Occupy Providence Activists Brave the Elements In First Week of Demonstration

Posted by Soren Sorensen

It was business as usual in downtown Providence this week, with one notable twist: a village of tents, tarps and makeshift shelters throughout Burnside Park.  The park, which flanks Kennedy Plaza, was named for Ambrose Burnside, a Civil War general from Rhode Island.

Strolling through Kennedy Plaza as the Peter Pan and city buses come and go, one can’t help but wonder what General Burnside might make of the park if he could see it today, his statue surrounded by tents and now adorned with a large, cloth sign that reads, in red stenciled capitals: OCCUPY PROVIDENCE.

Complete with a bare-bones medical facility and a free food tent serving three meals a day, the new residents in Burnside Park seem ready to stay indefinitely.

A few short weeks ago, perceptions of participants in New York City’s ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest — and associated solidarity movements employing similar tactics — ran the national gamut.  Some observers reported a group of thoughtful activists, fed up with the unjust distribution of the country’s wealth, while others bemoaned the hordes of homeless hippies taking advantage of the free lunches and shelter.

Perhaps the most damning criticism of the “Occupy” protesters, also known as “The Ninety-Nine Percent,” is that the message is far too vague to gain any real traction in this polarized political climate, months away from a major election year.  Is OWS about healthcare, same sex marriage, jobs, defense spending, education or all of the above?

As of October 7, the message got a little clearer as a declaration was released online, a statement of intent that calls for election of a “NATIONAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY beginning on July 4, 2012 in the City Of Philadelphia.”

Like the uprisings known collectively as Arab Spring and likely a result of their continuing successes—deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Qadhafi was killed yesterday—the Occupy protests and similar demonstrations have spread all over the world.

Occupy Providence is one of the latest in a string of actions that don’t seem to have a sell-by date.

Volunteers, like 25 year-old Christopher, accept donations of food, beverages, tarps, tents, blankets, lanterns and just about any other item helpful to long-term urban camping.

One of the busiest occupiers on Wednesday morning, Christopher said he hadn’t gone to sleep yet.  He spoke to New England Post after helping unload a backseat full of donations from some Occupy Providence supporters, a couple who looked to be in their late fifties or early sixties.

Christopher’s bare feet represent a symbolic vow of poverty some of the protesters have taken.  “People have become so distant from nature,” he said and added, “always looking down at these digital boxes.”

I sheepishly looked down at my digital audio recorder as he continued, “I don’t watch any television.  I don’t have time to sit down in some symbolic virtual reality.”

His dark parka and flourishing facial hair give him the appearance of an avid outdoorsman, albeit one with questionable taste in footwear.  Christopher works for a distribution company that services a large grocery store chain in the area.  Occupy Providence is how he’s spending his vacation days.

Other than food, said Christopher, the movement needs new people and fresh perspectives.  “We need people to come down and just give us a hand because we want to hear new ideas.”

“We want to work with positive energy,” he continued.  “We’re not here to judge anybody on their lifestyle or the decisions they make.”

Asked when he’d become involved with the Occupy movement, Christopher laughed and replied, “Um, this week.”

From his boundless energy and friendly demeanor, it looked as if he might have been one of the movement’s leaders.  Who knows?  Maybe by this time next year he will be.

Related posts:

  1. 20 New England Patriots Help Build Playground in Providence’s West End
  2. City of Providence Considering $50K Offer to Startups
  3. Occupy Wall Street releases “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City”
  4. Occupy Boston Turning Heads; An Inside Look at the Protest’s Particpants
  5. Occupy Boston Protesters Undaunted by Arrests; Plans to Extend Protest into the Winter

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Posted by Soren Sorensen on Oct 20 2011. Filed under Featured - For home page featured article. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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