Thursday, December 08, 2011

Defying the odds, Occupy movements take to the streets in Red State Wyoming

Indie  journalist Arun Gupta has been traveling the country with videographer Michele Fawcett interviewing Occupy protesters and attending rallies. He interviewed eight Occupy Cheyenne members on Nov. 28. I was one of them. I’m included in the following story from Salon. Let me just pause here to say that the Occupy Cheyenne members I’ve met are a brave and dedicated bunch.  They care for the cause and they care for each other. They have spent countless hours demonstrating peacefully in freezing temps. They sing songs and carry signs, as the song says, and many say hurray for our side – the 99%. They have spent many hours drafting a declaration that you can read it here. I also salute those Occupy Laramie folks interviewed for this story. I know some of them, notably Nancy Sindelar, a military veteran who’s been on that same downtown street corner for a decade protesting needless wars.
Read the following story and think about where you’d like to be on Saturday, Dec. 10. I’ll be at the State Capitol at noon. Which side are you on? The 99%? Or the 1%?
Here’s the Wyoming segment of “Fear and Occupation in Red State America” on Salon:
Occupy Cheyenne supporters say fierce winds and bitter cold have prevented them from camping outside so we caught up with eight of them on a weekday at the sleek new Laramie County Public Library. Beth Buczynski, a rapid-talking freelance editor and writer, said the Occupy movement made her “hopeful for the first time in a long time” because now “there are millions of people … all speaking together.” 
In addition to standing on street corners protesting wealth and power inequalities, the group has twice presented a workshop called “how the 1 percent crashed the economy.” Buczynski said one advantage of the workshop is that “people can hear things and talk about things without having to take a public stand.” 
Leah Zegan, a coffee-shop manager who is active in a local Unitarian Universalist Church, said education was important because of the various responses to their demonstrations. 
“People would come up and talk to us about it but they knew nothing about it,” she said. “Or if they knew about the Occupy movement they had no idea something like this was happening in Cheyenne.” Or they were unsure if “it would be safe for them to come because of the way that Wyoming is.” 
Mike Shay, a father of two college-age children and anti-Vietnam War protester as a youth, takes the hostility in stride. “I’m a veteran of enough protests to realize you’re going to get flipped off. You’re going to get yelled at. We all know how to handle that as nonviolent protesters.” 
What did surprise Shay is “how much interest there has been,” plus the fact that the movement is “nonviolent, is thoughtful, and comes from an organic place. When Occupy Cheyenne appeared it was sort of out of the ground. I said … ‘This is great, now who are these people?’” 
About 100 people attended the first protest on Oct. 15, which everyone said “was a lot for Cheyenne.” As elsewhere, the economy is a core concern as the country’s economic crisis has arrived on many people’s doorsteps. 
Robert Crawford, an unemployed 44-year-old photographer, says healthcare is a big issue because “I’m a diabetic, my 7-year-old son has already had back surgery, and he has multiple health issues.” Erin Madson says she can’t find a job despite having a master’s in biology, and both she and her sister are disabled and unable to receive proper healthcare. Ed Waddell said while people in Cheyenne are “fed up and upset” about the suffering, the problem is “they don’t understand what’s happening. They don’t know what’s being done to them.” 
Blame that on the media, say occupiers. Zegan says, “People just don’t know what’s going on or they just hear about it from Fox News.” 
Larry Struempf grew up on his parents’ cattle ranch near Laramie, which is infamous as the site of the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in 1998. The 41-year-old Struempf describes his parents as “extreme GOP members.” Of his six siblings, he says, those “who went to college became liberal. The ones who didn’t remained conservative.” He says “many, many people in the community are extremely against the Occupy Movement.” The press, especially Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, portrays occupiers “as all unemployed, people who want to mooch off society, that are trying to just have the wealthy people give the poor people their money.” 
In Laramie, Struempf explains, “It’s so much easier, even if you do support [the Occupy movement], to just be quiet.” He adds, “It’s scary.  Times are hard, even though Wyoming is doing well. If you lose your job, you lose your house, you go live on the streets, and it’s not a forgiving environment.” 
A 12-year resident of Laramie, Lindy Murphy was laid off recently from the U.S. Postal Service. She says her co-workers would bad-mouth the union. 
“Nobody seemed to understand that the union was what gave them these great jobs,” she said. “They played Rush Limbaugh over the radio at the post office when we were sorting mail. When you got into the mail vehicle the radio was tuned to Rush Limbaugh. It was very much part of the culture.” 
Murphy, who owned a bar and restaurant in Texas for 18 years prior to being a mail carrier, says the post office let her go after a three-year stint as a “transitional employee” rather than make her a union member as required. 
Despite being unemployed for 10 months at the age of 56, Murphy said, “The Occupy movement is the most amazing thing that has ever happened in my lifetime and I would never believe it would happen. I have some disdain for Americans … We’re the ones who just go plunder other countries so we can have more.  And it’s like, oh, people have been paying attention!  People do know what’s going on!” She adds that she is “disappointed that more people aren’t standing up” in Laramie, but she is excited by the broader movements, including the Arab Spring. 
While Laramie’s Facebook page has just 68 members and eight occupiers joined the Christmas parade with signs encouraging people to “buy local, pay cash,” it does provide a sense of community to people who previously felt isolated. Mandi Leigh, who is earning a master’s in natural science education at the University of Wyoming, says, “It’s easier to stand up and get over your fear when you have that support and when you have community.” 
The fear is real. Nancy Sindelar, who served 21 years in the Wyoming National Guard and has been conducting a weekly peace vigil in Laramie for more than 10 years, says of the last person who tried to attack her, “I don’t want to brag, but I was still holding my flag and my sign in one hand and he was on the pavement.” A member of Veterans for Peace, Sindelar says that before the first Occupy event, held at the Laramie Peace House, she told a reporter for the Laramie Boomerang, “Absolutely do not put the address of the Peace House in the paper.” She says there have been many “vicious comments on articles about the Occupy movement. 
The occupations in Wyoming benefit from a spillover effect from other occupations. Leigh says after participating in an Occupy Denver march of some 3,000 people, “I was really inspired, so I got involved with these guys,” in Laramie. 
Sindelar says the first Occupy event she attended with a few other people was in Casper, Wyo. “The next week it was in Cheyenne and I said, we’re Laramie, we gotta do something, so we called one here, and had it in the plaza.” 
Beth Buczynski says she happened to be in Austin, Texas, on the day the occupation began and “just completely felt that something I was waiting for was happening, so when I got back here and found an Occupy Cheyenne page I was thrilled and surprised and decided to meet these folks and do whatever I could to help out.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is the statewide
Occupy Wyoming,;
Occupy Sheridan, Wyoming,;
Occupy Casper,;
Occupy Jackson,;
Occupy Pinedale,;
OccupyWyoming Big Horn Basin,

And we're all in this together.