Occupy Cincinnati - Beginnings
On October 8, 2011, discontented Cincinnatians joined a growing movement that at the time was just beginning to sweep the nation. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was becoming "Occupy Everywhere" as Americans claiming to be fed up with corporate abuse of our political system took to the streets to occupy public spaces and protest about everything from war and the economy to education and the environment . With the battle cry of "We are the 99%", this new movement set out to draw attention to the social and economic inequalities of our system, making reference to the fact that the vast majority of wealth in our country is actually held by only 1% of the population and that the rift between the very rich and the very poor is rapidly growing while a once strong middle class quickly disappears.
The movement at first received little mainstream press. It almost seemed that it was being systematically ignored, but that became impossible as Occupy grew and authorities responded with harsher measures. As videos of strong-arm police tactics went viral on the internet the stories became harder for the established press to overlook. Seemingly peaceful protesters being pepper sprayed or thrown to the ground and beaten began to appear over and over again in the news. Many police departments across the country adopted a militarized approach to dealing with the movement, turning some occupation actions into scenes that more resembled war zones than the peaceful protests they were intended to be. A battle for the hearts and minds of Americans ensued.
I began photographing the movement in Cincinnati even before the first protest, attending early planning meetings to get an idea of the what, wheres and whens of the actions to come. Since the late 1980s protest movements have been an ongoing project of mine and I have used the main title of this project as a working title for the entire body of this work. With my Occupy project I have hoped to put a face on this particular movement and approach the question, "Who are the 99%?". Some have claimed them to be nothing more than a gang of lazy, whiny, unemployed socialists looking for handouts, but I discovered that the variety of backgrounds found among the protesters was far too vast to generalize. Frankly, while I have certainly encountered a few Socialists along the way, as well as a few lay-abouts looking for a handout, they seem to come from every conceivable political background, age group, economic standing and cultural grouping. Many are working two or even three jobs to make ends meet and the dedication to their cause and the willingness to risk arrest (or worse) to meet their goals seems to disqualify "lazy" and "whiny" as appropriate adjectives.
One thing that sets Occupy Cincinnati apart from some of the other occupations across the country has been the level of cooperation between protesters and police here. A strong liaison was put in place even before the very first protest. As a result there has not been the same use of aggressive police response; no pepper spray, tear gas or flash grenades were employed here as we have seen in other cities. The choice was made by police early on not to use riot gear to intimidate protesters and we have not seen the violent arrests and unnecessary force that became a common state of affairs in occupations such as N.Y.C., Oakland, Seattle, Boston and Washington. So you will not see that kind of drama in this gallery of images. What you hopefully will see is a portrait of a movement in its infancy. You will see how citations led to arrests, how civil disobedience led to City Hall and then to City Court and how standing your ground and fighting through the system as well as outside it can sometimes lead to real and positive gains. While I have chosen this point to end a chapter in all probability it is only just the beginning of a much longer story.