I made my second stop on Firedoglake’s Occupy Supply tour yesterday night. I met occupiers with Occupy Columbus and had them talk to me about their occupation.
John Dorn talked to me about how the occupation had been out for two weeks. They had set up a site in front of the Columbus State House right across the street from the Huntington Bank building. (In fact, the State House is surrounded by bank buildings – Chase, PNC, Keybank, etc.)
The occupation has used their General Assembly to pass a statement of affirmation that state the occupation’s purpose and says the occupation is “here to give the people the voice and be here while maintaining their dignity.” It is essentially a set of rules occupiers are encouraged to follow when assembling.
Occupy Columbus has tapped into campaigns aimed at pushing back against the anti-union agenda of Governor John Kasich. He passed SB 5, which stripped public employees of collective bargaining rights. This was like what happened to unions in Wisconsin except SB 5 did not exempt police and firefighters. And, that is why Occupy Columbus is enjoying great support from beat cops, who drive by saying if SB 5 is repealed they will buy the occupation banners.
The occupation has worked with the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless to target that community and pull them into the movement. They also benefit from student support as Ohio State University is nearby, however, the students have engaged in some actions and meetings away from the occupation’s permanent site.
There are two tents and then a canopy, where supplies are kept twenty four hours a day. They are on city property. The city has the occupation on a weekly renewing permit. If they move eighteen inches toward the State House, they are no longer on state property. This is why Kasich has had the state of Ohio put up barricades to block occupiers from getting near a President Wiliiam McKinley statue. Kasich claims the granite now needs to be “replaced.” Barricades have also gone up to facilitate the sudden need to power wash and repaint flag poles.
The occupation is working on ramping up numbers. So far, they have struggled and this has meant they are unable to do certain actions in and around the city. All the demonstrations take place in front of the State House, which means some Columbus residents are likely unaware the are out occupying. (Additionally, the city has them paying to be on the city sidewalk 24 hours a day.)
They have been fighting with the city for a space to setup a larger tent city. In fact, they wanted to erect a camp on the Columbus Commons. The park is owned by Capital South, a nonprofit corporation composed of land developers around Columbus (as Dorn said, “Mainly the people this occupation is targeting”). The park is owned by the city, but Capital South has a 99 year lease so they would have to consent to Occupy Columbus being on the premise.
At one point, Occupy Columbus tried to take Columbus Commons. They had sixty people. The police showed up in five minutes and were ready to make arrests. The occupiers left because they did not have proper numbers and could not afford to have members of the movement arrested.
Tom, an occupier who has been sleeping in a tent for 16 days, told me the response from Columbus residents has been invigorating, “The response that we get from the general public down on the street is what keeps us going out. We can be the voice of people who don’t have time to be down here.”
Dorn adds, “We get a massive amount of support from the people of the city. There are people driving by all the time blowing their horns, showing their support. And people are constantly dropping off hot food, coffee and bottled water.” This has helped to balance out the fact that the cold, the wind and the rain has made it difficult to keep a larger group out in front of the State House.
Occupiers like Dorn also have people coming up to talk about their struggles and the economic hardship they have experienced. Dorn says those stories keep him coming down to stand in front of the State House in the cold wind.
[*Here is my video report from the scene.]
Occupiers were grateful to see Firedoglake offer support. The occupation indicated they could use storage containers to protect their belongings, fliers and donated items from the wind and rain. They look like they could use some food and perhaps pens and other materials to keep the occupation going. Firedoglake’s Occupy Supply fund will be donating these items to the camp.
FDL member Fred Mounts met me and we walked to the State House. He helped introduce me to some of the nuances of Ohio politics. He has been going down there regularly (and he graciously hosted me while I was in Columbus).
In conclusion, Occupy Columbus should consider Governor Kasich an asset. His agenda against poor, working class and middle class Americans (especially those who are members of unions) gives this occupation the potential to grow and become much more powerful.