Occupy Baltimore kicked off its occupation around noon as a few dozen people arrived, some with small hand-held signs, a few with paint brushes and bed sheets, to stake out space for the revolution. Melissa Rowell is sitting on the edge of the fountain smoking a cigarette. She says she's here in solidarity with the protesters. She also has a friend on the New York City police force who "spent the night in central booking" after arresting some people at the New York protest. Another friend works on Wall Street. The two women just took a trip to New Orleans together last week to celebrate their 40
birthdays, Rowell says. "She made a comment that the protesters are dirty hippies, and I guess some of them are," Rowell, who has a sign that says "Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail," says. "So we don't talk about it." Rowell says she's here on her lunch break from a job at Johns Hopkins. She has to take a cab back to work soon, but "might come back here with my son." The Occupy movement got rolling in New York two weeks ago with an inchoate and broad coalition of people attempting to "Occupy Wall Street" in order to demonstrate the evils of capitalism. Calls for the end of corporate personhood, the repeal of the Patriot Act, and a laundry list of other causes animate that crowd, but the demonstration of cruelty and alleged trickery by New York City police officers seems to have had the greatest effect on recruitment efforts. The
went up with calls to coordinate "occupations" around the country. "People recognized that not everyone could go to New York," Cullen Nawakowsky, one of the collective that operates Red Emma's bookstore and coffeehouse, says, "and that there were local concerns not being addressed by the national movement." The Baltimore scene started on Saturday with calls to Nawakowsky, who helped arrange the eventual meeting at the collective's 2640 Space on St. Paul Street. The Sunday and Monday evening organizational were attended by between 100 and 200 people, who debated the wheres and whens of the protest (Will it be in front of Wells Fargo? The Washington Monument?) as well as key logistics. The call for tents went out over the Facebook page and Google group. It was unclear on Tuesday afternoon if any actual campers were going to pitch them. Baltimore Police spokesperson Jeremy Silbert, watching over the scene at McKeldin Square next to the Inner Harbor, said police were on patrol as usual, with no special plans for the demonstrators. "We want to make sure this group is safe," he says. Silbert said that his understanding of the law was that as many as 25 people could gather on the brick-paved triangle in front of the fountain and demonstrate without need of a permit. He allowed that, subtracting media personnel, about 25 actual occupiers were present. (This reporter guesses it was close to double that.) "No one's really sure" if camping can happen, says Ryan Mitchell, a student at Baltimore City Community College who says he plans to transfer to Morgan State University next year to study architecture. "I was in New York this weekend, and we had all kinds of crazy restrictions." Among those, he says, was a directive that demonstrators could not wear masks. Asked what the goals might be, Mitchell says he's not sure. "I think it's interesting that there aren't any coalescles yet," he says, defining that term as a "fully-formed list of demands." Ending corporate personhood might be one, mandating labor representatives on corporate boards, as is standard practice in Germany, might be another. Asked whether people will be camping here, Nawakowsky says the question came up at the meeting. "We believe it was legal," he says, but "ultimately the question is whether they will enforce it, which is a political concern, not a legal one. A cop can arrest you for walking on the sidewalk and say you're obstructing traffic." He says he was busted last summer after trying to snap a photo of a man being arrested in Hampden. He says he spent 16 hours in Central booking. Nawakowsky stands over a cardboard box with bleach, rubber gloves, and paper towels in it. That and a case of bottled water are serving as the medical kit. He laments with a laugh that the only people here with pre-made signs and leaflets seem to be the LaRouchies. Jeremy Batterson is leafleting a dozen feet away. He's got a big sign that says "Bring Back Glass Steagall," the Depression-era law that separated deposit taking banks from investment banks and insurance companies. Prominently near the bottom of the sign is the name Lyndon LaRouche. "He's been against this all along," Batterson says of the perpetual presidential candidate, convicted tax felon, and self-proclaimed inventor of the Strategic Defense Initiative. He hands out not one but three leaflets. They are full of references to "the bankrupt British imperial financial system," a "fixed exchange rate credit system," and "the original United States Hamiltonian credit system." A guy named Jerry, with cross of orange tape on his back, walks to Nawakowsky, who tries to get him to take over guardianship of the box of medical supplies, but Jerry wanders off. Turns out Jerry is a professional juggler, 69 years old, with children and four grandchildren living in Baltimore. He's one of the main drivers behind the B-Note movement, an effort to circulate an "alternative currency" among local businesses, mostly in Hampden. "We have $16,000 in circulation," Jerry, who asked his last name not be published, says. "Buy local. It's all about sustainability." Near the police, Wendy Rambo Shuford, a retired nurse and National Guard member, says she cancelled a medical appointment to come to the square. "I think it's important for people to be here and ask for accountability from the corporations that are screwing up the country," she says. "I lost $10,000 in my retirement account this summer without doing anything, and I was lucky to have it to lose." Rambo Shuford says she used to contribute to Democratic candidates regularly but lately she throws their mailings in the trash. Recently she wrote a response on one from Nancy Pelosi and sent it back. A young woman sits alone on the edge of the fountain, taking in the scene. "I don't have much to say," she avers to one of the reporters, but later claims she was in Washington D.C. yesterday and that demonstrators there "shut down the Bank of America." "I'm waiting to see if this is organized," the woman says. Fern Shen of the Baltimore Brew walks up, and is soon joined by Rafael Alvarez, who often contributes to the Brew but is here today strictly as a citizen. "My father is here," Alvarez says. "He's a lifetime union member." The pair turn their attention to the young woman, and Alvarez asks to read the slogan on her shirt. "It's not a protest shirt," the woman says, and as Alvarez reaches toward her she grabs his arm. The shirt says: "Touch me and you die. I'm only here to dance."