CITY-COUNTY PLAZA — As I approach Occupy Asheville’s tent city, I’m greeted by Star, an Occupier who may be the group’s spokesperson or may be analogous to a Wal-Mart greeter. In a true democracy, as the Occupation claims to be, it’s hard to define roles and stations.
I met Star last week, on a brilliantly cold night when he and his fellow Occupiers were huddled together in front of City Hall’s cul-de-sac. At our first meeting, he confided to me that his plan for changing the world involves vilifying the rich to the point that their wives withhold sex.
“People will hate them so much,” said Star, “that when they come home from work, their kids will say, ‘Daddy, why do you suck so much?’”
This morning Star is festive, wearing a Christmas sweater and carrying a guitar slung over his shoulder. I ask him about the recent City Council decision to delay a vote on the Occupation’s presence in the plaza.
“It’s a blessing,” Star says. He seems to be a generally positive fellow. The other Occupiers keep more to themselves, playing Spades at a table, smoking cigarettes in their camping chairs. The morning is pleasantly warm, but everyone here is wearing coats.
One man who does not identify himself asks me to get a message out to my readers: Aliens who harvested dinosaur embryos from Earth thousands of years ago will be returning in 2111, and will establish a dinosaur sanctuary in Australia. He says he learned this information from his dog, who talks to him.
All this dismays another man named Barry, who says he has traveled here from other cities’ Occupy protests to help organize the movement. He believes the conduct of the Occupy Asheville group damages the movement’s image.
“These people are just taking up space,” he says, adding that he will soon be moving on to Columbia, S.C. “I want to go where people actually care.”
Barry’s comments generate a round of boos from the other Occupiers. One in particular is Christopher, a regular figure in downtown Asheville who has in the past run for City Council. Christopher tells the Occupiers that they are distracting the public from his goal of helping the homeless. As I watch, he and Star have a heated exchange.
Barry (left) and Christopher.
As the argument continues, the rest of the camp is strangely quiet. Most people are still in their tents, which occasionally bulge with their occupants’ movements. Through the open door of one tent, a man jokingly gestures with a very large knife. No one seems to take notice. A man who arrived on a baby-blue bicycle, hauling a Fischer Price trailer full of consumer electronics, shakes as he listens to the conversation.
I take off. Part of the myopia of the press is that we listen most to outrageous voices, simply because they are outrageous. It’s the old adage about the squeaky wheel that the Argus is designed to avoid. It is easy to take good photos of strangely-dressed protesters talking about dinosaur embryos, but the city is full of other stories.
In Chicken Alley I find a skeletal piano, stripped of any function but art, and a young woman named Molly who is touching up a mural she painted on the alley wall. Circling above the tourists and holiday shoppers on Biltmore, the pigeons seem almost eager to have their picture taken. One of their number has come to a bloody end in the street.
So yes, the city is full of stories. Satisfied that I’ve covered them as best I can, I’m walking back up College Street when I hear a squeaking behind me. It’s the the shaky man from the Occupy camp. He’s lurching past on his bike, carrying his unusual cargo.
Follow on Twitter: @AVLArgus
Other dispatches from the Asheville Argus: