VIDEO: Occupy Denver enters third week with numbers growing and spirits high

Occupy Denver
Occupiers in front of food tent (Kersgaard)

Something’s happening downtown, what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Occupy Denver has no leader. Occupy Denver has no agenda. Occupy Denver has no list of demands. What it does have is passion, anger and, so far, a willingness to simply be.

“I’m down here to simply let the people know that the 99 percent are not happy,” said Mark Bostovit as he sat on the ground next to Broadway waving a sign.

Bostovit said he is a college student and also has a full-time job.

“The one percent run everything. Money has way too much to do with everything.”

Thursday was Bostovit’s first day at the Occupation, but he said he would be there as much as he could be going forward. “Whenever I’m not at work or at school,” he said.

Despite having a full-time job, he said he needs to go to the food bank to survive. “Where I work, two out of 25 people have good Social security numbers. The ones without cards don’t even get paid as much as I do. I can’t imagine how they live,” he said.

On Saturday, there will be an Occupy Denver march through downtown, beginning at noon at the Capitol.

Dennis Ormond, who recently lost a job, said he didn’t know if Occupy Denver or the Occupy movement would accomplish anything. “But at least I’m doing something by coming down here, from a solidarity point of view,” he said.

As we stand along the sidewalk west of the Capitol on Broadway, there is a constant honking from cars driving by, with many of the drivers rolling down their windows on a cool windy day to shout encouragement.

Occupiers said that once in awhile someone flips them the bird or yells at people to “get a job”, but during two hours Thursday there were no such incidents, just hundreds of people honking, waving and shouting encouragement.

Many of the hundred or so people milling around seemed to be there for general solidarity and support. Others did have specific grievances.

Seth with sign at occupy denver
Teenager Seth, part of the Occupation for ten days. (Kersgaard)
“I want to end corporate and government corruption and greed,” said Heather McKinnon by phone. “Those are the basic tenets.”

“I would like to see all student loan debt wiped out. I would like to see education be free from preschool to graduate school. I would like to see the elderly and children taken care of.”

McKinnon described herself as a 51-year-old suburban stay at home soccer mom. “The media portrays this as a bunch of bums and hippies, but the funny thing is, it really attracts people from all walks of life. What the media is trying to do is really unfair. Most of America is very fed up and if we all come together we are very powerful,” she said.

The idea that the media is getting it wrong is a common theme in this crowd, tempered somewhat by the knowledge that media–right or wrong–is one of the things fueling the movement’s growth.

“Anyone in the press can say whatever they want,” said Jeannie Hartley, “but nothing will stop us from succeeding if we stay united.”

She said there are millions of Americans who side with the occupiers. “They have to ask which side of history they want to be on. They can sit on their couches watching the news, swearing at the politicians, or they can get up and come down here.”

While the media might not always be sympathetic, The New York Times reported Thursday that the Occupy movement is already more popular than Congress. At least one U.S. Senator, Tom Harkin, is in their camp, figuratively at least.

While the group may not have leaders per se, it does have people who are more outspoken than others, more willing to try and lead a group discussion toward a desired outcome.

The group has what it calls general assembly meetings every day at 3 and 7 pm. They sit or stand in a circle and discuss issues affecting the group. Thursday, the big issue was that one man had erected a tent on park grounds, in possible violation of city law. Most of the group seems to want to stay on the good side of the police. A few others take more of an “F the police” position.

The police had asked that the tent be taken down. The tent’s owner, Corey Donahue, had put the tent up on his own, without seeking consensus from the group, and said he was not going to take it down. The 3 pm meeting Thursday was dedicated largely to debating the tent, with most of the group seeming to want it down in order to avoid confrontation with the police.

Corey Donahue at Occupy Denver
Corey Donahue in his tent (Kersgaard)
The tent did not come down and was reportedly joined by a couple more Thursday evening.

“The police have been golden,” said Hartley before the tent incident. “They’ve been supportive and helpful.”

Another of the de facto leaders, Becca Chavez, echoed Hartley’s comments on the police. “They have been excellent. They told us the rules, and we said OK.”

They and others pointed to the violence in New York City, and expressed thanks that such a thing hasn’t happened in Denver. See video below of police in New York attacking a crowd with clubs.

Chavez and Donahue, on opposite sides of the tent debate have something in common besides their hope that Occupy Denver can lead to real change. They’re both college educated. Chavez has an English degree from CSU and is underemployed in retail. She and Donahue are both frustrated by the job market.

“I’m a hard worker, but the economy is so bad there are no opportunities,” she said. “I came down here so I could feel useful,” she said.

Donahue has a master’s in international law and relations from the University of New South Wales. He says pitching a tent is partially his protest about the fact that Denver will let the homeless sleep on sidewalks unprotected from the weather, but won’t let them pitch a tent on the soft grass of a park.

Donahue, also a marijuana activist, said that once the civil rights movement succeeded, the government launched the war on drugs in an effort to keep people of color down. He has $57,000 in college debt and no job.

“We built this world. we can build a new one,” he said.

Some in the media have made the point that the group seems not to have much of an agenda, but Betsy Reed at The Nation, says that is not a problem:

Everybody has a piece of advice for the protesters at Occupy Wall Street. They should put their clothes on. They should stop raising their fists. They should fact-check their handwritten signs. They should appoint leaders who can give pithy quotes to reporters. They should get with an electoral program. Nicholas Kristof even offered to help them out with a neat list of demands, in case those holding signs saying “We Are the 99%” just needed to have the unfairness of the carried interest rule explained to them.

Indeed, their failure to present demands is the most frequently heard criticism of the OWS protesters, not just in the mainstream press but from veteran leftists as well. What do these wan, angry young people want, anyway?

If you spend an hour or two down at Liberty Plaza, as I did with my 8-year-old daughter this past weekend, it’s clear enough. She got the point, at least: especially from the signs that read, “You should teach your kids to share,” and, “Give my mom her money back!! A single working mom…not fair!”

But sometimes, you also need a spark. “Occupy Wall Street,” as an idea and an action, is a stroke of brilliance. It’s not poll-tested or focus-grouped, but it expresses perfectly the outrage that is the appropriate response to the maddening political situation we find ourselves in today. It succeeds as symbolic politics: taking back the square is just what we need to do. And it’s wonderful that unions and community groups that have been working in the trenches will be linking arms with the denizens of OWS this Wednesday.

Maybe this will go nowhere too. The odds are against it, after all. But what do we have to lose? We have to try something new.

Is as unlikely a pairing as you are likely to find anywhere, Channel 9 on Thursday brought Becca Chavez into the studio for a debate with Independence Institute President Jon Caldera. See it below.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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