Evicted But Not Defeated: Occupy thrives outside of camps

Occupy Richmond marches through VCU campus

Occupy Richmond clustered in tents on Kanawha Plaza in the shadow of the Federal Reserve Building of Richmond for a mere two weeks before police moved in to evict them. With nine protestors arrested and the camp bulldozed, the newly formed activist group grappled with its next steps.

Now Occupy Richmond’s website simply states, “We occupy the yard of Raymond Boone.” Above is an embedded map marking the location.

Eviction is not dissolution

The physical space of encampment has important symbolic and practical advantages, which is why many Occupiers are fighting to keep it, take it back, or re-occupy another space. Many cities and towns never established camps yet their numbers are large, and they keep up an active and vocal presence.

The Occupy movement has initially been identified so strongly with the urban encampments of the major cities, where protestors have sometimes clashed with para-militarized police, that the many Occupy camps and active groups of smaller cities in the US have gone unnoticed except in local news.

This omission among the mainstream media has led to underestimating the size and scope of the movement. “Sleepers”–those who sleep at the camps–are but the front line of a legion of Occupiers.

If that weren’t the case, Occupy would be tossed to the winds when authorities successfully ban camps. Instead, groups like Occupy Richmond seem galvanized by eviction and determined to prove their resilience. Others like Occupy Roanoke never pitched tents, but still have managed to occupy their city. And Occupiers are finding other spaces besides city parks to occupy, like highways and foreclosed homes.

Re-grouping

Richmond Free Press publisher and editor Raymond Boone invited Occupy Richmond to come and stay in his yard in the Brookbury neighborhood southwest of town. It’s far from the former downtown site convenient to Virginia Commonwealth University students, next to the Federal Reserve Building, and just down the hill from the Richmond Statehouse and the Virginia State Capitol.

It does have one advantage, however. Boone’s next-door neighbor is Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones. The City served Boone with a zoning violation because of the camp.

General Assemblies are held three times a week at the encampment and once a week in town. Without the central location, fewer of Occupy Richmond’s actions have revolved around it. Still, activity persisted through November and may not scale back for the winter.

Maintaining the Occupy presence is finding expression in a diverse mix of protest, education and creativity. There have been educational series, flash mobs, a photo project and a benefit for the homeless. Three Occupy Richmond participants walked 110 miles from Richmond to DC as part of Occupy the Highway. Occupy Richmond recently welcomed the marchers of “Walkupy” on their way to Atlanta from DC. A Statewide Solidarity Rally included a march through downtown, stops at infamous places like the Bank of America building, and a potluck and Human University celebration at Kanawha Plaza.

This week Occupy Richmond occupied the City Council meeting to ask questions about the eviction at Kanawha Plaza and the future of the Boone camp. One city councilwoman introduced an ordinance to exempt Kanawha from restricted park hours and prohibitions on camping. Here’s hoping that Occupy Richmond may re-occupy its original camp.

UPDATE: December 20: Occupy Richmond is packing up the Boone camp. No official statement yet.

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