About 100 people gathered in Pritchard Park and marched through downtown today as part of Occupy Asheville. They were protesting an array of grievances, such as the financial malfeasance of the super-rich, justice-system corruption and a general demand for change.
Photos by Jonathan Welch
Held in solidarity with the ongoing Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City, the Asheville protest began around 11 a.m. on Wall Street, with a gathering marking the memorial to Troy Davis, a recently-executed Georgia man who many critics assert was wrongly convicted. Around 2 p.m., people gathered at Pritchard Park to begin a “General Assembly.” The first half of the assembly mostly addressed process, legal and logistical concerns. Demonstrators were urged to put their accounts up on Facebook, YouTube and other social-media services, because “this is a media revolution,” in the words of one organizer.
The attendees had a variety of reasons for coming out to Pritchard Park on the coldest day so far this year. Holding a furled black flag, Will Hillier told Xpress, “I’m part of a strictly anti-capitalist section, thus the black flag. It’s the dilemma we have of the ultra-rich. One percent of the population has all the wealth, and the other 99 percent are beaten into the ground. They’re taxed into poverty.”
Hillier continued: “I have full-time job and I can barely afford rent, I can barely afford to feed myself. In fact, if I didn’t work at a restaurant, I wouldn’t be able to feed myself.”
Granville Angell, a Vietnam War veteran, held a sign reading, “I’ve made enough sacrifices! Tax the selfish wealthy!”
“I served my country in the name of freedom and democracy, I’m 63-years-old and I’ve come to realize we don’t live in a democracy,” Angell told Xpress. “We have two college-educated daughters, one of whom is unemployed and another who’s underemployed. We could all go down financially. This is not the American Dream, it’s not what we’ve lived our lives for, serving our society. My hope is that this is the beginning of a true American democracy.”
The woman sitting beside him said, “When they’re taking away benefits for us, but the corporations have all these loopholes. It doesn’t make sense.”
The day before, the announcement of the demonstration also singled out local criminal-justice reform, asserting the city ““must come together to educate itself about our local corruption and demand its end.”
Activist Luna Scarano, who recently attended Occupy Wall Street in New York, mentioned a number of working groups from the larger assembly tackling stances on individual issues, including local issues, police and prisons, boycotts, food safety, gender, and capitalism, among other matters.
“So we’re here for a lot of different reasons,” Scarano said, just before another man suggested adding “conscious spirituality” as another goal.
The process wasn’t to everyone’s liking. One older man muttered that the proceedings were “the epitome of pathetic” before walking away. But the numbers in Pritchard mostly stayed steady at around 90 to 100 people. Jennifer Foster, a lawyer and one of the organizers, informed the group about the legalities of protest, advised them to use the term “picket” (which doesn’t require permits) instead of “march” and to stay in single file so as not to impede traffic.
The group cheered at the news that Tupelo Honey had donated hot biscuits, and cheered again shortly after when a passerby shouted “kill capitalism!”
Over the course of the afternoon, the group came to a consensus on three goals — the march, endorsing a Sept. 30 declaration by Occupy Wall Street, and camping overnight in front of City Hall.
Gathering at around 5 p.m., Foster asked the demonstrators to be polite to the police, as “they’re part of the 99 percent” but not to consent to being searched. The line of people in the “moving picket” mostly shouted “we are the 99 percent” as they made their way towards City-County Plaza. Other chants included the old protest standby “this is what democracy looks like” and the newer “we got sold out, they got bail outs.”
There was no heavy police presence near the demonstration, either during the “moving picket” or the earlier assembly. As the march made its way through the Blue Ridge Pride festival (also going on this afternoon), the police officers already there watched. Some of the marchers received high-fives from a few festival attendees, briefly surrounded street preachers protesting the festival and headed back down towards Pritchard Park, where Scarano told they crowd to open up a “people’s soapbox” to “rant and rave.”