Occupy Durham protesters cry bullshit on Wall Street | News Feature | Indy Week
Pin It
Many aspects of the Bull City's protest location make it significant

Occupy Durham protesters cry bullshit on Wall Street 

Standing at the corner of East Chapel Hill and Foster streets, Alissa Ellis tugged the sleeves of her red sweatshirt until they reached her knuckles. Biting bursts of wind threw her black hair in every direction as she displayed a sign to passing drivers: "Feed the people, not the Pentagon."

A metallic-colored sedan passed the CCB Plaza in downtown Durham, where a dozen young people started camping last week to support national protests on Wall Street. The driver tapped the car's horn.

"Honks from the Mercedes," the 23-year-old Ellis muttered. "I love it."

Of course, Ellis concedes, those who drive expensive cars could also make up the "99%." They are families who have lost their homes, workers who are underemployed and other who are living under the threat of losing their homes or jobs. Many are like Ellis, who thought a college degree was the key to getting a good job. She graduated this year with an undergraduate degree in political science, but has yet to find paying work.

"I had this idealistic idea that when I graduated, I would get a job at a nonprofit and get great experience," she said. It's disheartening to apply for dozens of jobs—she says she's up to 40—with no response. It eats at your ego, she said. If it weren't for a supportive boyfriend and parents, she wouldn't be able to clothe, feed and care for her 22-month-old.

"I realize that I have a privilege with family support. But there are so many people who don't, who can't stand out here," she said, shivering as brisk winds converged on the open plaza, channeled through the corridors created by tall buildings.

Protesters in Durham settled on the CCB Plaza as a gathering place on the first weekend in October. According to organizers, rallies that week and during subsequent ones each beckoned more than 200 participants to the brick-paved spot, named for the bank that used to operate next door.

The protesters began camping overnight on the plaza on Oct. 16. The next day, city officials told them they couldn't erect tents or other structures, per a rule that prohibits camping on all but one public property, a campground at Lake Michie. So participants have been huddling in sleeping bags with little cover. During a recent rainstorm that persisted all day and night, a small-business owner on Market Street let protesters duck into his building to stay dry.

So many aspects of the location make it significant, said Ben Crawford, one of the initial organizers for Occupy Durham. The plaza abuts Parrish Street, known at the start of the 20th century as "Black Wall Street," a corridor where small, black-owned businesses sustained themselves, despite being surrounded by white-owned commerce. Then there's Major, the hulking bronze bull, which at the very least resembles another iconic, hoofed beast on Wall Street.

The best part about the plaza, Crawford said, is that pedestrians regularly pass through. They ask questions and share their own stories. This past weekend, three homeless people who were already sleeping downtown joined the camp and shared notes about their economic hardships. Numerous other passersby participated in an art project in which they wrote short stories on posters and held them up for portraits. Volunteers printed the photos and clipped them onto clotheslines strung across the plaza.

The stories share many commonalities: the heft of student loan debt, retirement money that disappeared in the sagging stock market, the weight of health care costs and the uncertainty of unemployment and joblessness while raising children.

Like their counterparts on Wall Street and across the U.S., these occupants aren't making specific demands. Demands, many in the Durham protest said, are restricting.

"Once you list demands, you're excluding people," Ellis said. "A lot of people here want bigger, more fundamental changes than just passing some legislation," she said. "For the moment, people are just trying to expand that conversation."

  • Many aspects of the Bull City's protest location make it significant

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in News Feature



Twitter Activity

Comments

@john Killeen – I agree that these trends are disheartening. Pretty much 100% of the blame in periodicals like the …

by tkraw23 on After 70 years, a historic Raleigh neighborhood is no more. A requiem for Tiny Town (News Feature)

Affordable is definitely the key. Everyone is being pushed away. Also, why do all of these darn buildings have to …

by Allen Kennedy on After 70 years, a historic Raleigh neighborhood is no more. A requiem for Tiny Town (News Feature)

© 2015 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation