Preoccupied|With Occupy

     CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – My parents will always remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. I will never forget where I was when the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center.
     My parents had the civil rights movement. I have the Occupy movement.
     Occupy protesters have sprung up all over the country since its birth on Wall Street nearly six months ago. We, the media, had a feast. With the rapid growth and media coverage, I suppose it can be said that the Occupiers have been inducted into the unofficial peaceful protest hall of fame.
     How could I fault anyone for exercising their freedom of speech? That freedom allows me to say what I want and write what I want, including this column.
     I can’t blame anyone for being angry about the state of our country. Even I sometimes step back and wonder, “Where’s the bottom? How can we fix a system that is so broken? What can we really do?”
     After taking a daily walk past the Occupy Chattanooga protesters defiantly camped on the front lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse, my curiosity got the best of me. One day I made a U-turn on the sidewalk and walked into the camp.
     I was greeted by an older gentleman who was not quite cleanly shaven but dressed in a shirt and tie and a hat to keep warm. He was sitting alone in front of a fire. His handful of comrades stood by the street, holding signs that announced who they are: “The 99.”
     Larry Simpson and I chatted for a few minutes, then another protester came to join us. He was a young man from Miami who had been out of high school for two years. He joined Occupy in Florida and had been “Occupy hopping” ever since.
     Like his friend Larry, 20-year-old Javony Resto had no job. He called himself a backpacker.
     “Occupy is my job,” he proudly informed me, removing the jacket of his high school JROTC uniform. “I’m a full-time activist.”
     My brain added silently, “Who has no job and pays no taxes.”
     But I had to hear more. I was leaning toward the anti-Occupy side. I think I’m a fair person. I wanted them to tell me something to sway me at least to the middle.
     They were all smiles and eager to share their reasons for being out there.
     Larry was a child of the ’60s. He was sure that if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive, he would be out there with them. Larry told me that Occupy reminded him of the protests in which he participated more than 40 years ago.
     “Occupy is a lot more tame,” he added with a wink.
     But the civil rights movement had a clear objective. Critics say that Occupy’s demands are too broad and that no one can clearly say what they really want. When I asked Larry to spell it out for me, he gave me a short list of demands he had unmistakably memorized.
     I wasn’t satisfied.
     I visited their website for a peek at their demands. I was surprised to see that I agreed with some of their requests. To ask the government to obey the laws and to ask for protection against discrimination are pleas I could definitely get behind. I’m sure some of my less-conservative friends would appreciate the “decriminalization of marijuana” demand.
     But is setting up camp on government property the way to be heard?
     Just days ago, the Hamilton County Commission screamed “No” by filing a petition in Federal Court to stop the protesters from camping on the courthouse grounds.
     Occupy Chattanooga has drawn up its own petition, and according to Larry, will present its demands to Congress very soon.
     While I am still unclear on what exactly Occupy hopes to accomplish, I have to admire them for standing up, or camping out, for their beliefs.
     The flip side of me watched young Javony speaking so boldly and proudly about protest while the older Larry watched. I couldn’t help but think that maybe Larry should encourage Javony to go to college and study politics or law. Maybe Larry should do the same.
     While Occupy Chattanooga remains on the lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse, I, a single mother of three who has reasons to agree with, and disagree with them, remain on the fence.

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