The occupation of Lee Park, Tuesday, October 18.
Occupy Charlottesville's headquarters in Lee Park.
Photo by Dave McNair
Taking a page from the "Occupy Wall Street" movement that has been sweeping the nation, a small group of protesters occupied Central Place on the Downtown Mall Friday, October 14, encouraging passersby to withdraw their money from nearby Wells Fargo Bank and deposit it in local institutions. As one bike cop watched, and the wind swirled, about 20 protesters with signs chanted things like "Shame on Wells Fargo," and "Stop payday lending."
Meanwhile, a big confrontation between police and Occupy Wall Street protesters was expected in lower Manhattan as Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the closure of Zuccotti Park, the base of operations for the movement. And although that decision was postponed early in the day, police nevertheless arrested 14 people. Over 700 people have been arrested so far.
The next day about 40 protesters affiliated with Occupy Charlottesville gathered outside Carr's Hill as UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan hosted a luncheon for the University's corporate sponsors, displaying signs that read “Goldman Sachs eats UVA Brains” and "People not Profit," a scenario that has been playing itself out on campuses across the country. (Amid protests by students at Barnard recently, Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, canceled a talk he was to give there.)
The Downtown Mall version was tame in comparison. Nearby, people sat outside enjoying lunch with friends and colleagues at places like Petit Pois and Hamilton's, while volunteers for Virginia Organizing, the statewide organization that, well, organized the event, handed out pamphlets. Under the shadow of the Landmark Hotel, a symbol of one local banking mess, VO executive director Joe Szakos (husband of City Councilor Kristin Szakos) stood watching as VO chairperson Sandra Cook rallied the troops. The event started at 1:30pm and ended promptly at 2pm.
"Why do we have to pay to use your own God dang money?" a woman shouted.
"Divest and use your money to invest in our community," said Cook. "And to the banks, we say, 'Pay your fair share.'"
While the movement spreads across the nation, fueled by anger and frustration with the widening gap between rich and poor, and with the predatory practices of the government bailed-out banking industry, on the Downtown Mall the protest was dwarfed by a largely preoccupied crowd of people on their way to somewhere else.
"What the hell is this about?" a man in a baseball cap asked.
"They're protesting Wall Street like the folks in New York City," another man said.
"People are like sheep, man," he said, walking away.
Meanwhile, over the weekend, supporters of Occupy Charlottesville began occupying nearby Lee Park on the Downtown Mall, setting up tents and a make-shift headquarters.
On Monday, October 17, protesters spoke before City Council asking them to suspend an 11pm curfew so that they could occupy the park 24/7. No decision was made, but at least three councilors, including Mayor Dave Norris, expressed support for the protestors. Councilor Holly Edwards wondered if were fair, considering the fact that the homeless are not allowed to spend the night in the park. Councilor David Brown worried about the precedent it might set, allowing other groups, such as the local Tea Party, to occupy the park. "As hard as it is to imagine Carole Thorpe [local Tea Party chairperson] camping out in Lee Park..." Brown quipped.
On Tuesday, campers in the park felt confident they would be issued a permit.
"I was a big Republican when I left for Iraq," says Evan Knappenberger, an AHS grad and an Iraq war veteran who is camping out at Lee Park. "But I realized the strong have to take care of the weak in this country. We really need to stop thinking of selfishness as a virtue."