Occupy Columbia Protests Start in South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C.—Starting Saturday, Oct. 15, protesters with Occupy Columbia have set up fort on the lawn in front of the State House building in downtown Columbia. According to Occupy Columbia’s website, the group is a grass-roots movement inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests, which started in September in New York.
The protest started with a parade through downtown Columbia from the group MoveOn, which is “a service—a way for busy but concerned citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media,” according to MoveOn’s website.
Some are skeptical about MoveOn’s involvement in the Occupy movement. In the past, MoveOn has funded presidential candidates through donations. It is a federally registered political action committee, which has supported Democratic candidates and viewpoints. This is in contrast to the bigger picture represented: that the Occupy movements in the United States are simply a raw discontentment with the current state of the world.
In Columbia, the focus of people’s discontent ranged from loss of jobs due to free trade agreements, college students’ high debts from school loans, wars, environmental destruction, politicians and corporations monopolizing democracy, and disregard for elders as well as future generations.
According to Occupy Columbia protesters, the root of these problems is corporate greed.
Protester Maria S. Calef said corporations and mainstream media are hiding the truth. “The U.S. government just accepted a free trade agreement with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama. We hope the media can come and ask why we are here and elevate our voices,” said Calef.
The free trade deal Calef spoke of is being criticized for taking away jobs for Americans, unequal competition with countries like Colombia (where workers who try to form unions have been killed) and Panama, for being a place for some of the wealthiest Americans to hide their wealth.
Calef looked at a group of college students and said, “See those young people over there? They have big loans for their schools. When they graduate they are not going to have a job but they will have a big student debt.”
Sarah Graham, now retired, worked 27 years for the IRS. Graham said, “The young people do not work because there are no jobs out there. We tell them all the time get your education and go to school, when you come out you will have an opportunity, but where are the jobs? Young people, like my grandkids, are in deeper debt from credit cards and school loans. These young people need jobs, not just during election time but now. It is not that we want a handout, we just want what is good.”
Odeene Boles is a 95-year-old retired teacher. Boles came from a town about 30 minutes away with her friend, Judy Malone, to protest in front of the Statehouse. “She said she wanted to go. We are all on the same boat,” said Malone.
Boles lives on her pension. It has not had any raises, yet living expenses are going up. “She has just lived too long, so she says,” said Malone.
The Kipp family of five was protesting for many reasons, but Matt Kipp said his main reason for protesting with Occupy Columbia was for his children: “I think there is a lot that is not working with this system, and there is finally a sense of betrayal and outrage in the American people. That is why this movement seems so without a single direction, because it is just a whole lot of people fed up for a whole lot of different reasons.”
Lee Garrett, a young man protesting against governments and what he described as corporate monopoly of democracy said, “People are using their voices. It is a collective of all different people but we are all representing discontent with the current system.”
Matt Kennell is president and CEO of City Center Partnerships Inc., a local business organization that "provides public space management, economic development, marketing services, and public advocacy for downtown Columbia," according to its website. Kennell said he had not heard that the protests had "any impact on businesses, either positive or negative."
"We have many demonstrations in the vicinity of the Statehouse and I think people are just used to them," Kennel stated.