Police Not a Problem for OccupySTL; The Homeless on the Other Hand...

Categories: Of the People
Albert Samaha
There is madness in Oakland, Chicago, Phoenix, DenverAtlanta, New York. Flash-and-bang gas canisters... protesters flushed from public squares... mass arrests. But not here. At first, a cynic might think, "Of course! The last thing this city needs is a stone-throwing-police-with-shields-and-helmets riot in front of the national media in town for the World Series."

Doesn't seem that way, though. It's a rainy Wednesday and about a dozen "99 Percenters" gather under the protective overhang at Kiener Plaza to discuss national ills. There are fifty or so wet tents all around them. They go around in a circle, each person explaining their motives for joining the movement.

"I'm here because I'm scared of where the world is going," says a blond woman in a black sweatshirt.

People nod. Specific issues raised.

Low corporate tax rates... unlimited campaign funding... Senate filibusters... mortgage and college loan debts... unemployment... broken system... worldwide angst....

"I've been waiting for something like this for a long time," says a man named Ben, who sports a full beard and a green Cardinals cap. "I couldn't believe that things were going the way they were going and there weren't masses in the streets saying, 'Is this really what's going on?'"

Two policemen on bikes roll up and park a few yards behind the group. A white-shirted lieutenant gestures to a young man at the back of the pack. He asks him to bring over one of the leaders.

"I don't want to interrupt," says the lieutenant.

The young protester finds Carmalene Jackson and brings her over to the police. She and the lieutenant discuss a recent theft of a protester's laptop and the steps the police are taking to locate it. After a few minutes, the officers leave.

"Good seeing you lieutenant!" one protester says.

"See you around!" says another.

The Occupy St. Louis folks have slept and eaten at Kiener Plaza for 26 days now. And after the burst of arrests for breaking park curfew three weeks ago, and the threats of more arrests the next day, the city and the police have kept their hands off. The 10 p.m. curfew at the square has not been enforced. The number of tents has grown. Up to sixty protesters regularly stay overnight.

"A lot of police here in St. Louis have good reason to support us," says Paul Joseph Poposky, another one of the leaders. "I think the police stand to gain just as much from what we're doing here -- the economic and social message-- as anyone else."

Rather than drive the protesters out of the park each night, the police check-in daily to make sure there is peace and order. Because peace and order aren't assured.

With the rain dying down, a young man named Conen walks over to a make-shift tent with a cardboard sign reading, "Kitchen." Fruits and snacks are laid out on foldable tables like at a farmer's market. There are stacks of styrofoam cups and a couple of coffee makers in the back of the tent. A woman named Diane stands behind the tables. Conen asks her for a cup of coffee.

"You homeless?" Diane aks.

"No, I'm from Granite City," says Conen.

"You coming from Hopeville?"

"Nah, coming from my dad's house. Been here for like a month."

"I ask because there are a lot of homeless coming up here."

"Yeah, a few homeless people have caused some trouble."

Just last week there were some fights at the square. Some people weren't abiding by the "No Alcohol, No Drugs" rule. They didn't appreciate being told to leave, but they did eventually.

"Some homeless people started some drama," says a man in a red sweatshirt.

It was an isolated minority, to be sure. Homeless people are welcome at the encampment, have been from the start. Many came for the free food and undisturbed living quarters, then ended up staying once they heard the message.

Like a twenty-something named Busch, for instance. He's been "a traveler" since he was sixteen. He came down from Chicago with his dog Rebel a week ago, stumbled upon this community of tents, listened to some of the democracy talk, and now he's totally down with the movement.

"Shows people are human," he says. "As long as you're human, you got an issue."

And then there's Cheryl. She came up from Florida three weeks ago, bounced around some shelters, then made base here. She's become a zealot for the message.

"I was out," she says. "I was bored in the evenings a lot. I got lost because I'm not from here, and I ended up here. I watched and observed and listened and I liked what I heard."

Now she's a "welcomer" for the group. She also jots down the minutes for some of the meetings.

Randy is homeless, too. Except he came here on purpose, showed up the first day. He'd heard about the Occupy Wall Street stuff going on in New York and jumped on board as soon as the movement reached St. Louis. He was one of the ten people arrested in early October. Contrary to Fox News reports, the homeless folks aren't getting paid ten bucks a day to make the movement look bigger.

"I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world," Randy says. "There's not enough money in the world to get me to leave this place."

Of course, it's hard to discern the handful of homeless from the more traditional activists, who've lived here -- sleeping on the concrete, eating on the steps -- for nearly a month.

"Less employment equals more occupation," says a man named John, as he sits in a tent strumming a guitar. "The people are just fed up."

John is a former military man and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War -- he's working to set up a St. Louis chapter. He spends most nights in the plaza, but goes home every now and then to shower and soak up a few hours of apartment luxury. A harsh winter is on the way, so he and the other protesters are preparing to weatherize their tents as they plan to ride it out as long as it takes.

"I know the media and everybody sneers at us for not having a single message and being disorganized," he says. "It's not disorganized. America just has too many issues. There are so many problems, how can we figure out a single objective?"

The rain is starting to come down hard now, so Poposky and the other leaders decides to postpone a scheduled march to City Hall. They'll do it on Thursday instead.

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Is it just me or does anyone else think this protest should be taking place in Clayton? I mean that's where all the money is located? And this story sort of proves that.


It is indeed a matter of choices. Our government leaders (BOTH parties) have chosen to represent corporate lobbyists rather than people. Our government leaders and courts have wrongly given personhood to corporations, and just as "guns do not kill people, people kill people", corporations are NOT people my friend. Our government leaders have chosen to invest in tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest individuals, while they have chosen to bankrupt us with unending wars and a bloated military. Our government leaders have chosen to let our infrastructure crumble from neglect, and have chosen to pass legislation such as NAFTA to let their corporate masters ship our jobs out of this country......Indeed it is all about choices and it's time to stop the 1% tail from wagging the 99% dog.


google "free video of the moneymasters" for an excellent documentary on how the global bankers have been working toward their goal of the new world [law and] order one world gov since before jesus christ up to the present.  all verifiable factual history .


I totally understand the need for more access to jobs, but the complaining about debt and student loans just irks me. Debt is a choice, if you can't handle it don't take it on.


"Debt is a choice" Please step away from the computer and talk to a real person...

Your not living in the same United States as I am... Debt is a way of life.


Wow. Good call. If you can't afford to go to college, then never do anything to assure that you get paid above minimum wage. If you're born poor you should stay poor?


Debt is a choice. A person chooses to have student loans, a car load, a mortgage.  I couldn't afford and want student loans to go to SLU or Wash U, so I CHOSE go to junior college for two years and transfer to a state university.  I paid $3500 for a used car because I CHOOSE not to have a $400/month car payment. I borrowed money to buy a house because my previous landlord was a dick and I CHOOSE not to deal with landlords anymore. In America, we are free to make these choices.


Choice like eating, breathing, or sleeping... Its necasary for living.

I care if you think its a choice... becasue its a REAL PROBLEM.

You cant "choice" away problems... your bank wil not let you occupy their house if you CHOSE not to make payments.... are you a baby?


Dude, credit card debt is a choice (i know i have plenty) you dont need those skinny jeans, or those tickets to that indie show, You chose to buy them. This stat is meaningless without an avergae income stats as well. You should know this.

Credit cards are not handed out, you must apply (a form of choice). so that stat is meaningless in this context

You actually tried here but still fell short, US consumer debt is a choice. US government debt was much smaller pre Obama bailout...

This isn't even a stat its a BS guess from you with no real data to back it up. Furthermore regardless of the decade we are in most Americas move every 5 years thus never "owning a home"


Average credit card debt per household with credit card debt: $15,799 609.8 million credit cards held by U.S. consumers.... population of US 307 Million 

Total U.S. consumer debt: $2.43 trillion, US Government debt $14 trillion.... USA GDP $15.003 trillion

Good luck on "owning" that house in 18 years the Nation is under water.... Wake up "choicer"


The bank owns less then 3/4 of the house....I saved and put down 25% when I bought it and make all my payments on time.  I'd spent the money on rent if I didn't have a mortgage, but I'll own the house free and clear in 18 more years.

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