 at their peak to 160 at their lowest, but the number of Occupiers at Old City Hall has steadily grown to just over 40 people, with more expressing that they can join soon. As for whether or not this newfound focus and purposefulness within Occupy Charlotte is the beginning of a larger trend, or it is too little too late, rests on the shoulders of the Occupiers and those supporting them. It also rests with every single Charlottean (and all those within earshot of the Occupy Charlotte movement) who want their voice to be heard, to attend at least one General Assembly meeting and participate in the proceedings. It’s vital that we do so to ensure everyone’s views are represented within the Occupy movement as a whole.