Occupy COMO participants share vision, stories

Some Occupy COMO participants are finding more than just a place to voice their opinions.
Garland Bradshaw, Julie Jones and Nicholas Berry talk during the Occupy COMO demonstration Monday afternoon in front of City Hall. Fewer people occupy City Hall during the day because most of the participants have full-time jobs.

Beneath a cold drizzle and booms of thunder Tuesday afternoon, a woman stood outside of Columbia’s City Hall wrapped in a red, checkered blanket. Her hood was up, a neon green bandana with the words “love” and “peace” wrapped around her nose and a charred cigarette dangling from her mouth. Her back was against City Hall, the site of Occupy COMO.

The woman, 20, asked for anonymity and requested she be referred to as Big Sister, her name on Facebook and the one she prefers to go by. She is involved in a maid service downtown.

“I’m not sure if people need to know my name, or even want to,” she said. “They never really have.”

Big Sister is one of many taking part in the global Occupy Wall Street phenomenon, which sparked on Wall Street in response to feelings of economic inequality.

“I get the question a lot,” she said. “’Why here? Why Columbia? You’re not (at) Wall Street where the battle is.’ But really, there are enemies everywhere. There is ignorance. There’s people who refuse to see what’s happening in a place like this.”

Big Sister grew up on food stamps in Oregon County, where more than a quarter of the population is living in poverty, according to the 2009 census. She graduated high school with a 3.5 cumulative GPA, she said, and was 17th in her class.

“I grew up poor my whole life,” she said. “I was always told that if I worked hard, I could achieve that dream one day. I never got that chance.”

Demonstration sites like Occupy COMO have become places where some people like Big Sister, who said she slept outside City Hall for a week, have found themselves.

“There’s a huge amount of peace that I find here,” Big Sister said. “We’re pretty much a family here. In fact, most of us get a greater sense of family out here than we have anywhere else.”

Big Sister met fellow Occupy COMO participant Mary Grantham, 21, and the pair have developed a sisterly bond ever since. Grantham invited Big Sister to sleep on the couch in the apartment she shares with her boyfriend.

“I’ve met some awesome people out here,” Grantham said as Big Sister wrapped her in a hug.

In the middle of that hug is a bulge in Grantham’s belly. She is five months pregnant.

“I want to be heard,” Grantham said. “I want my child to have more opportunities than I did growing up.”

Grantham resides in an apartment with her boyfriend and father of her baby, Robert Murdock, 23. Murdock has been Grantham's side the whole time while she protests at Occupy COMO. The site in front of City Hall has been a place for him and his girlfriend to feel love, he said.

“You can really feel it,” Murdock said while he, Grantham and Big Sister nibbled on wheat bagels from Panera, a gift left by a woman from Occupy Jefferson City earlier that day. They all have taken advantage of the bottles of water, food and even gift cards that community members have left for protestors.

Murdock said one man even offered to replace the shoes he was wearing. The bottoms of Adidas sandals are duct-taped to his feet.

“I told him no,” Murdock said. “These are the most comfortable shoes I know of.”

Later that day, Murdock would wear those shoes to a job interview at Long John Silver’s in an attempt to finally find employment. Without the job, he will struggle to support his family. Grantham is also unemployed.

As for Big Sister, she said being in front of City Hall will likely be a commonplace for her as long as the Occupy Wall Street movement endures.

“I’m unfortunately not able to do the things I wanted to do (in teaching),” she said. “But I feel like I’m doing a different kind of teaching here. I feel like that it’s one I’m supposed to be doing. This is like my job because here, I have a purpose. I’ve been waiting for something like this a long, long time, and I feel like it’s finally come.”

Big Sister will always have the red, checkered blanket to return to. A man named Garland Bradshaw used it the day before. He just picked it up right next to all the other provisions and said he was planning to sleep with it in front of City Hall.

Like the feelings of Occupy COMO participants, the blanket’s warmth is communal.

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