Occupy Chico group fragmented but dedicated

The local faction of the national movement talks motives, strategy

Occupy Chico activists Quentin Colgan and Sky England spread their message to drivers as they pass City Plaza on Broadway. Behind them, other protesters discuss their plan of action.

Occupy Chico activists Quentin Colgan and Sky England spread their message to drivers as they pass City Plaza on Broadway. Behind them, other protesters discuss their plan of action.

Photo By Meredith J. Graham

Find the protest
Occupy Chico plans to stay in City Plaza as long as possible. If they are not there, they will move first to Children’s Park. When in doubt, check the Chico Peace & Justice Center or log onto www.occupychico.com or www.facebook.com/occupychico.

A group of 20 or so gathered in City Plaza at 1 p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 11) for a general assembly meeting of the Occupy Chico movement. Some of the faces were new; others looked weary, having slept there the night before.

“We had about a dozen people here till 1 a.m., then about five to eight overnight, and we thinned down to three this morning,” said John Poteet, offering an update.

“Our main concern is getting more people here,” Clint Barrett told the group. “Right now numbers are very critical.”

The meeting was both organized and disorganized. An agenda was created, with input from everyone, and clear questions were laid out to be answered. For example, how forcefully will the group assert its position at City Plaza? How do I get a chance to talk about what I want to talk about? What is Plan B if Plan A fails? What exactly is Plan A?

Those questions were only partially answered. Plan A, it was decided, would be to stay in City Plaza; unless there’s a previously planned event there, in which case they’ll move. The Chico Police Department is leaving the issue to the city’s Parks and General Services Department to handle, but while the Occupy Chico group did get a visit from a park ranger Tuesday morning, they have not been asked to leave.

“At this point, we’ve let them know they are in violation of the municipal code, because the park is closed between 2 and 5 a.m.,” explained John Rucker, assistant city manager. “We’ve used discretion and not issued citations for that. We’re taking our cues from other, bigger cities in the country. Not real clear with what their goal is up to this point. But we respect their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.”

The Occupy Chico group appreciates the city’s stance, though some are worried that either without enough people or with too many, they could run into problems. Should they be kicked out of City Plaza, Plan B is Children’s Park. Above all else, they will not give up, they agreed.

“I don’t think it will stop; it will just morph,” Barrett said.

Beyond that, there were lots of good ideas thrown about, but without electing a leader of sorts, there was no one to make any final decisions. Instead, everything was put to a vote, and sometimes even that was abandoned.

“So, what am I supposed to do, just keep coming back every day at 1 and 7?” asked Benson, a regular at City Council and other community meetings, referring to the schedule of general assembly meetings. “I just want a time when I can talk.”

And so it went, for about an hour and a half. At one point, a man who had been shushed too many times got fed up with the group, threw up his hands and started his own protest. “Nobody can figure out why you’re even here!” he screamed.

That, apparently, is the crux of the problem for the Occupy Chico—and ultimately the Occupy Wall Street—movement. With so many individuals with individual agendas, it seems difficult to compile them all neatly into a single message.

“It’s puzzling to some people because there isn’t one issue or one leader,” said Barrett, a recent transplant to Chico from Santa Cruz. Why is he part of the protest? “It’s the undermining of democracy,” he explained. “The very thing America was formed to get away from is coming back to haunt us.”

A few hours later, at the same location in the Plaza across from Bank of America, the group again formed, this time a bit larger—and armed with signs. People took turns standing up and telling everyone else why they were there. One woman named Sue said, “We need to end the Fed! It’s privately owned!” Another woman discussed briefly the benefits of permiculture and being able to fend for oneself without relying on corporations.

“Although I am scared, I am not afraid,” said an impassioned Quentin Colgan, local actor and activist, attracting cheers from the crowd. He pulled out a deck of cards to illustrate the 99 percent of America represented by the Occupiers—51 cards—and the 1 percent who rule the nation—one card. He then split up the 99 percent into many smaller groups whose ideas of what this movement is about are at odds with one another. What he was left with was half a card vs. a whole card (the 1 percent).

“Who is bigger if we divide ourselves?” he asked. “We must be united in purpose.”