Memphis, Nashville sites of occupation protests
Posted: Friday, October 21, 2011 8:01 pm
By ADRIAN SAINZ
MEMPHIS (AP) — Kara Middleton and three other Occupy Memphis protesters huddled together in a small tent on a cold, rainy afternoon, wearing jackets and trying to keep their shelter from blowing away as wind gusts strafed the tree-lined downtown square.
They are part of a small but well-organized group that has planted itself in Civic Center Plaza just steps from City Hall and a federal building that holds the office of the U.S. Attorney for West Tennessee. They are airing grievances against their government, weeks after the Occupy Wall Street movement began protests in New York. The numbers in Memphis vary from a handful to up to 100 at different times of day.
Middleton and her Memphis partners were completing a live Internet stream from their location, where Occupy Memphis has set up signs emblazoned with words of protest, sleeping tents and assigned areas for their various “working groups” to meet. While they have different complaints, many say that the government no longer represents the majority of U.S. citizens, what they call “the 99 percent.”
“What I would really like to see is the representatives that we elect, that they go to Washington to actually represent us and they don’t represent corporations, that they vote for the people and they vote according to what we want instead of what money interests want,” said Middleton, 41.
The official “occupation” of the plaza began Oct. 15.
There are other occupy efforts in Tennessee. Marches have been held in Knoxville, Johnson City and Nashville. A few dozen protesters in Nashville have been camping at Legislative Plaza across the street from the state Capitol since holding an initial rally there on Oct. 6.
Before starting their occupation, Occupy Memphis gathered in what they call “General Assembly” meetings. They created the “First Declaration of Occupy Memphis,” a list of demands that includes a call for Wall Street to be held accountable for “its role in the destruction of the global financial system.” The document also demands more affordable housing, higher taxes for the richest 1 percent of Americans, and recognition that health care is a “basic human right.”
As in other parts of the country, Occupy Memphis maintains a nonviolent approach, and members have been taught how to gather peacefully without being arrested.
They also have studied local ordinances and learned what to do if they are arrested. However, police action seems unlikely at this point, and city officials have said they are fine with the location as long as the protests remain peaceful and don’t infringe on other citizens’ rights.
They use batteries to run the computer and their lights, because they are not permitted to use the city’s electricity. They don’t use open flame to cook; food is delivered daily.
Memphis Fire Marshal Brett Fleming said the camp had no violations during a Thursday inspection.
“They seem pretty well organized,” Fleming said.
The General Assembly meetings feature different people leading discussions; no one person assumes full control. Committees serve to educate members about the movement. Their names and duties are simple: medical, mobilization, legal, peace, food, media, Web and so on.
Members vote on proposals not with ballots but with their hands, palms up for a “yes” vote, palms down for a “no.” Those seeking to “block” proposals made an “X” shape with their forearms.
Just one blocked vote means that the proposal is shot down. After a block, members return to their committees to seek a compromise. All members present have to agree on a proposal for it to pass.
“While the process may not be as lightning fast as a majority vote, it is very inclusive and has been very productive so far,” said Graham Elwood, a 17-year-old actor, musician and University of Memphis student who also has a day job in retail clothing sales.
Elwood says he won’t be satisfied until the demands made by Occupy Memphis are met. He is frustrated with what he perceives as the dominating influence that corporations and lobbying groups have on the government.
Occupy Memphis is monitoring the activities of other occupation groups around the country. A representative from Occupy Wall Street briefly visited the site this week, Elwood said.
“I certainly feel a connection with all the occupation movements, even if we don’t talk directly with them,” Elwood said.
Occupy Memphis members have faced some criticism. Internet postings accuse them of being jobless, lazy people whose demands are short on specifics. During a recent march, a woman approached the group and told them that the marchers are crazy and they don’t know what they’re doing, Middleton said.
“Attacks are not necessary,” Elwood said. “I’ve heard hours-worth of well thought-out, educated, informed debate, from not only people that are here supporting Occupy Memphis but between supporters of Occupy Memphis and those that come to challenge us.”
Memphis firefighter Gordon Ginsberg manned a table at the protest site on Monday, handing out flyers to passers-by while standing next to a dry-erase board that listed starting times for a yoga session, a basic medical training meeting and a forum on peace in Israel.
“The people of the occupation have a common ground, even if they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum,” Ginsberg said.
Published in The Messenger 10.21.11