Today is the final day for Occupy Columbia's full time presence on the Statehouse Grounds in the backward and long suffering State of South Carolina. For over two months, sometimes with many, sometimes with few, they have challenged the belief that noone in South Carolina will take a stand or challenge the lazy mass or corrupt power which mires our state.
There have always of course been dedicated groups of people working in SC. Lifetimes have been devoted to maintaining a resistance. However the culture of the state is hard wired to ignore it. Hold a rally with thousands and it will be ignored and forgotten. Petitions go into the trash. Republican congressmen's staff don't even bother to note phone calls.
Occupy Columbia put the resistance where it couldn't be ignored and deeply threatened that power. Protected by a crack legal team which shared its work with those of us at Petigru Free Speech Defense in Charleston. The Columbia legal they got arrests thrown out of court, filed a major civil rights lawsuit against the Governor certain to cost the state huge amounts in damages, obtained an injunction to return to the statehouse grounds after the Governor ordered them off with tents. Four trips to the courthouse resulted in four victories.
However yesterday the Governor and her friends finally managed to concoct rules, which they hadn't bothered to actually write earlier, which prohibited Occupy Columbia from camping on the statehouse lawn that a Federal judge partially accepted. After wasting huge amounts of resources, the Governor was able to rid herself of a few tents before the national Circus of the Republican Presidential Primary offers her a brief moment of attention. The less amusing circus of our Republican dominated legislature also hopes to be spared any embarrassment. That session will include erecting huge tents on the Statehouse ground overnight, which will be filled with food, alcohol and lobbyists greasing the barbaric mechanisms of corruption in our poor, suffering state.
At 2 pm today, the last tents in Columbia come down. At 4 pm, they'll show up near the Governor's mansion and she'll be getting a surprise of some sort. It will be the first of many. Activists in South Carolina has camped together and are now actively linked with occupations across the nation. More lawyers hare have been to court to argue free speech issues in the past two months than in the previous ten years. There is a lot of fresh blood ready to make noise. We've moved from watching the news on TV to making it and sharing it online.
Of Occupy Columbia's many victories, the night that hundreds of people defied the Governor's Orders and occupied the Statehouse grounds was their finest hour. I and my son, himself a veteran of Occupy Seattle and Olympia, WA were lucky enough to be there. The main body of this post is the story of that night. This was one of the last newspaper columns I wrote before a right wing group managed to drive my writing out of the weekly paper here after 11 years by threatening the paper's advertisers.
Occupy Columbia will fight again. So will Occupy Aiken & Occupy Charleston. Those planning to enjoy the Republican Presidential primary here and present their Palmetto Potemkin Village to the Nation are going to find that branding effort quite difficult.
We may not win here, but we'll fight here. What follows in the extended post is the story of the Victory at Occupy Columbia.
Five days after Governor Nikki Haley ordered the illegal arrest of 19 Occupy Columbia Activists in the rain, a few dozen protestors were gathered around the Confederate monument in the late afternoon of a perfect November day.
The previous week, Governor Haley had prohibited camping on the Statehouse Grounds, alleging the destruction of shrubbery and urination in the bushes. She did not pause to consider why the occupiers would destroy the bushes they were using to tinkle in. She
evidently had been so busy flying to out of state fundraisers in other people’s private jets that she never noticed that Mayor Benjamin of the City of Columbia had allowed the protest to put a Porta Pottie in a parking space on Sumter Street.
Of course people have been doing everything the Governor complained of around the Statehouse for years. They’re homeless. It was only when politics got involved, the sleeping bags were out in the open and someone actually reduced the amount of use of the bushes by bringing in a construction site toilet that the Governor got alarmed.
The parks and public greens of South Carolina can fill with unseen homeless people and the bushes can reek with the leavings of their excretion, provided no one suggests that South Carolina needs better education or higher paying jobs in the Governor’s world. “It’s a
great day in South Carolina” as long as we’re all quietly stumbling towards becoming the nation’s low wage, regressively taxed toxic dumping ground for the rest of the United State and parts of Europe. Any job, no matter how poorly compensated or heavily subsidized is her redeeming achievement.
In Haley’s new world of endless out of state fund raisers and fantasy Sarah Palin “A Star is Born” call ups where she becomes Rick Perry’s Vice President (or maybe Herman Cain’s) the parks can fill with desperation sent there from foreclosure proceedings and bankruptcies
as long as nobody is singing “We Shall Overcome” or making any signs.
In her world, its OK to arrest people for camping at the Statehouse when they’re not because all their gear was hauled off in a truck an hour earlier. However, then you are arresting people for sitting on the grass and even a Governor can’t make that illegal without some cooperation from the legislature, which she has a hard time obtaining.
Video from the night of the Statehouse grounds were taken over by the 99% in defiance of the Governor's illegal orders.
It’s difficult to see South Carolina, even the small part outside Haley’s office when her only view is the one reflected in a mirror provided by some out of state organization trying to secure even lower taxes for rich people.
It was for that reason that the City of Columbia refused to provide a Paddy Wagon and reenforcements to arrest the 19 protestors. A letter from the Mayor made it clear that they would not support any attempt to make illegal arrests, an opinion shared by the Chief of Police.
The march left the Statehouse headed North on Columbia’s attractive but thinly peopled main street. They made a stop at City hall to thank the Mayor, reading his letter to the Governor. The took a turn down to the Police Department where the cops were started to receive a noisey demonstration in their favor ending with a mass “thank you” chant.
It was a bit before 6 pm when the small march made it back to the statehouse, having handed out hundreds of flyers. Nearby the SC Department of Public safety had gathered all the officers it had to enforce the Governor’s order that there be no protests after 6 pm on
the Statehouse grounds.
It was said there were six public safety police cars with officers in riot gear around the corner. I never saw them. What I saw were hundreds of people gathered on the lawn awaiting the prohibited moment, ready to challenge the Governor’s orders.
They assembled peaceably. They handed out printed literature. They made speeches. They petitioned the Government for a redress of grievances. They used the First Amendment as the civil rights curfew came and went without incident. They used the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States like it was their personal property
and birthright, which it is.
Everyone, including the Public Safety officers, enjoyed the beautiful cool night. Whig Pizza ran out of salad across the street which is what happens when a bunch of hungry, many now middle aged liberals, bring freedom to your street while trying to stay on their diets.
Noone got arrested. The Governor couldn’t have possibly managed it. There were far too many people and not nearly enough officers. There was the concern that everyone might save the state the costs of transportation and just march down to jail to be booked together, until there was no more room in the jail. There was no word from the
Governor who has never bothered to walk out of the building to ask the protesters what is bothering them.
It was a joyous night. The old veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam Protests bored the kids with the exaggerated tales of their youth. The kids tried to explain how they managed to broadcast video over the internet from a backpack stuffed with wireless
equipment to people who had marched to Selma or burned their draft cards.
There is no better place than camps of the hopeful on the nights of their victories, few though they may be.
Tomorrow, the Governor may find muscle enough to support a crack down. She may silence the rising voices of protest in her state, which she has promised to the extreme rich right to be their personal policy playground. She may tap into the millions of dollars being raised to discredit the movement and teach people to hate their fellow Sandlappers for being public citizens with ideas and voices they’re not afraid to use. Such days may come. They’re likely to. What has been done to America won’t be undone without a fight.
However that didn’t happen yesterday, the 21st. of November, five days after the Governor degraded the power of her office by putting people in jail for sitting on the grass.
It didn’t happen on the 21st of November because too many people stood up to be held down. That made the 21st. of November “a great day in South Carolina!”