• Lillie Burke

On Legislative Plaza: my day at Occupy Nashville

Mic Check.

Shouts ring out across the plaza in response.

Heads poke out of tents scattered across Legislative Plaza as the shouts get louder.

The group meanders toward the steps, more interested in the “grub” than what the General Assembly has to say.

Signs line the wall, left behind from a time when momentum and an idea was all it took to make a change.

Numbers have been dwindling at the camp. Some claim it’s the cold, but others believe it’s something deeper.

To a casual observer, the gathering is a typical meeting. But in reality, it’s the death of a movement.

It’s a death that’s been a long time coming. Tennessee’s state legislature is just speeding up the process with the inevitable passage of House Bill 2836 and Senate Bill 2508.

Assembly is now in session.

“Democracy in its purest” is being practiced before my eyes. The verdict from both myself and Ben, the facilitator? “Messy as hell.”

No calls to order are made; simple hand movements dominate the conversation until a really heated subject comes up.

I spend my time carefully taking notes and capturing photos, a fact most Occupiers ignore. I’m merely a passer-by in their minds, an outsider who has yet to see the light.

Most folks who see this meeting stare for just a moment before returning to their hustle and bustle. A select few feel it necessary to honk and yell profanities at the group, reminding them their days are numbered.

Enter Tom Sweet, or “Cowboy” as the Occupiers refer to him.

At 53 years old, he is “no longer a spring chicken,” but that factor hasn’t stopped him. Every day you can find him on the plaza slowly making the rounds with his cane, until the state “kicks him out,” that is.

He begins telling me about his three strokes, the miracle recovery, and living in Montana. He even sings me a tune before turning to a more serious topic.

“I’m doing this for you. You guys are our future,” he tells me. In that moment, I believed his intent.

As the meeting continues, the crowd shrinks from 15 to seven. Hashing out another meeting time to plan ahead for the camp upheaval seems too much. Tempers run high.

Just when the thought crossed my mind that no resolution would be reached, democracy prevails.

It’s strange watching the Occupiers decide their fate. They know that the movement is on its last leg but no one is willing to admit defeat, at least not yet.

After nearly four hours exposed to the cold, I lost all feeling in my hands and the shivers made walking difficult. A younger Occupier named Andrew Henry takes pity and invites me in his tent in an attempt to prevent hypothermia.

Once inside Henry’s tent, he begins to share his story of “why Occupy.”

His outlook on politics and business in general is much more developed than the Occupy outliers I had talked to previously.

We talked for hours about his thoughts on corruption in education and the state of college sports. The conversation centers around big issues and things beyond Henry’s immediate control.

Then the shift happened.

Henry got a sort of dreamy look in his eyes as he started to share his hopes for the future. Travelling abroad and competing for a second title in jui jitsu top his list, but all of that must wait until his time at Occupy Nashville wraps up.

Night settled on the camp while we chatted. Temperatures dropped even lower. If a penguin had waddled across the plaza, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It was that cold.

“Cold enough for you, brace-face?” Henry smirked at me.

Too cold to be exact. Eight and a half hours was my limit.

I returned to my cozy dorm, curled up under the blankets with the heat cranked up and thought about the day, the day I saw Occupy die.

Autumn Allison, Vision managing editor, is a sophomore journalism major.

#autumnallisoncolumn #legislativeplaza #OccupyNashville

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