“Show me what democracy looks like!” shouts a young lady in front of the BB&T building. The larger group responds: “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!”
Tourists seem mostly bemused. As the light fades, approaching the square becomes an exercise in caution for drivers trying to anticipate just how rowdy the crowd will get. A man with a large sign leans into traffic, shouting, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!”
At the other end of the park, a praise-and-worship concert is cranking up. It's likely one of the events City Council cited when denying the Occupy Asheville movement permission to camp in Pack Square Park. Between the Vance Monument and the courthouse, the sounds of the two rallies mix in the air. Church-going folk quietly watch the band, though occasionally hands are raised in testimony, silhouetted against the stage lighting.
Amid all the noise, in the long stretch of the public space, people move off by themselves, alone or in couples, to seek some space of their own.
I make my way back to the Monument, but the Occupiers are gone. There's no way to tell if their protest was busted up by the cops or if they disappeared of their own accord, back to wherever it is they go. In any event, the balance of noise is upset, and Pack Square seems strangely empty.
But, of course, it isn't. Traffic chokes the street, tourists crowd into restaurants, and a group of teenagers hangs near the concrete benches by the Merrill Lynch building. One of them has a protest sign and is slamming it against the ground. I ask if he's one of the protesters, and the group laughs. “No,” he says, indicating the sign. “A girl just gave it to me.”
I tell him that if he's going to destroy it, he should at least let me get pictures. He's very eager to oblige. From the corner of my eye, I can see a policeman approaching. The kid smashes the sign to bits against the bench. I shoot the photos, make my exit.
From across the street, among the tourists posing with the metal pigs and turkeys in the last of the light, I see the cop approach the kids. A few words are exchanged politely, and the cop looks down at the obliterated sign. After a moment he walks away.