Still Occupied

A year later encampment is gone but group remains active

Occupiers gather along Wall Street in downtown Chico in October of last year.

Occupiers gather along Wall Street in downtown Chico in October of last year.

file photo by Kyle delmar

On Sept. 17, 2011, 5,000 protesters descended on Lower Manhattan’s financial district to protest social and economic inequality in the United States. The Canadian anti-consumerist organization (and publication) Adbusters dubbed the effort Occupy Wall Street. By the end of the day, about 300 people had entrenched themselves in New York City’s Zucotti Park, and an international phenomenon was born.

By mid-October, there were Occupy encampments in more than 95 cities in 82 countries, and more than 600 communities in the United States, including Chico, where a handful of protesters set up camp in the City Plaza from the end of September until December.

The tents may have disappeared, but the organization has not.

Locally, Occupy Chico and the Chico State Peace Institute are celebrating the anniversary with “OCCUPY One Year Later: The Evolution” on the Chico State University Campus (PAC 134, Ruth Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17). Local Occupy members will be joined via Skype by representatives from Philadelphia, New York City, Dallas and other West Coast Occupy groups.

“They’ll be sharing where their community was when Occupy started, what transitions have happened in the last year, and where they feel the movement is going,” said Tammy Wichman, Occupy Chico spokeswoman and director of the Chico Peace & Justice Center. Wichman said the event is not just a celebration, but is also intended to let the community know the movement is still around and to answer questions for people interested in getting involved.

Wichman herself slept at City Plaza for about three weeks during the two-and-a-half month encampment and visited on a daily basis. While some Occupy camps were forcibly evicted by authorities (the original Wall Street camp was shut down on Nov. 15), this was not the case in Chico.

“The city was great to us,” she said. “We worked very closely with the city manager, chief of police and parks department to make sure we were in compliance and able to stay.

“We decided to shut it down based on the energy and livelihood of the people involved,” Wichman continued. “They were needing to take care of themselves. It’s wearing on one’s nerves and mental health to be out there for long periods of time, especially without much support. By the end there were a few people holding down the fort.”

Wichman said public interest in it definitely peaked while the movement was more visible: “We’d hold weekly actions, and each week the number of people would roughly double.” She said at one point in October an estimated 400 people attended a single event. “That’s an astronomical number for a town like Chico.”

Wichman said today there are about 70 people involved to some extent, with a core group of 20-30 members still heavily dedicated. The group holds meetings, known as general assemblies, at 6:30 p.m. every second and fourth Thursday of the month at the CPJC.

“It’s not as if we sat in a park and then we all went home,” said Greg Hubbell, who has been involved with Occupy Chico since last October. “We got some stuff done, and we’re still getting stuff done.”

Hubbell credits the movement with helping pass the California Homeowner Bill of Rights last July and applying pressure to the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the individual mandate in support of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). They have also worked in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which allows for unlimited corporate and union spending on electioneering. President Obama has recently spoken in support of such an amendment.

Hubbell said Occupy is partly responsible for Proposition 37, which would force companies to label foods containing genetically modified organisms. “Particularly here in Butte County, a lot of Occupy members diligently gathered signatures for that to get on the ballot and got more than our share,” he said.

Occupy Chico members also started a local chapter of Food Not Bombs. Food Not Bombs is a loose-knit group of independent collectives dedicated to providing vegetarian meals to the homeless and other people in need. “Chico has had Food Not Bombs groups in the past, but it was defunct here until Occupy members brought it back,” Hubbell said.

Additionally, Occupy Chico is working with the Shalom Free Clinic to establish a “time bank” through which the underemployed and others wanting to join could trade labor and services for other services. A group of Occupy members are also working to help people in Butte County whose homes have been foreclosed on.

“A hard thing is getting people to understand how corporatism affects their daily lives,” said Charles Alford, an Occupy Chico member since January who works alongside Hubbell on education and outreach. “The foreclosure issue is something that affects everyone. Exposing all the illegal and quasi-legal activities that went on and how that directly ties to people getting kicked out of their homes by corporate banks is something everyone sees and can understand.”

Alford also presented a long list of Occupy Chico’s direct actions since the beginning of 2012. In addition to local rallies protesting “corporate personhood,” representatives of the local group have attended Occupy events at Beale Air Force Base protesting drone warfare, Bohemian Grove protesting secrecy and Monsanto headquarters in Davis protesting GMOs.

“It’s growing, and it’s just begun,” Wichman said of Occupy. “The civil-rights movement didn’t happen overnight, or in a month, or in a year. It took 10 years for any real action to be affected, and even then it was a slow process for real changes to occur. This is still building.”