“Occupy Sylva” on Saturday looked and sounded a lot like a Democratic-party function, but with a twist. The message wasn’t necessarily about voting Democratic, though speakers, particularly political office holders, certainly worked that wish into speeches when their moments came to grab the microphone.
The bigger message, and what seemed to have motivated the more than 60 people gathered on Main Street Sylva more than party politics, was about stopping corporate greed, creating jobs and not limiting wealth to a privileged few in a nation with such vast resources at its command.
This was Sylva’s contribution to the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement. The leaderless movement started one month ago in New York City, with protests spreading nationwide and beyond. Occupy Sylva, Occupy Asheville, Occupy Seattle … even Occupy Helsinki, Occupy Rome, Occupy Berlin and Occupy London.
Sylva’s occupiers waved mostly homemade signs at passing traffic, receiving either toots of horns in support or blank looks from motorists as they swung their cars by the water fountain that fronts Main Street where the protesters gathered.
The signs read, “Corporations are not people,” “Get money out of politics,” “No more predatory capitalism,” “Jobs not cuts.”
No tent city emerged in Sylva as in other Occupy events — after about an hour, everyone wandered off, many to area restaurants to grab a bite to eat before heading to their homes. No clashes with police occurred, either. In fact, if there were any Sylva officers keeping an eye on this group, they were deep, deep undercover — there wasn’t a blue uniform in sight.
While small-town civility ruled this particular Occupy event, the people who gathered were clearly serious in their intentions: They were one voice in demanding that change, real change, must take place.
“We are not a poor country. Our money is just in the wrong place,” said Marsha Crites, who attended the event.
Kurt Lewis, a member of the Young Democrats at Smoky Mountain High School, was somewhat disappointed that few people in his age group showed up. He held a sign that read, “Wall Street is America’s largest casino.”
“They need to care now instead of caring later, before it is too late,” the 17 year old said of his fellow teens.
This being Jackson County, where a preponderance of WNC’s literati call home, poems were of course read, too. Ben Bridgers, retired from attorney work this year, said he’s turned to writing as a means to funnel his growing frustrations with what’s taking place nationally.
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” Bridgers told the crowd, before reading aloud a few poems that spoke to why he believes this country is in trouble.
The Occupy Sylva event looked quite a bit like the left’s version of the Tea Party movement, though the speeches and political aims couldn’t be more different.
Political junkie Chris Cooper, a Western Carolina University professor who teaches political science, noticed and enjoyed that irony, too. He turned out to observe the nation’s latest grassroots movement at work in small town WNC.
“It’s very interesting,” Cooper said. “Both (groups) are saying they are fed up, but they have such radically different solutions.”