Occupy movement burgeons across state amidst nationwide crackdown
More than 50 people marched through Chapel Hill earlier this month to protest the police department’s handling of an eviction of an anarchist takeover of an abandoned building. (photo by Eric Ginsburg)
Two days before Occupy Wall Street planned to celebrate two months of camping at Zuccotti Park, Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered its eviction in the early morning hours.
Yet what the crackdown in nearly 20 cities seems to have failed to slow down the movement.
Encampments sprung up rapidly around the country a month before Zuccotti Park was cleared, including one in Greensboro. Unlike the original site, Occupy Greensboro chose to end its physical occupation once permission from the YWCA ran out.
The occupation in Greensboro required significant time and resources to maintain, a number of participants said. Now they have more ability to focus on strategic planning and carrying out demonstrations.
“The encampment was a huge job in itself,” said Todd Warren. “When we decided to take the encampment down it was in realization that we needed to take some time to reflect about what to do next.”
Not everyone agrees the camp should have ended, and some suggested relocating to Governmental Plaza.
“I see all of the encampments as a tangible way to be living our morals,” said Yahya Alazrak, who was sleeping at Occupy Greensboro. “We don’t have any commitment or accountability to each other. The camp creates and necessitates both of those things.”
Alazrak, the student body president at Guilford College, remains involved despite his disagreements, and still thinks the movement has great potential.
The group converges three times a week at Glenwood Coffee & Books to hold general assemblies. Size and topics vary greatly, ranging from how to structure working groups to discussions about possible actions.
Sunday meetings have evolved into longer-term vision and planning sessions, lasting three hours.
The day after the raid in Zuccotti Park, 30 people came to the general assembly, though the crowd was about three times bigger at the Sunday meeting two days earlier, one participant said.
The Nov. 15 meeting began like many others, with an explanation of the consensus decision-making process and announcements; one person said they’ve connected with someone experiencing foreclosure who is interested, and that they expect to occupy a home in foreclosure in the coming months.
The foreclosure working group, a subcommittee of the general assembly, began before the occupation was dismantled but participants have had more time to focus on research and outreach now.
“People are being foreclosed on without any time for law enforcement to investigate who really holds these mortgages,” participant Dave Reed said. “We’ve been talking about putting a moratorium on foreclosures. There is massive, massive fraud.”
Drawing inspiration from actions around the country, particularly at Occupy LA, Greensboro participants hope to occupy homes facing foreclosure alongside the tenants to stop eviction.
“Occupy has been focused on resisting but we are looking to see how we can respond [to these problems] with a do-it-ourselves attitude,” Warren said.
Some of the things the group has begun looking into include creating worker-run cooperatives and doing more popular education. Warren, who runs a home remodeling business, is interested in the idea of worker cooperatives but wants to learn more about how they work.
Occupy the campus
Occupiers have pitched tents on many college campuses and universities nationwide, but students in the area are taking a different approach. New chapters at Elon University and UNCG have yet to set up camp, and so far it doesn’t look like they plan to.
“It became very apparent that there was not enough student involvement [in Greensboro],” UNCG senior Juan Miranda said. “After the first meeting, we realized students weren’t immediately affected by some of the Occupy Greensboro issues.”
Instead, students listed tuition hikes, layoffs, the price of books and the school’s Glenwood expansion plans as primary concerns.
While Occupy Greensboro was holding its Nov. 15 general assembly, 15 students interrupted a public meeting on proposed tuition increases using a technique used widely in the movement called “mic check,” in which the crowd repeats what a speaker is saying to amplify their voice.
Mic checks are used for practical purposes at larger general assemblies, such as in New York, but have also been used by occupiers to interrupt a Philadelphia City Council meeting, a foreclosure auction, a chamber of commerce meeting in Washington DC and a hearing on tuition increases at UNC Chapel Hill. Greensboro native and UNC student Nicole Serban said Students for a Democratic Society is working with Occupy UNC to fight tuition increases and is networking with students at UNC Charlotte and Greensboro. In the last week, participants have held two well-attended marches and attended three of the school’s tuition meetings, interrupting one of them.
“The hike is going to make this a homogenous elite school, and other proposals and alternatives are not being considered,” Serban said. “[Asking why I oppose the increase] is sort of like asking why education is important. It affects everyone on this campus and it’s going to limit education.”
Students at Elon University also used the mic check, but outside with no intention of disruption. After 10 students visited the occupation in New York over fall break, some of them created a Facebook group, which rapidly grew to 80 members. Someone called for an assembly with only a few hours notice the day Zuccotti Park was evicted.
Ten people showed up and decided to hold a mic check speak-out action on Nov. 17 as part of a national day of action and to celebrate two months of Occupy Wall Street, which drew 15 people including five faculty members. Now the group plans to meet twice a week and continue to plan its next steps.
“One of the bigger issues for Occupy Elon will be learning about what rights students have to free speech on private campuses,” said senior Maggie Castor. “Some people feel as if they are part of 1 percent and are excluded or are villain of the movement. Part of the task will be realizing that we’re addressing a structure and not individuals.”
On all three campuses, interaction with the administration and campus police has been limited. So far there have been no arrests, and participants at all three said student interest is growing rapidly. At UNC Chapel Hill and Greensboro, students are hoping to come together against tuition increases at a Board of Governors meeting in February.
The Occupy movement is constantly growing and evolving, with different local groups learning from each other and copying strategies. When the movement hits a roadblock, people find a new approach, much to the frustration of police and other officials.
In Chapel Hill, more than 50 people took over an abandoned building on Nov. 12, announcing their intention to use the space for community needs like a free school, a free clinic and lodging.
The action was independent of Occupy Chapel Hill but in the spirit of the Occupy movement. The next day, police armed with assault rifles raided the building, where people had already begun cleaning, building a sink and serving food after spending the night.
Dozens of people turned out on short notice for a benefit show for the eight arrestees that night, and more than 50 anarchists marched through the streets decrying the heavy-handed police action, ending with the chant: “We’ll be back!” “Why do people not have access to healthcare and affordable education, when there is all kinds of space available?” Reed asked. “Why are people sleeping outside? You can kill two birds with one stone. We’ve got to reclaim these spaces and use them for the 99 percent of us who need them.”
Reed wasn’t the only one to support the Chapel Hill building occupation. “I think the way they went about the reclamation of that space was brilliant,” Alazrak said. “I would love to see Occupy Greensboro make a statement by repurposing space.”
At the Nov. 15 general assembly meeting in Greensboro, the group endorsed a plan to make solidarity videos with Occupy Wall Street and the building occupiers in Chapel Hill. While the decision doesn’t indicate all participants support the idea of utilizing abandoned buildings, many have a problem with the paradox of homeless people and people-less homes.
“Capitalism hoards and alternatively dis cards all sorts of things that could be useful to the whole,” Warren said. “In Chapel Hill they’re directly challenging that. Each community’s got to decide for themselves what’s right for them, but…. I hope there is some accountability for [the police’s] action.”