As Occupy SLC approaches its six-month mark on April 6, participants seem to have emerged from the Wasatch Front winter with renewed verve and resolve.
“We are modeling alternatives,” activist Jesse Fruhwirth said. “Rather than just protesting what we don’t like, we are starting our own power structure.”
By April 7, Salt Lake occupiers likely will relocate their base camp from the shadows of Gallivan Center’s towering financial structures to the open expanse on Library Square near 300 East and 400 South.
Library spokeswoman Julianne Hancock views the coming tent city as a good fit.
“We’re welcoming them with open arms. A core tenet of our library is to protect free speech,” Hancock said.
Last Oct. 6, hundreds of Occupy SLC protesters marched through downtown Salt Lake City, decrying the concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent of the population and the sway they believe corporate greed holds on the nation’s politics.
That march ended in Pioneer Park, where activists set up tents and a community kitchen. The social experiment ended Nov. 12 after a homeless man died in one of the tents. Police forcibly cleared the camp, arresting 19.
Similar occupations were bulldozed nationwide, accompanied by heavy-handed police tactics in several cases. The winter appeared bleak for a movement with the word “occupy” in its name.
The movement persisted in Salt Lake City, however. By mid-November, the city agreed to allow a small tent presence at Gallivan Center, but no food-prep tent.
Kitchens also will be banned at Library Square, Hancock said.
Activist and University of Utah graduate Justin Kramer, 27,voiced concerns about the lack of a kitchen but said Occupy SLC has tentatively accepted the city’s offer to relocate there.
“I’ll be there with a barbecue [grill],” Kramer said.
Westminster College graduate Mike Wilson, 25, was among occupiers arrested when Pioneer Park was cleared.
“The kitchen was a very important part of our community,” Wilson said, adding it was as an easy way for people to get involved.
Some of the park’s homeless population worked in the kitchen and also volunteered to clean bathrooms. Wilson said he saw a change in their self-confidence and engagement as a result.
“We showed they had worth,” Wilson said.
Kitchenless through the winter, Gallivan occupiers gravitated to the One World Cafe at 41 S. 300 East, a restaurant where everyone eats and names their price. Those who can’t pay pitch in and lend a hand.
Occupiers recently started a box garden behind the cafe to grow fresh produce, the first of several community gardens they hope to plant.
“The active development of an alternative is one of the most important forms of protest,” Kramer said. “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.”
That was the message posted on occupywallst.org last November as police dismantled the mother-ship of protest camps in NYC’s Zucotti Park.
In other words, the occupation might be gone but the concept of battling injustice and inequity through direct democracy had again taken root.
Occupy Wall Street is just one of hundreds of organizations seeking similar societal changes.
The national Move to Amend coalition formed in September 2009 to build a vibrant democracy accountable to people rather than corporations.
Some Utah occupiers have joined forces with Move to Amend Salt Lake to gather 9,000 signatures by April 15 for a citywide ballot resolution this November stating corporations are not people and money is not speech. The group is about halfway to its goal, Fruhwirth said.
In July, several activist groups plan to “welcome” the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to Salt Lake City for its 39th annual meeting. ALEC’s membership consists of conservative lawmakers and corporate executives who draft bills for state-by-state passage.
To Fruhwirth, ALEC represents an unholy alliance between powerful moneyed interests and elected officials.
“It’s corrupt in concept and even worse in practice,” he said.
Sept. 17, 2011 • Occupy Wall Street sets up camp in New York City’s Zucotti Park.
Oct. 6, 2011 • Occupy SLC’s tent city rises in Pioneer Park.
Nov. 12, 2011 • Police clear the Pioneer Park camp, citing health and safety issues.
Mid-November • Occupy SLC establishes a tent headquarters in Gallivan Center.
Today • David Cobbs, National Move to Amend director, speaks at 6:30 p.m. at Wasatch Commons, 1411 S. Utah St., Salt Lake City, on the topic: “How Corporations Got So Much Power and How to Get it Back”.
Saturday • Occupy SLC will join other activists in a Utah Hoodie March starting at 5 p.m. at Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main St., Salt Lake City, to show support for Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black youth shot dead Feb. 26 in Florida by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. So far, Zimmerman has not been arrested because of Florida’s “stand your ground” law.