Chapter 8

Occupy

Someone stopped at the corner and asked me if I was occupying. I had no idea what she meant; it was the first I had heard of the movement now sweeping across the country. Soon the block next to me was full of protesters. They were organized, were holding rallies, filling the park, and marching the streets. They all carried signs proclaiming their displeasure with corporate government, calling for change and action. The protesters took over Town Square Park and strung banners and passed out literature. They set up tents equipped with propane heat, donations were collected and supplies purchased; they were protesting in style! They were determined to get arrested for the sake of publicity, but to no avail. Apparently the mayor had figured out that the arrests were not as effective as hoped because try as they might, no arrests were made.

I got to know several of the occupiers who would regularly stop by to visit me on my corner. They kept inviting me to join them, offering to share their comforts and support. They told me that the Occupy movement was a leaderless movement and that everything was done by consensus. But the reality of it would soon become clear; there were key individuals that were pulling the strings and there was much pressure for others to come into agreement. All meetings were made offsite in a heated building where all voting took place. Most of those voting were not themselves active in the the actual protesting in the park, and many of those protesting could not just leave the park unattended to go to the meetings. All decisions were binding and all protesters required to be in agreement. Meanwhile, winter was setting in and I was getting snowed out, all the while I was receiving many invitations to join the group. Finally on November 20th I did just that.

Now with the strength of numbers, and the attention of the mayor, doors were open in front of me. Events were scheduled by the city, to be held in Town Square Park and the mayor was desperate to clear us out. He had assembled a team of department heads and we were now in negotiations. Unbeknownst to the mayor, the Occupy group was petering out. Most of the protesters had homes to keep and jobs to attend. Those who came up from the states were being frozen out and had mostly left. The few remaining occupiers would leave within a few short weeks, but the Mayor did not know that. So, in the meantime, I had his attention. The committee offered us run of the park strip if we would leave Town Square. After some considerations we accepted.

Some of those in the Occupy group began to question whether my involvement in the movement was in their best interest. Word was coming back to me from some of the protesters that comments made about me by the mayor were soiling the Occupy movement’s reputation, in the eyes of some of the members. There was now open discussion of voting me out. There was a requirement for all protesters to agree with their non-violence principles which included abstaining from drugs and alcohol. Although I considered it a double-minded principle since while publicly acknowledged, in reality it was freely disregarded, and as such I refused to make the vow. As a result, they found their occasion to remove me, and I was voted out of Occupy for not accepting their “no drug and alcohol vow” as required by their nonviolence principles.

Now I was protesting solo again, and although the Occupy movement had withdrawn their support and kicked me out of their camp, there were still plenty of people in the city who had my back. One lady offered me a tent, which I gladly accepted. I pitched the tent by itself not far from the Occupy group’s campsite on the park strip. One by one, the other protesters packed it up and soon I was the only one left. Finally there was only one tent in the park, and it would be my home for the entire winter. My tent was pitched on the corner of 9th and I, one of the busiest intersections in Anchorage. I was pleased to camp openly and for the public display of victory after such a heated battle. Walking back to camp every evening would put a smile on my face, no matter what my mood, to see my tent still standing.

That winter, I adopted Shiloh out. The first time I met Telma was when I was trying to enter the courthouse for a hearing but did not have anywhere to leave Shiloh. Telma approached me and asked me if everything was OK. I explained my situation to her and she offered to watch my dog for me until I could finish court. Much to my surprise, when her and her husband Randy bumped into me on the corner of City Hall some days later, I found out that she worked at City Hall and he at Humpy’s, a restaurant in the next building over. They quickly became Shiloh’s second family; they often took Shiloh for walks and would take her in when I was arrested. They asked me to make sure to let them take her if I ever needed to get rid of her, so it was an easy decision to give them Shiloh when it became obvious that Shiloh was so eager to go with them every time they came for her.

Winter finally came to an end, and so did my camp. I no longer had the strength of numbers and the mayor wanted his park back. A notice for removal was posted on my tent giving me 14 days to vacate. It was my practice to ignore these notices and continue camping openly until the police would have my tent taken down, thus always putting my energy forward and never using my own effort to go backward. So it was that my camp was torn down, and with that, I returned to City Hall. The sidewalk ordinance was now in effect, making it illegal to sit on the sidewalk. The law had been passed with much controversy and although I continued to sit there, the law was never enforced. The police showed up again, this time they did not even threaten me with arrest nor did they even mention the new sidewalk sitting law, instead they simply gave me a notice of illegal camping and gave me three days to vacate. I taped the notice to the corner of city hall, as a public symbol of the challenge of survival in the streets of Anchorage.

Once again blankets and sleeping bags showed up quickly, I soon had more than I needed and more kept pouring in. Several people who were homeless started hanging out with me on the corner and so I set up bed rolls along the edge of City Hall to accommodate those who did not have a better sleeping situation. Soon there were people sleeping up and down the City Hall block. I had met Brent the previous year along with the others involved in the Occupy movement. He had hopes of leading the group, but to his disappointment was never accepted. Now he would join me on the corner. Someone offered me to come to their house for a shower so I left Brent to watch the corner and made a quick dash to get cleaned up. When I returned, everything had been removed by the police. They took every last blanket, leaving Brent with a citation for $1000, for unlawful use of space. With that he went his way as did the others camped there; once again I was protesting solo. The police soon returned and this time issued me a citation and took the only blanket that I had accumulated. Now for the sake of my own survival, I began camping offsite and just came to the corner to protest in the daytime.

Some people had suggested from time to time that I should have a sign, explaining what I hoped to accomplish. The fact was that I could never think of what to write on a sign, and I thought that people did not really read signs anyway. But with mayoral elections coming on, I decided to make a sign to urge people to consider electing a different candidate. I simply wrote “ANYONE BUT DAN”. Dan was elected anyways, but having seen positive results from having a sign, I began considering other catchy things to say. Over time I got some attention from signs such as “JESUS IS PISSED”, and “WE ARE F.U.C.T. (Facing Un-Certain Times)”, but the most controversy was stirred by one small sign that simply read “E”. which I placed over the A in the CITY HALL sign on the wall where I sat.

I was surprised one day when I looked up, to see Dan Sullivan approaching out of the blue. He asked me if I would like a cup of coffee since he was heading to Kaladi Brothers. Sitting there, waiting for his return, someone approached me and asked me if he could take my video. I told him that if he would wait for a few minutes he could get a video of Dan Sullivan handing me a cup of coffee. That was the beginning of an open door policy from the mayor’s office. After that, I would stop by from time to time and Dan would come out to see me, no appointment necessary. By now the urgency had passed, the Mayor had let up in his efforts to rid the city of homelessness. Truly, he could not get rid of one man off of his own sidewalk, much less to clear out the whole city.

During this time, I met Cyrus Miller. He was wearing a long dangling cross earring, and introduced himself in a rap, “They call me Papa Punk”. He belted out, “I’m the oldest punk rocker in Alaska”. Well, there was no way that I was going to call him Papa Punk, so not knowing his real name, I simply called him “Papa”. That was the beginning of a strong bond, and he would soon begin calling me “son”. Papa would come by often to check on me. I shared freely with him whatever I had, and he would bring me what he could. One day Papa invited me to the park strip to smoke. He loaded his pipe and handed it to me for the first puff. Immediately after I took a puff, it was apparent that there was something else in the pipe along with the marijuana, because I was instantly high. Suddenly I did not know where I was, I did not know who Papa was, and I did not know who I was. Only realizing that I was in a park and I was talking to a magical little cartoon like man who was full of wisdom. He seemed to have an enormous head, and his neck was too little to support it. I hung on every word he spoke, not wanting to miss any of his wisdom. One time Papa said to me in such anguish of despair, “It’s easy to be 96% good, but oh that other 4%.” I did not know what had happened for him to be so distraught, but he was my friend and I was there to listen. Once he said to me, “Can you believe I am 74 years old?” “Wow Papa,” I said, “you are still going strong.” The following year I would attend his funeral; he would die at a young 55 years of age.