Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Atlanta, day five: Marching to Bank of America Plaza

Posted By on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 10:06 PM

October 11, 2011 - Atlantan DAnthony Hopkins steps aside the large golden doors of the Bank of America building as an employee leaves for the day.
  • Dustin Chambers
  • October 11, 2011 - Atlantan DAnthony Hopkins steps aside the large golden doors of the Bank of America building as an employee leaves for the day.

It's 4:15 p.m. and I've already ruined my good pair of shoes. The mud and rain has taken a toll on downtown's Woodruff Park, but days of constant footprints have turned some parts of the greenspace into a grassy slush.

Regardless, today's cold and wet conditions didn't stop Occupy Atlanta protesters from continuing with what's become business as usual. The tent village of approximately 80 occupants was still bustling with the same low-tech trademarks that have come to define the movement: the "human mic" of repeating sentence fragments, the paint-bucket drumming, and the (admittedly pretty catchy) slogan-chanting. All were present and continued to compete against Woodruff Park's persistent speakers piping in jazz.

What did unsettle the crowd was last night's (abruptly ended) show of police pressure, with Boston's string of arrests significantly ramping up the apprehension factor. (Protesters were expecting another show of police presence later tonight. "If you're available tonight at 11, be here, as we will have to defend this park again," "John Brown" said through the human mic. City officials said today that protesters would be allowed to stay — for now — as long as the crowd is peaceful.)

The group's big activity for today involved a march up Peachtree Street to the local headquarters of a nemesis: Bank of America (Photos from yesterday's march on Bank of America). Suddenly the group of approximately 80 occupiers mushroomed into a sizable parade of more than 150 people who marched to the beat of paint-bucket drums and chanting such slogans as "Whose streets? Our streets!" and "Corporate rule, we deny, we the people occupy."

A trio of police motorcycles slowed down car traffic and escorted the crowd through red lights. Some protesters ran ahead of the crowd to help direct traffic at intersections.

The marching parade suddenly stopped at the intersection of Peachtree and Pine streets, where the chant quickly changed to "Homes for the homeless! Homes for the homeless!"

"This building has been stolen from us by the Atlanta elites," said Anita Beaty to the crowd, an apparent reference to the troubled Peachtree Pine homeless shelter. "This building belongs to the people!"

William Ellis, a homeless veteran who's been staying with the Occupy Atlanta protesters since Saturday, explained his reasons for joining the march.

"The [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] systematically denies veterans help," he said. "If we can't afford a war, and we can't take care of vets, then what can we do? I've been working hard for 40 years, but now I've got a busted knee. I only get 10 percent from the VA, not enough to support myself, and that's why I'm staying here. Thank God for this place. That's also why I'm also here [protesting]."

After arriving at the skyscraper, the group's size thinned out as rumors of a police interception returned. Nevertheless, they continued to hold a series of human-mic discussions.

"We [the protesters] have a perception problem," said George Chidi, a business researcher and former journalist. "We look like crazy people, like Tea Party people,"

Chidi thinks the movement needs more leadership, and that the consensus model — which requires that every member of the group agree to the group's next actions — could cause problems in the future.

"Public opinion isn't enough," said Roger Vuerky, a journalist who said he covered similar issues in the 1970s. "They need to get political."

On the way back to Woodruff Park, the group's numbers swelled to more than 100. People shopping and eating along Peachtree smiled, laughed, gave high-fives and pumped their fists in the air alongside protesters.

"We'll be back! We'll be back!" was the favorite hymn on the march back to Woodruff Park.

Some drivers trapped in gridlock caused by the march honked angrily. Even at street level, the chanting could be heard echoing off of skyscrapers.

Photos from yesterday's march on Bank of America

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