published Friday, February 10th, 2012

Occupy protesters camping on Hamilton County Courthouse's lawn begin to dwindle

Jovany Resto, of Long Island, N.Y., packs up his tent after spending a month at the Occupy Chattanooga campsite. Resto has been visiting numerous Occupy sites throughout the country, and is leaving Chattanooga to go to Ocala, Fla., to attend the "Rainbow Gathering" festival. Today is the 100th day of Occupy Chattanooga's campout on the front lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse.
Jovany Resto, of Long Island, N.Y., packs up his tent after spending a month at the Occupy Chattanooga campsite. Resto has been visiting numerous Occupy sites throughout the country, and is leaving Chattanooga to go to Ocala, Fla., to attend the "Rainbow Gathering" festival. Today is the 100th day of Occupy Chattanooga's campout on the front lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse.
Photo by Dan Henry.

On the 99th day of Occupy Chattanooga's campout, protesters on the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn are fairly quiet.

The ranks are thinning. The picket signs are stacked neatly inside a tent.

On Thursday, a group of young men stand smoking on the sidewalk, saying their goodbyes. Three are leaving for the Rainbow Gathering, a 1,500-person hippie gathering in Florida.

Soon another protester, who came from Washington, D.C., will leave for Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

"Living this life isn't the easiest thing," said Larry Simpson, 51, who's been camping out for 98 days and admits he slept in a hotel Wednesday night.

A few minutes later a car drives by and a man screams out the window, "Go home, commies!"

"That is mild compared to what they usually holler," Simpson said.

Today is the 100th day that Occupy has been camping on the streets of Chattanooga. For the first eight days, protesters camped on the sidewalks around the City Council building, bringing a pantry, a camping stove, a mini-library, chairs, a corkboard, a whiteboard, signs and tables.

In those first days, protesters say there were as many as 50 campers rallying for more jobs, lower college tuition, campaign reform, higher taxes for the rich and an "end to corporate personhood," as one sign reads.

But now many of those Occupy supporters are sleeping on mattresses at home or hitting the road, and only 10 or so diehards are left, depending on the night.

Life at the camp has been hard and cold, said Casey Barrett, who was a part of the Chattanooga Occupy camp for 87 days and now is leaving for Florida. For one, there are a lot of rules. No drinking. No drugs. No sex.

And being so public for so long can be challenging, too, protesters said.

"We constantly get people who support us and curse us out," Barrett said. "We have people who try to infiltrate the movement and destroy what it stands for."

Though not much has changed politically with 1 percent of the population still running the country, the protesters say, they want their presence to make people think about change.

"We are doing this so everyone can have a home and health care and have an education and job when they get done with their education," said Kenny, who wouldn't give his last name.

The group is trying to get signatures for a petition that would limit campaign contributions to $100. So far, they have gotten more than 100 names, said Simpson.

But Occupy Chattanooga's big success, he said, has been fighting for the right to even exist on the courthouse lawn.

On Jan. 4, the Hamilton County Commission passed a rule to remove tents from the courthouse lawn, then sued the group and nine individually named defendants in federal court. Lawyers representing Occupy Chattanooga filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. The case is pending in U.S. District Court, but a judge must make a ruling on the motion to dismiss this month.

"Of all the Occupy movements in the world, we are the only ones going to federal court, and if we win, we will get a lot of recognition from the others," said Simpson. "Some of them might come here and join us.

"A lot of the people are finally realizing we are not going to go home. We are here."

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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