“All this is based on the larger movement, like what’s happening on Wall Street,” he said. “We’re trying to keep with the solidarity of that larger movement. We have meetings everyday at 7 p.m.”
When asked what the larger movement was moving toward, he explained that it was all about money. About getting rid of the big corporations and big banks that are destroying this country. “This country can’t continue this way. We’re not going to let it. The people don’t want it. We have live streaming on our computers from the other Occupy encampments. We’ve had people from Indianapolis and Nashville stop by. This can really be something if everybody would come together.”
I was wondering what the Chattanooga group was doing on its own, in the immediate area and for the benefit of impoverished people in this city.
“There’s a few of us who have a garden being grown down by the smoking area,” he explained. “They have vegetables growing in buckets right here on the courthouse lawn. We have organic farming classes and classes on sustainable living we give. People need to learn how to live on their own and not buy all the genetically engineered food. All the hormone-pumped stuff from Wal-Mart.”
Do you guys cook all this food out here? I asked him.
“No. People deliver it to us. People cook in their houses and bring us more than we can eat. Churches drop stuff off. We had somebody bring this soup and some bread down earlier today. You should go get yourself some.”
I declined and asked him directly what the group was doing for those living in real poverty in this city. There are people out there who are hurting, who may not have anything to eat tonight. The boy smiled shyly. “I don’t really have too much to say about that. I don’t know that much about it.
“We’re trying to keep with the solidarity of the larger movement,” he said, and bowed his head to swallow a few spoonfuls of his soup. When he looked back up and saw I was still standing there, he said, “Maybe you should talk to some of these other people here. They might be a little more articulate about what’s going on.”
Walking back down the street, I passed a bail bondsman sitting on a concrete ledge at the back door of the county jail. He was talking to a huddled, pajama-clad woman. She was sitting with her legs crossed on the ledge beside him, smoking cigarette after cigarette and holding onto herself. I overheard part of their conversation. They were waiting for her man to come out of the back door of the jail there. A little girl in a nightgown and dirty socks was at the woman’s feet, playing in the dead leaves on the sidewalk.
I’d had a handful of people in mind to profile for the story. It’s not hard to find people living below the statistical poverty line. All these people had enthusiastically volunteered their help when I asked. This will be great, they said. Finally they could say something about what it’s really like.
But by the time the deadline came there had been a mass change of heart. “I really don’t have it all that bad,” some said. One middle-aged guy was worried that it might hurt future romantic endeavors and one woman sent me an abrupt email. She didn’t want the pictures the photographer had taken of her to be used and she didn’t want to be in the story. “Thank You.”
Things were not looking good, but I understood where people were coming from. Nobody wants to be poor. But more importantly, nobody wants to be seen as poor. It’s something to hide, to cover up and be secretly ashamed of. Their reasons for backing out of the story made me see why I’d felt so insulted over the old drunk’s dollar. I didn’t want to be seen that way, either.