Occupy Greenville: What Should Local Look Like?

Curator's Note

Even as the Occupy Wall Street movement was spreading from city to city this fall, I was nevertheless surprised when it arrived in the small, often-conservative Southern city where I live: Greenville, NC. I attended one of Occupy Greenville’s first meetings in October, along with twenty other passionate, angry, Greenville residents, who ran the gamut from in-debt college students to out-of-work parents to middle-aged couples threatened with foreclosure. Although united in purpose, the group disagreed over when to begin organizing protests. Some felt that Occupy Greenville should be in the public eye as soon as possible while others argued that protesting with such a small group would feed into the perception that OWS is a fringe movement with marginalized ideas.

Despite the worries of naysayers (myself included), TV news coverage of the group’s first protest on October 31st gave the small turnout a decidedly positive spin. The anchor describes the Occupy Greenville movement as “gaining momentum” and East Carolina University professor, Bob Edwards, changes the conversation; we should not be surprised that the movement exists in a small city like Greenville. Rather, Edwards argues, the fact that Greenville has an Occupy movement is proof that it is no longer a “small, sleepy, country place.”

Since that first protest, Occupy Greenville has continued to schedule meetings and public events, often with small numbers. While low turnout might signal failure at the national level -- OWS is effective because it makes the “99%” visible and audible -- as local expression, Occupy Greenville is serving its purpose: providing a venue for the community to vent its frustrations, volunteering at the local homeless shelter, gathering donations in support of larger Occupy movements in the state, and creating connections between like-minded workers and activists, including the Sanitation workers, the local Coffee Party, and the Pitt County Coalition Against Racism. Occupy Greenville will likely never have the numbers to support a true occupation, but perhaps the role of local Occupy movements is to generate empathy and conversation, and to make visible the bonds that unite the many manifestations of the “99%” in this formerly sleepy little city.


Interesting stuff, Amanda, thanks to you too for your insights. I think there's some cross-over in our posts...The "small" things that each of the individual Occupy movements are actually really powerful, concrete actions. I'm curious what you mean by an inability to "support a true occupation." Do you doubt the support or the ability to have some kind of "pure" occupation? What does that look like to you?

I'm also really interested in the urban/rural divide. Judith Halberstam has some great work on "metronormativity" that sort of describes the fiction of the "progressive city" and the "backwards country." She's writing in terms of responses to non-normative gender (e.g.: queer folks get murdered in the city too, not just nebraska), but I think there are some parallels about the assumptions of what a "sleepy town" is capable of.


That's a great question, Raechel, one which I could not address in the limited space of 350 words! By "pure occupation," I am referring to taking over a public space for an extended period of time, night and day. The movement in Greenville is currently too small to support an extended occupation, particularly since most of the active members are college students (who have to attend classes). And I have also heard people mention that the local police are quick to arrest and use mace (I have no idea if these claims are true or not, I just know that at the meeting I attended, a few people mentioned that protestors should be very careful).

Thank you for bringing up the concept of "metronormativity." I do think it is easy to underestimate what Greenville is capable of (indeed, I am guilty of it myself), but the city and its residents continue to surprise me. The actions of the Occupy Greenville movement are one such example.

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