The 99% occupies Chattanooga (Photo gallery)

10 years ago Triangle 0
A protestor takes part in the Occupy Chattanooga activities, a local chapter of the national movement to change the way business and politics are handled in the U.S. / Triangle photo by Cat Rogers

Daniel Jackson
Assistant Online Editor

Among the 30 or so protesters are a mix of dreadlocks, suits and wheelchairs. It is Thursday, October 27, and older generations wave their signs and shout along with the new generation of college students in a protest against the influence of money on those with power. They call themselves the 99 percent. They are Occupy Chattanooga.

As protests simmer on in New York, Washington DC and other cities around the nation over the effects of large-scale banking and multinational corporations on modern politics, some picketers even getting arrested for the sake of their cause, the Occupy Chattanooga group lends their support.

“Do you know why we’re here today?” A red-haired college student holding a sign that reads, “Weed not greed” asks a women in her sixties who walked up to the group.

“Boehner is supposed to be here today,” she says.

Smiling, he makes a quiet thumb up.

“I was afraid that things got rained out,” she says. “I came here from Alabama.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner is attending a private fundraising dinner for Chattanooga’s representative, Chuck Fleischmann. The dinner is going to be held across the street in a towering white building in a few minutes. Some protesters have been waiting here since 9 a.m.

The student says how the group does not expect to see the politicians. He expects them to simply zip past in their black SUVs, disappearing into the private parking garage across the street.

“But people coming to his dinner will see,” the woman replies.

The protesters see this moment as an example of the corrupting power of money because guests need to buy their way to the presence of their representatives. The dinner costs $1,000 a plate, according to the protesters’ press release; $1,500 for a photo with Boehner, and $10,000, for two to sit at the table with the politicians.

One student announces he is moving across the street to picket alongside the driveway to the parking garage. It’s 5:45 p.m. and the guests are due any minute.

A woman wearing a worn Carhartt jacket sits against the building.

“I work at Wal-Mart,” she says. “I got student loans.”

It angers her to see the ticket price of the meal. Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money for an adult just beginning to pay off college loans.

A polished SUV pulls into the parking garage.

“Wanna be one-percenter!” the group of protesters yell at the guest.

The student who holds the “Weed not Greed” sign explains he’s here because he wants the money out of politics and to support the Occupy movement.

His name is Danny Freeman.

Green eyes search the empty sidewalk across the street as he talks. “I don’t usually talk to media, but because you are college…” There’s a pause, “and I’m not here to get weed legalized. I just think it’s funny.”

What energizes him? “People coming out to things like this. People’s movement makes me want to go join them.”

Freeman is studying social work at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga because he plans to go into community organizing.

By now, most of the protesters wait by the driveway, but a few stay on the other side of the road.

“Chuck Fleischmann and John Boehner have entered the building,” shouts Freeman into the bullhorn he holds with both hands. “We just saw four tinted SUVs pull in the back.”

Cops and security guards stand in the drive.

The protesters shout into the garage, “Hey hey, ho ho! John Boehner’s got to go! Hey hey, ho ho! John Boehner’s got to go!”

“Scaredy cats!” shout a few.

It’s 6:16 p.m. The message has been sent.

[Triangle photos by Cat Rogers]