By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Members of Occupy Nashville spent time with their fellow protesters at the Tennessee Capitol on Christmas Day in hope of showing continued solidarity for the movement.
Casey Jones, 18, was among about 60 protesters set up on the plaza across the street from the Capitol.
She said she’s been part of Occupy Nashville since it started in early October and plans to continue participating.
“I come out here every night almost,” said Jones, who works at a gift shop during the day and has an apartment.
If the weather is not too cold, Ricky Adams said he’d usually be somewhere fishing on Christmas. However, the 61-year-old Vietnam veteran said he and his wife plan on being around long after Christmas.
“We’re going … to be right here till the end,” said Adams, who retired from the Army after 22 years.
Breakfast, as usual, for most of the protesters on Sunday consisted of coffee and various pastries. But Eva Watler said a pot luck was planned for later in the day to provide hot meals.
Because she’s Jewish, Watler said a normal Christmas Day for her would be “to eat Chinese food and go to a movie.”
Since state troopers raided the encampment in late October and made 55 arrests, the state has had to back down. Gov. Bill Haslam ordered the charges dropped when Nashville courts refused to jail the protesters, and the state isn’t fighting a federal court order that found the raids had violated the First Amendment rights of the protesters.
Occupy Nashville has reoccupied the plaza, the number of tents has almost tripled, portable toilets have been installed and troopers walk a patrol. The protesters, who are now among the larger remaining groups nationwide, say they plan to stay through the winter.
“It’s really cold, but it’s OK,” Jones said.
Mia Pace, who is part of the occupy movement in Chicago, visited the Nashville camp on Sunday. The 22-year-old said “it’s pretty amazing” that protesters are still allowed to stay on the plaza. In Chicago, she said protesters are active during the day, but usually stay at someone’s house or an area church overnight.
She said she admires the resiliency of the Nashville occupiers and stands in solidarity with them.
“We can’t give up,” she said. “We need to make sure that the people in power are still listening to us.”
The Occupy movement has intentionally never clarified its policy objectives, relying instead on a broad message opposing corporate excess and income inequality.
A survey released by the AP last month showed the first two months of the nationwide Occupy protests cost local taxpayers at least $13 million in police overtime and other municipal services. The heaviest financial burden has fallen upon law enforcement agencies tasked with monitoring marches and evicting protesters from outdoor camps.
Even though Occupy Nashville protesters are planning for an indefinite stay, the future of their encampment is uncertain because Haslam has said his administration is crafting a new policy to govern the plaza’s use.
Nevertheless, Watler reiterated that the protesters plan to hold their ground, and are even developing plans for when the Tennessee General Assembly convenes next month.
“We definitely have several actions planned,” said Watler, who wouldn’t elaborate. “Tune in to see what’s next in the new year.”