Citizen-Times Covers Occupy Asheville, Ben Weighs In

ASHEVILLE — Despite the threat of rainfall, Occupy Asheville organizers will mark the one-year anniversary of the movement with a march in downtown this afternoon.

Participants plan to gather at Pritchard Park, leaving at 4:30 p.m. on a “walking picket” to City Hall, where they will hold a general assembly to express views on economic inequality, the influence of money in politics and the plight of the “99 percent.”

Those plans are still in place despite the threat of rain, according to Meggen Lyon, one of the organizers.

“It’s to let the government know that we the people have not gone away,” said Lisa Landis, who was among dozens of people arrested during downtown protests last fall and winter. “We’re going to continue to experience our rights until they are taken from us.”

The event comes a year to the day after the launch of Occupy Wall Street, which inspired sympathetic uprisings across the country, including Occupy Asheville two weeks later. The movement began with protesters camping in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.

On today’s anniversary, Occupy activists plan to converge on intersections surrounding the New York Stock Exchange in a show of solidarity for the movement, which has lost steam in recent months. Organizers say the goal is to disrupt activity near Wall Street.

A statement on the group’s website reads: “We intend to create an empowering space for participants to deliver their own messages about why they demand an end to Wall Street’s devastating influence on our government, our environment, and our lives.”

Landis said the Asheville protest will be peaceful, concluding with a “99 second soapbox” for participants to express their views.

“It will be an orderly picket down the street. We’ll have our signs,” she said. “It’s educating the people. If you want change, then you have to be the change. It’s people coming together to make a difference.”

Asheville struggled like other cities to deal with Occupy protesters who said that camping in public spaces was part of their demonstration against corporate greed and unequal distribution of wealth.

Demonstrators slept on the sidewalk outside the Federal Building, in a park near the Vance Monument and under the Interstate 240 bridge over North Lexington Avenue. Each time, protesters either found the site untenable or were moved by police or arrested.

The campers finally settled on a sliver of land next to City Hall after learning that it wasn’t part of a park. But City Council voted in November to include the area in the park, making park curfews apply to the camp. Council also voted to ban overnight camping on city property.

Cities such as Oakland, Calif., experienced clashes with protesters that included fights with police, the setting of fires and vandalism to public buildings.

Asheville police said the demonstrations here were largely peaceful, but officers did make dozens of arrests, mostly on charges of misdemeanor trespassing, impeding traffic and resisting arrest.

Attorney Ben Scales, who represented pro bono more than 40 of those arrested, said he believes the movement continues to have a positive effect.

“I definitely think it did good in that it raised issues in people’s minds,” he said. “Whether or not there were any concrete changes, I think movements often take a long time.”

Scales compared the Occupy movement to the long road in abolishing slavery.

“It took a long time for the public consciousness to be influenced to the extent where the moneyed interests were brought in line,” he said. “There is still a great economic inequality that hasn’t gone away, and there is still a perception that neither political party is committed to addressing that inequality.”

Source: Asheville Citizen-Times, September 17, 2012; originally published here.