NORMAN — Despite freezing temperatures, members of Occupy Norman are camping in Andrews Park for two weeks in support of the national Occupy Wall Street movement.
Police spokes person Capt. Tom Easley said the group is camping legally and agrees to comply by Norman city ordinances.
“Occupy Norman leaders approached some of the city leadership last Friday and requested a waiver of the overnight trespass ordinance which was granted,” Easley said. “The city is recognizing their right to protest.”
While the request to camp in the city park adjacent to city hall and the police station is a bit out of the ordinary, it is not without precedent.
“We often waive the after darkness rule for special occasions such as May Fair and concerts in the park, so it’s not unprecedented at all,” Easley said. “There is no ordinance that prohibits camping. I believe their intent is to do this for two weeks.”
The group is not allowed to have open fires but have taken shelter in park pavilions in addition to setting up tents.
Members of the group spoke on the condition that it was understood each is speaking as an individual, not as a representative of the Occupy Movement.
The reasons for the non-violent protest are multiple, but corporate greed is the over-arching concern.
“Most of it’s so something will be done about corporate greed,” Robert Etheridge said. “Wall Street practically collapsed world economy, and no one’s gone to jail.”
The overriding opinion by the individuals camping at Andrews Park is that campaign contributions from big corporations, international banking entities, and other powerful lobbying groups is running the country while the voices of ordinary people is drowned out.
“One of the issues is not just corporate greed, but corporate control over government,” said a man who identified himself only as Stephen, asking that his last name be withheld.
He, at least, had a job to protect, contrary to the idea often expressed that Occupy protesters are all unemployed.
“Ordinary people should have a voice in Democracy even if they can’t afford lobbyists, think tanks and campaign contributions,” Stephen said. “A lot of people are voicing concerns about the Citizen’s United decision.”
Stephen is referring to a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in January ruling that government cannot limit political free speech by corporations and therefore cannot limit political spending by corporations in election campaigns.
“Many of us feel corporations should not have the First Amendment rights of an individual,” Stephen said.
The Occupy members also voiced concerns about massive income inequity. But Stephen and Etheridge were quick to say they support locally owned businesses, including banks and credit unions.
The protest is more about Wall Street than it is Norman. Occupy protestors expressed that some corporations have become richer than many small countries, giving them too much power
“We decided we needed to hold a local occupy to show our solidarity with Occupy Wall Street,” Stephen said.
Wall Street Investment bankers, not local Norman bankers, are the subject of the protest.
“Investment banks gamble with the money of depositors and the FDIC,” Stephen said. “They gamble with someone else’s money then keep the profits if they win. I’m not protesting against local banks and credit unions.”
Etheridge said he encourages people to move their money to local banks.
Stephen said the credit unions are nonprofits owned by depositors.
“The money stays in the local economy rather than being shipped off to Wall Street,” he said.
Peyton Gates said she tries to walk the walk in her daily life, not just talk about change. She’s a member of the Oklahoma Food Coop and tries to shop locally.
The Occupy Norman members said they marched from the University of Oklahoma through Campus Corner recently to raise awareness of the importance of shopping locally and, when possible, spending their money at locally owned businesses.
“You have to live within the system at the same time you’re trying to change it,” Stephen said.
Etheridge said shopping locally is also a good way to fight rising gas prices.
“We’re not anti-commerce and trade,” Etheridge said.
Asked how the Occupy movement can continue to be heard as the growing number of protests become more commonplace, they said things are changing, that college towns are becoming more of a focus as the message reaches a new audience.
“When they lose their jobs, they’ll listen,” Gates said. “The point is not to stop.”
“Part of what we want to do is not just protest, but to re-engage ordinary people in how our country is governed,” Stephen said. “We’re basically asking the community to debate the issues.”
“Change isn’t immediate,” Gates said. “It takes time to make progress.”
Joy Hampton 366-3539 firstname.lastname@example.org