Occupy Charlottesville meets downtown
Movement participants gather for first General Assembly meeting
The Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to Charlottesville as nearly 100 individuals gathered at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion Wednesday night for the first General Assembly meeting of Occupy Charlottesville to encourage sustained dialogue about the separation of politics and corporations.
The meeting, which lasted more than three hours, provided the first chance for participants to introduce themselves and begin a larger conversation about common sources of discontent for locals.
They discussed and developed a set of shared values for community members, including social and economic justice, mutual respect, cooperation and non-violence with each other, said Zac Fabian, Occupy Charlottesville participant and University graduate. Occupy Charlottesville will come to a consensus about their values with regard to "the outside community," Fabian said.
He said the movement is characterized by the diversity of its participants.
"The movement is pretty unique," Fabian said. "We're not all necessarily the same person. We're not all people who grew up with the same socio-economic background, go to college or anything like that, but we all feel something with the status quo is wrong. What is wrong is unique to each of us."
Fabian expressed his frustrations with political commentators and various mainstream media outlets for dismissing movement participants as a "mob of hippies" looking for "free handouts."
"The media wants to generalize this so that people can easily understand this, but it can't be [generalized] because it's something so unique to each person," Fabian said. "They're too quick to cast everyone in one image, but they're missing the diversity. It's the diversity that caught my eye."
In recognition of the importance of each individual's opinion, participants arrived at the shared values through the consensus process rather than by voting. "The consensus process keeps everyone involved," Occupy Charlottesville participant Jamie Dyer said. "Group cohesion is something missing in our culture in general, a sense of cohesion and belonging."
Activists are meeting under the nTelos Wireless Pavilion tonight at 6:30 to decide on a location for a General Assembly meeting which will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m.
City spokesperson Ric Barrick said in an email that the City does not oppose the group. "We value the freedom of expression and support anyone's right to voice an opinion on public space so long as local laws are abided by," he said.
Barrick added that the Charlottesville Police Department has been in contact with the group to help participants assemble peacefully.
Fabian said it is important to bring attention to issues in Charlottesville which reflect national trends.
"In Charlottesville we have approximately a 21 percent poverty rate, a large homeless population and a serious problem with providing affordable low-income housing," he said. "Then at the other end of the spectrum, you have this very wealthy population, and that's the point: the growing inequalities in this country are getting out of hand."
Assoc. Politics Prof. Colin Bird said in an email that the movement could be effective on a limited scale.
"If effectiveness means successfully breaking the close relationship between powerful corporate/Wall St. interests and mainstream political parties, it seems to me that the prospects are rather dim," he said. "But if it means something more modest, like shifting public debate so that the question of serious political/constitutional reform to address the manifestly dysfunctional democratic process finds its way back onto the agenda, they may have an effect, especially in a presidential year."
Bird said a large international issue could eclipse the movement, but the Internet could strengthen the movement.
"If, thanks to the Internet, the movement really takes off across society as a whole, it will become harder to depict the protesters just as radical crazies on the margins of respectable political opinion," Bird said.
Dyer said the movement has filled him with a reinvigorated hope for reform.
"I've been waiting for this for 20 years, and it's kind of blowing me out of the water to be honest," he said. "I've held out a lot of hope, even though I've seen a lot [of similar movements] come down over the years and come to nothing"