Occupy Denver prepares for the cold with donated supplies
The Occupy Wall Street movement is, in many ways, a numbers game. The same is true of its Denver affiliate, where the numbers might be smaller but the fervor for the cause -- the causes, really -- maintains a strength in direct proportion to its national parent. During a three-hour span this afternoon, eleven people, one of whom is Lupe Fiasco, will donate bedding, tents, parkas, sweaters and other items to Occupy Denver. Four people will start or finish a joint. Seventeen people will share a single watermelon. And six people will say, without overhearing the others who already shared the sentiment, "This is the beginning."
Of what, they are not able to state as clearly. There is never any lack of conviction among the movement's Denver followers, around seventy of whom are gathered in front of the Capitol building, but there is often a lack of clarity. Although the local occupation has maintained a constant presence, 24 hours a day, for the past fifteen days, that presence is not predicated on anything particularly concrete. The group has yet to make demands for specific change.
"I suppose there's a personal reason for all of us and a broader reason that combines all of us into one unit," says Michelle Lessans, who has spent the past twelve days with the movement at Broadway and Colfax. "There'ss so much wrong with the nation right now, with only one percent of the country controlling all of its money, and the other 99 percent of us just sit there. Well, we're not sitting anymore."
Much of the group's strength lies in its diversity, which tends to divide at the employment level. Lessans is one of a heavy handful who are currently unemployed: The recent college grad has spent four months of unemployment adjusting to the realization that the masters she received in social work will not be directly applied anytime soon. (As she explains the situation, as if on cue, a rarity occurs: An occupation detractor stops in front of the group, rolls down his car window and shouts, "Get a job!" But she can't. She has tried.)
Many of those around her have taken paid sick leave or simply quit their jobs in order to spend their days here. One man is speaking nervously on his cell phone to his boss while Lessans is party to an equally uncomfortable conversation across from his bench, ending an argument -- a feat at which she is noticeably talented. In five minutes, she will ask one of the gathering's homeless followers to stop cursing in front of children, but not before he threatens someone with violence and the police are called. Right now, however, she is explaining Occupy Denver's principles to someone who is trying to unite with the group for reasons that have nothing to do with the occupation.
"You just have to remember that we're representing a bigger movement," she tells the man, who mentions the anti-Columbus Day rally that will take place tomorrow from 10 a.m. to noon. Occupy Denver's weekly Saturday march is set for the same day from noon until 3, and pains have been taken to keep the two from overlapping, to stop Occupy Denver from attracting an increased police presence. "There is certain behavior that comes with that," she explains. "We're an inclusive group, but we are a people movement, not a political one. And people don't understand that."
Because the New York faction of the occupation has attracted an aggressive level of police attention, its Denver peers emphasize the care with which they approach a relationship with the Denver Police Department. So far, that relationship seems excellent, marked by a long list of reliable DPD contacts on the wall inside the group's security tent, and they hope to keep it that way. ("There are definitely still people who feel very uncomfortable with a police presence," Lessans says.) This means responsible behavior and a well-developed weariness about tying the occupation's credibility with that of other organizations. No group, however, is banned from consideration, and lining the group's front desk is a consistently expanding set of posters for neighboring causes.
Close by, piled in nooks and crannies and underneath structures built from donated wood, are the donations, hundreds of them, dropped off as a means of support even from those who cannot support the job. In order to organize and sustain the benefits of these donations, the food portion of which feeds the group's small army on a daily basis, Occupy Denver got organized -- and quickly. In the beginning, the group began as a handful of people who basically just hung out, albeit all day, every day. Today, that group has morphed into a machine as well-oiled as any group that defies the concept of leadership really can be.