Checking In On Occupy Charlotte
As Occupy Wall Street - and its spin-offs across the country - enters a third month, we decided to take the local temperature of the movement. The second largest financial center in the country, home to Bank of America and site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention would seem like a key target for the "Occupy" message against corporate greed and influence in politics. Midmorning yesterday, Denise Marks (pictured - right) was circling the grounds of Charlotte's Old City Hall, clipboard in hand, tapping on nylon tent doors. "I'm finding out how many tents we have here, who's in them and what work they're doing for the movement itself," she explains. Marks is out of work and recently homeless. She joined the Occupy Charlotte camp on Saturday and quickly realized that nobody seemed to have much of a handle on who's there and what they can offer. The group insists on having no formal leader, so Marks just grabbed a clipboard and counted 48 tents. Yesterday morning, the Occupy Charlotte camp seemed deserted. Some people had gone home for Thanksgiving, a few were still holed up in their tents and a handful like Marks were busy trying to bring a bit of order to the place. They're a hodgepodge of homeless people with nowhere else to go, out-of-work people with an activist bent and kids like Jake (pictured - below). He's 23, A college drop-out who won't give his last name. Jake has been in Charlotte for eight days. He was previously at Occupy camps in D.C. and on Wall Street. He took a bus to Charlotte figuring the Occupy movement must be pretty interesting here, with the banks and all, and was surprised to find it so small and in disarray. "I mean there's a lot of stuff that needs to get done here and there aren't many people stepping up to do it," says Jake, shaking his head. He was one of the few campers doing much of anything at the Occupy Charlotte site yesterday morning. Rummaging through a tent of donated supplies, he found a box of pancake batter to make breakfast on a camp stove. The occupiers had apparently disassembled their makeshift kitchen the day before because it had become unsanitary: nobody was doing the dishes. Rather than move on in frustration, Jake says he has high hopes Occupy Charlotte can be like its larger sisters in the movement. He's already seen two cities "go from just chaos to become something really sophisticated and really good for the people." Since Occupy Charlotte took up residence at Old City Hall about six weeks ago, it's managed to stay on good terms with the police and is working to overcome an effort by some city council members who want to shut the camp down. The group has suffered some internal divisions: one of the original organizers is now prohibited by a restraining order from coming to the camp. But the disarray and small size of Occupy Charlotte isn't stopping newcomers, and the camp swells on weekends when protest marches are held. Deanna St. Aubin-Bridgewood (pictured - below) thinks it's a Occupy Charlotte started out small, "because if we would have started out really big, I don't know that we would have been able to sustain it." St. Aubin-Bridgewood has been with Occupy Charlotte since it started, but hasn't spent a night at the campsite. She has two kids, a working husband and a pet-sitting business to juggle. She visits the Occupy camp regularly for meetings, protests and to round up support for the campers. St. Aubin-Bridgewood says people don't realize Occupy Charlotte is more than just 48 tents: There are people all over town "occupying from home." "They get on the internet, they put up different articles, they try and stay involved, they try and keep the conversation going, they try and educate their friends and family and neighbors as to what the movement's about," explains St. Augin-Bridgewood. "That's basically what I call Occupying from your Home." St. Aubin-Bridgewood says she'd like to see those "home" occupiers get more involved supporting the campers and protesting in the streets. "But I think you have to take a look at Charlotte - I mean Charlotte's a very conservative town, it's a banking town," says St. Aubin-Bridgewood. "I've had people who are neighbors and friends that work for the banks that tell me they support us but they can't openly support us." She thinks that's slowly changing, and that Occupy Charlotte has the potential to be a powerful symbol in Bank of America's backyard . . . particularly if the campers can hang on until the Democratic National Convention brings a national spotlight to the city next fall.