Camping tents, tarps and simple lean-tos almost obscure the grassy lawn in Kanawha Plaza. The walls and structures are covered in signs and slogans, and people group together, playing games, passing time or doing jobs.
Even more stand at the street corner and chant into oncoming traffic.
Occupy Richmond has dug in, and they have no intention of giving up.
As of Tuesday, the local Occupy movement reached its 10-day mark, and what has formed is a conclave of people that differ in many ideals and motivations but agree that they’re angry and plan to let everyone know.
“We are, for all intents and purposes, a community,” said VCU student Logan Bishop.
Bishop is among a number of students that have taken part in the demonstration since the planning stages.
He pointed out that within the tent-city that’s filled the plaza there are medical tents, a bike shop, a library and a kitchen, all supported with volunteer work and donations.
These simple public works form the backbone for a community that claims to work with a horizontal leadership structure in place. Everything is decided in a public forum, with no one person claiming to be a leader.
“People do have jobs and class. They go do that and come back,” Bishop said.
The population of Occupy Richmond is a constantly changing but at night, the tents are almost always full, with the number of “occupants” ranging from around 75 to a little more than 100. With larger numbers, however, come larger problems.
“We’re getting to the point where we’re having some problems … Stuff any community would face,” Bishop admits. One such problem was a recent assault that startled a number of occupants in the small community.
“A guy got hit on the head with a pipe,” medical tent volunteer Gaby Schatzi said. The victim made his way into the encampment where he was kept stable by the volunteers until medical personnel could arrive.
“We have a really awesome team, and we’re on the spot when something goes wrong,” Schatzi said. She believed that if the protest hadn’t been in a position to aid the man the situation could have been dire.
Schatzi said she is elated by the apparent success of the teamwork shown by the protesters.
“I think it (the Occupy community) is phenomenal. I’ve never felt so much love and positive energy … Everyone’s brewing and angry inside, but that has nothing to do with this,” she said.
While the Occupy community may be operating peacefully, the demonstration is facing pressure from the larger Richmond community.
The legality of Occupy Richmond is still a standing problem for the protest. The police have requested that the tents be taken down, since it is illegal to be inside Kanawha Plaza after nightfall. This request has been largely ignored by occupants.
Monday, Richmond City Councilman Marty Jewell presented a resolution that would ease some of the legal tension surrounding the protest. The resolution would have given some special consideration to allowing public presence in the park given it is a organized protest.
“It would have given them some leeway,” said Steve Skinner, council public information manager. The resolution was brought forward to be expedited, but the resolution never made it to vote.
The resolution was sent through the usual system to address it more closely. According to Skinner, the decision to take the longer process wasn’t intended to impede Occupy Richmond.
“It was more wanting to fully work through it,” Skinner said.
Demonstrators are still currently occupying Kanawha Plaza despite City Council’s delay on voting on Jewell’s resolution.
Photos by Chris Conway