Saturday, October 08, 2011

Something organic (and very soggy) about Occupy Denver rally

Author with soggy sign
Whenever I attend a protest in another state, I always try to exhibit a little bit of Wyoming. It ties me to home. It causes strangers to approach and say, "Hey, I'm from Wyoming too." On a fall football Saturday, someone might come up and say "Go Pokes."

That's what happened today in Denver during the Occupy Denver rally and march. A young man perused my soggy sign (see above).

"You're from Wyoming?"

"Yes" I said out of my soggy face.

"I'm from Torrington."

"Cheyenne," I said.

"Go Pokes," he said, making a fist.

"Go Pokes," I answered. "They're going to need a lot of Go-Poking today at Utah State."

He laughed and moved on. We were marching and the rain was coming down. My wife Chris and I took turns holding the sign. It was permanent marker inked on poster board. Neither of us are great sign makers as we lack whatever genome helps you make readable yet artistic lettering on a white board. But the sign possessed some Wyoming soulfulness which probably drew the young Torringtonite to us. And later, two young women from Gillette who now live in Denver.
Getting ready to march
They were young, most of the occupiers. The age of our kids. Motivated and peaceful too. Their signs were mostly better than ours, and some had machine-lettered placards which looked really good. Some had covered their placards with plastic. They had planned ahead. It takes some planning to attend a protest, even when that protest seems to have grown organically out of the wet ground.

Some of the Occupy Denver people have been living outside for weeks. Their impetus comes from Occupy Wall Street, which began its life in Manhattan's Liberty Square Sept. 17. The weather, for the most part, has been glorious. Treatment from the Denver Police, pretty good. People drop off clothes and food. The multitudes have assembled their own security force. I asked one of the security guys how he got his job. "I was tall," he said, "so they asked me."

When it comes to visibility, it helps to be tall. Tall and festooned with orange. It is hunting season, after all, and you can't be too careful.

This teacher testifies about the damage done to public education by the undue influence of large corporations. 
Chris and I located the core of Occupy Denver on the Capitol grounds along Broadway. There's also a small tent city which provides shelter for the hardcore OD crew. Each occupy event focuses on what night be called "testifying." A person calls "mike check," comes to the center of the circle and proceeds to outline his/her reasons for attending. Savvy folks break their narrative into bite-bized chunks so the rest can follow. It's basically repetition. It turns all of us into motivational speakers. It engages the audience.

He: The top 400 in this country

Us: The top 400 in this country

He: Have more money

Us: Have more money

He: Than the bottom 150 million

Us: Than the bottom 150 million

Former First Lady Dottie Lamm interviews one of the more seasoned occupiers
And that person goes on until he/she is finished -- or until someone else in the crowd calls "mike check" and take the soapbox. That person may want to dispute what the previous testifier said. That happened at least once today. One guy, obviously infused with the populism of the day, told everyone that the streets were ours and that we were going to walk in the streets during our march, no matter what the police said.

"Mike check," said one of the tall security guards.

Despite what the previous person said!

Despite what the previous person said!

We are not going to walk in the street!

We are not going to walk in the street!

He went on to explain that OD did not have a permit for today's march and that it might be in the best interest of everyone here not to rile the police who, for the most part, have been very helpful and understanding. We were policing ourselves, he noted, and wrapped up with "peace."

"Peace" we all said.

As we testified, two DPD paddy wagons rolled down Broadway. I couldn't help but notice that a squad of riot-equipped officers clung to the side of each wagon.

"Uh oh," I thought.

"Uh oh," thought those around me.

Occupy Denver occupies Colfax Avenue
As it turned out, there was little cause for alarm. Marchers chanted and followed the rules and we walked down Colfax Avenue. Police prowlers prowled the inside lane and the security teams made sure we followed the walk-don't-walk signs. A seasoned woman in a funky hat came up to me and said that she was interviewing "older" participants and she couldn't help but notice that Chris and I were, possibly, a bit older than the majority of the assemblage. She hoped that we didn't mind if she pointed that out. We didn't mind. She introduced herself as Dottie Lamm and said she was writing a column for the Denver Post. She asked why were here on this cold rainy day. We believe in the cause. We were curious. A good excuse to get out of town. She asked for our phone number so she could interview us in detail later. We traded numbers. And she moved on to interview other older participants.

Dottie Lamm, in case you don't know, is Colorado former First Lady, wife of Governor Dick Lamm (1975-87). Dick Lamm was a firebrand in his day, as was his wife. She ran for the U.S. Senate in 1998 and was defeated by Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who had earlier defected to the Republicans.

We walked down Colfax in the rain. We received quite a few honks and we yelled in response.

Who are we?

We are the 99 percent!

What's democracy look like?

This is what democracy looks like!

Whose street is it?

Our street!

But we didn't walk in it. We walked along the sidewalk to Fillmore, crossed the street (with police assistance) and headed back to the Capitol. More chanting. More rain. We called it quits, had lunch and drove back to Cheyenne in a heavy rain.

What had we learned? A lot, as it turns out. I'll explain tomorrow...

No comments: