The Daily Gamecock

Local protestors join rising 'Occupy' rallies

Columbia supporters stake out Statehouse

Frustration with wealth disparity and political representation exploded onto the Statehouse grounds this weekend as “Occupy Columbia” took hold of the capital city.

The ongoing protest is an outgrowth of the month-old Occupy Wall Street movement that began in Manhattan, N.Y., and has since mushroomed across the country, moving into the Palmetto State this weekend.

Shortly after the demonstrations began at nine Saturday morning, around 250 people lined up at Gervais Street, painted signs and erupted in cheers as passing drivers honked in support.

“We are the 99 percent — and so are you,” protestors chanted to passersby, referring to the disparities in wealth distribution in the United States and what protesters describe as political representation that is skewed toward corporations and the wealthy.

The Occupy movement has grown from that frustration and rallied around the distinctly populist “99 percent” mantra, but protestors are less than unified in the roots of their anger.

For many, like Trey Murphy of Columbia, the influence of corporations and special interests on elections and government was the key issue that brought them to the Statehouse. “I’m out here mainly because I want corporations to stop having as much of an influence on our political system or more of an influence on our political system than we do as voters,” said Murphy, who added that he would be protesting whenever he wasn’t working. “Just because we don’t have the money doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to have the say that we were promised.”

Others raised signs that reflected his sentiment, calling for “separation of corporation and state” and saying, “I couldn’t afford a lobbyist, so I made this sign.”

Unemployment and underemployment were also commonly cited issues. “I’m 58 years old, I have a college degree, I managed at a broadcast media department and I now work at a big box store, and it’s going to take me six years to break $10 an hour,” said JoAnn Hafter, who also described the minimum wage as “unlivable” and added, “It’s about time South Carolina got out of the slavery era ... we’re slaves.”

Protestors also railed against South Carolina’s representatives, opposition to last year’s health care legislation and tax cuts under the George W. Bush presidency, among other issues. More generally, the theme of the protests was bringing equality back into politics and government. “I’d like to see a little more fairness to the common man,” Julie Olsen said.

Like other Occupy gatherings, Columbia’s protests became a continuous demonstration as about 75 people camped out Saturday night on the Statehouse grounds with the permission of authorities, according to a
post on the Occupy Columbia Twitter page.

By Sunday afternoon, the group seemed somewhat subdued and its size had subsided. About 15 protestors stood — or sat — along Gervais, with a larger contingent sitting in the shade on the Statehouse grounds. A hundred feet away six others practiced tai chi.

The protest seemed to show some staying power, as many people spoke of their plans to camp with the group and it had organized itself with a daily schedule, a stock of food donations and planned general assembly meetings.