You are hereIt's The Little Things That Kill
It's The Little Things That Kill
The three of us were speeding back to my hotel. As chaos broke around us, we were desperate for more information than our dying smart phones could provide. Shawn was behind the wheel. Charles Hancock sat up front, a saint of a man nearly as large as the tiny foreign car streaking down Hillsborough Street. He was leaving message after frantic message for his cousin, who was behind the barricades surrounding ‘Troy Davis’ Park in Atlanta. The police had given occupiers there until midnight to vacate. Even after the tear-gassing and threats of rubber-tipped bullets being fired into the Occupation at Oakland earlier that day, no one could have known what was about to happen next.
When I first got into town, it was just the next city in a long line of ‘next cities’ I was headed to. I was on the road. By the time I left 72 hours later, this place had branded me.
That Sunday, the Amtrak from Washington took nearly half a day to reach Raleigh. Supposedly, this was due to regular ‘track maintenance.’ After locating my hotel and checking-in, I made my way to the state house. That is where the local occupation was being held. A week prior, the group had consented to relocate from Moore Park down the road to this symbolic location.
North Carolina Governor Beverly Purdue had declared State property to be off-limits to such exhibitions of free speech. At first, the City required them to remain standing, without tarps or tents, at all times while on public property, even during the pounding rainstorm that swept through a couple days prior. The initial march held through Downtown on October 15th drew over a thousand people, but with twenty being arrested that day, the core of the group quickly dwindled to less than a hundred. In Charles’ words, they stayed because “this (occupation) can change lives and change the world.”
The resilience of those who have kept a sustained vigil was showing promise. They were now allowed to take free reign of the city-run sidewalk. The participants established a standard kitchen, comfort and information stations, along with almost a dozen working groups, such as Direct Action, De-Escalation and Human Needs.
The smaller numbers may be a focus of those looking to denounce what is happening here, but it also fosters a powerful sense of community. “I didn’t know anybody when I came here,” Charles said. He left Richmond, Virginia, after he had taken a semester off school, to be here now. “I’ve gotten to know people that I will keep in contact with for the rest of my life. People in the LGBT community, people that share knowledge and understanding of the world. It’s a tight community here, with all that we’ve gone through…I’ve been to various rallies since I was fourteen and have never seen any so selfless,” he said.
Raleigh is not known as a protest town. But Occupy Raleigh is bringing awareness to the local residents as to the identity crisis America is undergoing and brings a symbolic unity to the thousands of other occupations across the world. For Charles, it also serves as a possible opportunity to find a new job. Since 2008, he has been twice laid off from companies that were forced to close.
“I have friends involved in occupations in Vienna, Austria; Modesto, California; DC, now Raleigh…there are opportunities for me to go and find jobs in other states because I have been affected by the employment crisis as well, and if I find a job elsewhere I will support the Occupy movement closest to me,” he said.
There is a passion here. One that I have not witnessed since the early days in New York’s Liberty Plaza, those pioneering days before the nurses, the transit workers, the airline pilots and the Freedom Tower construction crews all threw their support behind Occupy Wall Street. The moment when there were just a few hundred out in the frigid Manhattan autumn, trying desperately to rally the globe behind a cause too broad to be easily understood by a population conditioned to accept the imbedded false reality of a Red versus Blue paradigm.
At that time, much of the country felt lost. It was defeated by the prevailing notion that all hope had gone bankrupt, bankrupt for the sake of mega-businesses, those that were able to keep on doing their daily as if nothing was happening. Even the ‘H-word’ itself had been knocked to the mat, abused and cheapened after the 2008 Presidential election.
Then, a movement exploded like a 50-state powder keg. It inspired a brighter source of Hope for people who suddenly felt a deep metaphysical connection with the Capital of the World. While the people occupying London or Hong Kong may never look to North Carolina to draw inspiration, it is a sure bet that they probably should.
If they looked here, they would see the young and the old, the fortunate and the house-less, proud veterans of both foreign war and domestic activism, as well as those who didn’t occupy anything but the living room couch, until they came to feel this passion for themselves. And they have been coming ever since.
They would see Jess Cronmiller, who lends a motherly presence to this tight group. She describes herself as the “point person” for the kitchen and first aid station. She takes care of the kitchen area and the human needs station, which distributes first aid and blankets donated to the cause. Like many here, her story differs greatly from the perception you’d get from what you read or see in the press.
“My husband, Derrick, worked for a well-known international company in the area. He moved up in the company, had a steady IT job with insurance and stability…then they started doing layoffs. Suddenly, he found himself out of work. It took him six months – he’s highly qualified, he has an education – it took him six months just to find a contract position,” she said. It has become common practice for local companies to hire on contract, more “cost effective.”
“They don’t have to salary people or provide benefits,” she elaborates, “so we’ve lost a substantial amount of income.”
Jess and Derrick exemplify the middle-class, those middle-American families that are overlooked by people who write off the Occupy movement as a group of whiners just looking for a hand out. They did everything society would agree was ‘right.’ Derrick worked for his degree in a 21st century industry, while Jess stays at home with their 8-year old daughter and operates an online business. Now, everything they built and worked hard for has been taken away. “It’s the little things that kill,” she says.
Without health insurance and making just enough to not qualify for state assistance, they are forced to ask that one question that no parent should ever have to ask their child: “Are you sick enough to have to go to the doctor?”
Jess and I wrapped up the interview. We had been talking on a cold steel bench beneath the city’s tallest skyscraper, the ominous 60-story ‘Wells Fargo’ building. We began getting scattered reports on impending police activity from, at that early stage, a handful of American cities thanks to social media.
An hour later, the aforementioned trio was scrambling towards the local Holiday Inn. We fired up the laptop to get news from the only available source, People-driven social media. My small double-bed suite soon took on the crazed atmosphere of a newsroom during the first stages of the Apocalypse.
>Edited by Susanne Ramirez de Arrellano>
PHOTOS FROM OCCUPY RALEIGH - By twbuckner