The Faces of Occupy Cape

The Missourian ran a story about Occupy Cape in the November 6th paper, so I was hoping to run into them. The comments after the story were one of the reasons I’m sometimes ashamed to say I’m from here. Speak Out and the comments that follow stories contain mean-spirited, Yahoo-level talking parts that pass for wit in this area.

In case readers missed it the first time, one of them felt compelled to ask the question, “How about occupying a job?” twice.

Another wrote, “I observed them marching on William, in the hood, not sure what they are protesting Bet you that most of them play dungeons and draggons in their mothers basements.” [Spelling and punctuation as printed in the paper.]

I would encourage you to read the story, then the comments. Some of the demonstrators in this photo posted long, intelligent responses to the jabs and jibes. Click on any photo, by the way, to make it larger.

“Get A Job!”

I spent about an hour on the corner with the group, numbering at most eight, including me. I was surprised at the number of friendly toots and waves they got. Only four people hollered, “Get A Job!”

Eric, who is from the St. Charles area, would respond, “I’m working THREE jobs and going to grad school.”

61-year-old civil engineer

The Old Man of the movement on Saturday was Walden Morris, 61, a civil engineer and an LSU grad. He had been out in Salt Lake City for a year and a half working on a gas and oil pipeline project when he decided to attend a rally just to see what it was all about. Before he knew it, he was on the State Capitol steps speaking to 400 people under the watchful eyes of TV cameras. “I had been waiting for that moment for years. I just let ’em have it.”

“Fed up with the way the country is being run”

Chris McEwen, an art major from Mobile, Alabama, said he “got stranded in Cape for youthful reasons.”

“What was her name?” I asked. He grinned and said, “You got that right.”

He was on the street corner because he’s “fed up with the way the country is bring run.” He’d like to see money taken out of politics.

Came from conservative Democrats

Nathaniel Lee, of St. Louis, came from a family of conservative Democrats. He has a dual major in accounting and international business. He’d like to get his C.P.A. and work as a federal auditor “trying to fix the system from within.”

This IS Cape, after all

The group has a website, Occupy Cape Girardeau.

I had to be amused at a note in the Nov. 12, 2011, General Assembly Minutes: “We opened by appointing by consensus Kerrick Long as this week’s facilitator, after which he read the Principles of Solidarity using the People’s Mic. The principles of solidarity were interrupted when an officer of the Cape Girardeau Police Department arrived and stated that the CGPD received a complaint about the demonstration at Freedom Corner earlier. He said if we did not keep quiet demonstrating by the road, we could go to jail. We apologized, and said we would be sure not to shout too close to the road. He told us we could continue using the People’s Mic at the benches since it was farther from the road.”

Being a bit of a rebel, I’d have asked the cop to bring out a decibel meter to tell me how much more we were disturbing the peace in the middle of the afternoon in a public park compared to other activities in the park. These folks have a lot to learn about civil disobedience and standing up for your rights.

[The Occupy movement doesn’t use mechanical megaphones. They use “The People’s Mic,” where someone who wants to say something speaks in short bursts that are re-shouted by the group. Considering that the largest assembly in Cape has been less than 20, I doubt that hearing the speaker is a problem.]

1967 Protest at Petit N’ Orleans restaurant

This was the last protest I covered in Cape. These SEMO students were protesting the Petit N’ Orleans restaurant’s dress code in 1967. The cops shut them down, too.

Education costs are rising

Brandon Burton, a pre-veterinary medicine major from St. Louis, is concerned about the rising cost of a college education.

Parts of the Occupy Cape website makes me think I’m back in my treehouse days when I see a whole section in the General Assembly Guide devoted to “Hand Gestures.” The movement strikes me as unfocused and a bit naive at times: long on feel-good rhetoric and short on practical solutions.

I will say, though, if you are tempted to roll down your window and shout “Get a Job!” pull over to the side and talk with these folks. You may find that you have more in common with them than you think. A couple of the members concluded that they and the Tea Party are both saying the same thing: the system ain’t working. They may disagree about what’s broken, how it got broken and how to fix it, but they’re starting from a common viewpoint.




10 Replies to “The Faces of Occupy Cape”

  1. Ken, I really enjoy your photos and write-ups…allows me to stay “connected” with my roots. Thanks and keep ’em coming! However, I gotta take exception to your comment today that “I’m sometimes ashamed to say I’m from here”. In all of my 54 years I never once been ashamed to be from Cape. I spent 22 years in southern California and have lived in several other states and I can assure you there are rednecks, bigots, flaming liberals, ultra-conservatives, and every other type person in every community in this country. To imply that somehow only Cape is “backwards” is wrong. The shouts of “occupy a job” would be heard in LA, New York, and yes, even in Florida.
    Although I believe there are better ways for them to spend their energy trying to improve their situation, I do agree with your assessment that many of these people may not be that different than you or me…however that same point can be made about many of the good folks that work on Wall Street, or who own corporations and happen to have been blessed to earn a good income. To paint them as all evil, greedy human beings is just as wrong as saying all the protesters are losers that need to “occupy a job”.

    1. Stuart,

      Thanks for taking the time to present a balanced counterpoint.

      There are some days where I come short of finding the right tone. This was one of them. I held off writing this piece for several days because of more timely stories and because I was struggling to come up with a fair way to present what these folks are trying to get across.

      As I said, I find parts of their message naive and unclear (and I’m speaking as much about the national organization as the local folks). On the other hand, I can’t fault their sincerity and their willingness to have a conversation where they listen to and respond to a different point of view.

      One woman held up a sign that sums up their attitude: “You don’t have to agree with us to see that there are problems in this country that need to be talked about.”

      One of the problems with writing this in the middle of the night (morning in case) in the Central Time Zone is that my Arbitrator of Good Taste is in the Eastern Time Zone and goes to bed before she can rap my knuckles if I make a mistake in tone, spelling or grammar.

      The other thing that tilted my judgement was reading those comments in The Missourian story just before sitting down to type. Instead of saying I was “ashamed,” I should have probably used the words “disgusted” or “dismayed” at the mean-spirited comments. The Cape Girardeans I respect can do as you did: disagree with someone without insulting them or belittling them.

      The folks that dismiss the street corner group as lazy, freeloading bums and hippies (wow, I thought I’d never get to type that word again) are missing their mark. They may not be effectively getting their message across, but they’re intelligent, articulate and motivated to try to change the system. They also seemed open-minded.

      My goal when I covered a right-wing pro-war march in Washington in 1971 was to treat the event and the people with dignity instead of taking the standard cheap shots. I tried to do the same with the Occupy Cape folks. I wish I had done a better job with the story.

    1. Gene,

      I try to stay out of politics as much as possible. I have only had to put on my moderator hat one time to keep the bus out of the ditches in the past two years.

      I’m fine with opposing viewpoints so long as the comments are meaningful, respectful and the exchanges don’t get personal.

      Stuart set the tone this morning.

  2. Thanks, Ken. I’m delighted that “Occupy Cape” exists. As for being ashamed of being from Cape? I wasn’t the least bit ashamed until my friends in Chicago learned that Rush Limbaugh is the most famous person from Cape. I was also less than pleased on one occasion at a restaurant in Cape when friends warned me not to talk too loudly about my political views.

  3. “They who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.” Dr. Benjamin Franklin

  4. Thanks for covering the Occupy CG. The Occupy movements are just in their infancy and of course,untidy, at times. I suspect it will take a decade for substantive changes to occur, but it is a good start!

  5. > I will say, though, if you are tempted to roll down your window and shout “Get a Job!” pull over to the side and talk with these folks.

    If you pull over to the side to talk to us, be sure to do so out of traffic! One week, a man pulled over and blocked an entire lane of traffic on Broadway for nearly three minutes to try to converse with us. We (on the street corner demonstrating) tried to tell him he was endangering himself and other drivers, but he was more concerned with berating us.

  6. Yes, I like the word “dismayed,” and have felt that way at times myself about people from my hometown that can’t express their views without belittling the other side. The amazing thing to me is the many different political views that are held by people who have grown up there. And yet we all have that commonality of knowing that we were lucky to have grown up there…

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