Occupy Denver: The injuries and memories behind three months covering the movement
On December 23, Occupy Denver quietly celebrated three months of loud, tense and occasionally fiery statements downtown. In that time span, the local chapter of the national movement has kept busy -- and kept Westword busy -- with stories that change not just daily, but hourly. If you've been following the Latest Word, then you already know all about what Occupy has been up to in Denver. So instead of re-capping that, I offer instead a short tale of trials, tribulations and occasional bodily injury spent covering the movement over the past three months.
The very first protester I met at Occupy Denver was Corey Donahue, who, two months before becoming the subject of a Westword cover story, shouted obnoxiously at me from the sidewalk in front of the group's first home at Lincoln Park. "Hey! Free coffee for pretty girls in glasses!" he yelled. It should be noted, of course, that coffee -- and all of the group's food, when they have it -- is free to everyone. The same thing goes for sassy comments, interesting people and the stories behind them.
I learned this instantly, along with the fact that revolution, change -- whatever you prefer to call the impetus behind the Occupy Wall Street movement -- is messy. My first visit to the occupation included three public fights, one visit from the police (who were, back then, publicly thanked for their help), a painfully bureaucratic general assembly, and my first of seven parking tickets acquired within three minutes of the meter expiring.
Kelsey Whipple Occupy Denver's original front desk and donation station has since been labeled an encumbrance and removed more than a handful of times.
On October 14, the night of Occupy Denver's first (and most permanent) eviction from state property, I stood with hundreds of onlookers in Lincoln Park as 24 protesters were arrested. That night, the positive relationship between protesters and police ended.
Kelsey Whipple Directly behind this woman's hands was a journalist who tries to blame her poor photo skills on the pepper spray in her eyes.
And while I remained safe, that wouldn't be the case 24 hours later, when I was shot in the ass with a rubber bullet. It took me three hours to recognize the pain, however, because as the police closed in on the Thunderdome, I was one of a contingent of journalists and demonstrators who were pepper-sprayed in the face. Between freaking out, losing my glasses and attempting to take (blurry) photos, I completely missed being shot. The doctor who later gave me three stitches confirmed the injury.
But that was just my first taste of bodily harm. In total, I have been pepper-sprayed three times, shoved to the ground four times (thrice by police, once by a protester) and called more names in person and in our online comments section than there are words in this blog post. I have lost two pairs of glasses, through no one's fault but my own, and I have tried to explain what the Occupy movement is to seventeen strangers when asked what I blog about. With most of them, I failed.
But I'm not the only one having trouble communicating. At my office, I have received two completely indiscernible messages giving me tips about conspiracy theories involving Occupy, and one telling me about a "blue humanoid alien" my tipster insists is the real leader of Occupy Denver. (I have yet to investigate.) I have several times been verbally assaulted by occupiers based on my gender, but not as many times as I've received similar comments for my profession. On November 13, I was banned from recording an arraignment at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center. In three months, I have only once been actively prohibited from doing my job.
Kelsey Whipple Police officers extinguish a fire during a Saturday altercation between officers and protesters.
It's too early to come to a consensus on what all of this means, so I'll return again to the numbers: In writing about Occupy Denver, Westword has so far produced approximately 160 blog posts, as well as one print story and one cover story.
I hope you'll return to our coverage as Occupy Denver develops.
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver confronts cloaked man who might or might not be Dick Cheney (video)."