Occupied

Clusters of tents line the upper perimeter of the amphitheater; signs of “We are the 99%” and “Stop Corporate Greed” hang from columns and decorate the grass beside the sidewalk. A car honks in support of a “Honk for Justice” poster. The twang of a guitar floats out from the open flap of a sagging tent.
At what could be called the main entrance of Kiener Plaza, the home of the Occupy St. Louis movement, a middle-aged woman welcomes visitors and hands out fliers. A voice announces that an action guidelines discussion will start in five minutes.
A man named Sasha, markers and poster board in hand, is about to begin work on a new sign. He said he has been at Kiener Plaza since day six of the St. Louis protests.
“What we’re trying to do here is create a space where every voice can come down, participate, and try to figure out this question: How do we fix the system?” Sasha said. “Some people believe it doesn’t need to be fixed, that the system’s just fine, and that we’re only going to make things worse. I think the majority of the 99 percent don’t agree with that sentiment. I believe that almost every aspect of our society is in major need of reform – the education, the economics, the environmental policies, our political system. And that’s what has brought so many people together. It’s not just one particular thing anymore, it’s everything. So it’s gonna take all 99 percent to fix it.”


Occupy St. Louis is an off-shoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, which began its protests on Sept. 17 in a Lower Manhattan park. Since then, the Occupy Wall Street movement has gained momentum and spread to cities across the country. Part of the intent of the protests is to emulate recent government protests that have occurred in other countries, such as Egypt and Tunisia. In addition, the organization’s website said the protests have been gaining international support, with 1500 protests in 82 countries on Oct. 15.
According to its website, Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement made up of the “99%” who “will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.” The website of Occupy St. Louis expresses the same ideas.
“We, the 99%, are hereby taking action against the greed and corruption of the richest 1%; the bankers, politicians, and corporate persons that govern our nation,” the website states. “Like our brothers and sisters in Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Iceland, we plan to harness the power of mass occupation to restore democracy and justice in America.”
The website adds that the St. Louis organization “proudly stand[s] in solidarity with those whose peaceful Wall Street occupation seeks to expose the greed and avarice that has sold off the ‘American Dream’ in exchange for executive bonuses and political kickbacks.”
Occupy St. Louis began its protests about two weeks after the ones in New York City began. After first protesting at the St. Louis Federal Reserve building, the group soon moved to their current location at Kiener Plaza, a city park at the heart of downtown St. Louis. The demonstrators use the park’s amphitheater as a space for General Assemblies, discussions, and simply as a living room.
According to Sasha, the Occupy St. Louis group has maintained a “good dialogue” with the police.
“We did have some confrontations with the police the first couple of nights, and there were some arrests made, but since then everything’s been very good,” Sasha said.
Since its start, Occupy St. Louis has attracted a diverse group – some with jobs, some unemployed, some homeless, and some who have chosen to make a tent in Kiener Plaza their new residence.
One such individual is Michael, a fresh-out-of-college student who stumbled upon Occupy St. Louis, or what he called, “a little bit of a revolution,” during a backpacking trip around the country.
“Basically, I came to the realization that American history is pretty driven by social movements,” Michael said. “Most recently the Civil Rights Movement, before that Women’s Suffrage, before that Temperance, and then of course the American Revolution, which was also a social movement. A friend brought me down, I saw a bunch of people sitting around talking to each other, and I knew something really important was happening around here.”
Ever since then, Michael has been camping out in Kiener Plaza.
Michael said that the media trivializes the movement to a great degree and often comes set with specific expectations and ideas of what they want to report. According to him, it is not quite possible for the media to accurately depict the Occupy movement.
“You can’t really show what’s happening here, because what’s happening here is just interaction between people,” Michael said. “You know, it’s not like a five-second clip, it’s like a 45-minute or two-hour-long conversation between two people or a group of people.”
Kaare Meldy, a young archaeologist in Illinois, joined Occupy St. Louis for slightly different reasons. He lives at home with his wife, and every day after work he comes to Kiener Plaza and returns home after the General Assembly, the group’s community meeting. He is employed now, but this has not always been the case. In January of this year, the company he worked for was forced to fold, and Meldy was left unemployed until April.
“So we’re working… two people in the household working 40 plus hours a week, and we’re not able to pay our bills,” Meldy said. “And that just doesn’t seem right in America. It used to be that one person in the household could work 40 hours a week and pay the bills for, not just two people, but two people and two or three kids. And now I’m working 40 hours a week in a job that I went to college for, and I’m making $9.50 an hour. And my wife is picking 30 cents more than that. That’s not a sustainable amount of money, and that isn’t enough to live on.”
Meldy said he was surprised that this was not enough money for them to live on, because he does not have any “extras” like cable TV. He has a cell phone, but he said that is his only luxury – if he can even call it that, since it is his only phone.
“So I realized that this is not how our country is supposed to function,” Meldy said. “I realized that there is a large wealth inequality in our country. Between the average worker and the CEO of most companies there’s over 400 percent difference in how much they’re being paid. That just doesn’t seem like the way we should be running things in our country. It seems like the average person should have a little bit more money.”


Among the multitude of issues being protested by the Occupy movement, another main concern is corporate involvement in politics.
“These corporations are making unlimited campaign donations, but they’re not doing that for no reason; they’re doing that because they want something in return,” Meldy said. “So when there’s this much money being spent on a campaign, who is the politician going to represent? Are they going to represent the average person, or are they going to represent the campaign donors?”
According to Michael, the way to deal with this problem is to amend the U.S. Constitution.
“That is not an easy thing to do,” Michael said. “But, in the times that it’s happened in past U.S. history, it started in places like this. [The movement]’s at a big enough visible point that I would say it happens within a couple or a few years. I think we’re pretty close to some actual, interesting, good change happening here.”
The Occupy protests have been criticized for lacking a strong direction and well-defined demands. Nevertheless, the protesters do not seem to be lacking in faith for their cause, however unclear it may be.
Meldy said Occupy St. Louis will remain for “as long as it takes.”
“We’re going to be here; we’re going to continue,” Meldy said. “This movement is worldwide right now. There’s 3.5 million people worldwide; there are over a thousand protests in several different countries and almost every state. I just saw a picture of Occupy Alaska, which blew my mind. So, yeah, as long as it takes.”
Meldy currently works to help all participants become equally knowledgeable about the movement, by teaching others about consensus-based decision-making.
“I learned how that process works, and now every time before we have a General Assembly, I try and get everyone together so that they can learn consensus-based decision-making so that they can be facilitators in the next meeting,” Meldy said. “We don’t want to be a leaderless movement, but we don’t want to have a leader movement. We want to have a leader-full movement.”
According to Sasha, the movement has been a long time coming, and now that it is taking form, he has to take part.
“For myself, it’s a personal moral obligation,” Sasha said. “This represents everything I truly believe in, so I have to be here. Some people have a choice; I don’t.”
According to Sasha, Occupy St. Louis is comprised of a wide range of people, all of whom are involved with their own particular causes.
“We have social activists, we have political activists, we’ve got social workers, we have every demographic; we have socialists, anarchists, libertarians, Republicans, Democrats; we’ve got union supporters, we have non-union supporters,” Sasha said. “And that’s why it’s beautiful, because we get to hear more and more voices every day.”

All Photos by Julia Grasse
All Photos by Julia Grasse