Linda Doig, 51:
Holding a photo of herself from her days as a model with the Wilhelmina agency, Doig weeps as she recalls becoming homeless only 10 days earlier after being evicted. "I'm disabled," she says, citing a serious back injury she sustained falling off the roof of her home as she attempted to repair it. While she wasn't an activist when she set up camp in Lee Park, she says she is one now. "You have to listen to what they're saying," she says of the activists and their message of economic equality, "cause they're making sense."
Carey Hicks, 47:
"I became homeless when she did," says Hicks, who was living with Doig when she was evicted. An out-of-work carpenter, Hicks says the loss of his driver's license has made finding employment difficult and he worries about Doig's health problems which he says are exacerbated by the rough outdoor living conditions. Meeting other people in the same situation as he and Doig, however, has made sudden homelessness bearable. "Thank God," he says, "for the camaraderie."
Tuesday, November 29 is deadline day for Occupy Charlottesville, but at noon– just six hours before protesters must decide whether to stay in Lee Park in violation of an expired permit or to move to another location– there's still no consensus.
"We just don't know yet," says one Occupier, who declines to be identified before cutting off a reporter's questions to "go check out another option."
Indeed, consensus isn't always easy to reach among the loosely organized group that took up residence in Lee Park on October 15 following the lead of Occupy Wall Street. But if Occupy Charlottesville began as a political rally, it quickly broadened into an unlikely community, pulling together factions including anarchists, socialists, peace activists, and the homeless.
"Thank God for the camaraderie," says Carey Hicks, a newly homeless unemployed carpenter who moved into Lee Park just before Thanksgiving. Hicks and others say they see value in the Occupation even if, as many critics have pointed out, the mission of the group can't be easily stated.
"Without people coming together like this," Hicks says, "other people, homeless people included, are blind to the magnitude of the problem."
Blake Brame agrees.
A contractor who lives in Afton, Brame, 40, has frequently pitched a tent in Lee Park and says that while he doesn't feel he's part of any one faction of Occupy, the appeal for many of those camping out, particularly the homeless, is simple: a sense of family.
"Sometimes," he says, "human beings just need human beings."
That community is on display on Monday night, November 28, as protesters gather at 6pm for a meeting of the General Assembly. Approximately two dozen people sit in chairs around a fire pit and work their way through the night's agenda. While the decision of where to move is less than 24 hours away, there are other topics to discuss. A working group tentatively called "dismantling white privilege" is forming, says one woman, while a man invites protesters to meet him at Walmart on Saturday to tour the toy section for an event called "Please don't buy war toys." A self-described anarchist announces a book fair, and one of the original park occupiers urges the group to use some of its money for housekeeping.
"The toilets," she says, "are getting gross again."
Standing on the perimeter of the group, several downtown residents observe the proceedings, but they're not in the park to participate.
"It's an interesting case study," says John Hollis, a UVA grad student in engineering who lives two blocks away and says he's watched these General Assembly meetings 20 or 30 times. "It's very similar to how democracy started," he muses, recalling an earlier meeting at which the group discussed creating a Bill of Rights.
Other downtown residents are outspoken about their frustration with the occupation.
"It's gotten to the point where I'm a little angry," says Julie Browman, who's also watching on this warm November evening. Browman says she used to enjoy reading on the Lee Park benches but stopped after smelling marijuana and seeing protesters changing clothes.
"I hope they move," she says, "so I can have my own public space back."
The decision about where– and if– to move will wait for the next day, but images of Occupy protesters being clubbed and tear gassed in other cities have the protesters nervous, particularly after the Department of Corrections posted a warning earlier that day that anyone on probation in the park after the 11pm curfew on Tuesday would face arrest.
"If this isn't the start of a showdown, I don't know what is," says Lyle Farmer, a 26-year-old Charlottesville native who favors an end to capitalism and who's been camping in the park for three weeks.
"They're trying to separate us, little by little," he says. "They're clipping our wings."
Probation officer Jeff Lenert, however, says that's not the case.
"We are simply doing our job to help ensure public safety," he says, noting that while an arrest for trespassing might not be significant for many of the protesters, parolees with suspended sentences face serious ramifications.
On Tuesday, hours before the permit expired, the city granted the protesters an additional 24 hours to exit the park. Mayor Dave Norris expressed hope that they'd leave peacefully and set up at McIntire or some other mutually acceptable location or simply cease the overnight camping and stick to protesting during park hours, 7am to 11pm.
"I'm proud Charlottesville hasn't acted rashly and with force against citizens gathered to speak out," says Norris, "but we also have to balance out different public interests. The neighborhood has a compelling interest in having the park restored."