In which our hero ventures back to the People's Plaza to meet more of the demonstrators.
In the week since I was there, Occupy St. Louis had significantly increased in size. The bulk of the grassy area at the top of the plaza was blooming tents. More people were milling about and up on Market St. holding signs.
Also, during this week, I realized that there was a sort of disconnect in society concerning the Occupy movement. From the little I’ve found on my usual news outlets the general consensus from comments is that many think that the occupiers are hippies and uneducated youth.
I wanted to know if this was true or not. Now, I’d heard about the Occupy St. Louis group from a guy I work with. Kaare is not a hippy. He has a wife and a bachelor’s degree. So, I went down to see if he was the anomaly or the norm.
In the middle of plaza, on the floor of the step-down, a make-shift stage was erected. General assemblies were held in that area, as well as the free concerts put on over the weekends. The stage consists of a repurposed shoe brand banner, a very minimal sound system, and some lighting. Adjacent to this stage is the communications tent. This tent houses a computer, printer, a router (or possibly a wi-fi extender), and some other electronics necessary to keep the group online. It all has the feel of movie-style military headquarters tent.
This is where I ran into Kaare. He was chasing down trash and debris that was getting whipped about by the wind. The group has been very vigilant about tidiness. They’ve even set up a way to recycle.
Kaare and I work for an archaeological firm. He moved to St. Louis from Minnesota. Having been unemployed for about four months, he took the first call back he could get. Luckily, his wife was able to transfer her position of employment down here too. This all leads into his reason for being in the plaza, though. He’s there because at the end of the month he and his wife have a hard time making ends meet. They live simply, with minimal luxuries, and he feels that in this day and age two adults should be able to do better than that. I asked him how his wife felt about him being downtown so much, as he’s at the plaza whenever he’s not at work. She’s been very supportive, he told me, and holding down the house while he’s out.
The other gentleman in the above picture is Matt. He works for the Falafelwich Wagon. He’s been coming down to the plaza off and on since day two. Note the bags Matt is holding in the picture. Those are full of food. He brings down leftover sandwiches from catering jobs for the food wagon because he feels that too much food gets wasted and so much good could be done with it. He isn’t biased. I had never been down there and when he approached us, he asked if I wanted beef or vegan. I declined, as I knew there were others that required sustenance more. But, it was the thought that counted. Matt attended Webster University and got a degree in Advertising/Marketing. He’s been helping the group book bands and get people to run audio for the concerts that have been put on in the plaza.
Conen was eating with Kaare. He lost his job in May while hospitalized. His employers considered it a “no call no show.” He found out about the Occupy movement while perusing YouTube after he was released from the hospital. He said he felt helpless not doing anything important like these people were and began to search for more information. While searching Facebook he ran across the beginnings of the St. Louis group. Unable to drive himself, he chanced asking for a ride on the page and was promptly replied to. That was the first of October. He’d been living in the plaza since. Today was the 16th. He says that the experience has turned him around and made him want to be a better person.
Up on Market Street, I found the sign holders. As traffic passed, the occupiers yelled replies of thanks when a car would honk. Here I met Harold.
Harold was a pipeliner. He grew up on a dairy farm North of Hannibal, MO where he learned a strong work ethic. He’s been homeless and unemployed for some time, now (he did not mention time and already seemed reluctant to talk to me, so I did not press him). He joined the occupiers five days before and was adamantly thanking honks from traffic.
Down the street, I met Matt Ankney. Matt is a fervent, knowledgeable demonstrator. His cry of “Higher wages for all Americans!” resounded after the honks of passing cars. He was happy to oblige my questions and then we carried on a discussion concerning the economic state of affairs in the United States along with his views and thoughts on how it came about as well as what could be done about it. The notes I took from this discussion are extensive and I still have numerous things to look up.
Matt is a freelance photographer living in the Central West End and has been coming to the plaza every day since day 1 (1Oct2011). He’s out all day on the weekends and about three hours during the week, until he has to pick his wife up from work at a local hospital. When she’s not working or she also joins him at the plaza and is constantly supportive of his efforts. Despite his rousing, passionate discourse (as sometimes I find that such people can be stand-offish with others, especially with people who don’t know about their particular topics) he was a very friendly guy who was just happy to have a civil discussion.
Veronica Cook was standing with Matt. She is a 54 year old commuting occupier and has been coming out to the plaza since the second day. She said that she didn’t really start getting interested in politics until the W. Bush administration. She started getting active by volunteering for the Obama campaign. What brought her to Occupy was the fear that governmental aid would begin to dry up as finances were used up elsewhere. Veronica is bi-polar and relies heavily on social security and medicare for her medication. When discussing the movement itself she tells me that she grew up in the 70s and is reminded of the movements of that time. She says that she’s given up on youth doing anything and has decided to do it herself. She has two kids, both living near Occupied cities and they are very supportive of her actions. She’s still trying to get them to go down to their own occupations.
I ran into Mike Diel on my way out of the plaza. He isn’t from St. Louis. He was traveling with friends from the Columbia, MO occupation and they decided to stop in St. Louis to show their support. He’s hoping that people will become more active and start a dialogue with their government officials concerning what they may feel are faults or short-comings.
As I was leaving a group of anti-protestors from a private school in Illinois showed up. They were “young Republicans,” as a local news station called them. What really impressed me was that when one of the occupiers disagreed with what these guys had to say and tried to get people to not listen to them by yelling and shouting for support, another of the occupiers railed against him and said that they should listen to them because they were discussing their differences and everyone should get to do that.
Here’s some more shots from that afternoon: