A DCP writer spends the day at the Occupy Dayton camp
By Benjamin Dale
Belief is a funny thing, and it can often make people behave in noble, albeit misunderstood ways. Some say the true measure of belief is how much one is willing to suffer for it. And as the grey shadow of winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, the members of the worldwide Occupy Movement are beginning to know what it feels like to suffer for their beliefs.
After about two months spent occupying Courthouse Square on Main Street, Occupiers were asked to relocate to Dave Hall Plaza down the street for Dayton’s annual Christmas tree lighting celebration, Grande Illumination. The camp now consists of five tents that house anywhere from seven to 10 protesters every night. Despite the weather, the Occupiers are determined to make it through the winter, braving the elements in solidarity with the Occupiers on Wall Street, around the world, and in Washington, D.C.
As of Black Friday, it’s been 51 days since the Occupy Movement began, and John Tall has been calling a tent in downtown Dayton his home for 21 days now. As the de facto leader at the moment, the others refer to him as “Papa John.”
“I’ve had job offers, I don’t have to be doing this,” Tall said, “but to me this is more important; the survival of this camp. To me, this is something that was needed a long time ago.”
“I’m not leaving until this makes a difference, or until they haul me off,” Tall said.
Braving the cold has taken its toll on Tall, who’s been stricken with a undiagnosed illness that leaves him with fever, chills and a white blood cell count three times higher than normal. He was released from the hospital yesterday with a plethora of pills and orders to rest. Tall is not the restful type.
“People may look at us and think we are jobless and homeless, but in fact, 73 percent of Occupy Dayton holds down jobs,” Tall said, “but working here, organizing, finding supplies, taking care of the press, keeping the camp running is actually the toughest job I’ve ever had.”
Right now the Occupiers can’t cook, despite having grills and propane on hand, due to city ordinances regarding fires in parks. The Occupiers instead rely on donations from well-wishers and eating cold food, straight from the can.
The Occupiers have tents on order to withstand the weather – Russian tents built to insure survival against the harsh Siberian snows, 16×16 ft. squares complete with ventilation for a stove, insulation, and secured by wooden posts and metal joints.
The Occupiers say they like the Dave Hall location better, as it gives more protection from the wind, and is also a more natural, peaceful setting for the protest. The occupiers moved because of a recent poll in which voters said they wanted the Occupiers out of Courthouse Square before the Black Friday Christmas celebration.
“Since the people who wanted us to move are the same 99 percent that we represent, we chose to relocate to keep ordinary people happy,” Tall said. “We don’t want to be enemies with the people we claim to represent.”
Despite the Occupy Movement’s recent spread around the globe, the group is still short on ideas, leaders, and plans for action, but the list of grievances is quite long, and most of which, anyone could agree, are some of the most pressing issues of our time.
Homelessness, joblessness, corrupt politicians, predatory banks and spiraling debt – it doesn’t take a genius to see that the state of the world is in trouble. The Occupiers see a broken system in which the voices of the many are drowned out by the money of the few.
“I’m out here not for me, but for future generations,” Tall said.
“I want to get people aware that we can change things,” said Annie Blanchard, a resident of Yellow Springs who acts as the spiritual grandmother of the group. As the retired VP of special sales at the now-defunct Antioch Publishing company, she’s seen her own economic standing go from good, to bad, to worse over the course of her lifetime.
“I think everyone was waiting for someone to come along and change things for the better,” Blanchard said, “but sometimes things have to fall apart before you can put them back together again. I would use profanities, but I’ve already used enough of them.”
“Annie is one of our biggest supporters in spirit,” Tall said. “She keeps me steady. It’s good to know that there’s people like her, people that can’t for various reasons, live down here, but who go all out to do everything they can for those of us who do. I think people don’t realize what they have to offer, even the smallest little thing helps a lot.”
If they make it through until spring, the Dayton Occupiers hope to take their protest to Washington, D.C. next summer, where supporters hope the movement will converge and focus in time for the presidential elections.
The Occupiers are angry at the state of affairs, and they’re doing the only thing they feel can make a difference: protest.
“The more people that yell,” Tall said, “…the louder we’re going to be.”
Reach freelance writer Benjamin Dale at BenDale@DaytonCityPaper.com.