Meet the Occupiers 

#OccupyCharleston doesn’t want to be ‘a Democratic Party front’

They vote with jazz hands.

At a meeting of #OccupyCharleston protesters Thursday night, it was decided that members would express their opinions via hand signals: If you agree with what someone is saying, you point your hands upward and wiggle your fingers. If you disagree, you wiggle your fingers downward. If you strongly disagree, you cross your arms to form an X over your head.

The third meeting of the group, which is an offshoot of New York's #OccupyWallStreet movement (named after a Twitter hashtag), focused on procedural matters and founding principles for the most part. As with the Wall Street protesters, the Charleston members' political causes and frustrations were wide-ranging but tended toward anti-corporatist sentiments and calls for an end to big businesses' influence on politics. A rough draft of demands presented at the meeting called for corporate accountability, an end to corruption, and equitable pay for workers.

As with the Tea Party movement, organizers expressed concern about not being used for political gain by an existing party. Larry Carter Center, who attended to give advice on parade ordinances and protest strategy, says group members are trying to figure out "how not to let this become a Democratic Party front." Already, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has praised the national movement, and President Barack Obama has said that the it represents "a broad-based frustration" with the U.S. financial system.

Thursday's meeting was also a test of whether members of the movement had the political will to meet in person and not simply join a Facebook group. A meeting on Monday night had about eight people; another on Wednesday night with local labor unions had about 20; Thursday's meeting had about 80.

So, who are the occupiers? Center, who sat near the middle aisle and traded protest stories with other attendees, says he was recently fired by Publix and just got his unemployment benefits card in the mail a week ago. While working for the company, he says he thought about the people who picked the tomatoes that were being sold in stores. Thursday night, he wore a T-shirt from the 2011 Living Liberally Conference in Hilton Head and a Green Party pin. "This is a spontaneous, pacific movement," he said, "and their whole goal is to transition a greed-based system into a human needs-based system." The meeting was held in the fellowship hall of his home church, the Unitarian Church in Charleston.

Joel Schooling, an information technology worker at College of Charleston, says he showed up to the meeting because the movement seemed urgent to him in a way that others — like organic gardening, for instance ­— did not. "You can't see people's lives destroyed in a financial system and then stay silent," he said. He says the group is about to transition from online comments to real-life action. "I'm much more likely to say something on Facebook than get in somebody's face and say, 'Your bank is evil,'" he says.

Jon McMurray, a sophomore at the College of Charleston studying geology and environmental studies, says he started following the #OccupyWallStreet movement in the media and was excited to hear it was headed to Charleston. "Steve Jobs just died, and people are all worked up about it," he said. He expressed frustration with "the fact that we're all worked up about our billionaires and celebrities" while people are homeless and starving.

According to media liaison Lauren Costello, members of the group met with "interested parties at the College of Charleston" this morning at Kudu Coffee House. They will also hold a meeting on Sunday at 6 p.m. at the International Longshoremen's Association Hall and another general assembly next Thursday at 6 p.m. at an undetermined location. A demonstration is planned for Oct. 21, the details of which are still being decided.


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